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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.

Photo of Thorpe Hall, one of the finest surviving Commonwealth mansions in Britain and is now run by the Sue Ryder Foundation as a hospice

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 Guildhall built on the site of the old Market Cross in the Market PlaceThe 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.