The first inmates arrived at the Norman Cross Prisoner of War Camp in 1797, which was the first purpose built camp of its kind. Its location was chosen because it was within reach of London, close to the Great North Road and accessible from a river, but deemed too difficult to escape from easily. It was built primarily of timber in the style of an artillery fort and divided into quadrangles which contained barracks for the prisoners.
During the Napoleonic Wars and at its height, it housed over 6,000 low-ranking soldiers and sailors from France, Belgium and the Netherlands, which dwarfed the population of Peterborough. Higher ranking and well-respected officers paroled outside the camp, mostly in Peterborough and local towns and were free to live as citizens. The camp was not designed as a correctional facility, so there was the chance for prisoners to make and sell goods locally, get access to education and entertain themselves with a theatre, drinking and gambling.
All of the buildings and equipment were auctioned off in 1816 a couple of years after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Many fine examples of the delicate bone, wood and straw work objects created by the prisoners to earn money can be viewed in Peterborough Museum in an interactive gallery dedicated to the Norman Cross prison.
Harry Smith was born in Whittlesey in 1787. In 1805 he joined the 95th rifles as a lieutenant serving in South America and from 1808 in Spain and Portugal. In 1812 he married a well-born Spanish girl, Juana Maria de los Dolores de Leon, and she remained with him on nearly all his subsequent travels. Before fighting at the Battle of Waterloo as a Brigade Major, he served in America and was present at the burning of Washington.
After the Napoleonic War he served in South Africa as a provincial governor then in India as deputy-adjutant-general. He was made Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, then served as High Commissioner and Governor of Cape Colony where he and Juana are memorialised in the names of the towns of 'Harrismith' and 'Ladysmith'.
In this country he is remembered in the name of the Sir Harry Smith College in Whittlesey.
As an interesting aside, his love story with Juana was the basis of a novel, 'The Spanish Bride' by Georgette Heyer (1940).
The first inmates arrived at the Norman Cross Prisoner of War Camp in 1797,…
Harry Smith was born in Whittlesey in 1787. In 1805 he joined the 95th rifl…