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Knights and a Castle

1071

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William I imposed the living of sixty knights onto Peterborough Abbey and its monastic estates in 1071. He ordered the construction of a motte and bailey castle on the north side of the monastic precincts. This  was a Norman Castle of timber and earth. The motte remains today in the Deanery Gardens as Tout (Tower) Hill, whilst many of the manors in the area given to the knights now bear their names in the villages – Helpston, Longueville, Waterville and so on.





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John Clare, Poet

1793-1864

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John Clare, the poet, was born in Helpston on 13th July 1793 and became one of our leading environmental poets. Despite having had little education he went on to write over 3500 poems. His poems are very descriptive of the wildlife, the people and the way the people lived in the rural 19th century villages. The works were created by a man who lived and worked in that environment and was able to relate to his surroundings. His first book of poems, 'Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery' was published to great acclaim in 1820, he went on to have three more books printed. He left Helpston in 1832 to go to Northborough, from where he went into High Beech mental asylum in Epping in 1837. He walked home, back to Northborough in 1841, taking 4 days. Later in 1841 he was sent to Northampton General Lunatic Asylum, now St Andrews, in Northampton. This is where he died in 1864. His body was brought back to Helpston, where he is buried in the churchyard.





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Russell Family Sell Thorney

1910

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The Russell family, Earls and Dukes of Bedford, had control of the village and parish of Thorney from 1550 until 1910, when an ongoing agricultural depression made it a financial drain on their finances. The Crown offered to buy the land from the current Duke, but he felt they had severely undervalued the lot. The land, totalling approximately 20,000 acres with 220 holdings, was sold between 1909-1910, mostly to local tenant farmers. The Duke went on to sell much of his other lands and properties over the next few years.





Bridging the Gap

1716

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Milton Hall was built in the 1590s to the west of Peterborough and periodic phases of work to the house and surrounding parkland continued until the 1790s. The bridge that straddles the Nene nearby was built in 1716 from Barnack stone and is a Grade II listed structure. It sits on the site of an old ferry crossing point (Gunnerswade Ferry) needed for the Barnack stone when local cathedrals were being built 900 years ago. The more modern bridge we see today, Milton Ferry Bridge, was an important transport link for those travelling onto the Great North Road from the south bank of the river, although there was a toll, with which Daniel Defoe was not pleased: “Near this little village of Castor lives the Lord FitzWilliams. His Lordship has lately built a very fine stone bridge over the River Nyne, near Gunworth, where formerly was the ferry. I was very much applauding this generous action of my lord’s, knowing the inconvenience of the passage there before, especially if the waters of the Nyne were but a little swell’d, and I though it a piece of publick charity; but my applause was much abated, when coming to pass the bridge (being in a coach) we could not be allow’d to go over it, without paying 2s. 6d. of which I shall only say this, That I think ‘tis the only half crown toll that is in Britain, at least that I ever met with.”





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Roman Industrial Surburbs of Normangate Field

70-450AD

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The area to the south of Ailsworth and Castor villages is known as Normangate Field. It was the site of extensive Roman pottery and metal working workshops. The Roman road of Ermine Street runs through the area. It can be seen today as a massive bank of earth concealed underneath several hundred years of repeated road surfacing. The potteries here gave their name to the distinctive Roman pottery known at Castor Ware. Interpretation from 2018 has revealed that the Normangate Fields contained a complex and thriving community. The location of the fields put the pottery and metal workers in an excellent position. They were near the Praetorium, Durobrivae and Rive Nene for water-based transport. Also, not only were they straddling Ermine Street, but King Street too. It is possible that King Street was once much more important than Ermine Street based on the location of the workers.





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The Praetorium at Castor

230AD

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Underneath St Kyneburgha's Church, Castor are the remains of one of the biggest buildings in Roman Britain. Parts of its walls still can be seen in various parts of the village. The site has been explored over several hundred years with early antiquaries confused by what the mosaic floors and several bath houses all meant. We now know that the site was probably part of a vast Imperial Estate from where much of the fenlands was governed. The building appears to have been the administrative centre of this estate and was where a procurator would have held court and possibly lived. The building on the top of the rise, where the church now stands, would have been seen for miles as a symbol of Roman power and authority.





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The Roman Villa at Fane Road

180AD

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An Iron Age farmstead developed into a prestigious Roman villa with mosaic floors and a hypocaust. The building was improved and extended several times before it was demolished in about AD350. The Roman villa and Iron Age farmstead were unearthed by an excavation in 2011-12 triggered by the planned development of houses on a portion of the allotment site. The discovery of this villa caused great local interest and in 2014 a community excavation was launched to find its southern wing.  







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Boroughbury Barns

1300

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Godfrey of Croyland, Abbot of Peterborough is credited with building the farm that became known as Boroughbury, in what is now the southern end of Lincoln Road. He built a house, a dovecot, two large ponds and a water mill, as well as two large barns, which are thought to date from around 1320. One of the barns was said to have been destroyed in the Civil War, but the other survived until 1892, when it was pulled down and replaced by the Rothesay Villas, which incorporated some of the stone. W.D. Sweeting commented that the barn resembled 'a wooden church with aisles'.





An Immense Icy Flood

1795

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In February 1795 a large flood affected many parts of the country, due to a combination of thawing snow, ice and torrential rains. Peterborough's story reads like something out of a Hollywood movie: "We learn from Peterborough that the flood in that neighbourhood is so immense as to threaten several villages. The ice had formed a complete bank across the coast, from the South bank to the North bank, and consequently stopped the current of water. A gentleman there, however, at the risk of his life, contrived to dispel the ice by gunpowder, contained in oilskin bags, in the execution of which he was assisted by two barges; but he had the misfortune to be left upon a large shoal of ice; the boats being driven away, it was impossible for any person to render him assistance, and in this dangerous situation, with the momentary apprehension of the ice separating, he floated down to Whittlesea bridge, and then jumped to one of the pillars, which was expected every minute to give way. From this situation he was released by some men who put off in a boat to save him. Soon after this the South bank gave way; and so terrific was the effect, from the shrieks of the multitude near it, and the explosion so tremendous, that the noise was heard by persons stationed four miles below the spot. The number of lives lost has not been ascertained: the damage exceeds calculation."1 Other information relating to the flood suggested that 30,000 acres of Deeping Fen were flooded and that many bridges had been damaged or destroyed, including those of Wansford and Northborough which 'blew up'! Peterborough's wooden bridge was saved.
  1. Northampton Mercury, Saturday 21st February 1795, p3, column 4






Image of a Boy by a Pond, Thorpe Village

1902-1910

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A view of a young boy sitting on the edge of the pond in Thorpe Village near Peterborough. Now known as Longthorpe. This image has been produced from an original postcard of the time. Publisher Wrench, from the Keith Gill Collection.      





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