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Expanding Settlements in the Nene Park Area

800BC-43AD

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During the Iron Age, tribal culture began to take hold and people needed to defend their territory against their rivals. The tribe which held the Nene Valley, the Corieltauvi, may have had allegiances to the large and powerful tribe to the south, the Catuvellauni, but we don’t know about their other neighbouring tribes. The settlement within Nene Park (mainly on what is now Coney Meadow at Ferry Meadows) became more defensive, as we can see on geophysical survey results. Ditches almost a kilometre in length were built across a meander in the River Nene, so that the settlement would be protected on all sides. The Iron Age is also when we can first start to see similarities between how people lived then and now: the Celts wore linen and dyed wool, used coins as currency and enjoyed continental luxuries, including Roman wine.





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Notorious Highwayman Hanged

1605

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On this day the notorious highwayman Gamaliel Ratsey was hanged. He was born in Market Deeping, the son of wealthy Richard Ratsey. Unfortunately  as a young boy he went off the straight and narrow. In 1600 he enlisted in the army which accompanied Sir Charles Blount to Ireland but his time fighting did not cure him of his wicked ways. On his return to England in 1603 he robbed the landlady of an inn at Spalding. He was caught but escaped from prison, stealing a horse. He entered into partnership with two well known thieves named George Snell and Henry Shorthose and went on to commit many acts of highway robbery in Northamptonshire (which at the time included Peterborough). Ratsey’s exploits were notorious but were also characterised by humour, generosity to the poor and daring. On one occasion, near to Peterborough, he robbed two rich wool merchants then ‘knighted’ them as Sir Walter Woolsack and Sir Samuel Sheepskin. On another, whilst robbing a Cambridge scholar he extorted a learned oration from him. He usually wore a hideous mask leading him to be called ‘Gamaliel Hobgoblin’. Ben Jonson wrote in The Alchemist (Act I, Scene 1) of a “face cut….worse than Gamaliel Ratsey". Due to his generosity to the poor and the tales surrounding him, he became something of a folk hero and was the subject of several ballads. Sadly for Gamaliel, within two years his partners betrayed him to officers of the law and  on the 26th of March he was hanged in Bedford.





Convictions for Short and False Reeling

1789

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From 1777 to 1791 a series out acts designed to improve the quality of woollen products were introduced in the north and east of England, known as the Worsted Acts. Peterborough was included under the East Midlands Act of 1785 and a series of convictions were detailed in the Stamford Mercury in 1789. A long list of women 'convicted for false and short reeling worsted yarns' (producing yarn of low thread and a shorter than stated length) included some from Peterborough. They were: Ann Hubard and Sarah, wife of Thomas Thompson, both from Werrington; Sarah Littledike, Alice and Mary Jackson, all from Peterborough; Elizabeth, wife of William Holmes, Hannah, wife of John Lenton, Mary, wife of John Chadbond and Catharine, wife of Thomas Bottomly, all from Eye. Newspaper reports failed to reveal what their punishments were, but Sarah Littledike was convicted of the same offence in 1791 and received one month in the bridewell.





The Death of Thomas Deacon and the Birth of a S...

1721

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Thomas Deacon is best known by his eponymous school, but his story was one of charity. Born in 1651, Deacon was a wealthy man. He owned many lands including Willow Hall near Thorney and lived for a time in Boroughbury Manor. He was a wool merchant, as much of the gentry were in the city, profiting from wool or fleece produced in the area. As one of the Feoffees he offered wool to the poor to provide an income. The poor were able to gain money for spinning the wool, which helped them out of poverty. Upon his death in 1721 he left a gift of money known as a legacy, which would pay for an education for 20 poor boys. At that time only the rich could afford an education, so this was a generous gift.
Deacon's Legacy
Thomas Deacon's school was originally sited on Cowgate, where a blue plaque has been placed. The school remained there until 1883 when it moved to Deacon Street and later to Queen's Gardens off Park Road. Thankfully it now educates both boys and girls. The Thomas Deacon Foundation continue to offer educational opportunities in the form of scholarships at Thomas Deacon Academy. A large effigy of Thomas Deacon resides in Peterborough Cathedral amongst the good and great of the city.