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A century of changes

By the early 20th century, Peterborough had become a centre of engineering excellence and a developing city with a rapidly growing population. Much of its prosperity arose from the substantial railway engineering works at New England, while farming also provided employment as large food-processing companies bought up locally grown produce.

Photo taken at Perkins Engines in 1932The historic quarries expanded as demand for stone, gravel and clay grew throughout the century. New industries began to move to Peterborough, building their factories on the green fields around the city. Baker Perkins and Peter Brotherhood, both manufacturers of industrial machinery, became major employers, and local manufacturing companies developed and grew. The two World Wars brought many changes to the inhabitants of the Peterborough area. Those who fought and died in the Great War were commemorated by the building of a new hospital. Edith Cavell, who had been a pupil-teacher at Laurel Court School in the city, is also commemorated - she was executed by the Germans in 1915 for aiding the escape of resistance fighters from Belgium.

Photo of the Hunts 'Cyclists' Batallion leaving the city in 1918The flat, open countryside around Peterborough made an ideal location for airfields. RAF Wittering was established as a Home Defence Force airfield during the First World War. During the Second World War, the enlarged airfield was home to night fighters, and the station remains important today as the home of the RAF's famous 'Harrier' jets. Throughout the Second World War, pilots were trained at RAF Peterborough (or Westwood), established on the outskirts of the city during the 1930s. There were many other wartime airfields locally, some home to United States Army Air Force units.

After the First World War, Peterborough City Council began building 'homes fit for heroes' - council housing for working people, which increased growth in the city. Photo of New Town housing developmentThroughout the 20th century the city expanded to incorporate many places such as Walton, Newark and Fletton, which had formerly been entirely separate villages. Then, in the late 1960s, Peterborough was designated as a site for a new town, which would grow around the historic city centre. From the beginning of the 1970s, many new housing areas were developed, including Bretton and Ravensthorpe. New, service-based companies like Thomas Cook and Pearl Assurance were now attracted to the city, ending the dominance of the manufacturing industry as main employers.

Labour shortages after the Second World War encouraged people from across the world to move to Britain in search of employment. People from throughout the British Isles, Italy, India, Pakistan, Poland and the Caribbean came to Peterborough to work in the brick and engineering industries. The area's rich cultural diversity continues to develop as people move into today's growing city and villages.