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A Vision for Peterborough
includes an update

Ghosts Signs

Wansford Old Station

Wansford Diner

Law and Order - Peterborough

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A Vision for Peterborough

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

Peterborough has slipped behind local rivals Milton Keynes as the fastest growing city in the UK but it is still expected to grow at a rapid pace over the next decade or so. Two large and prominent sites are allocated in the city centre to accommodate crucial parts of the growth in jobs, leisure and homes. The City Centre Plan approved by the Council last December includes major redevelopment of the North Westgate area and South Riverside, now known as Fletton Quays.

In North Westgate the deadlock in progress is being tackled by Hawksworth a developer who has recently brought forward plans for the comprehensive development of this major eyesore site. They have the support of the Civic Society and is now earnestly seeking a positive response from our elected members.

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The Council itself has announced a unique approach to deliver sites for development which it owns. The largest of these is Fletton Quays, possibly an even greater blot on the cityscape. A 'Local Investment Partnership' has been forged with the Lucent Group to bring forward a series of multi-million pound developments. Lucent will provide the expertise in finance, design and marketing with the City Council supplying the land and enabling planning permission. So far very little has been said about the content, form or vision for the Fletton Quays site although there is a long history of consultation and plan formulation for the area. In the last fifteen years well debated ideas and proposals have been formulated by a wide range of interested parties. Some of these included; a concert hall, art gallery, university faculty, as well as homes and offices.

It would seem that the more exciting contents have been quietly shelved and we may be left with offices and residential developments with a smattering of small scale retail and leisure outlets. The site presents a clean sheet for designer-developers to create a truly transformational scheme for this riverside location with enormous potential.

It is undeniably a challenging site with a number of constraints as well as opportunities. The group of historic buildings from the 19th century is to be retained and should form the focus for a new public realm space providing a springing-off point for a landmark footbridge to the Embankment. The buildings themselves could be the basis of a new visitor attraction perhaps exploiting potential offered by the proximity of the River Nene, Railworld and Nene Valley Railway.

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The Victorian mill buildings might take on a suitable hotel/retail/gallery function. Adding to the limited number of river craft moorings has long been in various parties' proposals and here is a chance to provide a small basin for touring craft.

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There are splendid views of the full extent of the south elevation of the Cathedral which should form a focus for the streets scene to be created by new buildings. A focal point in the site itself is required at the location of the demolished Bridge House which forms a 'gateway' to the city centre inner area. A prominent and appropriate location for the saved Mitchell's Mural must be found on one of the new buildings. A minor point this, but dear to our hearts. This site presents the most exciting challenge in the development of the city since Queensgate. Let's make sure we get something special.

Ed. - the above appeared in the May 2015 edition of Nene Living. Kem provided me with the following text that he drew up following the Lucent/City Council announcement in July 2015.

In July the Lucent/City Council partnership published their ideas for the total development of the south bank site. A number of meetings were held where the partnership made presentations to various local groups and council members including the Civic society.

These were the main points of the draft scheme presented at that time.

A planning application will be prepared after further public consultation and exhibitions the intention is to submit in September.

What's missing?

Ed. - the situation has moved forward since the above was written. The planning application was submitted and the Society objected raising its concerns that a golden opportunity to do something really special with this site was being missed, but the plans were approved. There have been further developments since then and for the latest update/comment from the Society on Fletton Quays visit our planning applications page.

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Ghost Signs - the writings on the wall!

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

Ghost signs are the typically faded remains of advertising that was once painted by hand onto the brickwork of buildings. They can be found in cities, towns and villages across the world advertising many different products and services, some familiar, some less so.

These signs were painted by skilled craftsmen. They were and are still produced by many different methods, smaller ones by freehand, sometimes using the mortar lines in the brick to measure the height of the letters. Another common method was using a spiked wheel to perforate the lines of a design into a sheet of paper. This was then placed on the wall and patted with charcoal or chalk dust to leave an outline to be filled in with paint. Depending on the skill of the signwriter, and the budget of the client, a sign could include three dimensional lettering effects and graphic illustrations, often images of the products which could be purchased in the shop below.

There are examples in France, Australia, the USA, UK and Netherlands. In UK most towns and cities and even some villages will have surviving examples if you look hard enough. The key to finding them is to pay attention to the buildings you pass and looking up as they are often situated high on the walls. Gable ends are where you may have some success. However all such signs are relatively scarce and 'secretive' in our patch.

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Long Causeway c1900
ⒸNene Digital Peterborough 239341
 

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Broad Bridge Street c1924
the Rivergate entrance is to right of the Inn
ⒸNene Digital Peterborough 239341

A brief search of the archives and individual memory banks will turn up quite a few but the impression is that Peterborough did not have a great wealth or, some may say, a plague of such signs and 'permanent' adverts. Many of the buildings exhibiting painted signs in city have been demolished in the last fifty years or so. The lower end of Bridge Street had a number on frontages and gable walls, none survived the redevelopment and refurbishment on both sides of the road.

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Oundle Road - photo taken in 2015

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Russell Street - photo taken in 2015

The most likely places you might expect to find some survivors are in the Victorian side streets off Lincoln Road, Oundle Road and Eastfield Road. A keen eyed explorer has spotted some faded signs from a few short walks not far from the city centre.

The most intact one is in Russell Street and even this shows evidence of at least two adverts. Some very faded ones can be made out on the corner of Vergette Street and Bedford Street, one in Wheel Yard and another on Oundle Road on the gable wall of No. 23. Nearby is another gable sign for 'G.North' a motorcar agent.

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Wheel Yard - photo taken in 2019

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This extremely faded one for Watkins and Stafford can just be made out, is on the back of a building in Wheel Yard adjacent to Cathedral Precincts.

There are no doubt many we have missed. So, have a good look around, lift your gaze from the pavement and let us know what you find. Good luck.

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Wansford Old Station

This article first appeared in the March 2016 edition of Nene Living. Pictures can be clicked to view full size.

Many visitors to Nene Valley Railway at Wansford are impressed with the Victorian Station building which stands on platform 3; they may also be very surprised to learn that until recently the NVR did not own the building.

Until last year the structure was owned by the Hutchinson family who were pleased to facilitate the sale as their late father John Hutchinson had always intended that the building would one-day return to 'Railway ownership'.

The building is in remarkably original form but the structure hasn't escaped the ravages of time unscathed and the Nene Valley Railway have been working with Huntingdonshire District Council to identify issues and secure the restoration of the basic fabric. Once that is done the second phase will involve detailed work to bring the building back to as near originality as possible. Getting this absolutely right will be an expensive process and NVR have been working hard to raise funds for a number of years. The eventual plan will be to apply for a Heritage Lottery Fund grant which will allow the railway to achieve the maximum educational and visitor potential for the site. The old station building would be restored as a rural Victorian railway station, where visitors could step back in time and discover what life was like for railway workers and passengers in 1845.

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Wansford Station front view

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Wansford Station rear view

In order to restore the building to its former glory as a rural Victorian railway station with wood panelled booking hall, waiting rooms, lamp room and station masters accommodation upstairs details of the original design of the building will be used. Much of this can be found in a book by John W. Ginns and Peter Waszak edited by Bernard Cole, 'Peterborough's First Railway'.

Wansford station closed its doors as a functioning railway station in 1957. The building and the surrounding yard were then sold to Hutchinson's, a haulage company, in 1967. The railway line finally closed to all locomotive traffic in 1972. It was at the end of the next year, 1973, that the old station building and the nearby cottages were listed, Grade II, as buildings of architectural and historical interest.

The architect of the station was John Livock of London, who was for a time clerk of works on the London and Birmingham Railway branch line linking Northampton and Peterborough. Livock designed all the stations on the new branch line including, Northampton, Wellingborough, Thrapston, Oundle and Wansford. All the stations opened during 1845, and were immediately recognised as attractive and well-designed buildings. The 10th May 1845 edition of the Northampton Mercury noted:

'The stations are.. all remarkably tasteful and picturesque structures, and are in the highest degree creditable to the Architect, Mr Livock.'

Sadly, no architect's plans of Wansford station building seem to have survived. All of Livock's stations on this line have been demolished apart from Oundle which was converted into a house in about 2001. The 'waiting room' standing on the down platform at Wansford was re-erected from Barnwell Station although its design and materials differ in style to the stone built stations on the line. When it comes to the detailed design of the renovations some educated guesses as to the interior fittings will have to be made. Perhaps there is a role for passengers and railway workers who used the station before it closed for business in 1957? Should you have any recollections of how it was back then I am sure Nene Valley Railway would welcome a call.

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In April 2016 Nene Living ran a feature called Roadside Rescue that had contributions from other writers - the theme of Roadside Rescue was the history and appreciation of the Wansford Diner and new owners architects Harris McCormack who intend to use it as their headquarters. Kem wrote about the history and his submission appears below. Pictures can be clicked to view full size.

Wansford Diner

Travellers on the A1 near Peterborough cannot fail to be intrigued by this iconic building at the side of the northbound carriageway of the road as it crosses the River Nene. This is an apparently abandoned roadhouse last used by the Little Chef chain in 2007.

The original "bauhaus" design of the building would have made it an architectural rarity then and now undoubtedly a Listed Building had it not been for destructive front extension and modernisation made to the largest of the curved corner windows in modern times.

The building opened for business in 1932 as "The Wansford Knight", the fifth roadhouse of the 'Knights on the Road' chain.

A review article in a 1933 issue of 'The Motor Magazine' provides some delightful period description.

"These roadhouses are of interest to every long-distance motorist, for the man who wants a large or light meal quickly and in comfort too. Ordinary hotels are institutions where things have to be done according to the clock, but the roadhouses are completely adaptable."

"The six roadhouses (the Wansford Knight turned out to be the final one to be built) are on important arterial roads. They stand up well and are softly floodlit, and half a mile away one has an impression of neatness and cleanliness which is never lost. The combination of white concrete and green paint has a practical and refreshing effect".

In 1936 the building changed hands and became 'The New Mermaid' in place of the centuries-Olde Mermaid Inn, which stood at the corner of the Old North Road and Leicester Road, demolished to widen the road and smooth the traffic flow at that junction.

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Images from the 1930's compared with today's demonstrate how relatively small changes can diminish the original architectural purity of a style which depends so much onproportion and careful detailing. The Bauhaus principles are especially susceptible to small alterations.

In the late 1970s, The New Mermaid, along with many other transport cafes and roadside inns, was bought by Fortes. They rebranded it as the Little Chef restaurant as part of their plans to expand the chain across the UK. In order to save money and time, Forte decided to convert the New Mermaid building instead of replacing it with a their standardised corporate design seen throughout the UK. After all, the building was still in decent shape and had been designed as a roadside inn. Sadly for Wansford Little Chef, in 2007, the parent company, who by now were People's Restaurant Group, hit financial problems and the brand was taken on by yet more new owners, R Capital. Not all the sites transferred over and Wansford was one of the 41 to be closed in 2007.

After being up for sale for a number of years, the building was purchased in 2014 by local architects who plan to turn it into the firm's new headquarters. The essential fabric of the 1932 Bauhaus-inspired building will stay, but with some new exterior flourishes. These will include a glass walkway at the back and new Art Deco style windows replacing the angular ones at the front.

An alternative scheme to use the ground floor as a main dealership for up-market Ducati Motorcycles with architects' offices at first floor level received full planning approval in 2015. (ref no. 15/01209/FUL)

The vacant land to the north of the building is also scheduled for transformation. A planning application for a number of two storey houses and apartments in the Art-Deco style was recently approved. (ref no. 15/01119/REM)

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Law and Order - Peterborough

This article first appeared in the September 2016 edition of Nene Living. Pictures can be clicked to view full size.

The history of law and order in Peterborough is long and complex. It begins in the 10th century when the Saxon king granted the 'Liberty' to the Abbot allowing him to in most cases to enforce the law in the Soke of Peterborough free of royal control. In Elizabeth I's reign some of the jurisdiction passed to Lord Burghley and his successors, the Marquesses of Exeter. Traces of this power, exercised nominally, survived until 1964, on the formation of the County of Huntingdon & Peterborough. The Crown Court system began in 1972 but because local arrangements were inadequate, most serious cases were heard at Huntingdon and Northhampton. Only when the Crown Court was based in part of the new Magistrates Court in 1980 did things improve.

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The Great Gate of Peterborough Cathedral

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The Sessions House, Thorpe Road

Courts, where justice was dispensed, were housed in a rich variety of buildings. The oldest surviving is the Great Gate of the Cathedral, where courts sat in the room above the archway entrance. It was handy for the Abbots prison in the basement to the right of the Gate. Parts of this can be accessed from steps from Bridge Street last used as the gift shop, Reba. One of the very early doors to the cells is housed in the Museum. Nothing of the original Norman facade can now be seen and in Georgian times a house was built on the Market Place frontage, itself demolished as part of Narrow Bridge Street transformation in the 1930's.

Early courts , the Langdyke Courts were held at Langley Bush at the junction of the parishes of Ufford,Upton, Ailsworth and Helpston and in a public house in the village of Helpston. From the 17th Century the Guildhall was used which at later dates was accompanied by the police station next door and a house of correction in Cumbergate.

The first purpose built criminal court was built as part of a prison completed in 1842 in Thorpe Road. This bears a resemblance to Pentonville Prison with its octagonal yard, high walls and Norman style castellated towers. The gaol itself ceased to be used when all prisons in England came under the Home Secretary rather than the local courts. The courthouse element remains intact but all other parts of the gaol have been lost. It has been known as the 'Sessions House' (see our plaque) since it was converted to a restaurant in the 1980's. The internal decor was in the style of a Dickensian court room with theatrical dummies dressed as; judge, accused and lawyers, peering down on the diners as they lined-up at the carvery. I don't remember porridge being on the menu though.

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Former County Court, New Road, Peterborough

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Close up of the detail above the entrance door

In 1873 the County Court was built in New Road. Here civil and matrimonial cases were heard for more than 100 years until the new Crown and County Courts were opened in Rivergate. The New Road courthouse was converted into a nightclub in the 1990's with some alterations to the interior but from the roadside it looks as it did when it was built. Recent years have seen a number of planning applications for conversion to; offices; place of worship; an educational resource centre; and a restaurant. All proposals so far retain the building.

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Magistrates Court, Bridge Street

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Crown and County Court, Bishops Road

In the 1970's the Old Gaol, Thorpe Road was becoming inadequate in both size and condition. In 1978 a new magistrates' court was opened by the Queen in Bridge Street. This large dark-red brick lump of a building came off the public service architects' conveyor belt and is largely unloved by most citizens for numerous reasons. A fellow Civic Society member coined the phrase Brick Association Brutalism to describe its architectural genre.

Displaying a good deal more style and sensibility of the locale is the Crown and County Court building in Bishops' Road. The structure is generally well liked for its architecture which gives a nod of recognition to the adjacent Lido. It was the first of the new Crown Courts to be designed by a private sector firm of architects rather the Governments own in-house architects and it was one of the first to include, criminal, civil and matrimonial cases under one roof.

So in 1987 Peterborough had a courts provision in line with the rest of England. Some years later a large prison was added to the law and order resources of the city, but that together with the evolution of our police stations is a tale for another day.

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page last changed 31 October 2020