The Changing Lives Gallery Large Print Guide

The Changing Lives Gallery

This guide covers the second floor Changing Lives Gallery.
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Panel 1
Changing lives - Three centuries of Peterborough and its people

In 1700, Peterborough was a small rural backwater. The economy was based on agriculture and the twice-weekly market. Just 2,500 people lived here. They worked in local trades such as spinning, knitting and wool-combing. The town was also known for its malt and wild ducks!

Modern Peterborough is a bustling, multicultural city with economic roots in its great engineering companies. There's still plenty of agriculture in the surrounding countryside, but city-dwellers are more likely to be involved in retailing and service industries. Peterborough's products sell throughout the world.

Those three centuries of change are the subject of this gallery. Here, you can find out how events such as the coming of the railways, two world wars and increasing affluence changed people's lives.

Panel 2
Life on the land

Agriculture was by far the biggest industry in Peterborough during the 18th century and well into the 19th century. People grew or trapped what they could on the rich fenland soils and drains, then brought their produce to the town to sell. The work was hard and dominated by the seasons.

The 'gang' system of agricultural labour began in the early 19th century. A leader or 'ganger' would organise workers – often women and children – into gangs that travelled from farm to farm. In 1865, the Vicar of Yaxley described the system as "most ruinous" and "detrimental to all morality, virtue and sense of religious feelings".

The gang system continues today. It provides legitimate work for many people, particularly European migrants. Nevertheless, the methods of some unscrupulous gangmasters continue to give the system a reputation for exploitation.

The market economy

Peterborough became prosperous during the 18th century. It was the gateway to the fens, and a thriving market drove the local economy. Farmers and tradesmen brought in their goods, then used the money they earned to buy other local products.

The market was heavily regulated to stop traders making a quick buck or gaining an unfair advantage. 'Forestalling' (selling before the market opened) and 'regrating' (buying goods on the way to market and reselling at the market) were crimes.

Panel 3
John Clare, 'The Peasant Poet' (1793–1864)

John Clare was a self-educated poet from Helpston, about seven miles north of Peterborough. Clare's parents were illiterate, and his formal education ended before his teens, yet he taught himself to write poetry that caught the nation's imagination.

Clare wrote about the countryside around him, and the changes that he thought were destroying rural life. He resented the enclosures – the fencing in of land that poor people had previously been able to farm.

Clare enjoyed early success followed by a long decline. He ended his life in Northampton General Lunatic Asylum. The admission certificate said that he'd suffered "years addicted to poetical prosings".

Panel 4
The coming of the railway, Peterborough gets connected

The railways arrived in Peterborough in 1845. The first station, at Peterborough East, was on a line from Rugby to Norwich.

The lines grew fast because the land nearby was easy for engineers to lay tracks on. By 1848, there was a line to Lincoln, and in 1850, a second railway station – Peterborough North – opened on a new line from London.

Within five years Peterborough was connected to north, south, east and west. It had become the hub of a railway network.

Panel 5
A changing town - The railway brings jobs and skills

The railway lifted Peterborough from rural obscurity. It brought jobs, skills and raw materials, and it brought distant markets
within easy reach. It turned Peterborough into a place where industries such as brick-making and engineering could thrive.

The railways also brought in new people, including the Irish navvies who dug and laid the tracks. In 1861, Peterborough's population was 7,125. By 1861, the population had almost doubled, and the railways employed more than 2,000 people. By 1900, there were 35,000 people in the city, and one adult in four was a railway employee.

Peterborough is still a railway centre with an economy boosted by the income earned by London commuters.

Panel 6
From horse to steam…

Before the railways arrived, people travelled by coach. That's how Stamford, which stood on the main coaching route from London, had grown so much bigger and more prosperous than Peterborough.

The railways swept away the old order. They were fast and dependable – and they put Peterborough on the fiery footplate of the railway age.

Panel 7
Organising a growing town; Government, law and order

As Peterborough grew, forms of local government that dated back to medieval times became inadequate. During the 18th and 19th centuries, there was a greater need to organise the fast-changing town – to look after the roads and drains, maintain the law and put fires out quickly. Peterborough City Council was established in 1874.

Panel 8
Dealing with outrages

Peterborough's first police force was the Liberty of Peterborough Constabulary, formed in 1857. Twelve constables were sworn in on the first day. The rules of employment were tight: they could not carry on any other work, visit a pub, carry an umbrella or appear in public without their uniform. Of the twelve, only five lasted to the end of the year

On the other hand, the constables were not overstretched. They recorded crimes in a 'book of outrages' which, in the early days, contained between 20 and 30 entries a year.

Panel 9
Clean enough and wealthy enough for school

In the days before local authority control and standardisation, the quality of education was variable. The wealthy could afford to go to school, but the poor had to scrape the money together to pay for it. School records show how attendance depended on ability to pay. In one local school, an entry from 1865 says, "one child left because her mother will not pay 2d [1p] per week school money".

Poverty brought problems of health and cleanliness. In 1868, a Peterborough headmistress recorded: "The Butchers left because I complained of them being dirty." At another school: "found ring-worms on Alfred Whittlesey's head so sent him home."

Panel 10
Where the Fens and the Midlands meet - Industry for a city on the edge

Peterborough's two great industries of the 19th and 20th centuries – brick-making and engineering – are the result of the city's location, history and railway connections. The underlying Oxford clay was ideal for bricks, while the railways and the local agricultural machinery suppliers provided the engineering skills. The railways also shipped out the finished bricks and engineering products.

Brick-making took off in Peterborough in the 1880s. Although the local bricks are known as Fletton bricks (named after the district of Fletton), there were brick-making companies in many villages. The horizon to the south and east was spiked with chimneys from the kilns. Five million UK houses are built with Peterborough bricks.

Panel 11
Engineering for emperors - Peterborough's world-leading engineering companies

Peterborough's engineering heritage goes back to the mid-19th century. By 1869, the firm of Amies, Barford & Co was selling farm machinery to the Pasha of Egypt and the emperors of France and Russia.

The grandson of one the company's partners was Frank Perkins. In 1932, he founded F. Perkins Ltd (now Perkins Engines), a world-leading manufacturer of diesel and gas engines.

Another Peterborough firm with a global market is Baker Perkins (no relation), a manufacturer of food-processing equipment. Its machines put the jam into Jammie Dodgers, the chocolate on chocolate biscuits and much more. Baker Perkins began in 1919 when two former rivals merged.

Peter Brotherhood brought his engineering business to Peterborough in 1906. The company made steam turbines, steam engines and diesel engines, as well as gas and air compressors. The steam turbines that it introduced in 1907 were so successful, the company was still making them a century later.

Peterborough has been home to many more engineering companies.

Panel 12
Great engineers, enlightened employers

The technology and employment practices of Peterborough's engineering companies were ahead of their time. They sold great products made by well-trained and highly motivated staff. As well as bringing wealth, skills and secure employment, they contributed to the social and cultural life of the city.

Baker Perkins invested heavily in staff and training. The apprenticeship scheme that the company set up at its Westwood factory became the industry standard. In the 1950s, half the boys from the Deacon's School passed through it. Many apprentices took their skills to other Peterborough engineering firms or to employers around the world.

Panel 13
From anti-German riots to rationing; Peterborough at war

In physical terms, Peterborough came through two world wars with very little damage – just three people killed by bombs and the Lido swimming pool knocked out of service for a day. The hard part was the loss of loved ones killed in action – 1,700 in the First World War alone – and the years of rationing.

The last reading of the Riot Act in England occurred in Peterborough during August 1914. The mob attacked German businesses even though the families had been in the city for years.

During the Second World War, many Peterborians worked to improve the lives of German prisoners. At the Peterborough Prisoner of War Club, they provided coffee, food, darts, card games and German books.

Peterborough's big contribution to the war effort was its flair for engineering. Production at the city's big engineering companies turned to weapons and military engines. The factories were blacked out and employees devoted much of their time to civil defence as ARP wardens or members of the Home Guard.

Panel 14
From bull-running to the multiplex - Leisure and entertainment

Peterborough enjoyed its share of brutal medieval sports. The Angel Hotel kept its cock-fighting pit long after magistrates banned the sport in 1792. The last time Peterborians chased a cow through the town was in 1799 to celebrate victory at the Battle of the Nile

The temperance movement, which stood for religion, restraint and teetotalism, represented a quieter side of Peterborough life.

The grandest of Peterborough's theatres was the Embassy. The Peterborough Advertiser reported that it opened on 1 November 1937 amid "unprecedented scenes…The coloured neon lighting emphasising the bold lines of its noble outline, projected a glow which could be seen for miles round against the banks of low clouds".

Peterborough United Football Club formed during a well-attended meeting at the Angel Hotel on 17 May 1934. Football was already popular, but the city's two teams, Peterborough City and Fletton United had both folded two years earlier. Over 4,000 turned out to see the club's first match in the Midland League.

There have always been fairs and festivals in Peterborough. Acrobats and contortionists would perform on saints days on the Marketstede. The annual October Bridge Fair dates back to 1439. After the processions, the mayor and guests sit down to a traditional sausage supper.

Panel 15
Austerity gives way to consumerism - Post-war Peterborough

The 1950s were an era of new housing. Although most of Peterborough's buildings came through the war unscathed, there was still a huge local demand for modern homes for workers in new industries. Increasing post-war affluence gave people a taste for furnishing their homes with 'all the mod cons'.

An early solution to the housing shortage was the 'prefab'. They cost just £1,300 and went up in a matter of days.

Many Peterborough estates were built after the war, including Newark Estate, Eastfield Estate, Mountsteven Avenue Estate and Bluebell Estate. The first choice of new homes often went to people who worked in export-led industries. When 25 Westwood employees were offered homes, they chose the Mountsteven Avenue Estate.

The idea of selling home furnishings and kitchen gadgets for a mass market took off in the 1950s. An ad in the 1952 edition of The Peterborough Standard Directory enticed readers with "all the latest designs – cash or credit".

Panel 16
Design and technology for everyone

In the post-war consumer era, the kitchen became a room in which to impress the neighbours. Well-designed units and labour-saving gadgets took the grind out of food preparation. Adverts made the kitchen seem like a place of leisure.

Many of the appliances installed in 1950s and 1960s kitchens came from Hotpoint's factory in Woodston. The factory made fridges and, for a short while, washing machines.

The marketing of domestic equipment was aimed primarily at women. It tended to emphasise the effortlessness of the new technology and the desirability of being up to date. As well as selling irons, percolators and electric blankets, Hotpoint offered a free kitchen-planning service to "help you modernize your kitchen".

Panel 17
A diverse community creates a vibrant city

People have always been coming to Peterborough. Many came with the railways. They brought the skills that helped Peterborough industry to flourish.

Census data for 1901 shows that Peterborough was already home to a large Irish community. There were also residents from Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Bavaria, Germany, Malta, Java and Russia.

Peterborough employers often went overseas for workers. When Britain urgently needed more Fletton bricks, there were not enough men in Peterborough to make them. The London Brick Company found the 3,000 workers it needed in Italy.

Most of the Pakistanis in Peterborough come from the Mirpur region. British government advertisements for workers came at the right time – just when a new dam on the Jhelum River was about to flood 250 nearby villages.

Many Londoners came to Peterborough in the latter part of the 20th century. They were attracted by affordable modern housing in Peterborough's fast-growing new townships.

Panel 18
Redeveloping Peterborough for the modern world

In the 1960s, the government planned a series of 'new towns' to ease London overcrowding. Peterborough was ideal. It had excellent road and rail connections, established skills and industries, and plenty of green space to develop.

The Peterborough Development Corporation (PDC) was formed in 1968. It developed a plan for a new, Greater Peterborough. The plan involved a series of self-contained 'townships' joined by roads known as 'parkways'.

In the PDC's advertising campaign, known as 'The Peterborough Effect', actor and comedian Roy Kinnear dressed as a Roman soldier for TV commercials that emphasised Peterborough's rich culture and heritage. It was a huge success, attracting people and businesses from across southern England.

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