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A place for peace and contemplation

 

 

 

 

 

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A place for peace and contemplation

This article was first published in the 21 January 2021 edition of the Peterborough Telegraph. It was written by committee member Toby Wood.

Many years ago, in the last century when I was a headteacher at a local primary school, the staff experienced one of the first Ofsted inspections. One of the inspectors noticed that there was a boy sitting in my office playing with Lego and drawing on a colouring pad. She informed me that she was concerned that the boy was “not receiving equal access to the National Curriculum”. I informed the inspector that I suspected that the lad had come to school that morning having been exposed to illegal drugs in the household and that I was waiting for a social worker to come to assist me in investigations and to ensure that he was safe.

I mention this episode because I am reminded of the lad nearly every day as I take exercise in Eastfield cemetery near where I live. I pass the solid, black marble headstone on his well-kept grave and pause a moment. The inscription informs the world that he was fourteen years old when he died. image missing please notify webmaster image missing please notify webmaster

Eastfield cemetery, whose entrance is on the corner of Eastfield Road and Newark Avenue, has been a godsend to me. Since last March it has been the place where I have walked most often as part of my daily exercise routine. I have walked around it approximately five times a week for between 30 minutes and an hour. By my reckoning that means I have probably walked about 700 miles since Covid-19 struck. It is a place where I can walk safely whilst contemplating the world or listening to an album, radio programme or audiobook on my earbuds.

The cemetery is a much larger area than you might think. It is a series of wide tarmac pathways, each wide enough for a car to travel slowly down. These paths criss-cross the site and the walker doesn’t have to repeat his/her steps during a half-hour walk.

As we enter the cemetery we are immediately aware of Peterborough’s post-Great War history (the cemetery was opened in 1919). Civic dignitaries abound – freemen, aldermen, town clerks – Mellows, Hall, Hunting and Arthur Itter who died aged 35 having been mayor the year earlier.

Peterborough’s Robert Sayle/Perkins Engines past is perpetuated by names rarely heard these days – Constance, Stanley, Nellie, Albert, Violet, Horace, Gwendoline, Edith and Ronald. Newer graves plot the city’s brick work and factory era – Giuseppe, Vincenzo, Lucia, Maria, Giovanni and Margherita. Family names point to migration and newer Peterbororians - O’Reilly, Corrigan, Mulhern and McDonagh and more recently Hussain, Khan, Bibi, Bashir, Akhtar and Begum.

However the reminders of rich lives and long service are starkly contrasted by the dozens of smaller, much more colourful patches of ground poignantly punctuated by the word ‘Baby’ on little memorials, reminding us all of the tragedies that women and families still endure.

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On my walks I see familiar faces, the two women who push or ride their bicycles round and round, regular dog walkers or Barry, the wheelchair user whose speed and endurance might put Lewis Hamilton to shame. I also wave and exchange pleasantries with the sturdy yeomen of Aragon Services who look after and manage the cemetery, Peterborough’s modern equivalents of Old Scarlett. Thanks to you all.

I shall continue to visit Eastfield cemetery long after Covid-19 has been beaten. As well as recreation and quiet contemplation, it is a place that reassures me of my Peterborough roots and heritage, a place where I can be reunited with the girl I went to school with in the 1950s, the talented footballer I taught or my long-gone next door neighbour. It is also a place where I can see squirrels, woodpeckers, robins, and red kites high above.

Of course we are all advised not to travel far for our daily exercise. So we should be thankful that Peterborough has a variety of open spaces near to where we live. The older parts of the city have established areas – Central Park, Itter Park – and the newer townships – Bretton, Orton, Paston, Werrington all have networks of footpaths and cycleways. Even Peterborough’s newest developments, Hampton in particular, has plenty of open spaces – even lakes – for residents to walk around and enjoy. In these times of hardship and anxiety we must thank Peterborough for small mercies. Our open spaces should be cherished and valued, not just for now but for future generations. Those who are making decisions about the future of the Embankment please take note!

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page last changed 23 January 2021