Brian Jones – Boongate, A Hamlet to the East – A Microcosm of Victorian Urbanisation
In a fascinating and well researched lecture Brian Jones took us on a trip into one of the oldest inhabited areas of central Peterborough outside of the Cathedral precincts.
Boongate shows us how Peterborough and society was changing in the Victorian period. It was a mix of the posh, the not very posh, and the downright slummy, usually found across all cities but in this case in one small area. There was a complete mix of social classes all living close together, not by compulsion but through choice.
In the Mediaeval period the lack of Fen drainage meant that Peterboroughwas virtually a seaside town. On the Eayres map of 1721 Boongate can be seen. Its existence dates back to the first monastic site in the city. The ‘gate’ element of the name comes from the Danish for street and points to an Anglo Saxon origin, as with many of the streets in the city. ‘Boon’ meant ‘Bonds’ it was the street of the bondsmen, also known as Bungate. The bondsmen were the workers brought in the build the monastery, who originally lived in this area.
The area was just beyond the toll bar into Peterborough. To get in and out of Peterborough in the 1790s one had to pass through the tolls and pay for the privilege. Animals were also driven this way, with records showing that a pig was tuppence each to drive into the city. There were several tollbars visible on the 1721 map, they could not be avoided. To get into and out of Peterborough towards Thorney and Wisbech people had to pass through the then slum areas of Boongate. In order to avoid this the first major new road in Peterboroughfor 1000 years was established. It was named, imaginatively ‘New Road’. At the time it was built in 1831 the city had 6500 inhabitants in total. However with the coming of the railways in that decade Peterborough was changing and the figure would rocket to over 31,000 by the early 20th century.
The area between the New Roadand the existing Boongate area was prime development land for the new people who were moving to the area during the industrial revolution. The roads were laid down first and the land divided into plots, which had to be built 15feet from the edge of the road, something which can be seen in the maps of the time. The land was auctioned off through the Freehold Land Society . 40 developers got plots.
Pig Lane, so named for the pigsties that ran along it, was renamed ‘St Mary’s Street’ after the new church that was built there. Until the 1850’sSt Johns(where this lecture was held’ was the only parish church in Peterborough, but with new growth came new parishes and new churches started to spring up. Pubs also appeared, with 18 in the older area of Boongate alone. Along with this temperance bars such as the Fitzwilliam Coffee House also appeared as alcohol led to social and health issues.
Records show that in 1881 there were 9 German Oompa bands in Boongate, and it was a diverse place, with people from all over the world there, including North America. Records of what jobs people did also highlights the diversity in the residents.
The Stanley Recreation ground borders the Boongate area and was donated to the city by Stanley’s widow after his death. At first this land was seen as a fine source of fence posts for kindling, an area to beat carpets on and a place to get soil for the garden from (at least according to a letter from the local maintenance man!). It was also used by the agricultural society. A footpath across it was meant to become a road ‘Jubilee avenue’ but this never happened and it remained a footpath.
Suggested reading: ‘When Boongate was Bungate’ TP Nutt (available in the Local Studies area of Peterborough Central Library).