25 John Fletcher

Plaque location - on the wall just west of the end of the former Deanery range (now in private ownership), which has at its core the thirteenth century Prior’s Hall, rather than to the building itself, since the precise configuration of the whole range prior to 1700 remains uncertain - location map

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John Fletcher was born in 1579 at Rye, Sussex, the third son of Richard Fletcher who, a few years later, would become Dean of Peterborough before preferment in 1590 took him to the see of Bristol and from thence to those of Worcester and London.

It was Dean Fletcher who would disturb those last moments of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, at her execution at Fotheringhay in 1587 with the cry, "So perish all the Queen’s (Elizabeth's) enemies."

By the later 1580s young John, then a schoolboy living at the Deanery on the north side of the Cathedral and receiving his education within its precincts, must have encountered the aged Robert Scarlett, the celebrated sexton. ‘Old Scarlett’ whose remarkable career is commemorated, both figuratively and in verse, on the inside of the west wall of the Cathedral’s nave, had been responsible for conducting the burials of queens Katharine of Aragon and Mary, Queen of Scots.

It is surely perfectly plausible that the old sexton would have regaled the young and impressionable John with macabre tales drawn from his experiences working within what was, even by then, a grossly overcrowded graveyard. (The area between the then Deanery and Cathedral, on its northern side, remained a lay cemetery – in effect the parish burial ground – until 1805 (see the Parish Burial Ground plaque).

John came of a literary family, one that seems to have been quite well connected generally. Giles Fletcher the elder, an uncle, was a diplomat and writer while the Spencerian poet Giles the younger and Phineas were cousins. After completing an education at Cambridge, John is soon to be found in London collaborating with Francis Beaumont, an acquaintance of Ben Jonson, dramatist (and to a degree rival of Shakespeare), for whom Beaumont wrote a number of commendatory verses.

Beaumont and Fletcher’s collaboration lasts for about a decade, producing up to about fifteen plays, until Beaumont’s death in 1616. Fletcher collaborated with other playwrights too, though at least sixteen plays are considered to be from his pen alone. Considerable debate continues as to individual authorship responsibilities surrounding many of these collaborations, not the least of which concerns that between John Fletcher and that slippery literary enigma and phenomenon William Shakespeare.

The likelihood is that Fletcher and Shakespeare jointly produced 'The Two Noble Kinsmen' and shared in the composition of 'Henry VIII'. Fairly recently scholars have rediscovered a supposedly long-lost Shakespeare play – 'Cardenio' – produced for the Jacobean Court in 1612, with assistance from Fletcher.

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Shakespeare, who was probably in London by 1590, seems at some point to have had a house in St Andrew’s Hill, Blackfriars. A few yards away (in what is now Playhouse Yard) was the Blackfriars Theatre which, from about 1608, was taken over for the use of the ‘King’s Men’, a theatre company operated by a syndicate which included Shakespeare and Burbage and, later, Fletcher. The little playhouse had been created out of the remnants of the conventual buildings of the dissolved Order of Black Friars (Dominicans). (As it happens, the very location at which Henry VIII’s case for his divorce from Katharine of Aragon had been heard by the papal legate in 1529). It is sobering at the moment to reflect upon that fact that at this time the Jacobean theatre was seeking to get back on its feet following closure due to another visitation of the plague, in the 1590s.

A few hundred yards in the opposite direction from the Blackfriars Theatre, just south of Cheapside, was the Mermaid Tavern which became celebrated as the resort of a spectacularly gregarious coterie of literary, intellectual and political types. The Mermaid was destroyed in the Great Fire and not rebuilt. Considerable debate continues as to its precise location (somewhere between Bread Street and Friday Street), just who was involved in its rumbustious talking shops, and when.

One school of thought has it that Sir Walter Raleigh, a friend of the poet Spencer, had instituted “The Mermaid Club’ as a convivial watering-hole for this charmed circle. Be that as it may, it is clear that by the early years of the seventeenth century the club at the Mermaid had become one which combined "more talent and genius than ever met before....". A long list of dramatis personae said to have repaired there regularly included Jonson, Donne, Shakespeare, Beaumont and Fletcher, Cotton, Selden etc. Many were the 'wit combats' enjoyed by this sort of company, as. expressed in Beaumont's celebrated epistle to Jonson:

"...What things have we seen done at the Mermaid? Heard words that have been so nimble and so full of subtle flame..."

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It is in the context of such banter that a local tradition has grown that John Fletcher could well have seeded in Shakespeare’s mind the imagery expressed in the Graveyard scene in Hamlet, drawing on his own schoolboy recollections of Old Scarlett’s macabre tales. Hamlet watches as the gravedigger picks up a disinterred skull from the freshly dug grave; recognising it is that of Yorick, the former Court jester, Hamlet exclaims, "Alas poor Yorick, I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy...."

Peterborough’s own Yorick was Edward, a youth from Crowland, who, having enjoyed a career as one of the King’s (Henry VIII) ‘fools’ returned to Peterborough. An entry in St John’s Parish Register for a burial in July 1563 relates: "Item Edward the foole was buryed the xii day." A further conjecture is that John Fletcher might well have penned the slightly waspish piece of doggerel verse, in what may be termed "a relaxed type of versification", which appears as old Scarlett’s epitaph beneath his mural in the Cathedral nave.

It is now generally accepted that a major part, perhaps the major part, of ‘Henry VIII’ – "almost Shakespeare’s last word to the world" - is in fact by Fletcher. In the play Wolsey’s last speech runs:

"This is the state of man: today he puts forth
The tender leaves of hope; tomorrow blossoms
And bears his blushing honours thick upon him;
The third day comes on frost...."

John Fletcher died of the plague in 1625 and is buried in what is now Southwark Cathedral, alongside Shakespeare’s brother Edmund and fellow dramatist, collaborator and successor at the King’s Men, Philip Massinger.

Installed 2020. Information compiled by Henry Mansell Duckett

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Blue Plaque 26 - Laurel Court and Edith Cavell

Plaque location - on railings at the front of Laurel Court in the Cathedral cloisters - location map

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Laurel Court, properly Laurel Court House, a probably mostly eighteenth-century ashlar-faced house, stands in proud isolation on the eastern side of the cathedral cloister. (The name derives from the old term used to describe the cloister garth itself). It has served a number of functions: private house, school, clergy accommodation including, in the mid-twentieth century, Deanery and, until comparatively recently, song school. Listed, Grade 1, Laurel Court is currently in very poor structural condition and has for some time been included in Historic England’s Register of Buildings at Risk. It remains in residential occupancy, being kept in just about wind and weathertight state pending comprehensive repair and conservation, a seemingly remote prospect at present given the cathedral’s known parlous financial predicament and likely envisaged resources ongoing.

In 1871 a school was established at Laurel Court by Margaret Gibson, a native of Co. Cork Ireland and her business partner Annette van Dissel, transferring to the cathedral precincts an establishment set up initially at Fletton a year or two previously. This relocation may have been at the instigation of the then bishop (Magee – a former Dean of Cork, where he was born, was the first Irishman since the Reformation to be appointed to an English see.) eager to establish a ‘good class’ school for girls, the daughters of the clergy or professional men. Their school functioned in the cloister for nearly fifty years. Between roughly 1884 and 1886 Edith Cavell received some of her education, both as pupil and as student/teacher, at Laurel Court.

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Edith Cavell was born at Swardeston near Norwich, where her father was vicar for no less than 45 years. Her time in Peterborough was followed by work as a governess in Brussels and nurse training at the London Hospital, before she was effectively ‘head-hunted’ for the post of matron for a newly-established nursing school in Brussels. Within a year or so she would find herself responsible for nurse training at three hospitals plus numerous schools and kindergartens.

Photo left shows EdithCavell, Antoine Depage, Marie Dapge and probationers at the Brussels Nursing School.

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Her fame internationally and the reason for her continuing to be honoured in Peterborough resides of course in her treatment following the German occupation of Brussels in late 1914. Her courageous refusal to submit to German military law by persisting in sheltering wounded British and French soldiers as well as Belgian and French civilians of military age, then helping to organise their guided escape across the Dutch border, enraged the German authorities. Having been betrayed by a collaborator she was arrested in August 1915, prosecuted and tried by court martial under the German Military Code. Although the Geneva Convention usually guaranteed protection of medical personnel, under the version of the Convention their current such protection was forfeit if deployed as a cover for ‘belligerent action’. The German authorities were therefore able to justify prosecution safely on the basis of German law and the interests of the state, brushing aside all appeals for pardon made on the grounds that she had helped save so many lives, Germans as well as Allied. Edith Cavell was executed in October 2015.

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Buried initially by the Saint Gilles prison, Edith Cavell’s remains were brought back to Britain at the end of the war and, following a service in Westminster Abbey, transferred back home to Norwich for burial just outside the east end of that cathedral. Many memorials in her memory were created around the world.

She is seen left with her dogs Don and Jack.

In St Martin’s Place London, beside the National Portrait Gallery, stands an enormous monument bearing the famous inscription: “Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone”. The standing figure of Nurse Cavell is by the distinguished sculptor Sir George Frampton RA. (Another fine figure by Frampton – St George and the Dragon – may now be found in Peterborough at the former headquarters of Pearl Assurance at Peterborough Business Park; see our book Peterborough and its Buildings in Detail p. 213). This is still available for sale, if ordered from the Society it is £15.00 (£10.00 to members) plus p & p, elsewhere is for sale at its normal retail price of £18.00

In Peterborough friends and colleagues from Laurel Court School raised subscriptions to pay for the memorial, bearing Edith Cavell’s portrait in profile, located on one of the cathedral’s nave south arcade piers. Above is hung the lamp used on Cavell’s night-time ward rounds and, as is sometimes claimed, also to guide escapees. The lamp was donated in 2009 by the de Croy family whose chateau had been used for their concealment. Beneath Nurse Cavell’s memorial may also be found a plaque to Margaret Gibson, the first woman to be granted the freedom of this city.

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Laurel Court stands on ground which, before the dissolution of the monastery and the civil war period, has been partly occupied by the monastic chapter house, locutorium or parlour (a room where the rule of silence was relaxed to allow necessary conversation – hence to parler or parley in advance of chapter business), library and dorter. The latter, the monk’s dormitory, was a first-floor level and ran on south of the cloister for some distance. All of this had been swept away by the mid-seventeenth century. (The ingenious arrangements by which the route was taken by the monks from dormitory to night stairs in the south transept was organised, negotiating its way over the chapter house vestibule, is perhaps now best appreciated only at Bristol Cathedral.)

The largest of the conventual buildings of medieval monasteries, particularly of Benedictine houses, tended to vary comparatively little from one to another. Their planning derived ultimately from a Carolingian plan, on vellum, preserved at Saint Gall, Switzerland. This idealised layout, distinctively Roman in both its ideal of order as well as drawing style, seems to have originated from the court of Charlemagne or his son Louis shortly after 800AD.

The house itself is something of a puzzle. Disentangling the problems of its building archaeology will probably have to await its comprehensive repair and conservation. On the face of it, it is easily early eighteenth-century construction, though seemingly of two builds, plus a couple of bay windows added in the nineteenth century. Interior details, including a fine main staircase, panelling, cornices, etc. are indeed clearly of about 1720, corresponding with those of other buildings of similar date within the precincts. However, it is known that a 40-year building lease was granted to the sub-treasurer in 1675, and it may be that some construction of this earlier date survives within the core of Laurel Court House. By the mid-nineteenth century it was occupied by the Reverend William Strong, who had taken a lease in 1838. The Strongs, a long-established family at Stanground Manor, had decided to move to Laurel Court when rumour came of the new railway coming to within yards of their front door at Stanground. They would eventually take up occupancy of a much-overhauled Thorpe Hall in 1852.

Installed 2020. Information compiled by Henry Mansell Duckett

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27 Lido

Plaque location - to the right of the main entrance to the Lido which is situated in Bishop's Road - location map

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Peterborough's open-air swimming pool, or Lido, was designed by a panel of local architects and opened in 1936. Its cost was £20,800, a large amount of money at the time and the design contains elements of art deco and 'hacienda-style' design and is regarded as one of the best surviving examples in England. It is still extremely popular and is used between May and September every year by over 20,000 people.

On 10 June 1940, the Lido was unlucky enough to experience a direct hit during the city's first air raid of the Second World War but was quickly back in operation. It was designated a Grade II listed building in 1992 and celebrated its 80th birthday in 2016. At its annual official opening for the summer season it is a tradition that the new mayor is the first to jump in, usually fully clothed!

Until recently Vivacity managed the Lido and their website says that 'This fantastic outdoor swimming complex offers three heated outdoor swimming pools; a 50m heated main pool, a teaching pool for children and a paddling pool for toddlers. The three large sun-bathing terraces, a large grass lawn and play area for the kids make the Lido the perfect venue for a fun family day out. There is also an onsite cafe serving hot and cold food as well as ice-cream and refreshments.'

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One of Peterborough's best-known and colourful characters, Walter Cornelius (1923-83), worked as a lifeguard at the Lido. A plaque and weathervane dedicated to him were erected there in 2016, the plaque containing further information about his life and eccentric feats for charity. Indeed, including our own, there are now three plaques in total at the Lido, the third being the splendid City of Peterborough plaque erected to mark the official opening by the mayor, Cllr A. H. Mellows on 28th May 1936. The plaque also includes names of all councillors who served on the Baths Committee.
Ed. the weather vane sits on top of the clock tower and depicts Walter's attempt to try and fly over the River Nene to which he nearly succeeded. Also note the four faces of the clock, one for each side of the tower all showing the current time.

This plaque was produced and installed by the Society with the generous financial assistance from Peterborough City Council.

Installed 2017. Information compiled by Toby Wood.

Toby has written a poem about Cornelius, follow link to read it.

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28 Town Hall

Plaque location - on the back wall of the portico to the Town Hall's main entrance in Bridge Street - location map

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The preparations for, and building of, the Town Hall between 1929 and 1933 brought about the moist drastic and irreversible transformation of the city's hitherto small town character; to an extent greater even than the arrival of the thumpingly heavy footprint of Queensgate half a century later. Peterborough's market town scale and grain were lost for ever.

The distance between building lines in Bridge Street was doubled ‐ the whole of the eastern side being demolished ‐ while the roadway itself, between kerbs, (which at its narrowest point in the former Narrow Street had been just twenty feet) was at least tripled in width. If the city lost much of its essential character due to this drastic re-alignment, it did in consequence at least gain a decent civic building at the northern end.

The new Town Hall was built to the designs of architect E. Berry Webber, who subsequently became something of a specialist in putting up grand civic buildings (from Portsmouth to then Southern Rhodesia), while the builder (initially at least) was the great Peterborough master-builder John Thompson and Sons.

Having successfully obtained its Charter of Incorporation in 1874 the new City Corporation had to make content for the best part of sixty years with meeting upstairs in The Chamber over the Cross (i.e. Butter Cross) - which then became known as the Guildhall. This they managed with some visually inappropriate additions to its west, though not without having also toyed with several (happily, for us, abortive) attempts to rebuild and aggrandise that building. But in anticipation of an enlargement of city boundary in 1929, and an inevitable increase in the numbers of aldermen and councillors, an architectural competition was launched for a new Town Hall.

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The winner, Ernest Berry Webber, who had trained with various distinguished architects, including Vincent Harris, had by 1930 won a number of competitions but built little of real significance. Peterborough Town Hall, together with the more ambitious Southampton Civic Centre complex ‐ also executed in Webber's characteristic 'Free Classical' or 'Wrenaissance' style ‐ were his first major commissions to get under way.

The architectural and technical press began to get interested in, and quite excited about, the scheme of such manifest ambition which, as one journal put it, with studied understatement, would be realised "at some sacrifice to quaintness and intimacy" in the town centre. On the whole though, the technical press at the time was fairly generous in its applause of Webber's designs, but couldn't resist advancing various suggestions as to how they might be improved. The chief concern seems to have been as to how the rather stretched appearance of the five hundred and forty foot long the facade might be an ameliorated. A facade of such length, opined the Architect's Journal, could be "no more a town hall facade than it is an entire street, and no more at town hall street than a shopping street." In short, how was the semi-commercial nature of the scheme to be reconciled with a desire to achieve civic dignity and a degree of grandeur? photos above/below right credit Peterborough Images Archive and photo above right shows demolition of Narrow Street.

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In recognition perhaps of an inherent conflict in the initial brief, Webber advanced two possible optional extras. The first involved the suggested addition of a roof storey to the long flanking wings, with their ranges of shops. This did come about eventually, but only some fifty or so years later, and then to such an indifferent 'design and build' format as to afford no aesthetic improvement to the balance of overall proportions.

Webber's second idea by way of amelioration was his suggestion that a shopping arcade could be added, in the form of colonnades built out over the pavement in front of the shops. This suggestion was hardly surprisingly, since Webber's inspiration for the whole composition had, to a large degree, been Wren's Royal Hospital, Chelsea, with its colonnaded wings. But to the 'moderns' at the time the term 'Wrenaissance' was a disparaging one, implying something both derivative and retrogressive.

The Architect's Journal was, at best, ambivalent about the colonnades, thinking it is perhaps an idea worth following up, but adding sceptically "... if he succeeds, the ghost of John Nash will follow him with sweet dreams of ghostly approbation (shades of Nash's ill-fated Regent Street colonnades) and he will be among the few men who have added a colonnade to a shopping front and kept it there for a longer period than was needed for the shopkeepers to find words in which to vent their anger at such an imposition."

The scheme went ahead, sans roof storey and colonnades. The foundation stone was laid in June 1929 and the Town Hall was officially opened with due civic pump and flummery in October 1933, following what the technical press referred to archly as "some incidental delays". This anodyne phrase glossed over the fact that the main contractor ‐ the great local firm of master-builders John Thompson and Sons, (see plaque No. 06) ‐ had been forced into voluntary liquidation mid-way through the contract. The precise nature of the problems encountered by such an experienced and respected firm as Thompsons remain difficult to discern fully. Perhaps their eagerness to secure such a prestigious local commission caused the firm to submit too low a tender, particularly with regard to suppositions and judgements made as to prospective foundation conditions.

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At any event, as early as February 1930 the financial strain was beginning to show, with Thompsons paying less than the standard agreed trade union rates to some employees. In the following year Thompsons were indeed forced into voluntary liquidation and Messrs Henry Willcock and Co. completed the realisation of Webber's designs on the same terms and conditions.

The Town Hall's noble Corinthian columned portico, surmounted by a handsome lantern and cupola above its pediment, closes the vista looking east along the length of Priestgate. The facades are finished in a fine facing brick from Buckinghamshire ‐ red to the west, mostly grey to the east ‐ while the stone dressings throughout are of Clipsham limestone, save for the portico columns which are constructed from large drums of Hollington sandstone from Staffordshire.
(photo credit Julian Dowse geograph.org.uk wikimedia commons)

Berry Webber himself designed the various plaques representing Industry, Science, Civic Jurisprudence, etc. which adorn the Bridge Street facade. Within, the fine central entrance hall and double staircase is clad in marble, the columns executed in a contrasted blue scagliola, while the Council Chambers, lit by tall windows, has a highly original hand-painted ceiling, eclectic both in design and iconography, said to have been painted by three Italian students from the Royal College of Art.

Down to 1974 the Town Hall was shared between Peterborough City Council and the Soke of Peterborough County Council. Subsequently it has been used predominantly by Peterborough City Council; though that is soon to change.

This plaque was produced and installed by the Society with the generous financial assistance from Peterborough City Council.

Installed 2017. Information compiled by Henry Mansell Duckett.

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29 Angel Inn

Plaque location - on the wall of WH Smith, not on the Bridge Street frontage but rather the side of the building in Priestgate - location map

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image missing please notify webmaster The Angel Inn, which stood on this site, was the property of Peterborough Abbey and may have served as a pilgrim hostel for the Abbey (now Cathedral). Later, as The Angel Hotel it was one of the major coaching inns in Peterborough along with other large hotels/inns such as the Bell and Oak on Cathedral Square and the Bull Hotel in Westgate.

Mail and stagecoaches for London, Louth, Leicester, Yarmouth etc. called here, mail coaches especially, as the inn also housed the Post Office for some time. Ironically, since Peterborough's main Post Office in Cowgate closed in 2016, it was relocated to WH Smith ‐ some things come full circle!

The Fitzwilliam family acquired the inn in 1731 and it was probably rebuilt around the end of the 18th century. The inn was used for public meetings and performances (including cock fighting) during the 19th century and served as the base for the Fitzwilliams' political candidates. Its spectacular main room was available to be booked for "concerts, balls, dinners, wedding breakfasts and public entertainments". During its life it served as the base for the city's voluntary fire department.

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Several of its 19th century landlords were also farmers, renting land from Fitzwilliam Estates.

In the 1930s The Angel became the city's first AA/RAC three-star hotel and was well known as an important city centre meeting venue. Indeed Peterborough United Football Club officially came into being there on 17th May 1934 when "a crowded meeting at the Angel decided to go ahead with the formation of a professional club to fill a void left by the collapse of Peterborough and Fletton United some two years earlier".

The Peterborough Society, the original name for the Civic Society, was founded in 1952 at a launch meeting in the Writing Room of the Angel Hotel, its agreed aim to 'work for the preservation of the few remaining old buildings left in the City of Peterborough and the surrounding district'.

The Angel finally closed for business on 30 May 1971 and was subsequently demolished.

Installed 2017. Information compiled by Toby Wood.

Ed. In April 2017 Kem Mehmed wrote an article about the history and work of the Society, which can be read here.

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30 Thomas Hake

Plaque location - midway along the south side of Priestgate, a little to the east of the Museum, on the building, now residential, which used to be the
Ask restaurant -
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Traditionally the home of the Hacke (as they seem to have started out) or Hake family from the first half of the sixteenth century, documentary evidence survives (despite the destruction of manorial records during the 'puritan fury' of 1643) to testify to the Hakes' connections with the property in succeeding centuries through to the early nineteenth.

Still bearing the name Yorkshire House, 28 and 30, Priestgate derive from two adjacent but separate late medieval houses. Remains of the two spiral stair turrets survive within. Much of the westernmost house was demolished for the building of an adjacent chapel. The chapel's 'Vanbrughian' spire survives to close the vista along Cross Street. At the core of what survives are the remains of a timber-framed structure, high jettied and gabled, of presumably around 1500. Alterations and additions have been carried out in every century since.

Typical of a rising merchant class in the mid-sixteenth century, the Hakes were able to position themselves so as to take advantage of the inevitable fall-out arising from the break-ups of the abbey estates at the dissolution in 1539. Some of the monastic lands (about a third) were acquired by new owners; many of these were local men (Fitzwilliams, Montagus and Wingfields who had often been servants of the abbey in its last years and became involved in the establishments of the new cathedral foundation. The remainder remained in the hands of Bishop and Dean and Chapter. The Hakes and their like, seemingly without any distinct political affiliations, could act as intermediaries in all manner of land and property transactions. Thomas Hake, one of the town's first Feoffees (trustees), is named in an agreement of 1561 for the leasing from the Dean and Chapter of properties in Marketstead, Hithegate and Priestgate.

Though the Hakes have been described as being od Dutch origin, their immediate forebears seem to have been of Fenland farming stock from south Lincolnshire, the Soke and adjacent Fenlands. The Priestgate property seems to have been purchased by Simon Hacke (or, as the Hake family monument in St Mary's, Whittlesey has it: 'Symon Hake of Deping') who had been a tenant of Thorney Abbey.

Simon's son and heir, Thomas (one of the town's first Feofees), became one of Peterborough's two MPs in 1586. The Parish Register of St John the Baptist records that on 2nd March 1589 (though the Whittlesey monument records the year of death as 1590) 'Thomas Hake gentilman was sumptuously brought with mourners into the parish church of Peterborough and from thence conveyed to Whittlesey and there buryed'. William Hake, Thomas's 'only sonne and heire' (indeed the only surviving child of eight) became Peterborough's MP in 1593.image missing please notify webmaster

It is known that their Royalist sympathies saw them get into difficulties during the Civil War period. Some family members may have perished in the conflict, whilst others suffered the sort of fines and sequestration of property commonly meted out to recusants and other delinquents.

A sundial on a south-facing wall-end overlooking the garden then running down to the river's flood plain, but not now publically accessible ‐ testifies to the Hakes' Royalist sympathies. An elaborately pietistical inscription in Latin ‐ translated as 'O Blessed solitariness', etc', is now much eroded and very difficult to confirm in full, save that, at the foot, the triumphalist exhalation at the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 is expressed by the clear legend: VIVAL CAROLUS SECUNDUS 1663.
 

Installed 2017. Information compiled by Henry Mansell Duckett.

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31 Peterborough Museum

Plaque location - adjacent to the main entrance of the Museum in Priestgate - location map

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Thomas Alderson Cooke was born into a wealthy family in Salford and moved to Peterborough where he became a local magistrate and was appointed as High Sheriff of Northamptonshire for 1840. Cooke commissioned a large mansion on Priestgate in 1816 (though parts of the cellar date back to a house that was built in the 16th century). The house constituted the central part of what is now the Museum. The building reflects the classical style of the Georgian era, including elements of the then fashionable Greek Revival.

Cooke himself was an interesting character. He married Julia Image, the daughter of the late vicar of St John's church, John Image, and had ten surviving children by four wives. He had a very public annulment of the marriage to his second wife Charlotte Squires, who was many years younger than him.

He was a magistrate for many years and continued to preside until the week before he died, despite being incapacitated. He died in December 1854, after which his house was bought by Earl Fitzwilliam in an auction in 1856. image missing please notify webmaster Fitzwilliam allowed it to be used as a public dispensary and infirmary – the city's first hospital – from 1857 until the opening of the War Memorial Hospital in 1928. Ownership then passed to Sir Percy Malcolm Stewart (see see photo left from 1932), the chairman of the London Brick Company who, in 1931, generously donated the building for museum use. The art gallery was added in 1939. In 1968, it was presented to the city by the Peterborough Museum Society.

Since 2010, the museum has been managed on behalf of the city council by Vivacity, an independent not-for-profit organisation with charitable status, which also runs the Key Theatre and the city's libraries.

Peterborough Museum has a collection of some 227,000 objects, including local archaeology and social history ranging from the products of the Roman pottery industry to a collection of marine fossil remains of international importance from the Jurassic period.

The museum also contains the original manuscripts of John Clare, the ‘Northamptonshire Peasant Poet’ as he was commonly known in his own time as well as the Norman Cross collection of items made by French prisoners of war. These prisoners were kept at Norman Cross on the outskirts of Peterborough from 1797 to 1814, in what is believed to have been the world's first purpose built prisoner-of-war camp.

The art collection contains a variety of paintings, prints and drawings dating from the 17th century to the present day, including the portrait right of Sir Malcolm.

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when the museum was an infirmary in 1906

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and as it is today

The future management of the Museum and other culture and leisure facilities managed by Vivacity is currently uncertain. The Civic Society sincerely hopes that the future of these facilities, so important to the character of Peterborough and the quality of life for residents, can be effectively safeguarded. It urges Peterborough's City Councillors, voluntary organisations, clubs and individuals to do everything in their power to secure this heritage for the future.

Installed 2020. Information compiled by Peter Lee

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32 The Customs House

Plaque location - above the main door of the Customs House which is at the north end of the town bridge - location map

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Today the building known as "The Customs House" stands rather alone and isolated from its original surroundings. Before Embankment Road was built in the 1930's it lay on the south side of an enclosed yard, with a frontage to Bridge Street. Photo left © complied.

On the 1721 map of Peterborough a building is shown roughly on the site of the Customs House, but at right angles to the river instead, so clearly the current building was not then in existence. Nor is it to be seen on the !South West Prospect of P'boro" published in 1731, and so therefore the present building clearly post-dates 1731.

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The Customs House was probably built in the mid-18th century, and could be connected with the improvement of the river. By 1713 the river Nene was navigable from the Port of Wisbech up to Alwalton; by 1737 it was possible to reach Thrapston. Trade on the river was in building materials and agricultural produce, and the men who traded in these goods were termed 'general merchants'. Such as Simpson & Mewburn, who occupied the Customs House site in 1816 when it were described as "house, counting-house, granary, yard, etc". These "general merchants" continued to be the occupiers down to c1874.

Exactly what the 'Customs House' was being used for between c1874 and c1900 is unclear. A document of 1888 indicates that it was occupied by a boat builder, Richard Skelton. In 1903 another boat builder (and hirer of pleasure boats), a Mr Holland, is the occupier. He is followed c1908 by John Hammond who, with his family, continued to live there into the 1930's.

The "Embankment Scheme" (bus station, swimming pool, public gardens) necessitated putting a road behind the 'Customs House'. Only then, once demolition has taken place, is the building recognised as particularly important, because it becomes a much more visible and picturesque landmark.image missing please notify webmaster

When it is noticed at all before 1934 it is simply called the "old lighthouse" or "toll house". In none of our research have we identified any connection with the Customs Service. Peterborough is not known to have been a port, so only Excise Officers were stationed here, and their offices were elsewhere in the City.

The 'Customs House' was acquired by the Fitzwilliam family in 1811 and remained in their ownership until sold to the City Council in 1949 (the Sea Cadet Unit having been the occupiers since 1942). Photo right © complied.

This plaque was produced and installed by the Society with the generous financial assistance from Peterborough City Council.

Installed 2017. Information compiled by Richard Hillier.

Editor - here are some photographs taken by our vice-chair Toby Wood in January 2020.

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33 Town Bridge

Plaque location - on the north-eastern side of the town bridge, within a few metres of the pedestrian crossing - location map

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The first Town Bridge over the River Nene was built of wood by Abbot Godfrey of Crowland in 1307. Its successor, also largely of wood, necessitated frequent repairs and was recorded as unsafe in 1856. By then its condition, with frequent patching, was that of a 'poor old relic of bygone days' which 'submitted with many groans to the burden it had to bear'. Not surprisingly it had been a cause of concern both for travellers over it and for river navigation beneath.

After much negotiation between the authorities who shared responsibility for the bridge (Northamptonshire and Huntingdonshire) and Peterborough's city fathers, a three-arch replacement was specified, thirty feet wide including footpaths either side at a cost of over ‹6000. image missing please notify webmaster This graceful new iron bridge was designed by Sir John Fowler, the designer of the first railway bridge across the river Thames. It was cast by the renowned firm of Handyside & Co of Derby and constructed with almost equal amounts of wrought and cast iron. It was officially opened on 13 December 1872.
Photo courtesy Peterborough Images Archive

Increasing levels of road traffic over the following 50 years meant that the City had to address two problems. The first was the narrowness of Narrow Bridge Street (only 14 feet between kerbs) which led eventually to the demolition of its east side and construction of the present Town Hall. The second was queueing at the Great Eastern railway level crossing on London Road south of the river bridge. Eventually, in 1929 the Ministry agreed to a new bridge (or viaduct) spanning both river and rail.

The result was the present reinforced concrete bridge whose route lies closer to the Customs House than that of the cast iron bridge whose remains can be detected alongside on the north bank. The present bridge was designed by architects Gotch and Saunders of Kettering and engineered by Major E M Stirling (who founded the Peterborough consulting engineering company Stirling Maynard & Partners). It was officially opened in 1934 by the Marquess of Exeter.

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(As a footnote the architect John Alfred Gotch had been responsible in 1894 for another very different structure in Peterborough - The Gables in Thorpe Road. Built as a house for the businessman JH Beeby, its later use was as a maternity hospital and is currently being converted back for residential use. Gotch's mastery of Jacobean and Elizabethan detailing in his buildings gave him a national reputation and was a major factor in The Gables being added to the list of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest in 2010. Photo (© complied) taken circa 2006 when in use as a maternity hospital and gives a flavour of its architectural splendour.)

This plaque was produced and installed by the Society with the generous financial assistance from Peterborough City Council.

Installed 2017. Information compiled by Peter Lee.

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34 East Station

Plaque location - at Fletton Quays, on the east side of the new multi-story car park facing Sand Martin House - location map

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The East Station was Peterborough’s first station opening in 1845. At that time, three lines were converging on Peterborough, the London and Birmingham Railway (soon to be London and North Western) from Blisworth, near Northampton; the Midland Railway from Leicester; and the Eastern Counties Railway (ECR) from Ely. The three companies agreed to share a single station in Peterborough to be built by the ECR south of the river.

Excitement mounted in the city as the line from Blisworth approached completion. It opened to the public on June 2nd 1845 with a throng of 8,000 people assembling to view the arrival of the first train, accompanied by bands and church bells. The initial service was a modest three trains per day, but it was now possible to reach London by this roundabout route in 4½ hours as against 8½ hours by the more direct stage coach service.

image missing please notify webmaster The other two lines reached Peterborough by 1848, allowing the East Station to assume its planned role. However, only two years later, it was overshadowed by the construction of the Great Northern Railway’s London to York main line. This bridged the river at high level with its own North Station on the site of today’s station.

The East Station was a substantial building constructed in the then fashionable Tudor style. It was reported as being “still very unfinished” in 1845 (see drawing below), but soon included refreshment and waiting rooms, booking offices for all three companies (see drawing left from 1850) and, by 1849, a second platform to cope with the volume of traffic.

Despite its early success, the East Station never achieved major importance, partly because of the division of services between the three companies. The London and North Western added its line from Rugby in 1879, but almost all journeys between East Anglia and the Midlands and vice versa still required a change of train at the East Station. The only through services were the daily Birmingham to Harwich boat train and some summer Saturday trains to East Coast resorts.

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Still greater problems faced unfortunate passengers needing to transfer between the East and North Stations for journeys to/from the North of England and Scotland. Trains between the two stations were few in number and many passengers faced either a lengthy walk, or an expensive journey by hansom cab, or later by taxi (see photo right from 1950).

During the nineteen sixties, British Rail, acting under Government direction and with no proper thought given to future needs, closed the lines to Northampton (1964) and Rugby (1966). All remaining trains on the Ely and Leicester lines were then able to call at the North Station, rendering the East Station redundant. It lingered on as a parcels depot until 1970. Demolition came two years later, with the site remaining vacant until required for the Fletton Quays development.

Thanks are also due to local author Peter Waszak, whose book “Rail Centres Peterborough” was the source of most of the information quoted above and photo above right of the taxis waiting outside. The rest of the photos/images are from Peterborough Images Archive with our thanks for their use.

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A busy scene at the station forecourt in 1915, with horse-drawn transport
still very much in evidence.

By contrast, the forecourt looks deserted and forlorn in this image from 1966, taken a few days before the cessation of passenger services.
Such fine looking buildings.

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A throng of eager travellers outside the station shortly after its opening in 1845.
For many of them, this would have been their first taste of the exciting new era of rail travel.

This view of the southern side of the station dates from 1934 and includes the extensive network of sidings now covered by Hawksbill Way. The photo was probably taken from a new vantage point, the recently constructed Town Bridge.

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A view of the station interior from 1954 showing its unusual layout, with the single track having platforms on both sides, to aid passengers intending to change trains.

The station had an iconic signal box (pictured here in the 1960’s) which was perched high up above one of the running lines. This signal box and indeed the station buildings as a whole might have received Listed Building status, had they survived for a few years longer.

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In this photo from 1963, a westbound train for Rugby awaits departure headed by a steam loco of the famous Black Five class. An early diesel unit can be seen in the adjacent platform.

The presence of two Royal Mail vans and the general air of neglect indicate that this shot probably dates from the late 1960’s when the station saw its final use as a parcels depot. Demolition was to follow in 1972.

Installed 2020. Information compiled by Roger Davis

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35 Engine Shed

Plaque location - on the western wall of the refurbished engine shed at Fletton Quays, on the western wall of Sand Martin House, between Bewiched and Greggs cafes - location map

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At the heart of the Fletton Quays development can be found a heritage success story of which the architects, developers, and City Council can be proud. The project concerned is the restoration of the Victorian railway engine shed, which forms part of the City Council’s new offices at Sand Martin House. This outcome is especially creditable given that this building, despite having listed status, had fallen into a deplorable state of dereliction. In 2009 the Society recognised the building with one of its early plaques (follow link to see it) and the plaque is still in situ today but on a different part of the building.

Construction of the shed commenced in 1848 for joint use by the Eastern Counties Railway (ECR) and the Midland Railway. It is thus a rare survivor from the earliest period of railway development. The facility included the shed itself, which was brick built with six tracks, plus water tanks able to hold 72,000 gallons. In addition, there were offices, stores, a coaling stage, turntable, water crane and workshops for carrying out locomotive repairs.

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The Midland Railway built its own shed at Spital Bridge in 1872, leaving the ECR, by then transformed into the Great Eastern Railway (GER), in sole possession. The GER kept about forty locomotives at the shed. These operated passenger services to Ely and further into East Anglia, and also to Kings Lynn via Wisbech. Goods services were more important, with coal and manufactured goods flowing east from the Midlands and North of England and agricultural produce from the eastern counties flowing westwards.

A fine photograph from about 1923 shows GER engines lined up outside the shed. The presence of so many engines “on shed” suggests that this photo may have been taken on a Sunday. The two locos on the left are express passenger engines of the Claud Hamilton class, with three goods engines visible on the right. A cleaner is busy working on one of the engines.

The year 1923 was important in the history of the shed because in that year the GER was absorbed into the new London and North Eastern Railway (LNER). The LNER owned the much larger New England shed, which received additional investment. It also developed the great marshalling yard and engine shed at March (Whitemoor), which took over much of the traffic from Peterborough East. It was therefore only a matter of time before the East engine shed closed, which happened in 1939.

Railway use of the building continued for carriage repairs and storage for a further twenty years, but after 1960 British Rail leased it for light industrial use. Inevitably, with very little maintenance taking place, its condition deteriorated, despite receiving Grade II listing in 1992. It later had to be vacated completely and suffered an arson attack in 2007. It was only in the nick of time that first the East of England Development Agency and then the City Council were able to rescue it and secure its inclusion in the Fletton Quays redevelopment. Fortunately, many of the original internal features remain in place as well as the exterior structure. The long-term future of this fine building should now be assured.

Thanks are also due to local author Peter Waszak, whose article in the Peterborough Local History Society Magazine for October 2019 was the source of much of the information quoted above.

Installed 2020. Information compiled by Roger Davis

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36 London Brick Company

Plaque location - on the front of Phorpres House in London Road and is visible from the road’s junction with< St Margarets Road - location map

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The Fletton Brick industry comes into being

This landmark building, named Phorpres House and constructed in 1899, was the former District Offices of the London Brick Company, makers of the famous Fletton brick manufactured using a ‘four-press’ method.

There had been brickmaking in the local area since the late 18th century, if not earlier. Manufacturing used wetter, inconsistent, surface clays, usually dug before winter in order to be weathered down. Brickmaking then took place in the Spring, so it was a slow and seasonal business. In the early 1880’s a different method of brick production (the ‘semi-dry’ process) was first adopted for use on a deeper level of clay known as the Lower Oxford Clay. This clay had special ‘properties’ which made brick-making suitable for mass-production on a large scale, and cheaply. Bricks could be ‘exported’ to London by rail at a cheaper rate than those traditionally made nearer to the capital. Entrepreneurs were needed to exploit this, and the most significant of these was John Cathles Hill, founder of the London Brick Co.

Mixed fortunes of the Coffee Palace/Phorpres House

The site was bought by John Cathles Hill in 1897, and two years later he began to build a Workmen’s Club (nicknamed The Coffee Palace) for his employees, but it was never fitted out. It remained vacant, but had temporary use as a hostel for police protecting Hill’s non-union employees, then as a mission room for the local Wesleyan congregation, and was followed by use as a Drill Hall for the local Territorial Army unit.

During WWI it was occupied by J & A Moore Ltd of West Norwood who manufactured dried vegetables under contract to the Navy. Moore’s bought the building in 1917, and sold it on to Peerless Foods Ltd in 1920 (they manufactured potato crisps there). In the mid-1920’s it was used as a hostel once again, this time for the employees of the contractors building the Sugar Beet Factory in Oundle Road.

In 1928 London Brick re-acquired the building as District Offices, and a feature article in the Peterborough Advertiser 21 September 1928 is the source for much of the above. London Brick continued to use it for District Offices for about 60 years.

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Italians help meet the post-War labour shortage

During the 1939-45 War the London Brick Company closed 20 of its brickworks, leaving only five or six in production. In order to re-open those works and attain full capacity would require – on cessation of hostilities – a two-shift system of 7-8000 men. Clearly, with demobilisation slow and the Japanese still to surrender, recruitment was impaired. The Ministry of Labour proposed (in turn) the use of German POW’s, Polish ‘Displaced Persons’, European Voluntary Workers, and British chronic unemployed. The result of employing these was mixed....and insufficient. In or about 1951 LBC were asked to employ Italians, especially from the areas of highest unemployment (some 4m in Sicily, Sardinia and southern Italy in general) so from 1951 to 1957 representatives of the company travelled annually to Naples to undertake recruiting. About 3,000 Italian men were brought to the UK.

Full brick production was reached – and exceeded – by 1954/55, so Italian workers played a significant part in this achievement.

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Domenico Cianni, Pasquale Calitiri and an unknown colleague.

 

new arrival of workers from Italy

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a Christmas function

  

With thanks to Peterborough Images Archive for use of above photos, and to Rossana Pinto for nominating the London Brick Company. Rossana also wrote the following piece about her father, and supplied the photos.

Antonio De Matteis: his story

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Three years ago I approached the Civic Society and proposed that a blue plaque be erected in the city in dedication to the brick workers, including my father Antonio De Matteis, who emigrated to the UK from Italy in the 1950’s and who were employed by The London Brickyard Company in Peterborough.

I believe that it is important that a blue Plaque is erected honouring the outstanding contribution of these workers to the city’s economy. I also hope that the plaque and associated information will help the younger generation understand the hardships and huge contributions made by these workers.

Britain faced immense problems with rebuilding the country after the ravages of WW2 and desperately needed an expanded workforce. Much of this extra manpower came from overseas, many men arriving from various parts of Italy, in particular from the south.

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In 1951, at the tender age of 17, my father Antonio arrived in Peterborough, along with many other compatriots who had left their homes and loved ones behind to face the unknown to work in the brickyards.

My father was housed in the barracks in Sibson which at the time were a converted prisoner of war camp. Conditions were harsh especially during the long bleak British winters as the barracks were made from corrugated steel, quite a contrast to what they had been used to back home in Italy.

Thoughts of home and their loved ones were a harsh reality and to ease the melancholy my father, alongside his co-workers, would engage in a game of cards or sing Neapolitan songs, passing the time before their next shift. Their enthusiasm, determination and dreams of a better future kept their spirits up.

My father cycled the ten or so miles from Sibson to the Fletton pits every night for 23 years. He would recall how unfamiliar and dark the roads were on his way to work, with very little street lighting thus making his journey perilous at times.

During their short break times he would share with his fellow workers huge Italian rolls, filled with familiar cooked meats and Italian homemade delicacies. For those who dared there were hot chili peppers to try.

It was memories like this that helped my father continue working at the pits, striving to achieve his goal and provide for his family.

Working in the kilns was not an easy task as the dried bricks had to be fired or burnt in extreme heat to give them their final hardness. However my father persevered and eventually trained as a fork lift truck driver, also driving the Company lorries. He was extremely dedicated to his job and never missed a day in 23 years.

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As a family we are immensely proud of my father and all he achieved from such a young age in an unfamiliar country. Sadly he passed away in November 2019 leaving us with wonderful stories and memories he held close to his heart about his life and his very first job at the Brickyards, stories which were passed on to his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

My family and I take great pride with the knowledge his stories will continue to live on through the generations. For all the brickyard workers, enormous gratitude. We will always remember them.

The images on this page are of my father at various stages of his life as well as an image of a small sculpture (right) I have constructed in tribute to my father and takes pride of place in my garden. The sculpture is simply titled ‘Bricks’ and I made it using bricks from the London Brick Company.

Installed 2020. Information compiled by Richard Hillier

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