You may think that Peterborough doesn’t really have anyone or anything famous about it, after all, it’s not very often heard about, apart from that wonderful advert years ago with Roy Kinnear (as a Roman Centurion) as Peterborough was becoming a new town in the 1980s, but you’d be mistaken.
We have a full lineage of famous places and people that maybe you didn’t know were connected with our wonderful city. I’ll tell you about a few I have connections with…
One of the more recent was English entrepreneur, restaurateur, art collector, politician and philanthropist; Peter Boizot M.B.E. He was born in Peterborough, attended the King’s School, was a chorister at the Cathedral and way back in 1965 because he loved Italy and pizza, he created the very famous Pizza Express in Soho, London, later becoming a national chain. I met him several times in different circumstances including at the ‘Broadway’ which was his cultural creation in the city. Along with this he invested much in the city and lived here at his hotel, The Great Northern, until his death in Dec 2018 at the ripe old age of 89.
A second very famous funny (straight) man, who I personally met when I was around the age of 5 in Fletton in the service men’s club, was Ernie Wise O.B.E. Internationally known for his comedy partnership with Eric Morecambe, during the early years he actually lived here in Thorpe Avenue. You may glimpse references to Peterborough in many sketches that Morecambe and Wise do together – I even saw one at Christmas on BBC2 in their lost tapes that really took me by surprise.
Unfortunately, neither of these well-known men commemorated anywhere – not even on Pizza Express in town. I’ll be writing in to the Civic Society and putting a suggestion in. (update: Peter Boizot will be honoured after a required period of 10 years from death. Ernie Wise’s abode is a private accommodation so can’t be) What does the Peterborough Civic Society have to do with famous people and places? You will see the commemorations around the city, when you visit, in the form of their wonderful blue plaques.
The Society has had plaques of some kind around the city since 1985 and has recently increased them to a massive 36. It’s a great way to do a bit of research of Peterborough’s history and combine it with some exercise at the same time. Placed all over the city; you’ll find mentions of famous places as well as famous people.
Let me give you a taster: Edith Cavell. A famous nurse in WW1 celebrated for saving the lives of soldiers on both side, but also for helping British, French and Belgian soldiers escape the Germans – unfortunately, she was tried and executed. We no longer have a hospital named after her but you’ll find her plaque in the Cathedral Precincts at Laurel Court where she studied as a pupil teacher in the 1880s.
Another famous and impressive woman was Daphne Jackson O.B.E. Born in Peterborough she studied at the old County Grammar School for Girls – I studied here and enjoyed it thoroughly before it was demolished and moved to Werrington. She went on to become a research student in physics earning a PhD and then became a distinguished nuclear physicist and Britain’s first female professor of physics! Her work now continues through the Daphne Jackson Trust.
One of their first plaques (an older silver one) for you is for Thorpe Hall. Now used as a Sue Ryder Hospice and palliative care hospital. The building is renowned for being the finest Cromwellian domestic building the country! Wow! It was built for Oliver Cromwell’s Lord Cheif Justice as a family home back in 1656. How grand it would have been! Later it was used as a hospital during WW2 and then later as a maternity hospital up to 1970. I was born here and it has a special place in my heart – I do hope that when my time comes that Sue Ryder will still be here so I’m able to leave this place where I came in. They are currently down on their fundraising and donations due to Covid, so hopefully, they’ll come out the other end ok as it would be very sad to lose them.
That’s it for your taster, I don’t want to spoil them all for you, so maybe next time that you venture into Peterborough you’ll think of those that went before you. Look for a plaque or two – Here’s to a few sunny and warm walks searching around Peterborough once lockdown is over. (more info at peterboroughcivicsociety.org.uk)
I couldn’t finish without telling you about our most famous connection – royalty! It’s two women again… Mary Queen of Scots who was once buried here but was moved to Westminster Abbey and of course Catherine of Aragon, Queen of England who was laid to rest 29th January 1536 at Peterborough Abbey (now Cathedral).
This was the Spark Magazine article for February 2021.