Category Archives: Peterborough

It began with a visit in 1876

John Ruskin was a leading English art critic of the Victorian era, as well as being an art patron, draughtsman, watercolourist, a prominent social thinker and philanthropist.  He wrote on subjects as varied as geology, architecture, myth, ornithology, literature, education, botany and political economy.  He also penned travel guides and, on Sunday 23rd April 1876, he wrote a piece about the city of Peterborough:

‘In comfortable room with horriblest outlook on waste garden and vile buildings; Italian architraves in brick of coldest mud colour – cretinous imitation.  A Bridewell or Clerkenwell with Genovese cornices travestied!  The Cathedral here for a wonder, spared.  Bitter black day yesterday so cold I could neither stand to look at it an instance, nor at the beautiful old inn at Stilton.  Road here from Cambridge very flat and dull and in the black days, nothing but gloom over distance towards the Wash.’

Not very pleasant but – in 1858 he had opened the Cambridge School of Art. The art school grew to become Anglia Ruskin University, and it’s still at the heart of the modern-day campus in Cambridge.  But that was just the beginning – over the years, a number of colleges and institutes have become part of Anglia Ruskin. This now includes the Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology and the Essex Institute of Higher Education.  At first these colleges combined to become Anglia Polytechnic, and then Anglia Polytechnic University in 1992. It has been known as Anglia Ruskin University since 2005. As well as Cambridge, they have campuses in Chelmsford, London and Peterborough.  The campus at Guild House, Peterborough opened in 2011 and is a dedicated healthcare site where they train many of the region’s nurses and healthcare professionals.

It took time but maybe the City is forgiven it’s looks in 1876!

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Black Shuck – the Barghest – the Devil Dog

The Peterborough Chronicle of Hugh Candidus covers the period 655 to 1117 and tells us of the arrival in 1128 of Henry of Angely, he having been appointed Abbot of the Abbey then known as Burch by King Henry I.  This had not been a very popular appointment as far as the monks were concerned and Hugh records a great many of their complaints, and Abbot Henry’s actions. One such record tells us that:

‘In the very year in which he came to the abbey, marvellous portents were seen and heard at night during the whole of Lent, throughout the woodlands and plains, from the monastery as far as Stamford. For there appeared, as it were, hunters with horns and hounds, all being jet black, their horses and their hounds as well, and some rode as it were on goats and had great eyes and there were twenty or thirty together. And this is no false tale, for many men of faithful report both saw them and heard the horns.’

Dr Simon Sherwood in ‘Apparitions of Black Dogs’ [University of Northampton Psychology Department, 2008] suggests that the earliest surviving description of devilish black hounds is the account of an incident in the Peterborough Abbey recorded in the Peterborough Chronicle (one version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) around 1127:

‘Let no-one be surprised at the truth of what we are about to relate, for it was common knowledge throughout the whole country that immediately after Abbot Henry of Poitou’s arrival at Peterborough Abbey – it was the Sunday when they sing Exurge Quare – many men both saw and heard a great number of huntsmen hunting. The huntsmen were black, huge and hideous, and rode on black horses and on black he-goats and the hounds were jet black with eyes like saucers and horrible. This was seen in the very deer park of the town of Peterborough and in all the woods that stretch from that same town to Stamford, and in the night the monks heard them sounding and winding their horns. Reliable witnesses who kept watch in the night declared that there might well have been as many as twenty or thirty of them winding their horns as near they could tell. This was seen and heard from the time of his arrival all through Lent and right up to Easter.’

Is the story true – or just made up to scare people?  I don’t know.  It is said to be the basis of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ story and I do know that it makes one heck of a spooky story when told late in the evening, in the dark, under trees with the shelter of a beautiful, towering Cathedral close by!

Strange happening one Christmas in Peterborough

Apologies for the delay in this second story – I have had a battle with certain elements of my computer and Windows 10.  I think I am getting on top of it – so let’s move on:

This second ghostly story is much different to the first one. When I first started the ghost walks this was one of my favourites but it’s quite some time since I told it so here goes: it was on Saturday 9th January 1892 that the Peterborough Advertiser told the story, headlining it as:-
MYSTERIOUS MANIFESTATIONS IN A PETERBOROUGH COTTAGE – THE NEIGHBOURHOOD DISQUIETED BY A NOISY ‘GHOST’.

The opening paragraph reads:
‘Alarming nocturnal noises have compelled a family to dessert their home in Mayor’s Walk, Peterborough, have terrified residents on either side of the house, and have filled the neighbourhood with fear.’
So – what was happening? 22 Mayor’s Walk had become vacant and a Mr Rimes [a worker on the railways], his wife and their three boys moved in. Soon after they took in two lodgers – her brother Mr Want, and a brother-in-law Mr Easy, who both also worked on the railways.
The Advertiser picks up the story, recording that they were: ‘much surprised soon after their settlement in this particular quarter of the city at being saluted at various hours of the night with most unwelcome, and unexpected, rappings at the front door and against the partition wall of the building – noises most unmistakable and unwelcome. The boys – so goes the story – experienced midnight intruders, and on one occasion both lodgers and boys were suddenly deprived of their bed coverings.’
Things got worse – on the Friday before Christmas 1891 the noises were so bad that they woke the neighbours on both sides of number 22. One described the sound as ‘a noise like a cannon going off’. Another described it as being ‘like a giant ripping up a kitchen table and hurling it down the stairs’.
Messrs Want and Easy called upon a Mister Arthur Wright – a friend of theirs who also worked on the railway and was sceptical about the whole story they had told him.  He offered to lodge with them for the night to convince himself of the story. That night ‘the house was carefully locked up, windows fastened, and the occupants of the rooms duly regarded.’ The report says that a few minutes after 12 midnight there was a hum along the bedroom passage followed by a fearful smash – described as being like ‘a giant sack of coal being tipped downstairs’! Wright and all the occupants of the rooms rushed out – but there was nothing to see. The whole passage looked as if nothing had happened!

They then all got together in one room but noises continued. Then there was another crash – described by Mr Butler the neighbour as being ‘like the fall of a house into the passage’. Mrs Goode on the other side of the Rimes’ house described it as ‘like the explosion of a great gun which shook the house and all in it. The noise before it was like that when a boy rubs the string of his toy telephone.’

The Advertiser goes on to tell its readers that: ‘On Friday the family left, and are now living in Monument Street, and whilst Mrs Rimes declares she has had no sleep at night for six weeks, Want and Easy give similar testimony, that for nights and nights they have never closed their eyes, and neighbours corroborate this probability of this evidence. The house, it should be mentioned, has no cellar and no attic, and the noise in the passage and rattling of the interior doors seemed altogether disproportionate to the average strength or movement of any human individual.’

So that’s the end of this spooky story. The Rimes had no more ghostly problems and there has been no repeat of the events for any residents since in this Mayor’s Walk cottage. Oh, and by the way – don’t go looking for the house. It’s still there but the number has changed!
If you want more on this story you can read the Advertiser’s full-length report in the library archives and Stuart’s telling of it is on pages 60-62 of his book that’s available at the Museum, various shops in Peterborough and on-line.

Enjoy