Victorian Peterborough: Brian Jones October 2011

Inside St Johns

Brian Jones talking to audience at St John’s Church
Brian Jones gave an excellently entertaining lecture on Lunchtime October 11, 2011, the first in the new series for Buildings in Need, Highlighting the fact that Peterborough’s population had a nearly 50% population change in the Victorian period, Brian started with some quotes by the great and good about Peterborough then. Samuel Sydney in 1851 lamented the fact that one couldn’t get a copy of the Times in Peterborough, damning the city further with ‘There is therefore the best of consolation on being landed in this dull inhospitable city – that it is the easiest possible thing to leave it…The cathedral viewed, nothing remains to detain the traveller in this peculiarly stupid city.’ (Sydney, 1951). 
Charles Dickens wasn’t much better in his praise in 1893, describing how he ‘had a petrified bun of enormous antiquity in miserable meekness’ at the train station at 3 in the morning. In 1857 Nathaniel Hawthorne described being reluctant to leave the cathedral although happy to leave the hotel ‘for, though outwardly pretentious, it is a wretched and uncomfortable place, with scanty table, poor attendance, and enormous charges’. Morris and Ruskin didn’t think much of it either, but Peterborough underwent enormous changes in this period and the reality wasn’t as grim as the quotes, although they did get our audience laughing! Peterborough demanded, there were also Coffee Houses and Temperance Hotels. Crime was rife, with thefts of meat and ‘sound thrashings’ occuring.
Brian highlighted how many new roads, without houses on them, were constructed in the period, with 1850’s streets being straightforward in natured, becoming increasingly complex as time went on, to create the street structure we see today in the City Centre and Park areas. He highlighted how they were promoted and sold to developers. To make areas more appealing some streets were renamed, with Pig Lane becoming ‘St Mary’s Street’.
The coming of the Railways, which led to the coming of the brickworks, changed Peterborough in this period. The first station, Peterborough East, which no longer exists, opened in 1845 on what is now the Southbank. The listed Great Northern Railway Bridge was built in 1850 and is still used by the trains between Peterborough and London.
There are still large areas of remaining railway workers cottages including the Great Northern Cottages, Gladstone Street and Midland Road areas. Not just workers but their managers have left their mark in the built environment of the city, with larger properties found on Midland Road. New churches were also built around this time, including St Marks in 1855 and St Paul’s in New England, built in 1869 and known as the Railwaymen’s Church. The railways allowed the brick and iron industries to thrive and led to the development of Peterborough as it is today.

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