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World War 2 In Peterborough

1939 – 1945

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The Town played a vital role with industry, airfields and a major railway centre. The flat landscape meant there were many airfields including RAF Peterborough, Westwood, which was a major RAF training centre. Local people volunteered for Military Service but those in ‘reserved occupations’, (jobs important to the war effort) were not conscripted but often spent their spare time in Civil Defence e.g. Home Guard and Auxiliary Fire Service. Businesses set up their own firewatchers while first-aiders and plane spotters were essential. National Service became compulsory for unmarried women aged between 20 and 30, then up to 50 in 1943, unless they had children under 14. Many joined the various women’s forces and nurses were attached to all the Services. Women worked in factories making war machines, ammunition, clothing or parachutes. Engineering industries such as Perkins Engines and Baker Perkins switched to wartime production supplying engines, guns, torpedoes and manufacturing machinery. Amidst this, dancing at local hotels and cinema-going were popular and there were several cinemas, showing films three times a day.  Foreign servicemen became familiar sights on the street. They included including Americans, French and Poles, many of the latter remaining in the city at the end of the war. Peterborough was not a prime target for bombs, so the city received 1496 London evacuees. Brick air raid shelters were built in the city centre. There were 644 Air Raid Alert warnings and bombs were hitting Bridge Street and the Lido. Raids of high explosive and incendiary bombs continued to 1942. Peterborough Cathedral was hit by incendiary bombs but damage was limited by the quick reaction of the fire-watchers.





A Monk Drowned in the Fens

1104

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The Annals of the Abbey of Thorney recorded important events for the monks of Thorney Abbey. In 1104 they stated a monk named Master Walter, and five servants, were shipwrecked and drowned in the mere called Saltana. Mere is an old name for a lake. The lake, now drained, was probably south of Whittlesey. The annals do not state how the monk drowned, but monastic clothing is not particularly well-suited to swimming.





The “Great Drowning” of Thorney Fen

1770

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A large piece of Morton’s Leam, a proctective bank running along the River Nene south of Thorney, gave way leaving a gap 130 yards long and 36 feet deep.  Water rushed into the fen, and all the area for several miles was about six feet deep in water.  People fled for safety to the Abbey Church in Thorney, and also other buildings on the higher ground, and the whole area could not be farmed again until spring 1773.  It is recorded in Fenland Notes and Queries in 1893 by a local farmer, Samuel Egar.





Saved by the Bells

1727-1781

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Living on Westgate in the Mansion House, Matthew Wyldebore was Peterborough’s MP. He lost his way in the Fens in the dark and fortunately heard the bells from St. John’s Church and was able to find his way home safely. To give thanks to the church he bequeathed £1 for the bell ringers to ring the bells on the anniversary of his death and for the vicar to give a sermon to give thanks for his safe return home. He died on 15th March 1781 and the bells still ring on that date to remember him.





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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Early Roman Fortress

43-100AD

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Longthorpe Roman fortress sits underneath the present day Thorpe Wood Golf Course. It was built at the beginning of the Roman occupation in what appears to be a hurried way. This suggests that its purpose was to get Roman strength into the area quickly. It sat on a small ridge facing the river Nene, and could hold half a legion, in this case, the Ninth. Despite being built in a rush, it was the only Roman fort in western Europe to have an onsite pottery. It produced excellent quality wares a few metres east of the main fort. The Ninth Legion was sent to stop Boudicca’s rebellion at Camulodunum (Colchester) in around 60AD. The few soldiers who did return were unfortunately badly injured. With too few soldiers to sustain and defend the fort, it was redesigned to a much smaller scale. Archaeological evidence shows a later smaller fort built inside the first for the remaining soldiers.





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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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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.





Borough Fen Iron Age Fort

300BC

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In the Middle Iron Age a local tribe established a fortified enclosure on the Fen edge between the Welland and the Nene. With an internal area of 3.8 hectares it was a significant feature of the local landscape. Today the fort can be clearly seen in aerial photographs. The site is bisected by Decoy Road; to the west the site is on protected land, under pasture. To the east it has been more affected by plough damage.





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The First Farmers of the Neolithic (New Stone Age)

4000 - 2500 BC

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Farming arrived in the Peterborough area around 4000 BC. The first farmers were a mix of in-comers from Europe and local people who had acquired the new skills of agriculture and animal husbandry. They grew wheat, barley and oats and kept cattle, sheep and pigs. Their farms – and several are known - were mostly confined to the east of Peterborough, around Fengate, Whittlesey and Eye. They consisted of small oval houses, within garden-like plots where crops were grown. Animals were kept in larger open areas away from the crops. Pigs would have roamed the woodlands around the farms. They buried their dead beneath mounds, known as barrows, or in open graves. The first farmers introduced pottery-making to Britain and also produced fine flint tools with long, knife-like blades. By 3000 BC they had felled most of the trees that grew in the area and the landscape was dominated by large, open pastures.





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