13th January 1945

While reading at about 1.00am suddenly heard something bumping and scuffling against the window.  Looked out to see a sparrow there, standing on the sill.  Opened the window and put out my hand, but he slipped away in the darkness.

Better night, and not so much pain as yesterday.  Warmer this morning, and the snow almost gone.

Looked in at the market – big crowd, but hardly any stock.  According to advertisements, there is supposed to be a market for fat cattle on Mondays, but I never see any sign of it.  People crowding all over the streets, doing their shopping, walking alone almost ankle-deep in slush near the Bridge.  Pony carts driving in, and endless streams of cars.

Went to the LMS station and found there was a train to Peterborough at 1.27, so decided to go, although not feeling at all well, sickness again.

Hurried to catch the train, but no train arrived.  After nearly half an hour, enquired what had happened? and was told nothing, trains generally later than this.  Half a dozen growling passengers on the platforms, stamping their feet to keep warm.  Fog stealing up from the sea.  At last the 1.29 came in at 5 past 2, and away we went, through Murrow, Wryde, past the brickworks, and so to the very edge of Peterborough Station, where we stuck for nearly half an hour in a sea of rails, trucks, dirty, steaming engines, cold, miserable, and in considerable pain.  Several RAF men jumped out onto the track, and ran along towards the station regardless of the shouts of the guard.  At long last, when all hope had been given up, the train slowly moved into the platform, and the train-announcer called for “L.A.C. Somebody-or-other to report to the Booking Office.”  Probably he was one of the men who jumped out 20 minutes before.  We were just over 1 hour late in a journey of 20 miles.

Walked outside, and almost at once saw a noticeboard directing to the Museum, in Priestgate, only a few hundred yards from the station.  It is a large, massive, stone fronted building, three storeys high, with a Doric portico, and was formerly a hospital.  The front is propped up with timbers, but whether through age or as a raid precaution I don’t know.  Several cars were parked under a notice: “Members only Car Park”, these presumably belonging to members of the Society who own and maintain the Museum.  The railings have been taken from the forecourt, and there is rather an air of decay, but perhaps unavoidable in wartime.

Had to pay 3d to get in, a thing I always dislike.  There was a green-uniformed attendant at the door, and the whole place was filled with intense gloom, owing to the foggy day, but there was hardly a light anywhere, nothing but a few low-watt bulbs under cheap tin shades, hung very high.  In most rooms it was literally impossible to read the labels, but there were not many to read, in any case.

There are some handsome modern bronze framed cases in the entrance hall, with new internal lighting, but this was only switched on when a visitor looked at the cases.  These hold a good collection of china and porcelain, and what labels there were are clear and neat.

On the right of the hall is a room of local archaeology, very dark and dreary, with only 2 small lights, both painted blue and draped with blue cloth.  These seem decent wall cases, fairly modern, with table cases in front.  In the middle, an island case, containing Roman, Saxon and Mediaeval pottery all together, labelled as “The Walker Collection”.

At the far end of the room is a small Roman altar, quite perfect, with no inscription, which is labelled as a Roman milestone.  It was found at Upton.  Nearby is a nice little column, beautifully shaped, about 3’ high, found at Castor-on-Nene, and a finely modelled torso found at Bannack.  All three are of Bannack stone.

In this same room is the tracery of a small double window of 13th century date, from a house in Goodyer’s Yard, destroyed in 1915.  A photo exhibited nearby shows it to have been a most interesting example of an early domestic building.  Scandalous that it should have been wantonly destroyed. 

There are a few stone implements in three or four cases, - Chelleans from Cromer quite good.  Also some of the usual “Flint Jack” specimens, and, to my surprise, several small implements from the Laver Collection, from Ipswich, Thame, and Bathwell.  Can't quite see why it was though appropriate to send these particular specimens to Peterborough.

Several Bronze Age beakers, and a very fine B.A. collared urn, and some B.A. implements, all local.

And, on one wall, almost covering it, Landseer’s “Off to the Rescue”.  Upstairs, a long corridor, intensely gloomy, hung with pictures – water-colours, prints, oils, etc., some local but by no means all.  Too dark to see them clearly.  Staircase walls hung with large engravings, etc.  Nice lot of the Bucks.

At one end of the corridor is a small room containing relics of John Clare the mad poet and Worlidge, the engraver.  Nice print specimens. 

A large, high, gloomy room, lit by four tiny electric lights, contains Norman Cross material, very good indeed, bone, straw-work etc.  How very clever those Frenchmen must have been.  There are also a few uniforms and a dress in the wall cases.  Unfortunately most of the labels are very dirty and practically illegible.

Another small room is devoted to Mary, Queen of Scots – prints of Fotheringay Castle etc. and a huge and frightful painting of her head, alleged to be by Zucherus.  Could only have been painted by somebody with a great sense of the historic.

Large “bird-room”.  Very depressing, specimens badly mounted.  Among them a flamingo, shot at Blakeney, Norfolk.  Two magnificent fossil crocodiles, from the Oxford clay near Peterborough, and the skull of one horn of bos longifrons.  Elephants tusks, teeth, etc, antlers of the Irish elk, all excellent.  Off this is a tiny ante room, supposed to be for wild plants, but now unused and very dirty and depressing.

Another tiny room, a mere cupboard, contains excellent lace and lace-making material, of which there was a great industry.  Wants showing properly. 

Then a “children’s’ room”, with two fine rocking-horses, dolls’ dresses, dolls, children’s dresses and so on, and a very fine doll’s house.  In the same room are some Lambeth ware apothecaries’ jars, very nice but out of place.

There are photos, prints and drawings in almost every inch of wall-space, but very few labels indeed.  On one wall is a plaque in memory of Nurse Cavell, who was at school here.

At the very top of the building is a good collection of “folk material” – a plough, costumes (shown in cases too high), a mangle, hats, smocks, (both very good indeed), Boston Gaol whipping-post, two branks, a birchrod, (with no labels), an excellent series of early cameras, including a quarter-plate of about 1860, Gramophones an Edison Bell phonograph, 1893, with earphones, and a fine lot of musical instruments.  The labels here are good, and in modern style.

Nice lot of dairy appliances, model steam plough, hand-tools from the Fens, etc.

In what was obviously once a lavatory, the white tiled walls still remaining, is a landau, used up to 1934, the last to ply for hire in Peterborough, boneshakers (one for a child), and an old Sunbeam motorcycle, a manual fire-engine, and a set of horse-shoes, without any labels at all.

The whole collections are really very fine, and represent the efforts of many years hard work, but the place obviously needs a great deal of over hauling.  Some fresh paint and some reasonably powerful light bulbs would be most helpful.

Peterborough itself is rather shabby, with nondescript streets, looking very much like one of the less genteel London suburbs. But there is a lovely stone market-hall, time of Charles II, the fine arches now blocked with bricks to make an air-raid shelter, the same as at Shrewsbury.  The space round it was filled with stalls, and the market was just packing up when I walked by.  Big crowds pushing about, mostly Americans. 

On the other side of the street, the Cathedral towered up above the shoddy buildings, vague and shadowy in the gloom.  Went through the Norman gateway into the quiet sanctuary of the cloisters, now nearly full of surface shelters.  The west front is enormous, but curiously squat.  Pushed open the door, and heard the organ playing softly far away down the nave, the music drifting through the fog slowly and gently, as if the organist was thinking of the remote past.  Amazed at the immensity of the Norman arcades, the pale-coloured stones of which seemed to glow with cold light in the gloom.  Voices echoed afar off in the choir, and the roof was invisible in the foggy dusk.

Near the West door was a larger “crib”, flanked by two Christmas trees, and here and there along the aisles are huge, sizzling coke-stoves.  On one wall saw a monument smashed by the Puritans, just as they left it, and on a column in the North Aisle, by the choir, is the tablet indicating the first burial place of Mary, Queen of Scots, two banners hanging over the spot.  Saw the fine effigies of the early abbots, and the so-called “centotaph of the Monks”, a most remarkable piece of work.  Noted with interest that there is a “Toot hill” on the North side of the Cathedral.

The floor of the choir is marble, and the High Altar is under a columned marble canopy.

There was nobody in the building but two vergers and a few children.

Out into the close again and noticed that some of the buildings on the south side are occupied by Poles, with “No Entry” notices over the gates and words in Polish chalked up.

Had some trouble to find a café, but at last got some tea, a slice of ham, and a few pieces of bread and butter, for which I was charged 3/3.  The place is full of war factory workers, who don't care what they pay for anything.

There are three or four cinemas, and two theatres, one quite new, called the Embassy, where the Carl Rosa opera company are at present performing.  The other is a repertory theatre.  The Embassy advertised a pantomime next week.  The place seems to be oddly situated, adjoining the cattle-market, while a huge modern cinema, a little further along the road, incongruously faces a line of shoddy villas.

Almost opposite the Embassy is the Public Library, but I found that the Reference Room is shut for the duration of war as, according to a notice, it is “being used for educational purposes”. 

The Reading Room shows clearly that this place is at the beginning of the Midlands – they have Peterborough papers, London dailies, “Manchester Guardian”, “Birmingham Post”, “Yorkshire Post”, “Eastern Daily Press” from Norwich, and the weekly “Scotsman” – nothing from Essex.  Read more newspapers in an hour than I have seen for a week.

To the station – hardly a light, yet the town lights are quite bright.  Great delay there, and a big crowd waiting.  A Leeds train came in, with a lot of empty carriages, so some RAF men got in.  A railway inspector came roaring up and abused them roundly, shouting and swearing that they must get out, as those were reserved.  Very meekly they did, and forced themselves and all their equipment into the tightly packed corridors further up.

The 7.10 eventually left at 8 o’clock, and crawled into Wisbech at a quarter to 9.  Crept into the Museum – Miss Thompson already gone to bed.  Hazy, a quiet night.

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