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The Smallest Waist in the World



Ethel Granger holds the record for having the smallest waist in the world. Her waist was recorded as 13 inches/33 cm in 1967, a feat that was achieved by wearing a specially designed corset to gradually decrease her waist. Ethel became an icon for tight-lacing and her story and images continue to be popular today due to the extreme lengths she went to in order to shape and style her body with her specially-made corsets, flamboyant piercings and excessively high shoes. She even inspired a Vogue Italia fashion shoot in 2011 using Stella McCartney's clothing. Ethel lived in Priory Road Peterborough with her husband William, a local teacher, and their daughter Wilhelmina. The family were well-known astronomers and Ethel was a keen beekeeper, becoming president of the Peterborough, Oundle and District Beekeepers Society. She died in 1982.

Internationally Famous Bell Born



Andy Bell is known around the world as one half of the pop group Erasure. He was born in Peterborough on 25th April 1964 in Thorpe Hall. He lived in Dogsthorpe and attended both Dogsthorpe Infant and Junior Schools, where he was a choir boy. His name features in the registration book for Dogsthorpe Junior School, which is held in Peterborough Archives. He moved to Kings School for his secondary education. In 1985 Bell met his Erasure partner Vince Clark and they had huge success as a pop duo. Together they sold millions of records around the world with hits which included 'Sometimes' and 'A Little respect'. He currently calls Miami home, but is still working and touring around the world. His has given mixed feelings of his time in Peterborough, claiming that he felt 'secure and safe' whilst at Dogsthorpe Junior School, but also complaining that Peterborough was one of 'the most scary places on the planet'. He is known as a gay icon for openly embracing his sexuality and discussing topics important to the gay community.
References Picture By Andrew Hurley (Flickr: Andy Bell, Erasure) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Peterborough’s Bird Man: Walter Cornelius



Looking up at the wind vane above the Lido, you might be confused by the shape. The weather vane commemorates the life of Walter Cornelius. He is possibly best known in the city for his comical attempts to fly over the rive Nene and for his amazing strength. The reason his likeness sits above the Lido is because he was a swimming instructor there in the 60's and 70's. He taught thousands of children to swim and as a lifeguard kept them safe. The weather vane was created after calls to commemorate the life of such a well-known man. Born in Latvia in 1923, Walter was quite the entertainer and successfully broke many world records. He was a strongman and daredevil too. He won the world sausage eating championship in 1966 and pushed a pea along the ground with his nose for three miles. Thankfully Walter was recorded on television. Videos of him showing his amazing strength can be found on youtube and at the East Anglian Film Archive.
Picture Credit: cc-by-sa/2.0 - © Paul Bryan -

Birth of Alex Henshaw, Spitfire Test Pilot



Before World War II: 

The son of a wealthy businessman, Alexander Adolphus Dumfries Henshaw (Alex) was born at Peterborough on November 7 1912. He was educated at Lincoln Grammar School. As a boy he was fascinated by flying and by motorcycles. With financial support from his father, who thought aircraft safer than motorcycles, he learned to fly. He began lessons in 1932, at the Skegness and East Lincolnshire Aero Club. A skilled pilot, in 1937 he won the inaugural London-to-Isle of Man air race in atrocious weather. In 1938, flying a Percival Mew Gull, he won the King's Cup Air Race. He flew at an average speed of 236.25 mph, a record that still stands. Early in 1939 Henshaw made a record-breaking solo flight from England to Cape Town and back. However this triumph, overshadowed by the imminence of war, received no public recognition. In the census of that year his occupation was given as a fertiliser manufacturer. Alex was living with his family and his bride-to-be Barbara.

World War II:

When war broke out Alex volunteered for service with the RAF but, while waiting for his application to be processed, was invited instead to join Vickers as a test pilot. Though initially testing Wellington Bombers, he soon moved on to Spitfires and was appointed chief production test pilot for Spitfires and Lancasters. Alex oversaw a team of 25 pilots, and flew more than 2,300 Spitfires, plus other planes, testing up to 20 aircraft a day. It could be dangerous work; Henshaw suffered a number of engine failures, and on one occasion, while flying over a built-up area, crash-landed between two rows of houses. The wings of his aircraft sheared off, and the engine and propeller finished up on someone's kitchen table. Henshaw was left sitting in the small cockpit section with only minor injuries.


Once he was asked to put on a show for the Lord Mayor of Birmingham's Spitfire Fund by flying at high speed above the city's main street. The civic dignitaries were furious when he inverted the aircraft, flying upside down over the town hall. On another occasion he barrel-rolled a four-engined Lancaster bomber, the only pilot ever to pull off this feat.
For his services during the war Henshaw was appointed MBE, though there were many who thought he deserved far more. After World War II: After the war Henshaw went to South Africa as a director of Miles Aircraft, but returned to England in 1948 and joined his family's farming and holiday business. He remained in great demand at aviation functions to the end of his life. To mark the 70th anniversary of the first flight of the Spitfire, in March 2006, the 93-year-old Henshaw flew over Southampton in a two-seater Spitfire. In 2005 he donated his papers, art collection, photographs and trophies to the RAF Museum. He wrote three books about his experiences: The Flight of the Mew Gull; Sigh for a Merlin; and Wings over the Great Divide. Alex Henshaw died on February 24 2007, his wife, Barbara (widow of Count de Chateaubrun) whom he married in 1940, predeceased him. He was survived by their son, Alexander Jr.


Olympic Gold Medal



Arthur James (Archie) Robertson won a gold medal at the 1908 London Olympic Games. Archie was born on 19 April 1879, in Harthill, Yorkshire, the son of a  Scottish doctor. The family moved to Peterborough when Archie was fourteen and he attended The King's School. He was a brilliant all round sportsman, though his original love was cycling. At the age of 25, following a cycling accident, he took up serious athletics and in 1906 he joined the Birchfield Harriers of Birmingham. In March 1908 he won the English and International Cross-Country titles and in July 1908 he came second in the 4 mile race at the AAA championship, these performances winning him a place on the Olympic team. At the 1908 Summer Olympics held in London he won a gold medal in the 3 man 3 mile team race, silver in the 3200 metres steeplechase and came fifth in the five miles event. His brother David was a member of the British cycling team at the same Olympics. Archie set the seal on his triumphant year by setting a world record for the 5000 metres in September in Stockholm. Archie retired from athletics after the 1909 season and returned to his first love, cycling. He opened a cycling and sports shop in Peterborough, which he later passed on to his son, Duncan. He died in Peterborough on 18 April 1957. Though he spent most of his life in Peterborough, his Scottish father meant he could be posthumously inducted into the Scottish Sporting Hall of Fame in 2004. References: Golden Scots: Arthur Robertson, the accidental athlete. BBC. 3 July 2012. The Peterborough Book of Days, Jones, Brian, The History Press, 2014.