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Old Scarlett

1594

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‘Old Scarlett’ was Robert Scarlett, parish sexton and gravedigger throughout the Tudor period. He lived to the prodigious age of 98, dying in 1594, married twice and buried Katharine of Aragon and Mary, Queen of Scots inside the Cathedral. Amongst the hundreds of people that Scarlett buried during his lifetime was one ‘Edward the Foole’, a native of Crowland by birth and former court jester to King Henry VIII, laid to rest here in 1563. As was common practice at the time, and to allow for more burials in an already packed graveyard, the skeleton would have been exhumed some years later and the bones reburied in stacks. The image of an elderly gravedigger exhuming a royal jester’s skull might have stuck in the head of a Peterborough schoolboy, John Fletcher, the son of the then Cathedral Dean. Fletcher went on to become a noted Elizabethan playwright and worked with Shakespeare, even co-writing three plays with him, including the aforementioned ‘Henry VIII’. Is it possible that Fletcher may have suggested this scene to Shakespeare? Unfortunately ‘Hamlet’ was written between 1599 and 1601, and we have no evidence that the two men met until at least five years later, but it’s a tantalising thought nonetheless!





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Start of the Nene Park Story

1968

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Prior to the creation of Nene Park, there were very few recreational green spaces in Peterborough. In 1968, a year after the New Towns Act, the Peterborough Development Corporation was established and land from the Embankment in the city centre to Wansford, seven miles west, was purchased from landowners including Earl Fitzwilliam. Gravel extractors Amey Roadstone approached the Corporation and negotiations began to ensure that the resulting lakes were planned and landscaped carefully for the best possible visitor experience. Plans also included space for car parking, a water sports centre, a lake specifically for water sports and facilities including a café and shop.





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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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Liberty Gaol Opened

1844

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A call was made by the Justices of the Peace for Peterborough for plans and specifications to build a new gaol for Peterborough in 1839. The Cambridge Independent Press claimed that the plans of Mr Douthorn of Hanover Street, Hanover Square, London, were chosen and the site for the new Liberty gaol was proposed to be 'at the Upper end of Westgate (known as Gravel Close)', but this was not to be the case. 1 An alternate site was suggested on Thorpe Road, but a complicated legal battle ensued over the cost of proposed new land, with the Dean and Chapter fighting the Magistrates of the Liberty of Peterborough to claim fair remuneration for the land they needed to sell them for the gaol. 2 Although the first stone was laid for the gaol in 1840, the first group of prisoners didn't move in until 1844. The first petty sessions held in the new Liberty gaol were on Saturday 23rd February 1844, but it was unpopular with the judges who complained at having to walk such a distance to the court rooms! 3         1,Cambridge Independent Press, Saturday 14th December 1839, p3, 2, Lincolnshire Chronicle Friday 17th April 1840 p4, 3, Cambridge Independent Press, Saturday 2nd March 1844, p 3,  





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Stone Age Burial – Was it Murder?

4000-2500 BC

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A Neolithic grave  found in Fengate contained a man who had been killed by being shot with a flint arrow, the head of which was found lodged between his ribs. He was accompanied by a woman, a baby and a child, with unknown cause of death.  The skeletons are on display in Peterborough Museum. Why did all four individuals die at the same time and be buried in the same grave? Were they a family? Was this a very early multiple murder?





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Thomas Hunter, the Lonely ANZAC

1916

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Thomas Hunter was born in County Durham in 1880 but emigrated as a young man to Australia where he worked as a coal miner. At the outbreak of the First World War, he, like many young men enlisted, in his case in the 10th battalion of the 10th division, ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) forces. He fought at Gallipoli and then in the trenches of France and Belgium. In 1916 during the Battle of the Somme, Sgt Hunter was badly injured, so severely that he was shipped back to England for surgery. He was put on a train for Halifax with other wounded but on the journey his condition worsened badly so he was taken off the train at Peterborough and brought to the infirmary where, sadly, on the 31st of July 1916, he died. As he died away from home and his comrades he came to be known as the 'Lonely Anzac'. His death touched the hearts of Peterborians, in a way he came to represent their young men away fighting. A public subscription fund paid  for his funeral and a memorial. The mayor and civic dignitaries led the funeral procession to the Broadway Cemetery and the entire town came to a stop to pay their respects. A two metre tall granite cross was placed on his grave, and a brass plaque to his memory mounted in the military chapel in the cathedral. Every year on ANZAC day, April 25th, a civil ceremony is held at his graveside, attended by the mayor, civic dignitaries and a representative from the Australian High Commission.





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J M W Turner’s Painting of Peterborough C...

1795

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The painting of Peterborough Cathedral from the North by the artist Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) was first exhibited in 1795. Turner made sketches for this and other works showing the cathedral, during his 1794 Midlands tour.  This small watercolour is typical of the popular topographical imagery that was engraved for magazines during the period. Whilst the cathedral is the dominant feature of Peterborough Cathedral from the North, the foreground figures of local women going about their daily lives add a sense of scale and harmonious order to the scene.  Turner’s viewpoint also suggests the compactness of the city and its closeness to its surrounding countryside during the 1790s.





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Body Snatching!

1828

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Body snatching was a fairly common practice in the 18th century and 19th centuries. Doctors were in need of human corpses to study, but these were in short supply since the common religious belief at the time was that the body must remain intact for the Day of Judgement. Before the Anatomy Act of 1832, the only legal supply of corpses for anatomical purposes in Britain was those condemned to death and dissection by the courts.  Body snatchers (or resurrection men) were the entrepreneurs who filled the demand! Interfering with a grave was only a misdemeanour at common law, not a felony, and therefore only punishable with a fine and imprisonment rather than transportation or execution, so the lucrative trade was worth the risk. In Peterborough the first instance of body snatching was in 1828. It happened in Cowgate cemetery which used to stand at the top of Cowgate (it was completely removed in the 198os with the development of Queensgate Shopping Centre). One evening a cart was seen outside the cemetery with two men loading suspicious sacks onto it. The alarm was raised and the men fled, with a cart-chase ending near Norman Cross, where the men abandoned their getaway cart with its grisly cargo and fled over the fields. Body snatching continued to be a problem until about 1860. To prevent it relatives would watch over the graves and guard huts were set up in the cemeteries, one of these from Eye cemetery can be seen in Peterborough Museum.    





Repairs to the Dead Man’s Door

1548

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The cemetery for Peterborough Cathedral is to the north of the building. Thousands of people were buried there, from monks to grave diggers. In the past, any people who had their funeral in the cathedral exited the building via the north door, which gave direct access to the graveyard. This is the last door that their body would pass through, so it is known as dead man's door. In 1548/9 the lock of the door needed repairing, which is not surprising given how old the door is. Two pence was paid for 'mending the loke [lock] of the dedmans dore [door]',(1) which appears a bargain in modern terms. No records exist to say if the lock was needed to keep the living or the dead out of the cathedral!
Reference
(1) W. T. Mellows, The Last Days of Peterborough Monastery, Northamptonshire Record Society, 1950, p107





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The Peterborough Rat

1931

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In 1931 a small church museum was established by Canon Peel of the Cathedral of St John, Newfoundland, who wrote to 56 English Cathedrals requesting contributions for the collection in recognition of the ties between Newfoundland and the English Church. Among the objects donated was a copy of the 1699 deed establishing the parish, historic bibles, stonework, grave rubbings and a petrified rat. The rather unusual donation of the rat came from Peterborough Cathedral where the creature was found in the church rafters! The rat may have been found during John Thompson’s roof works in 1925 where timbers were replaced due to an infestation of deathwatch beetles.





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