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Peterborough
Bridge House Murals

Peterborough - Conservation Area Appraisals

Peterborough - Plaques

Landmark Tower (Sage's Tower)

Landmarks, Vistas and Views

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Peterborough - Bridge House Murals

This article first appeared in the March 2014 edition of Nene Living. Pictures can be clicked to view full size.

Bridge House, overlooking the Nene at Town Bridge was demolished in 2012 and with it went two unique and significant works of art. The Peterborough Civic Society didn't object to its demolition provided that its art works were saved. They considered that the creation of proper public access to the river frontage as part of a replacement 'Fletton Quays' development to be, on balance, a more important objective than saving the building. Nothing has yet been built on the site and plans are constantly stated to be, 'an exciting new dawn away' but what of the two art works?

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The Ayres Bas Relief

The larger of these is an incised bas-relief sculpture which covered the entire frontage of the main block on the Town Bridge frontage. This was a well known scene to Peterborians especially those of us who support Posh! Bridge House was designed by architect Howard V Lobb, built in 1955 in a Scandinavian modern style for Mitchell Engineering Ltd. who moved to Peterborough after their London office had been bombed during the blitz of 1940. Discovering the benefits of the temporary relocation by the mid 50's they were ready to build anew. An unusual feature, apart from the mural, was the drawing office with massive windows overlooking the river and reflective metal, wave-shaped ceiling panels designed to diffuse light uniformly.

The sculpture was designed and carried out by Arthur J Ayres. Carved in situ on 51 Portland stone panels, it depicts mythical and historical figures from science and engineering.

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The Vergette tiled mural

The pre-demolition assessment of the building uncovered a 140, glazed-tile mural in what had been the reception of Bridge House. It depicts a perspective design of typically industrial shapes. As the work was signed 'Vergette' Council officers were able to check its significance. Christopher Marsden of the Tiles and Architectural Ceramics Society (TACS), was consulted. He said of the mural;.."It is intrinsically significant and the only substantially surviving tiled mural by the much respected Vergette. I think it is important that the work is saved by the town".

The artist, Nicholas Vergette was a local man. He was born in 1923 in Market Deeping, entered Chelsea School of Art after the war and later lectured in London art schools. In 1958 he accepted a visiting professorship at the School for American Craftsmen at Rochester Institute of Technology, New York. From 1959 until his death in 1974 he held teaching positions at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.

Where are the murals now?

The Ayres sculpture was removed panel by panel, separated by substantial sheets of polystyrene, stacked on pallets and shrink-wrapped in plastic sheet. The panels are in secure storage under the watchful eye of the City Council.

The tiled mural was also carefully removed by ceramic specialists Jackfield Conservation Studio Ltd and taken to their Ironbridge workshops for repair and mounting onto stable back-boards. It has now been returned to Peterborough for storage and a new home for it will be sought.

The Civic Society would like to see both the murals returned for the public to admire and enjoy. An appropriate location, especially for the Ayres Mural would be in a significant open space on the south bank, ideally visible from Town Bridge. Can we wait for the transformation there to take place? Perhaps it could be offered to the first new development elsewhere in the city centre which has a prestigious public space in its design?

Bridge House Murals update

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The Vergette tile mural has been beautifully restored and can be seen in a meeting room at the Allia Future Business Centre in the Motorpoint Stand at Peterborough United Football Club. It is nicely displayed together with a short but informative description panel. Although the building is not a public space, staff are very welcoming and I am sure would allow visitors to view the mural so long as the room is not occupied.

 

The Ayres Bas Relief is still in safe storage with the City Council and awaits the moment when it can be reconstructed on its new home. It will be on the west facing wall of the multi-storey car park proposed in the Fletton Quays development. This site is only a hundred yards or so from the original location and will overlook a landscaped public space.

Ayres Bas Relief update

This has now been reconstructed as mentioned above and here are some photos taken by vice-chair Toby Wood on 10 January 2020. Click on image to enlarge.

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Peterborough - Conservation Area Appraisals

This article first appeared in the April 2014 edition of Nene Living. Pictures can be clicked to view full size.

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Around and about Peterborough there are about thirty villages and suburbs that merit the designation 'Conservation Area'. Within their boundaries special consideration is given by the City Council as planning authority to directing and controlling development and other changes which may alter the appearance and character of the area. There is also a duty to enhance these areas. It is of some satisfaction to the Peterborough Civic Society that this is a duty the City Council takes very seriously and recently its Planning Services department published for consultation four new appraisals covering Longthorpe, Bainton, Marholm and Orton Longueville. These reports join the eighteen published since 2007. All of these can all be read under the 'Planning and Building' pages of the Peterborough City Council's website.

These are excellent documents and are essential reading, not only for residents of particular villages but for anyone who has an interest in our urban and rural heritage. They are chock full of information about the way the villages have developed over the centuries, building types, landscape, materials and architectural details. There is an analysis of the positives which give each place its unique character and those features which detract from the scene. Click on image to see full size

The purpose of these appraisals is to raise awareness of the qualities of these conservation areas and of how enhancement might be possible in both the public and private realm. Each appraisal provides residents with an understanding of what should be cared for and preserved in the conservation area, and the need for sympathetic alterations and repairs.

Public Consultation took taking place during February and March of 2014 on the four appraisal and management reports.

A major feature of the reports is a Draft Management Plan for each village which make a number of suggestions and proposals, including; extensions to the Conservation area boundaries; resistance to more infill or backland development; assistance to owners in maintaining stone boundary walls; reducing visual dominance of roadways and; additional tree planting.

The Peterborough Civic Society is not directly involved in producing these appraisals and although strongly in favour, in principle, we commented in a critical but constructive way during the consultation period. Click on image to see full size

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Peterborough Plaques

This article first appeared in the August 2014 edition of Nene Living. Pictures can be clicked to view full size.

There's plenty to look at in our villages, towns and cities and Peterborough is no exception. But it's not always easy to know where to start and what to look for, particularly if you are new to the city or a casual tourist.

Since 1985 Peterborough Civic Society has produced and erected a number of plaques in and around Peterborough which have celebrated places, people and buildings of note. For example plaques have commemorated Crescent Bridge, Theatre Royal, Peterscourt, The Barracks (New England) and the era of electric transport in the city. Click on image for larger picture

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The Sessions House plaque

The Sessions House

Location of "The Barracks" plaque
(Great Northern Cottages, Lincoln Road)

The time has come to review what there is and to look at and update the style, content and location of these plaques and how we can all make better use of them.

Should the Civic Society put its efforts into improving the plaques or into bringing them to the attention of a wide public?

Some plaques do need a spruce-up and there are additional events and people to be made subject of a new plaque. There is no current 'Heritage Trail' published in any form which would provide a guided tour of the significant features which make Peterborough unique. The Society is considering producing a leaflet as well as a full entry on its website and may even stretch its resources and inventiveness to an app. Whatever is decided it is vital that plaques are interesting and relevant − obvious considerations but easier said than done!

Perhaps the most famous example of plaques is the English Heritage blue plaque scheme - these are a permanent sign installed in a public place in the United Kingdom and elsewhere to commemorate a link between that location and a famous person or event, serving as a historical marker.

Peterborough Civic Society may well decide to do something similar and is keen to collect views from residents of the city and its surrounding area as well as visitors. Once the format is decided then trails will be devised linking the plaques and providing further information.

If any readers have views on this project then please contact Peterborough Civic Society either via the Society's website of by contacting committee member Toby Wood at the following email address: tobywood2008@googlemail.com

Update June 2020 following the erection of 20 blue Plaques in 2017, the Society has now expanded the scheme to 36 blue plaques. Details of them can be found along with our very early plaques from 1984 on our Peterborough Plaques page and updated our blue plaques booklet. Follow Peterborough Blue Plaques link for details on how to acquire this booklet.

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Landmark Tower (Sage's Tower)

This article first appeared in the October 2014 edition of Nene Living. Pictures can be clicked to view full size.

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To the many travellers on the East Coast main line coming from the north Sage's tower may well be their first glimpse of our 'fair and goodly' city. Sage's tower is a landmark, it lets you know where you are and, in this case, alerts you to get ready to disembark at Peterborough station.

The tower is part of the industrial heritage of the city. It is the last remnant of a factory with a short but richly varied story typical of the many firms which relocated to Peterborough from London.

At the outset of the First World War aviation was in its infancy and the only two main companies producing aircraft on any scale, Avro and Shorts, used sub-contractors to meet the sudden increase in demand. One of those early pioneering sub-contractors was Frederick Sage & Co, who made high quality woodwork, specializing in shop fitting.

The company was based at Holborn, London. Success led them to Peterborough in 1910 where open land beside the railway line at Walton was found to be perfect for their needs. Within a year a factory designed by local architect Alan W Ruddle was up and running. A second building soon followed and it was this one which included an impressive water tower in the Arts & Crafts style. It was some 68ft (21m) high to the ridge of its elegantly hipped roof.

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The first military aircraft came off the production line in 1915 and over 400 in all were made at Walton. At the end of hostilities aircraft manufacture ceased and Sages returned to joinery work.

image missing please notify webmaster At the Peterborough factory Sages made many splendid shopfronts one of which survives in the city centre at D'Arcy's Jewellers in Westgate. The Lord Mayor's Parlour has panelling and ceiling fittings which show off the high quality of their work.

In 1936 the factory was sold to the Aeronautical Corporation who made small bodied monoplanes. This business soon failed and at the approach of the war the factory was commissioned by the Government for munitions production, specializing in torpedoes. After 1945 the site was occupied by a succession of engineering companies; Perkins Engines, Triplex Components and finally Triplex Machining.

The tower remains as the only reminder of all this history. The bulk of the factory site has been redeveloped with low-rise housing. The retention of the tower was made a condition of the approval and permission was given to convert it to two apartments. In 2013 the developers had completed and sold all the new houses and applied for demolition of the tower on grounds that it was too costly to convert. Permission was refused and the structure has a stay of execution of about 6 months. In July the site was sold on the open market.

The Civic Society has produced a sketch idea of how conversion might be viable. This involves the addition of a new wing to accommodate staircases to enable three or more apartments to be created. The top floors would comprise a penthouse with the most spectacular views of the city and the countryside around; over to you Mr/Ms Developer.

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Peterborough Landmarks, Vistas and Views

This article first appeared in the February 2015 edition of Nene Living. Pictures can be clicked to view full size.

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Landmark; a recognisable natural or man-made feature used for navigation; a feature that stands out from its near environment and is often visible from long distances. To help us find our way around we get clues from buildings, structures and landscapes which offer a distinctive and memorable experience forming memories which to variable extent become imprinted in our brains. The more eye-catching and unique the landmark the more likely it is to form an imprint. How does Peterborough measure-up to this?

Let's take the most common way of moving about the city, by road. The main roads and parkways have enabled us to move about the city readily and quickly. They are a boon but do have at least one drawback in our flattish terrain; they are somewhat uniform in appearance and lack drama. Most of the parkways are cloaked in trees and embankments. Many of the junctions are of a similar basic layout and most of us rely heavily on road signs rather than landmarks to decide where to turn off.

Of course there are some 'landmarks' which do help us on our way. Number one on any list must be the Cathedral. Although it has the most wonderful West Front it is visually dominant only in the street scene close up. There are good views of the full length of the nave from Frank Perkins' Parkway. Even these are currently obscured in parts by extensive hedge and tree growth. Some parts are soon to be cut-back to prolong our glimpse of the cathedral.

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The cathedral can be seen from considerably further afield on a good day or with binoculars; from the former A605 coming from Elton close to Bullock Road and from Ramsey Forty Foot. You do need morning light and sharp eyes for the latter!

One of the best viewpoints for a number of Peterborough landmarks is Hill Farm, Alwalton. Take a trip to the 'Pick-your-own' fields and take in the panorama. From left to right you may be able to pick out; Castor Church, Thomas Cook (Thorpe Wood), City Hospital, minarets, Cathedral, Serpentine Green, King's Dyke brickworks and Yaxley Chuch spire.

Other landmarks from the parkways which cannot be seen from here include; Town Hall, numerous church spires, gas Power Station, Family Stand at Posh, Peterborough Arena, PDH, Sage's Tower and the Lido.

A number of prominent landmarks, not all of them of great beauty, have been lost in recent decades. British Sugar's stack and silos, Fletton and Orton brickwork chimneys, Rivergate power station, and more recently the office blocks of both Baker-Perkins and Perkins Engines and Pedigree Petfoods' collection of pipes, ducts and flues!

Perhaps it's time we had some new landmarks at strategic locations around the city? One of the most significant opportunities is presented by the corner of the new distribution park at Alwalton Hill (Roxhill Developments) at the junction of the A1(M) and Fletton Parkway, the 'gateway' to Peterborough. How about and 'Angel of the East' here?

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Lee Grandjean's 'Peterborough Arch' sculpture east side of Nene Parkway looking to the Cathedral before the trees blocked the view of the Cathedral - drawing by Kem Mehmed

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River Nene with view of the former coal-fired
Peterborough Power Station before demolition
photo courtesy Peterborough Images Archive

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page last changed 31 October 2020