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Priestgate Mansion



The Georgian building known as Priestgate Mansion, which now houses Peterborough Museum was completed in 1816. It was created by wealthy magistrate Thomas Alderson Cooke, one of Peterborough’s most distinguished residents. The mansion was built on the site of the Tudor house known as Neville Place. It was built on top of the original building, which became the cellars of the new mansion. Some of the currently ground floor walls are possibly from the original house because of their enormous width. Priestgate mansion was originally built as a large symmetrical cube with an additional south-facing curved end. The curved end most likely contained a breakfast room to make the most of the rising sun on cold days and to enjoy the view down to the river Nene. The ground floor was designed for formal entertaining in the dining room and living room. On the first floor were the main bedrooms and on the top floor the nursery and servant rooms. There were not any bathrooms built in to the house originally, so portable water closets were used by people in the house.

House to Hospital



Following the death of Thomas Alderson Cooke in 1854 his Priestgate Mansion was bought by the 3rd Earl Fitzwilliam in 1856. He gifted it to the city to be used as the city’s first hospital, the Peterborough Infirmary. It was ready to be used as a hospital by 1857, accepting both male and female patients. The infirmary was run by a charitable trust who relied on donations. The house remained Peterborough's Infirmary until 1928.  


Death of Thomas Alderson Cooke



Thomas Alderson Cooke was born into a rich family in Salford. He moved to Peterborough where he became a local magistrate, Sherriff of Northamptonshire and later High Sherriff. He married Julia Image, the daughter of the late vicar of St John's church John Image. Together they had 12 children, 10 of whom survived childhood. He had 4 wives in total, including a very public annulment of the marriage to his second wife Charlotte Squires. She was from a successful merchant family, but was many years younger than him. Thomas Alderson Cooke is best remembered for commissioning a large mansion on Priestgate in 1816, on Neville Place, which is home to Peterborough Museum. He is also credited with building the Dower House on the corner of Trinity Street. It was built in the 1840s for his fourth wife Mary. It was a church for some years, which is how it gained a spire, and is currently a nursery. A well-respected magistrate for many years, he continued to preside until the week before he died, despite being incapacitated. He died in December 1854, after which his house was bought by the Fitzwilliams in an auction and gifted to the city as an infirmary.  

The Loss of a Wonderful Image



Judith Image was the daughter of Reverend John Image and his wife Mary. She was baptised on 12th February 1775 in St. John's Church, Peterborough, by her father. She was one of at least seven children born to the Images, most of whom died in infancy. Her father was vicar of Peterborough, so the family lived together in the rectory, which was in Priestgate. Fortunately Judith, or Julia as she was often known, survived to adulthood and married well. Her husband was Thomas Alderson Cooke, who was originally from Salford in Lancashire. Together they had 12 children, 10 of whom survived into adulthood. The family are best known as the residents of what is now Peterborough Museum. Thomas commissioned the building of the house on the most impressive site in the city, which just happened to be opposite the old vicarage, Judith's childhood home.
Sadly Judith died after only a few months of living in the mansion. Her death was unexpected and a terrible loss to both her husband and 10 children. She was remembered in an inscription: Judith Cooke, wife of Thomas Alderson Cooke, Esq., and daughter of the late John Image, clerk, many years vicar of this parish, whose virtues she inherited, on the 15th February 1817 and in the 42nd year of her age, she was so suddenly snatched from a numerous and affectionate family, whose consolation under so heavy an affliction is the humble confidence that she is taken to a region where pain and sorrow are known no more. She was buried next to her children Mary Caroline and Thomas Henry, who both died at 6 months old in 1800 and 1806 respectively. She was joined later by Thomas' third wife Mary Joanna (died 1825) and Thomas himself in 1854. All of the Cookes were buried in Cowgate Cemetery which was located where the Crescent Bridge roundabout is now located. All the remains were moved to Broadway Cemetery.

Mary Cooke’s Dower House



Several buildings on Priestgate are worthy of merit through age and architecture, but none are as unusual than Mary Cooke's Dower House. The house is correctly credited to the hand of Thomas Alderson Cooke, owner of Priestgate Mansion. However, it has been incorrectly associated to the divorce of his second wife Charlotte Squires. It was originally believed that the dower house was given to Charlotte when she and Thomas divorced. But newspaper reports from the time reveal that Thomas had the marriage annulled. Because they did not divorce, no money or property was owed to Charlotte. Furthermore, documents kept in Northamptonshire Archives reveal that the dower house was not built until 1840's, over 20 years after his annulment! By this point Thomas had moved on to his fourth wife Mary. His will of 1854 reveals how he had left the house for his 'dear Mary' to live in upon his death. A later conveyance from 1863 from Mary Cooke detailed: '[Thomas] Cooke devised to his wife for her life the mansion house he had lately erected next door to his mansion, together with land he had lately purchased extending southward from the garden wall.' Sadly, there is no evidence that Mary lived in the house. Thomas died in 1854 and by the 1861 census she was already living in London with her daughter and son-in-law (who was also her step son) and conveyancing relating to the house gave her address as London too. References: The National Archives; Kew, England; Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 2204 Abstract of conveyance from Mrs Mary Cooke and others to William Vergette, ref ZB1826/01 accessed via (Northamptonshire Records Office)