Kem Mehmed, one of our committee members has written regular articles for Nene Living and Gillian Bendall, editor of Nene Living, has kindly agreed we can reproduce them here. This is the third page of the Nene Living Articles. If you have landed here via a search engine without going through the main menu page, please visit the Nene Living Articles main menu page in order to see all that are available to read.

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Clocks in City Centre

Peterborough Civic Society

Peterborough Development
Corporation 50 years ago

Whitworth Mill
the new arts hub for the city

The saga of Castor
(full length version)

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Clocks in Peterborough City Centre

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

  • If you want to know the time ask a p'liceman,
  • The proper Greenwich time, ask a p'liceman,
  • Ev'ry member of the force, has a watch and chain of course,
  • If you want to know the time ask a p'liceman.

So goes the popular nineteenth century music hall refrain. Should you be in the centre of Peterborough and should you wish to know the time you would probably find it quicker to just look around you and if you could not see a clock then a short walk in any direction would probably bring one in view. Of course, most of us carry a watch, phone or tablet , so have no need of a public clock or a policeman! But, our streets would be so much poorer without their clocks. A constant awareness of the time is very important to us.

There are, by my reckoning, nineteen clocks in public places in the city centre including one which has no face or hands! The faceless clock is in the Cathedral north aisle. There are in fact three clock mechanisms here which were used to activate the striking arm. The oldest part dates from 1450 and the other parts of the clock date from 1686 and 1836.. When this composite clock was in use in 1950 it was claimed to be the oldest working mechanism in the world. The hours and half-hours still ring out over the city centre from the 'City Bell', the last surviving bell from a set cast in 1709 by Henry Penn of this city. (From original research by Michael Lee. Also see website www.pennhenry.co.uk). See our plaque to Henry Penn (use back button to return to this page).

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Various clock faces

the Cathedral clock mechanisms

Probably the oldest surviving working clock is on the Guildhall, 1671. The hours are shown in roman numerals with a helpful showing of Arabic numerals for the minutes at the quarters. These look like additions to the original design. The vast majority of our clocks use the Roman numerals or simple strokes at the hours/five minute divisions. Only three show the hours in the Arabic numerals.

The clock on the Town Hall was originally affixed to a jeweller's shop not far from its present position. When Narrow Bridge Street was widened, to allow the building of the Town Hall, it was moved to the Carnegie Library in Broadway where the remote mechanism could be seen on the first floor landing.

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The Guildhall clock

The Town Hall clock

In the years before 1840 there were different local times in use all over the United Kingdom, but in November 1840 the Great Western Railway adopted Railway Time. This was brought about largely by the advances in the electric telegraph apparatus, which enabled instant communication between stations. By 1855 ninety-five percent of towns and cities had adopted GMT, but it was not until 1880 that a unified standard time for the whole of Great Britain finally achieved legal status. At this time there were two railway stations in Peterborough but neither of them had a clock displaying to the surrounding streets. Our modernized station has a clock in the ticket hall, which can be seen from the front entrance but not from a distance. A few hundred metres along Bourges Boulevard there is a modern clock face on the gable wall of a converted railway warehouse, now the home of Buckles Solicitors.

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Peterborough Railway Station clock

closer view of station clock

The bus station has one over its rail counterpart in having a proper clock with 'proper numbers'! This might be one of those clocks locals refer to when they use the phrase, "Let's meet under the clock." It's a famous line from a movie starring Judy Garland, entitled imaginatively, 'The Clock', and referring to the clock at the Astor Hotel, New York. Peterborough's candidates for this phrase are the Guidhall and the glass cased clock in Queensgate. Younger members of my family tell me they often used this as a rendezvous when it was located in 'Boots Square'. It had those essential ingredients; under cover, visibility from and to approaches and,.... a clock. Since its relocation to the adjacent mall it may not be so popular a meeting place. This clock was built in 1806 by Handley & Moore of London and was relocated from a coach house at Braxted Park in Essex. It was installed in 1990 in Queensgate at an opening ceremony by the Right Reverend William Westwood, our 'Bishop Bill'.

 

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The Co-operative Society clock on
Westgate House

the missing memorial that
hung below the clock

 

Earlier in the twentieth century, in 1921, the then Bishop dedicated a large clock to the thirty-one employees of the Peterborough & District Co-operative Society who died in WW1. This impressive structure projects over the Park Road elevation of the department store.

Update 11 August 2020 - the following information and photo thanks to Jane King of the IWM War Memorials Register.
When originally unveiled on 29 January 1921, the clock had a very large marble tablet that hung immediately below on which the names of the thirty-one fallen employees were inscribed. The location where the supporting brackets attached to the wall can still be seen. Sadly, the current location of the tablet (or indeed if it still survives) is unknown. One can only presume that the tablet was removed during one of the building's refurbishments. We are, though, very fortunate to have received the above photo. Given that the surviving clock is splendid in itself, it must have looked stunning when the tablet was also in position and served as a fine tribute to those lost to the War. Here is a link to the clock's entry on the War Memorials Register.

 

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Clock on D'Arcy Jewellers
Westgate

Closer view of the D'Arcy clock

D'Arcy, Family Jewellers in Westgate has a projecting clock of pleasing elements showing a face to both sides for maximum impact. The shop front below is one of the best of its type in Peterborough. It was made by Sages of Walton, renown joinery manufactures who also tried their hand at aircraft construction during and just after WW1.

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The Asda clock at Rivergate

Closer view of the Asda clock

Clock above entrance to McDonald's
overlooking Cathedral Square

What of the other clocks in the city centre?

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The Lido outdoor swimming pool

 

Closer view of the Lido clock face
and weathervane

Clocks do come and go. Very recently we were saddened to see Marks & Spencer vacating Bridge Street. More pain was felt when the clock went to the breaker's yard. M&S tell us that it will provide spare parts for its clocks elsewhere in the UK.

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St Johns Church, Westgate

Crop of the church tower

I can recall a visit to the City Planning offices in Norwich Union House, back in the seventies, being stared at by the enormous clock face, which must have been at least 2 metres in diameter, fixed to the tower of St John's Church. It can be seen on early photographs. There was a face on the opposite (east) side of the tower as well. The clock faces were removed in 1983 but I am not sure whether the clock mechanism remains in place.

One other building on which you might have expected to see a clock is the Old Customs House, where the cupola provides a perfect location. Instead this houses a lamp to guide river traffic to the mooring where the tolls could be paid.

Well time and tide etc.. and if I don't finish here I will miss my editor's deadline.

Please get in touch should you have discovered a public clock I have missed. My contact details (Kem Mehmed) can be found on our Contact Us page.

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Peterborough Civic Society

This article about the Society first appeared in the April 2017 edition of Nene Living. Pictures can be clicked to view full size.

"Peterborough Civic Society strives to promote pride of place. It's about; respecting our heritage and encouraging good design in balanced, sustainable growth." In the form of a 'tweet' that's how I would describe the Civic Society.

We campaign to influence the public authorities and other agents of change to;

  • promote good design;
  • encourage an imaginative approach to the City's future;
  • value and care for the local heritage of buildings and other features;
  • promote local knowledge and pride of place.

We meet monthly to;

  • hear speakers on; planning, design, regeneration, environmental issues and the history and culture of Peterborough;
  • visit places of interest during the summer;
  • participate in events throughout the year and;
  • publish articles and leaflets and other information.

The Society is a voluntary, membership based organization; a charity funded by its members.

Beginnings

The Peterborough Society, as it was originally called, was founded in 1952. Until then late 40's historic buildings had nothing like the protection they are now afforded. It was the loss of historic buildings which motivated the Society's founders. Their aim, agreed at a launch meeting in the Writing Room of the Angel Hotel in Bridge Street, was to 'work for the preservation of the few remaining old buildings left in the City of Peterborough and the surrounding district'.

The city centre, particularly, had lost many old buildings to redevelopment since the turn of the century. "This process of robbing Peterborough of its historical past is going on unnoticed by the many and uncared for by most", wrote the first chairman, Harry Paten, who was the driving force behind the launch of the Society. He had served in the RAF in WW2 and returned to take over the family concern, Paten and Co Ltd. He intended the Society to have clout, however, the Society's membership in 1953 was a mere160. As he unabashedly reported, they "represented quality rather than quantity". Earl Fitzwilliam was prevailed upon to be President and members included almost every familiar business or professional Peterborough name, including Baker, Brassey, Buckle, Clarke, Craig, Crisp, Crowden, Dickens, Farrow, Hartley, Horrell, Jellings, Jolliffe, Harmer Nicholls, Percival, Ruddle, Sharman, Westcombe, Wilkinson, and Wright. Membership did grow and in the late 60's reached well over 400. In 1979 Mr J Betjeman of London EC1 is listed as an Honorary member.

Early projects

The 1947 Planning Act had introduced the modern planning system, including the power to have lists made of all buildings of architectural interest, which afforded them a large degree of protection. Although listing didn't prevent a building decaying, it was clearly an important step. The Government Ministry welcomed the contribution of knowledgeable people who could assist in drawing up the lists. In 1952 there was no Peterborough list. The Society's first report became 'Buildings of Historic and Architectural Interest in and around the City', a list which, in its short factual and authoritative style is little different in style from the current Statutory List.

Its assessments of buildings of historic interest in villages extended well away from urban Peterborough. Following its survey of Peterborough’s historic buildings, it prepared lists for Castor in 1954, Sutton, Fotheringay, Kings Cliffe and Elton in 1955.

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The Angel Hotel

Priests House

The Society campaigned to protect individual threatened buildings. Early successes included, 108 Bridge Street and the interior walls of Thorpe Hall. The Society was an advocate for threatened buildings as far afield as Wakerley, Barrowden, Kettering, St Ives, and Warmington as well as the local villages.

In the 1950's, many village cottages and small houses, previously tenanted, had been left to decay as demand for labour on the land declined. The Society was keen to prove that restoration and a return to beneficial use was financially feasible. The Elizabethan Cottage in Upton was one such, and it would have been fascinating to have overheard the conversations between the owner, Lord Fitzwilliam (President of the Society) and Harry Paten which led to Mr Paten and the Society acquiring this, renovating it, and selling it on in 1958.

The Priest's House at Easton on the Hill is a significant example of direct action. Here the 15th Century parsonage was reduced to being used as a animal shelter. It was offered to the Society by Diocesan Dilapidations Board, renovated and handed over to The National Trust. In 1967 it was opened to the public.

Modern Times

From about 1970 the escalation in property prices, particularly in rural areas, ruled out any direct building action. Activities undertaken moved with the times and have been largely focused on raising public awareness of heritage assets and of development proposals which continued apace following the rapid growth of the Development Corporation era.

Amongst the achievements are;

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80 Lincoln Road (Gayhurst)

To come

Peterborough's Blue Plaques will be launched very soon. A total of 20 plaques are to be erected, some replacing existing plaques in the city centre. They will be beautiful blue circular plaques similar to those in London. The launch will include publication of a comprehensive printed guide, website and eventually an App. Ed. - since this article was written the blue plaques have been erected and new webpages Peterborough Plaques created to cover all our plaques from 1985 to 2012 (photos and information) and the 20 new blue plaques. The printed guide refered for the new blue plaques will soon be available and will be available to download from our website.

We will be kept busy with work on the challenges we know are coming.

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Fletton Quays

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Whitworth Mill, Fletton Quays

The Peterborough Local Plan, which sets out the direction and pace of growth for the next 20 years, is being reviewed and we have made extensive comments. The Fletton Quays development will continue to require our attention and proposals for the retained Whitworth Mill and railway warehouse will be coming forward during 2017. Once these development schemes are fully underway, proposals for other large sites owned by the City Council will, we expect, be brought forward needing our attention.

As Peterborough continues to be one of the fastest growing places in the UK there will be a need to help all involved in producing a place where we can all be proud to live.

If you are not a member then please consider joining us because the larger our membership the greater our voice and influence. For more information on our very modest subscription rates and a printable membership application form please visit our Join Us page.

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Peterborough Development Corporation 50 years ago

This article about the Society first appeared in the July 2017 edition of Nene Living. Pictures can be clicked to view full size.

On 21st July 1967 the cathedral city of Peterborough was designated a New Town. It's quite possible that hardly anyone, outside the inner circles of local council offices, noticed; but this was a momentous day in the development of the city. However, the 'New Town' designation did not come out of blue. It was a result of decades of deliberation about how to deal with a housing crisis. London and its region was enjoying rapid and consistent growth in jobs but also had a housing stock in seriously poor condition. The plans to address this culminated in the 'South-East Study' (1964), which identified three new cities and six other big new expansions. Bletchley was made a New Town, becoming Milton Keynes, and of the others, only Northampton and Peterborough achieved New Town status.

At the same time a preliminary study of Peterborough had been commissioned. Henry Wells submitted his reported in 1964. He noted that; 'Peterborough has a tradition of progressive local government... Both the left and right are moderate and forward thinking'. The principle of progress through partnership was to be a vital ingredient in the success of the city throughout the period of major and rapid expansion.

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Within a few months of designation the Peterborough Development Corporation was set up. In February 1968. Wyndham Thomas was appointed as General Manager (photo credit Vivacity storiesofpeterborough.com) and a chairman of the board, Sir Christopher Higgins was selected by the Ministry as its first chairman.

The status of New Town gave wide powers to the Corporation regarding planning and urban development. Its task was to provide homes, workplaces and the full range of facilities and services for an additional 70,000 people, drawn mainly from the Greater London area. The population of the designated area in 1967 was 81,000.

The early work on a draft master plan was done by consultants Hancock Hawkes which set out very comprehensively where and how the development would be done. The plan was based on a series of residential 'townships' at low densities connected by free-flowing roads with employment areas distributed about the city close to, but separate from the townships. An innovative feature of the plan was a large park running through the area alongside the River Nene. The use of trees, parkland and greenery was to become a trademark of expansion. Although some of the details in the consultant's report changed the draft plan became the basis of the Greater Peterborough Master Plan, prepared by the PDC itself and approved after extensive local public debate in 1971. This plan identified Bretton, Orton and Werrington as the townships with a major rounding-off at Paston which we know today.

The use of trees, parkland and greenery was to become a trademark of expansion. A tree nursery was set up at Splash Lane, Castor for the many thousands of trees and shrubs of various varieties for use in the landscaping of the new housing estates, parkland and for planting extensive tree belts particularly along the new parkways, a huge planting campaign that we all benefit from today.

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Whist all this town planning was going on the first bricks, mortar and tarmac were making an appearance. In order to make up for some lost time a housing development based on rounding off a mixed private/council estate at Westwood was designed. This scheme, named Ravensthorpe by the PDC was begun in 1970 and the first house was occupied a year later. They were popular with their tenants but gave rise to a storm of controversy with the locals. The estate was one of modest two storey terraces in a simple modern, no frills style, but the choice of dark brown brick went a bit too far. In the stark flat landscape un-adorned, as yet, by trees and shrubs, they did not look their best. Go there today and you will wonder what all the fuss was about.

Housing development may have got off to a slow start but the pace soon picked up and by June 1973 the PDC had completed its 1,000th house. House building was not confined to the PDC. Private house builders continued with providing homes as they had before designation and some were building on land provided by the PDC.

In the early days there were difficulties in attracting contractors who could take on the large schemes of 400 or so houses, which being put out to tender. Most of the successful contractors came were from beyond the city region.

It was even more difficult to find private housing developers who wished to come to Peterborough, due to its image as an industrial town with a relatively low paid workforce. The New Towns were meant to have a balanced population with an even mix of houses for rent and sale. Land was allocated in each of the townships to achieve this aim but the need for speed in providing for growth meant that in the first decade or so many more houses for rent were built and it was not until the end of the DC's life that an approximate balance was reached.

Housing and Architectural Trends

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The early rented schemes at Bretton were, like Ravensthorpe, based on a layout principle known as 'Radburn', where there was a separation of vehicle and pedestrian access to each house. Houses were arranged in short terraces around courtyards and along footpaths with roads to the back garden side. Radburn had its adherents but did not work well with the higher densities necessary. In the USA, where it originated, houses were built at four per acre whereas in Peterborough they had to be at about twelve at least.

The rise in car ownership which had led to Radburn layouts led paradoxically, to its abandonment by the PDC. Families wished to own a car and park it where they could see it from their front room. In the 1970's architects looked to the continent where the car was tamed by using narrow roads, intimate squares, courtyards and tight bends. In some schemes the footpath and roadway were combined. The Pitneys estate, Paston (photo left) was an early example.

Other pressures came into play with a general pressure from Central Government to reduce costs. DC houses were built to generous space standards, known as 'Parker Morris', often providing more internal space than equivalent private sector houses. As a rough rule a three bed family home in the cheaper private developer estate was the same as a two-bed home built by the PDC. No compromises were made on the size of rented houses and costs were carved by not providing garages and by employing large contracts, extensive timber framing and in one case the Wimpey No-fines concrete wall system. The PDC never built high, as many local authorities had done in the sixties. There was a great variety in the layout types and house styles employed throughout the individual townships given an overriding philosophy leaning towards; domestic scale, house and garden and salability. 'This approach kept at bay such adventures in architectural wonderland as flat roofs and plastic cladding.' This quote comes from the book 'The Peterborough Effect' by Terence Bendixson which tells the full story of the PDC and is highly recommended. Possibly as a result the PDC won few design awards but was not devoid of innovations which have lasted. One award came to a small group of solar heated houses in Orton Brimbles.

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Paston Wimpey No-fines

Orton Brimbles solar heated homes

The three townships do have a degree of individuality through housing design; Bretton has a great variety of materials in walls and roofs, in Orton the predominant brick colour is golden with Scandinavian style coloured vertical timber making an impact, and Werrington has much more red brick and roof tiles. However the distinguishing features are supplied in the landscape structure of each township. Bretton has a very large open space with the character of an informal traditional urban park. Orton has a huge number of smaller open spaces in all its neighbourhoods and interlinked tree belts. The central spine bus route is also strong feature. In Werrington the straight lines of the fen landscape have been employed and a large lake bored by housing adds character.

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Orton Malborne

Copsewood, Werrington

From a start at Ravensthorpe in 1970 the Corporation completed over 9000 houses by 1980 with a final total at its closure of 10000. About one third of PDC built houses had been sold to tenants by 1988. Many of these have since been sold on the buy-to-let sector with consequences for social cohesion and maintenance; but that's another story. All unsold DC stock was transferred before the winding up date to the City Council (now Cross Keys HA) and other local housing associations.

Change of Policy

The Peterborough new town, created under a Labour Government, survived a change of power at Westminster but was then held back during a further spell under Labour in the late 1970's. Problems in the inner cities culminating in urban rioting led to a change of direction in housing investment policy. Resources were switched from New Towns to the Inner Cities and target populations in Milton Keynes, Northampton and Peterborough were reduced in total by 120,000.. We got off lightly with a reduction of 20.000. This put an end to a massive development proposed at Castor but still left a need for land for 4 to 5,000 houses to be built there. Following the election of the Conservatives in 1979 investment in new rented housing was halted and new towns were instructed to sell their houses.

The 70's was the decade of PDC housing for rent production. During this time only 600 houses were built for sale on PDC land by private developers. A Conservative government had come in 1979 and from that moment efforts to attract house builders to the city took on a new dimension. Every trick in the book was used to make it easy to build and sell houses to a willing public. To keep a lid on prices developers were allowed to build under licence. They could not buy-up sites and sit on them. For a while many larger developers were affronted but the lower risks involved in not having to pay for land until a sale was achieved was more appealing. The housing market was lubricated by improved promotion and information through a 'Homebuyer Centre' where details of every new house for sale was displayed in a shop in the city centre. At its peak over thirty developers were using the Homebuyer Centre and in 1987 about 1,100 houses were built in a single year. By wind-up day 7,000 houses had been completed or were under construction on DC land.

Innovation in; design; marketing and homebuyer finance was encouraged through the use of competitions, finance schemes and by careful selection of developers. Design competitions were held to produce affordable houses, won by Barrat Homes, on a site in Orton Wistow. At the other end of the price scale a site called 'The Hill' was chosen for prestige homes overlooking Orton Meadows golf course. The winners, Monsell Yuell and two runners-up were offered sites and produced some outstanding developments. At Thorpe Meadows a site with an inlet created off the Nene provided houses with private moorings. Plots of land for self-builders, laid out with roads and landscaping proved very popular.

The first major development of Swedish component houses in UK was built at Svenskaby in Orton Wistow. It was perceived that inward investment from European companies might be attracted to Peterborough, in part through the provision of high performance houses of this type.

First time housebuyers were offered 'Starter-plus' homes by Equity Homes in Orton Brimbles where the first floor of a chalet bungalow could be left to be fitted out at a later date turning a one bed house into a three bed house.

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Monsell Yuell development example
Orton Waterville

Orton Brimbles starter homes

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The DC was a pioneer in helping first time buyers get a foot on the housing ladder. Schemes involving shared ownership, equity share, 'Private Sector Shared Ownership' and one called Homeshare were available at various times according to the needs of residents.

At the very end of its life the DC embarked on one of its most successful housing for sale ventures on one of the last areas of pasture land within the built-up area. At Botolph Green (photo right) about 300 houses by ten developers are arranged around a large village green complete with pond and market cross. This extensive landscape infrastructure was laid out by the DC to add value and create a sense of place. Value was certainly added. Prices achieved were about double the local rate at the time and reached £700,000 per acre.

Housing development on DC owned land continued after 1988 when the Corporation's successors took over.

The End

The Development Corporation was officially wound-up in September 1988. However, by this time, the Peterborough Development Agency had already been established as its successor to work towards the city's future prosperity. All remaining assets and liabilities of the Corporation were transferred to the Commission for the New Towns, which was absorbed into English Partnerships and then into the Homes and Communities Agency. The largest remnant of the PDC is the several hundred acres of farmland north of Castor on either side of the A47 which is currently proposed as a development allocation in the Peterborough Local Plan Replacement.

Significant dates

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Whitworth Mill - the new arts hub for the city

This article first appeared in the October 2017 edition of Nene Living. Pictures can be clicked to view full size.

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A huge site on the south bank of the Nene in the centre of Peterborough is being transformed. You may have grown tired of hearing this over the last twenty or so years but the grand plans are taking shape and building work is well advanced on the new offices for the City Council. Planning permission has been granted for a major redevelopment which includes; four apartment blocks , a multistory car park and riverside promenade. The next stage will see the old corn mill building totally renovated and converted into a community arts and cultural hub for the whole city.

This building dates from 1848 when it was built along with two others nearby. At about the same time the engine sheds, warehouses, a hotel and East Station were constructed making this a very busy part of the city. Trade in timber, corn and general goods by cart, train and barge converged on this site. All but the mill, engine shed and warehouse have gone.

The corn mill was built by Earl Fitzwilliam in 1847-50 to take advantage of both the navigable river location and the coming of the railways to Peterborough. It had, at the start, ten pairs of grinding stones powered by steam engine. The stones were soon updated to steel rollers which were far more efficient. In 1856 the mill was operated by Michael Cadge and Samuel Coleman and they continued to run things until 1936 when the business was taken on by Whitworth Brothers.

The Cadge & Colman name was retained until 1987, indeed most locals, of a certain age still refer to the mill by that name. The mill was one of the first commercial enterprises to be converted to electric lighting in 1886 a few years before the first Peterborough power station was built just a quarter of a mile upstream on the north side of the Nene. We could call the mill by a number of names; Milton Mill, Cadge & Colman Mill or Whitworth Mill. It would seem that the most recent is the one to be used from now on.

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Tunnel for barges

cast iron support column

Roof truss

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The surviving mill building is made up of two separate parts. The five storey block on the south side is the original mill part. The half closest to the river, which, is of the same shape and size, was built onto it and was mainly warehouse. It is itself in two parts with a tunnel allowing barges to enter as far as the mill half of the structure. Some but not all grain was transported to the mill by barge until the mid-1960s. The whole building is in solid brickwork with a mixture of cast iron columns supporting floor beams in cast iron and timber. The double pitched roofs have retained their original roof trusses. There are five floor levels plus an attic and cellars. The warehouse half was built over the river on foundations some 20feet deep. There are window openings on both the river and south elevations almost all of which have been bricked-up. The windows openings all have brick arches and stone cills. The intention is to unblock these openings and to fix windows appropriate to the period.

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Whitworth Mill circa 1890

Whitworth Mill 2015

Early photos show two grand wings displaying pedimented elevations on the railway side of the mill. These were probably office or staff welfare rooms but no trace of them remains on the ground. They made way to the extensive expansion and incremental 'modernising' which Whitworth's carried out from the 1940's until trading ceased and the premises reverted to the Milton Estates. In the postwar era, a number of grain silos were erected to the east of the mill. Cadge and Colman ceased trading in 1987 although Whitworths continued to use the site for storage purposes. The grain silos were demolished in December 2016

The Peterborough City Council purchased the mill in 2016. Funding for the refurbishment and conversion of the mill into an Arts Hub is partially in place and work on submitting a full planning application is almost complete as we go to press. This is being prepared by Vivacity the cultural and leisure arm of the City Council. It will contain a number of spaces and resources for a very broad range of arts and community based projects.

The mill itself will be sensitively treated. Works will encompass;

Externally a hard and soft landscaped public space will be created to the west of the building and a surface car park will be created to the east.

Access on foot and by bicycle will be along the new tree lined promenade to be laid out as part of the master plan for the Fletton Quays area. All we need now is a smart bridge to link with the other leisure and cultural assets on the Embankment.

Ed. Since Kem's article was published in Nene Living, a planning application was submitted to the City Council by Vivacity for the conversion of the Mill into an Arts Centre. The Society submitted the following comment and objection regarding the proposed external design works as follows:

Conversion of Whitworth Mill to an Arts Centre - planning application Ref: 17/01626/FUL

Peterborough Civic Society heartily welcomes this positive plan to renovate and convert this 19th century former grain mill. The mill is a prominent landmark on the south bank of the River Nene in views; from the Embankment, Town Bridge and Frank Perkins Parkway. It is part of the city's industrial, transport and agricultural heritage. The proposal will bring the mill back to life with a new use as an arts centre bringing significant benefit to the cultural life of the city.

There are many aspects of the proposal, as set out in the application, which we fully support. The removal of all the 20th century extensions; the making good of the elevations with either matching brickwork or simple industrial 'Crittal' windows and; the removal of parts of the floor structures, are all works we support.

However, there is one major element in the scheme about which we have serious reservations. The lobby/stairwell extension on the west elevation has a deleterious impact on the essential character of the mill. It is this west elevation, with its twin pediments, expressing the two-stage construction of the building, which establishes the image and architectural character of the mill. It is vitally important to maintain this character. The western approach is and will continue to be the most important one for visitors to the Arts Centre whether they come by foot, cycle or car. It will form the first and lasting impression in visitors' minds.

The proposed stairwell pod is too dominant and will project vertically beyond the pediments from ground level viewpoints. This is ably demonstrated in the 'Street Scene' graphics taken from a N-W viewpoint. The twin pedimented silhouette will be lost, to be replaced by an eye-catching vertically ribbed metal clad tower. Should it be possible to redesign this element with a reduction in the footprint and with its height restricted to the cornice line of the pediments it might be acceptable. This may be technically achievable and pricey but certainly should be explored.

An alternative would be to reposition the lobby/stairwell to the south elevation where, in the original building the sack/hoist structure was located. The mid-point of this elevation is also a good place for the entrance giving some advantages to internal circulation routes.

The Society would like these points to be addressed and to see some modifications made to the design. If the application remains as submitted the Society feels that it should be refused.

Kem Mehmed 21st October 2017
On behalf of Peterborough Civic Society committee

The situation has changed not for the better since the above update, so for the latest situation on Whitworth Mill please visit our planning applications page.

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The saga of Castor

Kem's piece below is reproduced in its full version - some of this narrative was used to supplement an article titled 'A Tale of City versus country' that appeared in the November 2017 edition of Nene Living. Pictures can be clicked to view full size.

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Are the villagers of Castor, Ailsworth and Sutton heading for a final showdown with 'the planners' or will the latest battle be the final one? A large area of open countryside has been identified in a new Peterborough Local Plan for a 'new settlement' of 2,500 homes.

Over the last fifty years there have been five or six serious attempts to promote a major extension of Peterborough on the farmland west of Milton Park. It all began with the identification of Peterborough as a place with the potential for major expansion to help deal with the crisis of housing in London and the South-East. The local politicians and council officers were in general agreement that this should be welcomed. The established industries of railway/general engineering and brick-making were perceived to be in decline leading to an atmosphere of economic decline. Whilst the Government decision was awaited a study of how and precisely where expansion could take place was carried out, giving us the Well's report in 1963. The plan showed all major development northwards along the East Coast mainline, absorbing Marholm village and reaching almost as far as Glinton. Expansion to the west and south-west was not included.

The selection of Peterborough along with Milton Keynes and Northampton for expansion was confirmed by a recently elected Labour Government in 1965. The Ministry of Housing then set about building on the progress that had been made in reaching agreement in principle with the City and County councils by appointing a planning consultant, to report on the boundaries of the new town. The task facing Tom Hancock and his partner Tim Hawkes was a daunting one. They had to consider a vast array of physical factors; soil, climate, drainage, traffic and then all the manifold requirements of human beings for employment, entertainment, religion and racial harmony. Out of all this came a diagram for the city.

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It is here that the concept of 'townships' was applied and where the 'Castor Township' was born. The pre-eminent purpose of the Hancock-Hawkes study was to delineate the boundaries of the new town and this resulted in the area eventually approved in 1967. The Ministry had added a large area of about 2,000acres around Marholm to appease county councillors' objections. Some members of the county planning committee felt that the consultants, "had failed to get the feeling of Peterborough", that development should be in the north and east, that Milton Park and Castor were thought of a impregnable. However, Milton Estates who owned land in Marholm and Castor put a higher value on the former, and made it clear which they preferred. The 'Marholm Salient' was excluded following the public inquiry.

The New Town designation was confirmed in 1967 and the Peterborough Development Corporation began work on a Master Plan which would guide development to double the population of the city in about twenty years. Public consultation was a relatively new science then and a code of how to do this was published in 1969 by a committee chaired by Arthur Skeffington. He it was who opened the public exhibition into the Interim Plan in October 1969. Three thousand people came to inspect the plan, over five hundred made written comments and following revisions the plan was submitted to the Minister. At the public inquiry the objections had been whittled down to eleven!. The hearing into these lasted a mere eight hours but it was not until May 1971 that the plan was confirmed.

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This plan contained a northern bypass of Castor hugging the Designated Area boundary and a township confined to the land between the bypass and the A47. The Parkway to the south of Castor and Ailsworth shown in the Hancock Hawkes plan had been dropped. The Castor Township was to accommodate about 7-8,000 homes and included a large employment area at the western end nearest to the A1. It would be the third and final stage to be undertaken, forecast that time to be 1980-85.

Meanwhile Peterborough continued to grow, and the Corporation began work on new housing schemes in Ravensthorpe and Woodston. Once the Master Plan was approved rapid progress was made in the Bretton, Orton and Werrington townships and on the parkway system linking all parts of the new and old city. To achieve the target population growth of about 180,000 by 1985 meant one of the fastest house-building programs of any previous New Town. An average of 2,000 houses a year was required.

When the time came for more detail to be added to the plan for Castor Township construction of the first three townships was proceeding at a rapid rate and monitoring showed that two factors were entering the equation. Building densities were lower overall than expected and household size was much lower than the 3 persons per house commonly anticipated. The result; more land would be needed to achieve population targets. At Castor, or more precisely Sutton, there was an area marked on the Structure Plan as 'Reserve Land' intended to provide flexibility in the long term growth of the city. The Corporation planners incorporated this land into its planning application for the township in what was called the 'Western Sector Outline Plan'. The township had grown to 9.600 homes with two employment areas alongside a bypass. The storm of protest from parish councillors and local residents became a hurricane to which was added a reluctance by the County Council to support the scheme.

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By the time this plan was presented for approval, policy from Whitehall was taking a significant turn. Concern over inner city strife led the Labour government to review the whole New Town program and in some quarters it was seen to be a contributor to the problems faced by the inner cities. As a result in 1977 all New Town corporations were told to slow down or stop building all together. It was a watershed moment in Peterborough Development Corporation history. There was still sufficient need and momentum in the growth of the city to encourage them to press on with a smaller phased development at Castor and a new plan was produced a year later for a township of 4,000 houses on land north of the village. This was shown as capable of expansion beyond the life of the Corporation on land to the west of Ailsworth. This plan was caught up in changes at Whitehall of some significance! A Conservative government was elected in 1979 and public spending, especially on housing was cut to the bone. The death nell came for the Castor Township at a review of the Cambridgeshire County Structure Plan when in 1988 an area of reclaimed brick workings south of Orton was allocated as a replacement for Castor. This was to become, Hampton.

It would be another ten years or so before any significant progress was made in building at Hampton and in the meantime housing continued to be built on all manor of large and small sites throughout the city and the surrounding villages. The Corporation promoted the remaining land it owned at Parnwell, Botolph Green and a number of infill sites but house building numbers dropped from a peak of 2300 in one year to an average in the 90's of about 500 per year.

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Local plans which guide development have been produced by the City Council and since the closure of the Development Corporation in 1988 none of these included a major housing site at Castor until the current one, the replacement Local Plan for the period 2016-2036.

A 'Further Draft Consultation Plan' was published in December 2016 showing a site for 2,500 homes to the north of the A47 bypass. The site has remained in the Submission Local Plan which was about to be approved by the City Council in September when at the last minute it was put on hold. New guidance from Whitehall on how to calculate 'Housing Need' was on its way which, when applied to Peterborough would result in a requirement for fewer homes than were in the Local Plan. The reduction of about 1,000 to 2,000 homes necessitates a reappraisal of the sites allocation part of the plan. Consultations on the revised plan will mean a delay of from three to nine months before we see the Local Plan submitted to the Secretary of State, who will hold a number of Hearings in Public, probably in late 2018, or more realistically 2019.

Will the saga end there? Will history repeat itself, yet again, with a rejection of the Castor proposal or will its fate be sealed with a thumbs-up from the Inspector?

It's never over till it's over.

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page last changed 31 October 2020