Civil war and a return to peace
The 1600s were a time of change and upheaval for the people of
Peterborough. When Civil War broke out, Peterborough's community
was divided as the citizens declared their loyalty to either the
Royalists or the Parliamentarians. The city lay on the border
of the Eastern Association of counties, which sided with
Parliament, and the war reached Peterborough in 1643 when
Parliamentary soldiers arrived in the city to attack Royalist
strongholds at Stamford and Crowland. The Royalist forces were
defeated within a few weeks, and they retired to Burghley House,
where they were captured and sent to Cambridge.
While the Parliamentary soldiers were in Peterborough, however,
they ransacked the cathedral, destroying the high altar and choir
stalls, as well as medieval decoration and documents. Parliament
disposed of Church property to raise money for the army and navy.
Oliver St John, a Lord Chief Justice who supported Parliament,
bought the lease of the Manor of Longthorpe and built Thorpe Hall.
In 1654 author John Evelyn described it as 'a stately place...
built out of the ruins of the Bishop's Palace and Cloisters'.
The restoration of King Charles II in 1660 led to a
new stability and prosperity across the country, and in 1669 the
people of Peterborough decided to raise a public subscription 'for
the building of a public cross or Town House'. This building,
now known as the Guildhall, was erected on the site of the old
Market Cross, or 'Butter Cross'.
Throughout history, people sought to work both with and against
nature to get the most out of the challenging Fenland environment.
Morton's Learn, which still survives and now forms the southern
boundary of the Nene Wash, was the most ambitious of a long list of
medieval drainage and flood protection schemes.
It was dug in the later years of the 15th century to take the
Nene water directly out to the sea at Wisbech. It was not
until the 17th century, however, that schemes for the drainage of
the whole 'Great Level' of the fens were begun. In an agreement of
1630, Francis Earl of Bedford, who owned a large Fenland estate at
Thorney, joined with other 'adventurers' (so-called because they
had invested or 'adventured' money in the schemes) and Sir
Cornelius Vermuvden, the experienced Dutch engineer, to undertake
the work and divide up the proceeds. Originally, the work was to
take only six years; in fact, this was just the beginning of an
amazing engineering adventure which continues to this day.