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Title: Notes on Old Peterborough
Author: Percival, Andrew
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Notes on Old Peterborough" ***

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Transcribed from the 1905 Geo. C. Caster edition by David Price, email
ccx074@pglaf.org

           [Picture: Andrew Percival (Taken in the year 1901)]

                  May be had bound in Cloth, Price 1/6.

                                * * * * *



                                 Notes on
                            Old Peterborough,


                                    BY
                         ANDREW PERCIVAL, S.S.C.,

                        With Eight Illustrations,

                                INCLUDING

                         Portrait of the Author.

           Arranged, Published, and Sold by Special Permission
                              of the Author,

                                    BY
                 The PETERBOROUGH ARCHÆOLOGICAL SOCIETY.

                      [Picture: Decorative graphic]

                              ONE SHILLING.

                      [Picture: Decorative graphic]

                              PETERBOROUGH:
                      GEO. C. CASTER, MARKET PLACE.
                                  1905.

       [_Reprinted from type of the_ “_Peterborough Advertiser_.”]



PREFACE.


The Reminiscences of a Citizen whose memory goes back in detail for over
Seventy Years, as in the case of the Contributor of these Notes, cannot
fail to be of paramount interest and of antiquarian value.  Especially in
this case, where the distinguished Narrator has held a very foremost
place in the Professional life and Voluntary Public Service of the City.
Additionally interesting must they prove in the case of a City which has
developed from a comparatively small parish into a populous industrial,
commercial and residential Centre.  The Peterborough Archæological
Society has in these circumstances undertaken the duty of preserving and
circulating in compact form the very valuable personal Recollections of
Mr. Andrew Percival.  In doing so the Society acknowledges its
indebtedness to that gentleman for his ready permission to entrust them
to its charge.  The writer of this Preface was present at the old
Wentworth Rooms, at Peterborough, in the years 1883–4, when the addresses
which formed the basis of this chronicle were delivered.  He thus felt a
continuity of interest when the manuscript was recently committed to him
to prepare, with illustrations, for advance publication in the
“Peterborough Advertiser,” in September, 1905, and in bringing up to
date, during the indisposition of the Author, several of the
chronological and statistical references.  Otherwise the Notes remain
exactly as set down and corrected by Mr. Percival.  The Society expresses
its thanks to Mr. A. C. Taylor for the use of the very excellent photo of
Mr. Percival which forms the frontispiece; to Mr. T. N. Green (Ball &
Co.) for the Photo of the Old Bridge; and to Mr. Geo. C. Caster for the
use of “Whittlesey Mere” block, from “Fenland Notes & Queries”; most of
the others having been specially taken and engraved for this Publication.

                                                                     F. L.

_Peterborough_, _Oct._, _1905_.



INDEX.


LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS. {5}

Portrait of Mr. Andrew Percival        Title Page
Peterborough Market Place in 1836               9
Sedan Chair                                    19
Cottages in Paston                             20
The Old Bridge over the Nene                   27
Sexton Barns                                   29
Peterborough Market Place in 1795              36
Map of Whittlesey Mere                         47

                                * * * * *

                                             PAGE.
Advertisement, A peculiar                       40
An Alibi                                        43

Balls                                           19
Barns                                       29, 31
Beacon, A lighted                               22
Beadle, The City                                16
Breweries                                       10
Bridge, The old wooden                          27
Buckle’s Brewery                            10, 11
Burglaries                                      43
Burial at Cross Roads                           32
Burial Ground, The Old                          34
Butcher’s Piece, The                            41

Cabbage Row                                     31
Calculating Boy                                 10
Castor, Old system of farming at                22
Cattle Market                                   33
Cemetery, The                                   34
Coaches, Mail                           11, 12, 13
Constables, Parish                              17
Contrast, A                                     13
Cost of Travelling                              12

Distemper, The                                  40
Draining the Great Level                        23

Epitaphs                                        35
Executions                                      41
Extraordinary Medley                            34

Fairs                                           19
Fen around Peterborough                         23
Fen Drainage                                23, 25
Fen Taxes                                       27
Franking Letters                                16
Frisby’s Feat                                   12
Frog Hall                                       32

Gaols                                       17, 30
Gas Works started                               32
Gates, Toll                                      9
God’s Acre                                      34
Guildhall, The                                  41

Hangings                                        41
Hostelry, The Thorpe Road                       30

Infirmary, The                                  10
Intelligent Fenmen                              27

Jaunt through the City                          29

Ladies and the Cattle                           33
Land, Improvement in value of                   27
Level, The Great                                23
Level, Draining the Great                       23
Lock-up Story                                   43

Mail Coaches                                    11
Market, Cattle                                  33
,, The old                                      33
„ Wednesday                                     34
Mere, Whittlesey                                19
Mill, The Old                           14, 27, 29
Mill system of Draining                         25
Mud Case, The                                   44

Nene Outfall, The                               25
Newspapers                              38, 39, 40
Newtown                                         31
Notorious Family, A                             17

Oasis in the Desert                             21

Packets, River                                  15
Parish Constables                               17
Paston                                          22
Ponds                                           31
Poor House                                      31
Poor Law                                        30
Post Office                                     37
Postal Charges                                  15

Railways                                11, 14, 44
Railways and Earl Fitzwilliam                   14
Retrospective                                   45
River Packets                                   15
Robbery at the Vicarage                         43

Sedan Chairs                                    19
Sexton Barns                                    29
Smothering the Cathedral                        14
Snatched from the Sea                           25

Tales of the Coaching days                      12
Theatre                                         17
Toll Gates                                       9
Tombstone Rhymes                                35
Tythe Barn, Boroughbury                         31

Value of land improved                          27

Whalley, Mr. G. H.                              15
Whittlesey Mere                                 19



PART THE FIRST.


CITY TOLL GATES.—HOW TOLL WAS LEVIED.—THE INFIRMARY.—OLD CITY
BREWERIES.—THE CALCULATING BOY.—STARTING THE RAILWAYS.—FRISBY’S
FEAT.—TALES OF THE COACHING DAYS.—TALLY-HO COACH.—A CONTRAST.—A STORY OF
LORD FITZWILLIAM.—SMOTHERING THE CATHEDRAL.—THE OLD MILL.—SIMPSON’S
PACKET.—MR. WHALLEY’S JOKE.—POSTAL CHARGES.—FRANKING LETTERS.—THE CITY
BEADLE.—PARISH CONSTABLES AND GAOL.—A NOTORIOUS FAMILY.—FAIRS.—CITY
BELLS.—SEDAN CHAIRS.—WHITTLESEY MERE.

WHEN I came to Peterboro’ in Oct., 1833, I think our population was five
or six thousand.  In the month of August I came down to make arrangements
for my being articled to the late Mr. Gates.  I was taken charge of by my
father, and protected by my sister, and we drove from Northampton, where
my father was a medical man having an extensive practice, and could only
spare one day.  During the night a most extraordinary storm sprang up.
We had to go back during that storm.  There was an enormous destruction
of timber on the road between here and Northampton, and in many other
parts of the country.  It was a storm such as very seldom rages in these
latitudes in the summer months.  In one part of the journey was a great
avenue of trees, a considerable portion of which was destroyed.  It was
the property of a worthy squire, and I remember hearing it remarked, “How
much Mr. So-and-So will feel the destruction of his avenue.”  “Oh dear
no,” said the person spoken to, “don’t you know that that property is
settled property, and he has no power of cutting timber, and he will be
highly delighted.  He thinks the avenue is much improved, as it puts a
very good sum of money into his pocket, which is very welcome to him.”
You see it is an ill wind that blows nobody good.

[Picture: Peterborough Market Place in the Coaching Days.  (From a Print,
     1836).  “Peterborough has much altered since those days.”—Andrew
                                Percival]

When I got here, the first thing I saw when I looked round the town was
that it was confined by toll bars.  There was a toll bar just over the
bridge, where the little house since converted into shops then was.  At
the other end of the town, on the Lincoln Road, was another toll bar; on
the Thorney Road was another, and at the back of Westgate another.  Our
town had four gates drawn across the four entrances; on the road now
known as Lincoln Road East, then Crawthorne Lane, there was a side bar to
prevent anyone getting out of the town without paying contributions.  One
enquired what these meant, because within a mile or two on each of the
main roads you would find another toll bar, at which they duly took toll,
and the only villages that could get into Peterborough without paying
toll were Yaxley, Farcet, and Stanground, as the turnpike road toll on
that road, the old London Road, was near Norman Cross.  Otherwise, our
system was so ingeniously contrived that you could not get into or out of
Peterborough without paying town toll at the end of the street, which
were tolls for the pavement.  This was rather a peculiar system.  I do
not wish to quote Scripture, but you will recollect the enquiry, “Of whom
do the Kings of the earth take tribute?  Of their own children or of
strangers, and they said ‘of strangers.’  Then the comment was ‘Then are
the children free!’”

The system that our forefathers adopted for encouraging communication and
traffic was this: They put a toll on for their pavements, from the
payment of which they exempted themselves, and took it from the strangers
that came into the place.  The only exceptions were when the inhabitants
of the place travelled on Sundays.  Toll collectors were then authorised
to take toll from them, and also from those who hired vehicles in the
place, the result being if you were an inhabitant of the place, and had
the luck to keep your carriage or gig or wagon, or whatever it was, you
might use the pavement as much as you pleased, and pay nothing.  But if
you were a poor person, or could only treat yourself occasionally with
the luxury of a gig, or were obliged to hire a trap for business, yon
were immediately taken toll of.

The present Hospital or Infirmary was then a private dwelling-house.  The
Dispensary which existed then was a small house opposite the Old Burial
Ground, the one now occupied by Mr. Payling, the dentist.  After some
years, it was removed from this place to what is now the Police Station
in Newtown.  Soon after this, the Earl Fitzwilliam purchased the present
building and presented it to the City, a monument of his appreciation of
the good that had been done in a small way by the existing buildings, and
which, I think, in the present arrangements, fully carried out his
Lordship’s benevolent wishes.

There were two considerable features of Peterborough which have entirely
disappeared.  Where Queen Street and North Street now stand were two
large breweries, known as Buckle’s Brewery and Squires’s Brewery.  They
were quite institutions of the place, and it always strikes me as a very
strange thing that they should have entirely disappeared, as one of them
would have been larger than all the breweries now in Peterborough.
Buckles’ Brewery was certainly a very remarkable one, and carried on with
great energy and spirit.  There was one peculiarity they had—that some
friends of the partners could assemble on Easter Monday and spend the
afternoon in playing at marbles.  I have spent pleasant afternoons there
on Easter Mondays.  There were two large tuns or barrels in which the
beer was kept, one of which was called Mrs. Clarke, and the other the
Duke of York, to perpetuate a scandal at the time when they were
constructed.  A very hospitable time always followed the game at marbles.

Buckles’ Brewery was the cause of another peculiar circumstance.  On one
occasion there visited the town for the amusement of the people, a
calculating boy.  He went through, his entertainment with great success,
and at last one of our worthy inhabitants got up and asked the question
“How many gallons does Mr. Buckles’ great copper hold?”  The boy said he
could not tell.  “No; I thought you could not,” was the reply.  Our
worthy citizen had forgotten to give the dimensions of the copper, and
went away rejoicing over the fact that he had puzzled the calculating
boy!

He reminds me very much of a story one has heard in connection with our
own professional experience.  A witness was called to prove an assault,
which consisted in a man having been knocked down by a stone thrown at
him.  The counsel was anxious to ascertain the size of the stone.  The
witness said “do you want to know how big it was?”  “Yes,” said the
counsel.  “The size do you mean?”  “Yes.”  “Well, it was biggish.”
“Well, I want you to tell me how big it was”!  “Well, sir, if you want me
to tell you how big it was, I should think it was as big as a lump o’
chalk.”  Now, I think the gentleman who put the question about the
copper, and the witness, must have been very nearly related.

When I arrived in the City, it became very important to me to know how I
could get away from it.  I lived at Northampton.  Between Peterborough
and Northampton there are now eleven trains a day.  When I came to
Peterborough in 1833, and for some years afterwards, the only
communication between the town of Northampton and the City of
Peterborough was a one-horse carrier’s cart, which came twice a week, and
I think the large proportion of its business consisted in carrying
parcels from the Probate Office at Northampton to the Probate Office at
Peterborough.  For coaches we were pretty well off.  Two mails ran
through Peterborough, the Boston Coach, and the Coach to Hull.  We used
to go shares with the town of Stamford with a London Coach.  One of our
townsmen ran a coach to Stilton daily, where it joined the coach from
Stamford.  At one time that coach carried the letter bag, and on one
occasion it started without the bag.

There was a man known as “Old John Frisby,” who was not quite “all
there,” and this man went after the coach with the letter bag, and
overtook it at Stilton.  The poor man was under the impression that he
had done the State a great service and thought he ought to receive a
pension, and he daily expected it until his death.

The Mail Coaches were very comfortable for travelling in fine weather,
and an eight or ten hours’ journey was very pleasant, providing you did
not ride inside.  A journey to London and Edinburgh occupied two whole
days and nights.  The expense of such a mode of travelling was very
great, being five or six times as much as the ordinary first class
railway fare.  Every fifty or sixty miles the Coachman would touch his
hat and say, “I leave you here, sir,” which meant that you were to give
him a fee.  The guard would do the same, and when your luggage was put
up, the ostler came to you.  If you travelled post or in “a yellow and
two,” as it was called, you had to pay 1s. 6d. a mile, beside the toll
bars, and 3d. a mile for the post boy, as well as something more that he
always expected.  The 3d. a mile for the post boy, as his regular fee, is
about equal to the highest first class railway fare that is paid on any
railway in the country.

Just conceive what a change there is in the communication and you do not
wonder that the introduction of the railway system has made a stationary
nation into a nation of travellers.  After a time things did improve a
little.  The Birmingham Railway was made at considerable cost.  When I
wanted to go to Northampton, for many years I had to get up at six
o’clock in the morning, hire a gig to go to Thrapston, where I caught the
Cambridge coach, which ran in connection with the coach at Oxford.  It
cost about £4 to go home and come back again.  When the Blisworth railway
was opened, a coach was set up from Lynn to Blisworth six days in the
week.  This was a great convenience, and was very well supported.  There
were two coachmen.  One was very grave and serious and the other light
and frivolous.  Everybody knew them very well indeed.  It was very
amusing to travel with them.

At last, the Northampton Railway was projected, and it was plain to those
men that their reign was coming to an end; but they used to endeavour to
convert you to the belief that it was far better for things to remain as
they were.  The light and frivolous one used to sing a song in praise of
the “Tally Ho” Coach.  I remember the chorus was:

    Let the steam pot hiss
       Until it is hot.
    Give me the speed of
       The Tally-ho trot!

The other coachman used to appeal to your fears, and say how dreadful it
was when a railway accident occurred—“when an accident occurred to the
coach—there you are!  Just fancy an accident at 20 or 30 miles an hour;
when that happens, where are you?”

Well, we have survived it, and I am not sure that he was accurate in his
per centage of those injured in coach and railway accidents.  I have
known some very fatal and distressing accidents bearing a very large
proportion of injuries and deaths to those in the coach.  I may mention
that the Lynn coach of Messrs. Hill was very good to take you to the sea,
it was very hard work to get to the beach in these days.  I believe
Skegness consisted of a single house.  The nearest place was Yarmouth,
and Messrs. Hill’s car took you to Lynn, where you could join the
Birmingham and Yarmouth mail.  I have never forgotten my first visit to
Yarmouth when a boy.  From the Norwich Road you caught the first view of
the sea.  As you enter Yarmouth now by rail you go in over the marshes,
and the last two or three miles are by the side of muddy water, and you
cannot see the sea until you get on the beach.  The contrast between the
way by the old coach and by the rail is very striking, indeed.

In the year 1842 or 1843 it was rumoured that the London and
North-Western Company were about to feel their way eastward, and the
project for making the Peterborough and Northampton Railway was put into
shape.  Our wildest dreams never expected a railway.  We had a coach, and
that was quite a novelty.  The Bishop and Dean and Chapter had a good
deal of property on the line, and strongly opposed the railway.  When the
Bill came into the House of Lords it was, to our great delight, passed by
a majority of One.  There is an anecdote of Lord Fitzwilliam, who was an
opponent of the Bill.  That one day his Lordship was coming down by
train, and in the same carriage was one of those gentlemen who knew
everything.  This gentleman was giving to a friend a history of the line,
and when passing Alwalton Lynch said: “That is the road to Milton Park,
and do you know that Lord Fitzwilliam opposed the Bill because they would
not make him a station there?”  A little further on the train stopped at
Overton Station, and his Lordship got out.  Just as he was shutting the
door he said to the gentleman: “That little anecdote which you just told
your friend about that crossing is not true, and when you say anything
more about it you may say that Lord Fitzwilliam told you so.”

The Northampton line was opened in 1845, and I remember being in the
Cathedral when the first engine came down.  It stopped at the end of the
Fair Meadow, for the Dean and Chapter prevented the line being brought
any nearer the town, as they would not have Bridge Fair interfered with.
The engine was only about one-third the size of what they are now, but
when it blew off steam people said they would never be able to hear
anything in the Cathedral!  Yet now no notice is taken of what was looked
upon then as a deafening noise.

We had next the London and York Railway, which then crossed the Thorpe
Road near where the old mill stood.  Lord Fitzwilliam compelled the
Company to put the line by the side of the Syston and Peterborough
Railway, where it is now.  There were some amusing incidents connected
with the Syston Railway.  It was strongly opposed by Lord Harborough, and
there were riots and fights between his men and the surveyors of the
line.  I will say no more about the railway system.

The communications with Peterborough would be very incomplete if one
forgot the river, because the river in those days was very necessary to
the comfort of the town.  I daresay now, if I were to quote Cowper’s
lines:

    Nen’s barge-laden waves,

people might say they did not think the load is very heavy.  But before
the construction of the railway, and for some year’s afterwards, barges
were found in very great abundance.  We derived our whole coal supply
from the river, and it was our great channel for carrying corn and
timber.  The importance of the Nene to the counties through which it
passed was very great.  Amongst other things was a Packet called
“Simpson’s Packet,” and another belonging to Messrs. James and Thomas
Hill, which conveyed light goods and passengers between Peterborough and
Wisbech.  I recollect the old gentleman who commanded the packet held a
very high rank in the Navy indeed.  He was a wooden-legged old gentleman,
very much respected, and known by the name of Admiral Russell.  He was
commander of the Packet for many years.  I do not know who succeeded him,
but someone who did not attain so high a rank.

There was a joke against Mr. Whalley, M.P., that he promised to make
Peterborough a Seaport.  If the projected scheme had been fairly carried
out according to the original intention of the promoters, there would not
have been a deal of money wasted.  Some think even now it should not be
given up altogether, if only for the purpose of preventing the railway
companies from putting too high prices on the carriage of goods in cases
where speed of transit is not essential.  Goods used to be brought from
Wisbech in lighters, and it was a serious thing in frosty weather,
because all our coals were brought by the river, and when the frost
lasted long there was danger of a coal famine.

Now I may mention about the postage.  When I first knew Peterborough the
postage of a letter to London was 8d.  A little further on it would be
10d., and go on, until it came to about 1s. 4d.  When you were going to
London in those days you would receive visits from your friends, who
would ask you to take letters for them and put them in the 2d. Post in
London, and sometimes it happened that these letters were found in your
coat pocket when you got home again!  The postage of a ½oz. letter was
8d., but if you cut the sheet of paper in two and used one-half as an
envelope, the postage was 1s. 4d.  If you divided the sheet of paper
again and wrote a cheque on one quarter of it, and the receipt to be
signed and returned on the other and put them into the other half sheet,
the postage was again doubled.  When I was at school my eldest brother,
in a fit of benevolence, sent me 2s. 6d. in a letter, and I was delighted
until I was told the postage was 2s. 8d.  The matron, however, found a
way out of it.  She put the 2s. 8d. down to the governor’s account, and I
had the half-crown.

These rates of postage were very heavy, but Members of Parliament had the
privilege of what was called “franking” letters.  They were continually
being applied to for these franks.  They were only allowed, however, to
send a certain number of letters, and you always ran the risk of having a
bill sent in from the Post Office to the person having the privilege of
“franking,” and they would send a footman to you, and you would then have
to pay your share.  This privilege of franking was abused, and one would
hear that so and so had franked a ham, and one person was said to have
franked a piano!  Whether this was the truth or not I do not know, but it
shows the advantage of getting rid of exceptional privileges.

A few words about the government of our City.  When I first came to the
Town, the principal governor, the one who made the greatest impression on
my youthful imagination, at all events, was the Beadle.  He was a very
important personage.  His principal duty was to see the tramps out of the
town.  He could not arrest them, but had to “fidget” them out.  He was
always chosen with special reference to his age and infirmity.  He had a
long robe, a mace, and a cocked hat.  He looked very imposing, almost
like Old Scarlett in the Cathedral put into a long coat, a pair of knee
breeches, and a cocked hat.  He was paid in this way: At the Quarter
Sessions he waited upon the Magistrates with a bill: “A man and a woman
sent out Stamford Road,” “Two tramps and a child, Lincoln Road,” and so
on.  As we say educationally, he was paid by results.  He was allowed so
much according to his services.  He was the principal officer of the
place, and was appointed by the Feoffees.

About the year 1857 we were protected by Parish Constables, and I think
the principal duty of the constable was to report himself at the Quarter
Sessions.  We had two gaols—we could not do with one!  One of these was
that in the Minster Precincts, recently vacated by the School of Art.
The other stood upon what is now the site of the Cumbergate Almshouses.
The one in the Minster Yard was maintained by Lord Exeter as Lord
Paramount.  The other one, I think, was paid for by the Magistrates.  In
1840 we got an Act of Parliament for a new gaol, and it was brought about
in this way: In about the year 1838 or 1839 a person walking through the
Minster Yard saw a head pop up out of the pavement, a body followed,
walked off, and was never heard of again.  The man had simply undermined
the foundations of his cell with a knife or bone and disappeared!  He was
the first that discovered that way of escape!

About the same time in Peterborough was a family named Rogers.  They were
the black sheep of the place.  The head of the family was known as Jimmy
Rogers, and he took it into his head to dine one day upon sheep’s head
and pluck which he stole from a butcher’s shop.  He was ordered to be put
into the Feoffees’ Gaol.  He picked his way out, and this thief of the
district and his family disappeared and never came back again.  It was
thought to be time we had a gaol, and the present building on the Thorpe
Road was erected.

You must not think that we had no amusements.  We used to have a theatre
on the site where the Corn Exchange now stands, and a very good theatre
it was.  A very good company used to come for about three months in the
summer, and a very good entertainment was afforded.  The Bishop and his
Lady of those days used to make a point of attending during the season,
and it was quite the thing to go to the theatre.

The Fairs were very important in those days.  The importance must not be
judged by what is seen of them now.  Bridge Fair was then most important.
It shows the antiquity of the fairs that they had a special Court.  All
fairs and markets of any antiquity had this Court which was to do justice
between man and man in any disputes arising at the fairs.

We had two Balls regularly, one for the National School and one for the
Infirmary.  When political feeling ran high one Party would go to the
National School Ball and the other to the Infirmary Ball.  At other times
each party would go to both.

Peterborough was one of the last places in which Sedan chairs flourished.
They went on until some time after the railways were established, which
altered everything.  The men were too much occupied to be able to go with
the Sedan chairs when they were wanted, and so they gradually died out.

 [Picture: A Peterborough Sedan Chair.  “Peterborough was one of the last
        places in which Sedan chairs flourished.”—Andrew Percival]

Whittlesey Mere existed in those days.  It was thus called because it had
nothing whatever to do with Whittlesey.  It was several miles away.
Whittlesey Mere was one of the wonders of Huntingdonshire, Whittlesey
being in Cambridgeshire.  Whittlesey Mere was a charming place for
skating in frosty weather and for fishing in the summer time, when there
was water enough, and for boating under the same circumstances.
Sometimes, when there had been a dry time it became so shallow that you
stirred up mud from the bottom when you attempted to sail.  It was very
good for fishing.  One day we were out with a party, and we stopped at
old Bellamy Bradford’s landing place.  It shelved off so gradually that
the distinction between grass and water was so graduated that a large
pike, probably in pursuit of a fish, had gone so far as to be prevented
from getting back to his native element.  The place was surrounded by
reed shoals, where reeds for thatching grew, and these were the resort of
innumerable starlings.

  [Picture: Photo. T. N. Green.  Ball & Co., Peterborough.  A bit of Old
    Paston.  Peterborough people used to be married and buried in the
enclosed parish of Paston—a kind of oasis in the desert.—Andrew Percival]



PART THE SECOND.


AN OASIS IN THE DESERT.—OLD SYSTEM OF CASTOR FARMING.—A LIGHTED
BEACON.—THE FEN AROUND US.—DRAINING THE GREAT LEVEL.—THE MILL SYSTEM OF
DRAINING.—SNATCHED FROM THE SEA.—HOW LAND IMPROVED IN VALUE.—“INTELLIGENT
FENMEN.”—OLD TOWN BRIDGE.—OLD-TIME JAUNT THROUGH THE CITY.—POOR HOUSE AND
NEW GAOL.—THORPE ROAD HOSTELRY.—NEWTOWN.—THE GREAT BREWERIES AND THE
PONDS.—CABBAGE ROW.—BURIAL AT CROSS ROADS.—FROG HALL.—GAS WORKS
STARTED.—OLD MARKET.—LADIES AND THE CATTLE.—WEDNESDAY MARKET.—A CURIOSITY
MARKET.—GOD’S ACRE.

THE great point which strikes us all, and which strikes everyone
considering the history of the last seventy years in the City of
Peterborough is the very great increase in the population, and when one
began to think how it came about we used to say “it is owing to the
railways.”  But that is like telling you that the world, as the Indians
say, is supported on the back of a tortoise!  You want to know why the
railways were wanted, what the tortoise stands upon, because if you look
into statistics seventy years ago, before the railways, the population of
Peterborough was considerably increasing, and the populations of
agricultural districts altogether were very much increasing, and when you
go a little further, if you look at all into the history of the land
around Peterborough, or the country altogether, you will find within a
century there had been a great change.  Now, take for instance the
immediate neighbourhood of Peterborough.  My recollection of it begins,
as I have said, at the latter end of 1833, at the commencement of the
last century.  I think the only parish, if I except Fletton, the only
enclosed parish within some few miles of this place was the parish of
Paston.

There you will rind the church, surrounded by old trees, and the parish
differed very much from others.  If you look into the Churchyard there
you will find a great many names of the inhabitants of Peterborough and
other parishes outside Paston.  If you look into the Paston register you
will find marriages solemnised between inhabitants not belonging to
Paston, the undoubted fact being that the enclosed parish of Paston led
people to desire they should be married and buried there.  Paston was a
kind of oasis in the desert.

Most of the parishes around here were in the position and character of
Castor, which until recently was the only open field parish within many
miles of this place.  I was riding through Castor field some years ago,
before it was enclosed, with a few farmers, when one turned round and
said: “How should you like to farm this parish?”  “Not at all,” was the
reply.  A man in the parish who had a farm of a hundred acres would have
to go to his farm in four different parts of the parish—some against
Ailsworth, Milton Park, Alwalton, and so on, perhaps scattered in pieces
of one acre, two roods, and so forth.  So that with a large farm a man
would have to go to a farm of a hundred acres to as many different places
two or three miles apart.  The pieces were so narrow that they were like
ribbons; you could plough lengthways but not crossways.  As soon as you
turned, you got on to your neighbour’s land, which was frequently a
subject of dispute.  Conceive the state of the cultivation of the country
generally when that was the system not only in one parish, but in the
general bulk, at all events, in this part of the kingdom.

Peterborough was open.  All the parishes, to my knowledge, from
Peterborough to Deeping, and east to west, have been enclosed since 1812.
There was a beacon lighted at night to light the passengers over the
weary waste, since brought into cultivation.  Just conceive, if you can,
the state in which this part of the country was then, and in what it is
now, and consider the great increase of corn that can be grown, and not
only corn that can be grown, but the stock that can be fed by the
cultivation of roots and the introduction of bone manure, and then you
get some idea of the increased production of the country, that rendered
improved roads, terminating in railroads, necessary.  For the same
reason, the marvellous increase in the manufacturing districts has been
kept pace with in the agricultural production of the country, another
feature in our neighbourhood.

If you begin at Cambridge and draw a line along the high land by St.
Ives, east of Peterborough, by Spalding and Boston, down to the Humber,
you will find the tract of land known as the Fen Country.  That country
has undergone within the last seventy or eighty years, or a great part of
it, a change even more striking than that which has passed over the
uplands.  At first you would be inclined to doubt whether there were any
such places as the Fens at all.  If you say to anybody “Don’t you live in
the Fens”? the reply will be “Oh, no.”  At Peterborough we are not in the
Fens.  Of course not!  There is Flag Fen, and there is Borough Fen, but
we are on high ground, and not in the Fen, and you will find, even if you
go east of Wisbech, where the land is called marsh land, which sounds
rather funny, that the farmers and graziers there will say they don’t
live in the Fens.  And walking towards the sea you will always be told
you have come to the wrong place, you must go a little further, and then
you will find the Fen country!  But still, take the Fens as we know them,
extending from Peterborough to Cambridge, and down by Boston nearly to
the Humber.

I will confine my observations to that which most comes within my own
knowledge, that district of the Fens known as the Bedford Level, called
the South, the Middle, and the North Level.  From the beginning of
Crowland on the North, down to, say, the Middle by March and Lynn, and
the South down to Cambridge.  In the year 1637 a Charter was passed by
Charles I. for the improvement of that country, and we form some notion
of what it must have been—the weary waste of waters it must have
been—from the preamble of the Charter of Incorporation.  It is described
as being generally covered with water, of little advantage to mankind,
except yielding some few river fish and water fowl, that is when you may
catch them, and on lucky days you may shoot wild ducks.  Adventurers had
endeavoured to make lines of meadows, which had made such progress that
it was hoped this place, which had lately presented nothing to the eye
but waters and a few reeds thinly scattered here and there, might, under
Divine mercy, become some of it pleasant pasture for cattle, with many
houses belonging to the inhabitants.  That seemed to have been the
extreme notion of what could be made of that country in the way of
production.  Going on to the year 1830, when the last history of the
Bedford Level was written by Mr. Samuel Wells, well known as the Register
of the Corporation, he speaks of it seventy-five years ago as a matter of
congratulation that at that time, when they had improved it sufficiently
to grow oats and cole seed, that the cultivation of wheat had begun to
extend itself into the Fen country.  He spoke of it almost as a novelty,
and says that the Corporation, soon after its formation, had interfered
to prevent the inhabitants, occupiers, and owners of property from
improving and draining by mills.  He says that the system of drainage by
mills was abandoned in consequence of the result of the suit to prevent
it being favourable to the Corporation.

However, in a short time, after many struggles, the Level becoming so
inundated by the choking of interior drains, the defective state of the
rivers, and neglected improvement of outfalls, the Corporation found it
impossible to resist the importunity of the country to resort to
artificial drainage, and therefore waived their objection, and allowed a
return of the mill system.  The mill system up to 1830 consisted simply
of working a machine by wind to lift the water out of some embanked
portion of the Fens into a drain at a higher level, to conduct it to one
of the main drains of the Corporation to the outfall in the sea.  Seventy
years ago, Mr. Wells tells us, in the whole district of the Bedford
Level—350,000 acres—there were only five steam engines, one being in the
parish of Newboro’, put up on the enclosuse.  He says there was a general
opinion that steam drainage would be further prosecuted, but this
depended upon the finances of the district, and he goes on to say many
intelligent Fenmen indulged the hope of acquiring a natural drainage,
when the result of the work now undertaken, in a greater or a less degree
on all three levels, can be fully understood and ascertained.  The
author, however, says he cannot rank himself amongst the number of those
sanguine persons.  He thought it great progress to get five steam
engines, and hoping they would get more, he, as an intelligent Fenman,
thought it was as much as he could anticipate.

I think in the year 1827 or 1828 one of those works, the Nene outfall,
had been undertaken, the object of which was to make the channel to the
sea through the high and shifting sands, which were at the entrance of
the Wash, through which the waters of the Nene found their way to the
sea.  It was carried out.  I think Mr. Tycho Wing was the great
inaugurator and Sir Jno. Rennie the engineer.  It was so thoroughly
successful that it at once allowed the interior drainage of the country
to be vastly improved, and not only so, but up to the present time, by
the operation of the Nene Outfall Act, no less than 5,800 acres of land
have been actually reclaimed from the sea, the value of which is at least
from £40 to £50 per acre.  Not only was the Fen district materially
improved, but a tract of country equal to a large parish was obtained,
the value of which alone would, in a measure, repay all the expense of
the undertaking.  Then they went on, following the success of that, to
get the North Level Act in 1830.  The effect of that was that water mills
and steam mills disappeared, and they now have natural drainage by the
water finding its way by gravitation to the sea.

In 1840 a similar work was begun in the Middle Level, and they now have
natural drainage in nearly the whole of that Level.  The only exception
is about Whittlesey Mere, where they have a steam pump and a steam
water-wheel to carry away the floods.  What was the effect of that?  In
the first place a tax was put on.  In the Middle Level and North Level
the yearly tax may be taken at about 8s. 6d. or 9s. per acre altogether.
It sounds a very large sum where the land itself, in many instances, was
worth next to nothing before, but the effect has been that in that
district, I am not exaggerating when I say, leaving the tax out of the
question, that is, after putting the tax on the land and comparing it to
what it was before, the land is worth double, and, in many instances,
treble, and where land without the tax was worth £10 an acre, it is now
worth £20 or £30.  I have had through my hands deeds of an estate in the
Fen.  It contained 200 acres.  In 1824 it was sold for £1,155; in 1829
for £1,880.  In 1882, notwithstanding the time of depression, it was sold
for £5,000, without any special bargain.  Just think of the increase in
the value of the country in consequence of what has been done, and I
think you will see at once why the district has required railway
accommodation.

[Picture: City wooden bridge over the Nene.  Replaced 1872.  Old Photo by
                       William Ball, Peterborough]

Mr. Wells speaks of the “Intelligent Fenmen.”  I believe in their
intelligence!  In their Parliamentary battles they are as warlike as
people can be in protecting the valuable interests of which they are the
custodians, and counsel in Parliamentary committees have often said: “How
well those men understand their business; how ready they are, and what
talent they show in stating and maintaining their cause.”  That is rather
a digression, but it accounts very much, I think, for the great changes
in this part of the country to which we belong.

Now let me endeavour to show the changes in Peterborough proper.  I will
supply an omission, with an apology to my old friend, the old Town
Bridge.  I am ashamed to find that in my previous notes I had omitted to
say anything about it.  That was rather extraordinary, because I had my
mind on it, and when I first came from Northampton my first acquaintance
with Peterborough must have been “over that bridge.”  There is an old
proverb which says “Find no fault with the bridge which carries you
over.”  With every disposition to be charitable, that is the only good
thing I can say of the old Bridge.  It carried me over, and there was no
instance that it ever fell in, but there was always a fear that it would
fall, and everybody thought it ought to fall, but it did not, and I
mention this because I think our new Bridge is a striking instance of the
public spirit of the inhabitants of Peterborough and the neighbourhood in
subscribing the cost of one-half of it, and also of the fairness and
liberality which the county authorities displayed in meeting the
inhabitants in assisting to get a new bridge—a credit to the
district—rather than patch up that shabby, ramshackle concern, which,
patched from time to time, might have outlived another hundred years, and
a suspicion that it would fall, but never actually falling.

  [Picture: From an Old Print.  Sexton Barns.  “A Fine Old Building; an
 object which vanished when the Railways were made, because now it is the
               Site of the G.N. Station.”—Andrew Percival]

We will walk up Bridge Street and take a turn round the outskirts of the
town as I knew it years ago.  Going past the toll-bar in Cowgate we come
to the building known as Sexton Barns; probably some of you recollect it,
a fine old building; it was an object that vanished when the railways
were made, because now it is the site of the G.N. Station.  There was a
handsome tree near the Crescent, where Peterborough began to stray into
the country; the Crescent had been erected four or five years before.
Opposite was the house where Mrs. Cattel lived, and then the house where
Dr. Skrimshire lived (now Dr. Keeton’s).  Walking a little further, we
came to the Town Mill; very much like the Town Bridge, it had seen better
days and, like the Bridge, it had had a history.  It had been the
property of the Dean and Chapter, and, without the smallest doubt, it
came down to them from the Abbot and Convent, who were the Lords of this
district.  These town mills were mills which the largest landowners kept
for the accommodation of their tenants, who were thereby provided with
the means of grinding their corn at a small cost, but were compelled to
use them and pay grist to the millers, and the old law books contain much
on the subject.  Its need passed away, the mill got into private hands;
it seems to have become worse and worse, and at last it was burnt down,
and we know it no more, the very site having been utilised in an exchange
of property for the erection of the present King’s School in Park Road.

On the opposite side is the Union Workhouse, built about 1834 or 1835.
It has been very much beautified, but it is not a handsome building now.
It has had a new front or facing.  I may mention in passing that I
recollect at one time there was a persistent cry made by some portion of
the Press against the new Poor Law, against the hardship of separating
man and wife, and so on, but never was so persistent an attempt made in
that part of a portion of the Press with such signal failure at the time,
although since come to pass where desirable.  The new Poor Law took the
place of one that was probably ruining the country, and is, in these
later days, itself under review.

We then walk along the road back towards Peterborough, and we find the
Gaol and Sessions House.  This Gaol was built in 1840.  There was a fight
between the Dean and Chapter, and their Lessee, and the Magistrates about
the enormous price asked for it, and a jury was appointed, but a price of
two or three times more than was paid at that time for the land has been
paid since for land.  If anyone had it to sell now at the same price he
would be very happy.

Between the Gaol and the Workhouse there is a nice quiet-looking
residence (Mr. Noble’s).  It was, till recently, devoted to the supply of
milk, but it was built as a public house, put up by a brewery in order to
supply accommodation for people who resorted to the Sessions House at the
weekly meetings of the Magistrates, and at the Quarter Sessions.  There
was a temperance wit of the day who said, “No, it is put there to show
the close and intimate connection between the gin shop, the gaol, and the
workhouse.”  We will go back to the town, the whole of that known as
Newtown, long before the railways, between 1815 and 1833, had been
erected, so that it was, strictly and literally, “Newtown.”

We then pass Squire’s Brewery at the entrance to Lincoln Road, where the
Liberal Club and Masonic Hall now stand, and we go to Boroughbury; all
beyond the malting formed part of Squire’s Brewery, going past what is
known as the “Square Pond.”  The houses there, including a large part of
the Catholic Church and other buildings, are actually built upon that
which was, in 1833 (and many years afterwards), covered with water.  I
was intimate with Mr. Buckle, who succeeded Mr. Squire in that brewery,
and I was permitted to fish in the pond as often as I pleased.  I have
stood upon that spot which is now a public road and have caught pike and
eels, and used to have very capital sport there.  In the winter time it
was a favourite resort, not thrown open to the public altogether, but
still, with great liberality, it was allowed to be used for skating.  I
was very unlucky one day.  It was just after a gentleman had bought the
house, afterwards Mrs. Willoughby’s (now shops erected by Mr. W. D.
Nichols), and the grounds about it, was walking in his grounds, when he
saw me pull out a large pike, and he was so enchanted with it, he thought
it would be a great benefit to his property, and to my disgust, but the
pleasure of Mr. Buckle, he bought the pond and merged it into his private
grounds.  I never caught any pike there again!

Passing the outskirts of the town, we pass the great Tithe Barn,
Boroughbury, an interesting and attractive specimen of antiquity and a
good specimen of that kind of barn.  You go up that junction of Lincoln
Road to Dogsthorpe, and there past the last house until you come to two
or three cottages, then belonging to a retired tailor, named Mitchell,
and people had been profane enough to christen those cottages “Cabbage
Row.”  What connection there is between a tailor and cabbage, I don’t
know.

Crossing the fields now laid out by the great roads of the Land Company,
and which at that time were the most secluded fields around Peterborough,
and going down Crawthorne Lane you came to a junction—a little lane at
the back of Boroughbury, now a wide street behind St. Mark’s Villas,
which runs up to Park Road, and there four roads met, where there was a
little tombstone which was known as the “Girls’ Grave.”  A girl was
buried there, with a stake through her body, without Christian burial.
The place was very well known, and for long remained in the midst of a
potato garden belonging to one of the cottages there.

You go as the crow flies to a place called Frog Hall, in front of St.
Mary’s Vicarage, one of the cottages remained till 1904, and the place
had a very unsavoury reputation.  It was inhabited by squatters, gipsies,
and travellers, and was one of the least desirable parts in that
neighbourhood.  Then came a row of cottages known as Burton’s Row, where
Peterborough attempted to travel past its boundaries and get into the
country.

Going back, we come to the Cemetery, but at that time all were grass
fields let out as accommodation ground, and quite secluded.  A little
further on were the Gas Works.  Now they ARE Gas Works.  When I came they
were, as compared with the present, in about the same proportion as a
small kettle to a large steam engine boiler.  A gentleman named Malam—a
Hull man—used to supply all the little towns in the country, and used to
contract with the inhabitants to supply gas for them.  There was no Act
of Parliament, or anything of that sort, but permission from the Local
Authorities to break up the streets and roads was all that was required,
and he chanced it.  I think Mr. Sawyer used to give as much time as he
could spare from his own business, until he became, as the town
increased, by purchase, the owner of the works, and he then gave his
whole time and attention to them, and a very nice property it developed
into by the time the present company took it off Mr. Sawyer’s hands.

That is the history of gas in Peterborough.  This brings us back to the
Long Causeway and the Market Place.  Not the market now, as I recollect
it!  Up to the year 1848 the farmers attending the market used to cool
their heels in the open air in front of the Town Hall, hot or cold, wet
or dry, rain or snow, blowing or still, there they stood, till the
Theatre, now the Corn Exchange (since largely added to), became vacant,
and it occurred to some agricultural gentleman that they could be much
more comfortable in every way if they could form a company, and they did
so, and I think no one will doubt that is an improvement.  On the Long
Causeway, the Cattle Market was the principal institution of the place,
and I will tell you why.  On Saturdays that place was wholly given up to
them.  There they were; nobody paid anything; anybody who had cows or
horses to sell brought them there.  They became the proprietors of the
street for that day.

Our widest and best street was spoilt; because if there is one thing more
certain than another it is that the female mind most intensely abhors
anything approaching contact with horned animals.  Somehow or other, it
seems to disturb that equanimity which appears to be utterly
indispensable to a lady when she is going what she calls “shopping,” and
it would take away all her ideas to think she was going to meet a
restless-looking cow or a doubtful looking ox.  It takes away all notion
of colour, shape, and measure, or whether the thing will wash or not.
The consequence was, the Long Causeway was practically abandoned on
market days, and it was not much more used on other days for shopping
purposes, because in anything like changeable or damp weather the
atmosphere of the street was what I have heard ladies describe (not
meaning to be complimentary) as “smelly.”  Therefore, naturally, there
was great rejoicing among the inhabitants generally when that street was
restored to a cleanly wholesome state by the construction of the Cattle
Market.

The Wednesday Cattle Market had a very peculiar growth.  It was set up
without the smallest authority about 1845 or 1846 by an old gentleman
named Dean, who was a retired farmer, and an enterprising auctioneer
named Dowse, who kept the “Greyhound.”  They suggested that fat stock
should be brought, and it came more and more, until it grew into that
excellent stock market, which became one of the best in the Kingdom.
There was no foundation for it but that of custom.  When the new market
was proposed, the farmers invited the then authorities, the Improvement
Commissioners, to construct it for them, but they made their bow and
said, “If you want a market, make it for yourselves.”  It was made by a
limited company, and it has since fallen into the hands of the
authorities, and Broadway constructed through it.

We have another market which has grown up, and that is the present
Wednesday Market on the Market Place, which I think is one of the
greatest curiosities that ever comes under one’s notice.  It does no harm
to anyone.  I went there recently, and I saw an extraordinary medley of
things exposed for sale.  I wondered at first if they were to be given
away!  I could understand anybody wishing to sell them, but wondered who
could wish to buy them.  It is one of the things no one can understand.
But it affords the means of getting rid of most undesirable things, call
them furniture, or anything else!  It puts me in mind of a shop in the
Market Place at Great Yarmouth, where they say you may buy anything.  A
visitor, a clergyman, was told he could get anything he wanted.  He said,
“I want a pulpit.”  “Well,” his friend said, “go in and try.”  He went in
and said, “Do you happen to have a pulpit?” and they said, “Well, we do
happen to have a pulpit.”  And I think I have seen everything in our
Wednesday’s Market except that.  I have not seen anything so useful as a
pulpit!

I have spoken of our accommodation for the living.  What do we do for the
dead?  We have the Cemetery, which has been considerably enlarged since
it was first formed in 1852 or 1853, and the rapid increase of the
Cemetery suggests the difficulty of the disposal of the dead in a
creditable and satisfactory manner with our increasing population.  The
old burial ground was opened in the year 1802, and it is one of the
peculiarities of this peculiar place, and of the old jurisdictions here,
that the old Parish Church appears to have had in ancient times no burial
ground belonging to it, a thing that very seldom happens, for the burial
ground of the Parish of St. John the Baptist was outside the Minster,
which is an extra parochial district.  This remained up to 1802, when the
burial ground in Cowgate was formed.  If you go into it sometime (I am
very fond of looking at the tombstones), you will find the oddest
peculiarities of language and literature as inscriptions on the
tombstones, but I cannot say I have ever found much to admire.  You will
find a collection of legends which are common all over the country,
commencing with

    Affliction sore, long time he bore,
    Physicians WAS in vain.

Next to it:

    Pale consumption gave the silent BELOW, etc.

In our graveyard in Cowgate there is an epitaph upon old Mrs. Thomas, by
which you are informed, that

    Making carpets and beds she did pursue
    With care and industry is very true,
    The established religion she did profess
    In hopes, through Christ, of Heaven to possess.

Such rubbish as that, under the veto of the present Cemetery
Commissioners, will, I hope, soon disappear.  But there is one in the
Cathedral graveyard (the existence of which is not generally known), on
the tombstone memorial of an old family of this place, and I trust it
will not be allowed to disappear.  It is very superior to what they
generally are.  It is on the right just as you go through the Arch by the
Deanery, and is to the memory of one of the Richardson family:

    Stranger pass by nor idly waste your time
    In bad biography or bitter rhyme;
    For what I am, this cumbrous clay ensures,
    And what I was, is no affair of yours.

The old gentleman, as you see, has carried his cynical humour to the
grave with him.  It was quoted in an article in “Blackwood’s Magazine” on
“Monumental Inscriptions” a few years since.

 [Picture: Peterborough Market Place A.D. 1795.  N. Fielding of Stamford.
         Specially drawn from a painting in Peterborough Museum]



PART THE THIRD.


NEWSPAPERS.—DISTEMPER.—GUILDHALL.—HANGINGS.—DARING BURGLARIES.—A LOCK-UP
STORY.—AN ALIBI.—THE MUD CASE.—WHEN THE RAILWAYS FIRST
CAME.—RETROSPECTIVE.

IN my former Notes I alluded to the Post Office.  Well, the first Post
Office I recollect was a little room about 10ft. square—I think it has
been altered since—in one of those houses at the back of the “White Lion”
gates.  An old gentleman lived there who was Postmaster, and I think he
was assisted, being rather infirm, by his daughter, and I have been told
it was the amusement of a little grandchild or a little boy accustomed to
visit him, that by way of a treat he was allowed to catch letters in his
pinafore, and as a grand treat he was allowed to stamp them.  At that
time the Post Office establishment consisted of the Postmaster, the lady
who assisted him, and the letter carrier, who, as some of you recollect,
was Mrs. Waterfield, a tidy woman, who had a little basket in which she
carried letters.  By degrees the establishment got on.  You will bear in
mind that at that time we were not troubled with Post Office Orders.
There was no way of conveying 5s. or 6s. in stamps, or by order, from one
part of the country to another.  The present Post Office consists of
palatial buildings, since their enlargement in 1904, and great
departmental accommodation, the smallest room of which is larger than
that old Post Office altogether.  It would not do now to catch letters in
a pinafore, as their number is many millions a month.  There are
telegraph messages, Post Office Orders, and Savings Bank business.  The
Postmaster and old woman have grown into a Postmaster at £500 a year,
Chief Clerk, a very important personage, the Assistant Superintendent
(Postal Department), the Assistant Superintendent (Telegraph Department),
7 controllers, and a staff numbering altogether nearly 350, with 66
sub-Post Offices—a pretty good number.  A great deal of the business is
forwarding mails passing through Peterborough, as a convenient centre for
such purposes.

Then, as to newspapers, we used to have once a week the “Stamford
Mercury,” a very good paper, full of advertisements and local news, but
the “Stamford Mercury” was always conducted on this principle: “Opinion
is quite free in this country, and we are going to dictate to nobody,” so
you never have editorial articles in the “Stamford Mercury.”  They used
sometimes to select leaders and bits of intelligence from other papers,
generally of one way of thinking.  Then we used to have the London
papers.  They cost 7d. each.  London papers used to come down the day
after publication, after they had gone the round of the club houses, the
hotels, and the London eating houses.  Those that had been in the eating
houses used sometimes to come in rather a greasy form.  Now we can have
the “Times” on our breakfast table, or earlier if wished.  After a time
some gentlemen thought we were very benighted in Peterborough, and two of
them, very much in advance of their age, started what we should now call
a Society paper of a very pronounced type called the “Peterborough
Argus.”  The first one heard of it was, after one or two publications,
that a solicitor had inflicted upon the responsible Editor a sound
thrashing for a libel.  The case went to the Northampton Assizes, and
although the verdict was not quite “served him right,” the publisher got
damages of very small amount.  It was one of the most scurrilous papers
in its way, and at length it became intolerable.

We now have in Peterborough four newspapers, besides a most ample supply
of daily newspapers.  It has been very interesting to witness the growth
of Peterborough newspapers, particularly that of the ADVERTISER (the
first in the field—in 1854) from its small two pages to the very
satisfactory form in which it now appears, with its mid-weekly auxiliary,
the CITIZEN.  There was also a difficulty as to supply of books.  There
was a book club, the Church Porch Club, existing fifty years ago, and one
or two others, but somehow or other literature did not thrive very much
in Peterborough.  One gentleman retired from the book club, and when
asked why he gave up he said “The fact is I cannot eat suppers any
longer.”  It does not strike me as a good reason to give up reading,
because one would have thought he could have read better without his
supper.  However, they were not then so badly off for newspapers as they
were 150 years ago.

I mentioned just now the “Stamford Mercury.”  I have before me a copy of
the “Stamford Mercury” a friend has kindly lent me, that I might extract
a little valuable comparison.  What should we think if our intellectual
food came from sources such as that we got, for instance, in the year
1730, as seen in the “Stamford Mercury.”  It then had a most aspiring
title, as you will see:—“The STAMFORD MERCURY, being Historical and
Political Observations on the Transactions of Europe, Together with
Remarks on Trade.”  Here is this little sheet—a good-sized sheet of
letter paper, one-eighth taken up by the title and an illustrated figure
of “Mercury.”  Another eighth is literally taken up by “Bills of
Mortality of London for the week or month,” and from it I wonder what
some of the diseases of that day were.  One person died of
“Headmouldshot,” one of “Horse Shoehead,” and amongst other things there
is very large mortality attributed to “teeth.”  Another eighth of that
paper is taken up with price lists, giving the rate of exchange between
London and Madrid, also between London and Cadiz, etc.  Then prices of
goods at “Bear Key.”  Another eighth is given up to observations upon the
affairs of Europe: “Our Government has received advice from Florence that
Princess Dowager Palatine has renounced all her pretentions to the
succession in favour of Don Carlos,” and such pieces as that, and then
the other half is taken up with advertisements.  It is a curious thing
that in one advertisement we are told “To Let, the Three Tuns, an old
accustomed inn on the Market Place at Peterborough, Northamptonshire,”
that being the site where the present Stamford and Spalding Bank now
stands.  That was in 1730.

Twenty years later, in 1755, there is an Ipswich paper, and to show how
history repeats itself, for the consolation of our farming friends, we
are told that amongst other Acts just passed was one to continue several
laws relating to the distemper then raging among the horned cattle in the
Kingdom.  There is nothing new under the sun.  We have had it before, and
no doubt they said in that time legislation very much interfered with the
markets.  Another curious thing in the paper is this: “The ship the Royal
George was put out of the Dock to go to Spithead.”  Was this the Royal
George that “went down with twice 400 men”?  Public news was important
just then.  There are details as to watching the French Fleet.  Those
were very anxious times, but the peculiarity of those papers is that they
gave you so little of what may be called local news.  Our own local
papers give you ample City News and a Complete Chronicle of the affairs
of villages; but you may look through those papers and find nothing
approaching local news excepting this:—

    “By a letter from Thirsk in Yorkshire we learn that very lately a
    terrible shock of earthquake was felt, inasmuch that several large
    rocks were removed to considerable distances; several large grown
    elms were swallowed up by the earth so that no part of them remained
    to be seen but the uppermost branches.  A man driving a cart near the
    place, the horses were so much frightened by the shock that they
    broke loose from the carriage and ran away.  The horses seem to have
    behaved very sensibly.”

Then there is an advertisement which strikes one as rather peculiar,
because I think if some of the ladies now-a-days happened of this
misfortune you would hardly put it in the paper:—

    “Lost out of Tom Shave’s London caravan between London and Ipswich
    (but supposed to be dropped between here and Colchester) a small
    black trunk, containing a pink silk gown, with a pink sarsenet
    lining, a blue silk quilted petticoat, a pink silver lined child’s
    hat, a white chip hat with pink ribbons, a pink silk skirt, two pair
    of white cotton stockings, two shifts, two lawn handkerchiefs and
    owner’s other things, with a hoop petticoat tied on the outside.”

Now, we have lived in the days of the crinoline, but I never saw one tied
on the outside!

To return to the City of Peterborough, we come to the Town Hall.  When I
first knew it, it was used as a Sessions House, but it did not belong to
the magistrates, the feoffees being the owners.  It was also used as a
County Court until the present new building was erected.  Speaking of the
County Courts, for many years there was no summary jurisdiction for
settling small debts and quarrels, and one really wonders how the world
got on, but one feels certain there must have been a vast deal of
injustice for the want of that which really, comparatively speaking, now
brings justice home to everybody’s own door.  Just think in 1810 how
difficult it was to get.

The Magistrates of the Liberty of Peterborough had a general commission
of gaol delivery.  There are people living in Peterborough who recollect
a man being hanged on Butcher’s Piece, against the North Bank, under
sentence by the local magistrates, and I should imagine there was as much
heard of it as there is news given in this scrap of print.  In 1820 an
Act of Parliament was passed enabling Magistrates at local jurisdictions
to commit persons charged with capital offences for trial at the Assizes.
In the Peterborough Court no counsel used to appear, and just imagine
what a sensation would be excited if we were now told by our Court of
Quarter Sessions that by authority of their Charter they were going to
hang a man.  I recollect when I was a boy at school, just before I came
to Peterborough, I have been into the Old Bailey, and I have seen put
into the dock at the close of the Sessions 15 or 16 men and women, all of
whom were sentenced to be executed.  Sheep stealing, horse stealing, cow
stealing, forgery, robbing a dwelling house to a certain amount were all
at that time capital offences, and you would see in the London newspapers
that the Recorder of the City had been down to Windsor to make his report
to the King, and that there were so many cases of death sentences, all of
which his Majesty was graciously pleased to respite, except some who were
to be executed as a deterrent example.

There is a novel of Theodore Hook’s which gives a most striking account,
partly humorous, and partly tragic, of the proceedings and sentences at
the Old Bailey in those days.  One recollects in the course of his
professional experience many cases of interest.  Many striking cases of
daring burglaries have been dealt with in Peterborough.  At Glinton a
house was broken into by five or six people, most convincing evidence was
given of their violence and intimidation, and the coolness of the
witnesses on the trial of the prisoners.  The witnesses, as they very
frequently are, were ordered out of Court, and as they were called they
pointed out and identified particular prisoners.  After this had been
done two or three times, the gentlemen in the dock changed their
positions, thinking that probably the witnesses had been tutoring one
another, and that they would then defeat them; but it did not answer, and
it being pointed out to the jury, it sealed their conviction, convincing
them that the witnesses were accurate, and not tutored.  The same thing
was mentioned in the papers a few days ago as having occurred when the
prisoners were in the dock in Dublin for the Phœnix Park murders.
Another case occurred where a gang who had been the terror of the
district, all strangers, broke into a house, the Thirty Acre Farm, at
Fengate, and striking coolness and courage was shown by a girl who was
pulled out of her bed and threatened with death to compel her to open her
box and produce her money.  She afterwards identified her assailants,
some by their voices even.  Then there was the robbery at Orton Stanch.
The money taken by the woman there for tolls was brought to Peterborough
weekly, and one night the place was broken into and the cash box stolen.

There was a man called Jack Hall who had settled in this part of the
country, and was connected with others of Yaxley, who committed several
robberies in the district.  Hall turned informer; he was arrested for
something else, and gave information, and Stretton and a man named
Humberston were taken separately.  They were first allowed to see, but
not speak to, each other, and were put into separate cells.  Mr. Preston,
who used to keep the lock-up at Fletton, locked the door of the passage
dividing the cells, but was careful to leave a policeman in the passage,
where he could hear any conversation between the prisoners.  Towards
morning he heard one signal, the other “Hist! Jack, what are you in for?”
“The Stanch,” was the reply.  The other said, “Jack Hall’s split upon
us.”  “Never mind” was the answer, “we must deny it altogether.”  This
conversation was proved at the trial at the assizes, and was relied upon
to confirm the evidence.  The prisoners’ counsel complained of the way
these men had been trapped, but Lord Justice Campbell, who tried them,
pointed out that they were not asked to say what they did, and they were
convicted and sentenced to transportation for life.

One other case, the robbery at the Vicarage.  The thief was met coming
away.  He was described as a nice, gentlemanly looking man.  A young
policeman met him in the street, and that thief had the impudence to walk
and talk to him.  They walked up to the G.N. Station together, and the
policeman thinking no harm, the burglar got clear away, but he was
apprehended afterwards with others.  There was a defence of an alibi set
up for one, and men were brought from Northampton to declare that he was
engaged at a tea garden there at the time.  The jury did not believe
them.  The same defence is one of the most common.  If proved, it is, of
course, most conclusive, but it is very easy to set up this defence and
get it sworn to.  It was once used by a man charged with stealing a
horse, who was found riding away upon its back.  It occurs in Pickwick,
when Mr. Weller says: “Samivel, why wasn’t there an alibi?”

There have not been many civil cases of any great interest, but a few
breaches of promise, and one rather peculiar case, known as the Mud case,
tried on the Midland Circuit.  It was a question of right of navigation
through what is now Mr. Roberts’ granary against the river, and it was
stated that barge after barge had been brought up there.  It was shown
that it was physically impossible for a boat to go up there, as there was
an obstruction rendering it impossible for any boat to pass through it.
That trial lasted for years.  I was at Northampton during one of the
trials.  There was another case between two tradesmen, one of whom had
been thrown amongst some implements, and in the first trial the verdict
was for the defendant; in the next the plaintiff got one shilling
damages.

I have previously given particulars about the rejoicings we had when the
railways came here.  Just let me add one or two words to show it was not
all gain when the railways came.  You used, if you wanted to go to
London, to get up early, and, by the Eastern Counties express, start at 6
o’clock, and be four or five hours going.  In going there and coming back
you had done a hard day’s work.  I used to find it necessary to be called
in good time, and recollect asking John Frisby, who used to run after the
mail, to call me.  Instead of doing so a little before six, he called me
at three.  “John,” I said, “do you know the time?”  “Yes,” he said, “I
thought I had better be in good time.”  When the railways were just made,
there was very little difference in the time taken to go to London by the
G.N.R. or G.E.R.  A good fight took place between the two companies.  You
could run by Northampton for 5s., instead of 11s. or 12s., by the Great
Northern, and I was once beguiled with a lady in going the cheap route.
We started at seven and arrived in London at two in the afternoon.  When
we got there we were so tired we could not go out that day at all.  We
had return tickets, but gave them up and came back by the G.N.  The Great
Northern put a stop to it by running the direct journey there and back
for 5s.  I tried that, and, coming home, was pulled in by the window, the
train being overcrowded, and sat not upon the seat, but the arms between,
and experienced for several hours something like you have seen described
after a man has been tarred and feathered, in riding a rail, or the
sensation of the monk who went into the barber’s shop, and instead of
paying the usual twopence, wanted to be shaved for the love of God.
“Certainly,” said the barber; and he shaved the monk with cold water, a
blunt razor, and a very short allowance of soap.  At the conclusion of
which the monk said, “Heaven defend me from ever being shaved again for
the love of God.”  He came to the conclusion, as I did, that it was
better to have things at the ordinary price and have them in the regular
way.

Washington Irving tells the story of how one of the early settlers in the
State of New York, not a very industrious person, walked out on the
Catskill Mountains on a shooting expedition, and met with a party who
were playing at skittles.  They invited him to have some whisky and
water, which he accepted, and immediately fell asleep, and at the close
of half a century awoke.  His faculties were in precisely the same
condition as when he fell asleep, but the world had progressed around
him.  He went home and found those whom he had left young were grown old,
and many of his neighbours had vanished from the scene.  He had gone
asleep under the Monarchy and awoke under the American Republic.  That is
the story, the humorous side of which is admirably painted by Washington
Irving.  It seems to me that in one point of view, at least when we
exercise that wonderful faculty of memory that power of abstracting
ourselves from what has passed and is passing before us, and carry
ourselves back to the days of our youth, and for a few moments ignore all
that has since passed around us that one is somewhat in the condition of
Washington Irving’s hero of the tale in America!  The history of a small
city involves the history and the progress of the nation.  The population
of the country has increased relatively as the population of our own City
has increased.  The same causes which have led to our improvement have
led to the improvement and the advancement in wealth, honour, and
happiness of the increased population which these circumstances have
brought into being.  Nothing, I think, could be more distressing than to
have our progress blotted out.  That is not the way in which a wise and
merciful Providence deals with his creatures.  Our troubles, our
afflictions, the memory of those we have lost, become pleasant memories.
We do not fail to notice the beauty of the thought that those who are
taken from us are not lost, but only gone before.  And so it is in the
life of a nation.  If one were depicting the life of the nation for the
last 50 year’s one would speak of the happiness that the great bulk of
the population enjoyed.

I have lived through the Chartist Riots, the Irish Famine, and the Cotton
Famine, which tried the endurance of our artisans in the manufacturing
districts, and caused in the minds of statesmen and of every thinking man
the great apprehensions as to its bearing upon the industry and wealth
and happiness of the country.  I have lived through periods of war—the
Crimean War, when the thoughts of everyone were directed to our Army in
distress barely holding its own through that dreadful winter—and the
Indian Mutiny.  All these incidents in the life of a nation answer to the
troubles and afflictions in the life of the individual.  We have survived
the troubles which faced us, and how can I do more than say that thoughts
such as these remind us of our duties as Citizens, as individuals, as
members of the great community, showing us how much we have to be
thankful for and how much we are dependent on circumstances.

                                * * * * *

                                  FINIS.

    [Picture: Map of Whittlesey Mere, from “Fenland Notes & Queries.”]



FOOTNOTES


{5}  The pagination in the book cannot be followed for the illustrations
in some cases as they appear on their own pages in the middle of random
paragraphs.  In such cases the illustrations have been moved onto the
following page, and the pages numbers in the list of illustrations have
been changed accordingly.  The filenames for the illustrations are their
original page numbers.—DP.





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