Preserving Peterborough’s past during rampant development

demolition17:37 Wednesday 23rd July 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[C]HRIS MANN: Proposals to build 350 homes on the site of the former Peterborough District Hospital have been given the go-ahead. They also include plans for a new primary school, which will be incorporated into the building of the historic War Memorial wing. So, how important is it for new developments to include some of the area’s local history? Let’s find out from a couple of people who’ve got an interest in this. Peter Lee is Chairman of the Peterborough Civic Society. Hello Pete.
PETER LEE: Hello. Good evening.
CHRIS MANN: And Trevor Pearce is the Chairman of the Peterborough Local History Society. Hi Trevor.
TREVOR PEARCE: Good evening Chris.
CHRIS MANN: So how important is the memorial Wing in your view?
TREVOR PEARCE: I think very. I’m delighted it’s been saved, and the fact that it’s going to be incorporated into that school. We’ve lost too many of these Chris already. Your listeners will no doubt remember the original post office that was in Cumbergate, and on the front of that was a fantastic war memorial. What happened to that I have no idea. I guess it just got smashed when they built Queensgate. And there’s others that have gone missing round the city.
CHRIS MANN: Do you think they’d actually do that with a war memorial? They would just smash it up?

TREVOR PEARCE: Well nobody seems to know. I’ve made some enquiries over the years, and nobody seems to know a thing about it Chris.
CHRIS MANN: That’s pretty shocking.
TREVOR PEARCE: Yes. It listed all the people who worked for the Post Office who gave their lives in the First World War.
CHRIS MANN: I think I’d use the word disrespectful. Peter Lee, would you agree?
PETER LEE: Yes I certainly would. Yes. But it’s good that the central part of the War memorial Hospital is going to be kept. The long ward arms of the building will go, but that central entrance area where there were plaques on the wall that’ll be returned, and there’s a “We will remember them.” over the top, so that for a long long time this was the sole war memorial for the First World War.
CHRIS MANN: As you look around your city Peter, do you see lessons that should have been, and maybe will be learned now, from how the many changes that have happened, the building of new roads, new shopping centres and so on, where sometimes perhaps older buildings and memorable ones have just been discarded too easily.
PETER LEE: Well yes. It is often a difficult issue to decide whether something should be kept or not. And certainly I’ve been in Peterborough long enough to remember what things were like when Queensgate was being proposed. It was very difficult to decide that a very very low, small, 16th century half-timbered building, right in the middle of the proposed Queensgate frontage should actually be kept. But yes, in terms of too easily letting things go, we’ve been very disappointed that the Great Northern Hotel hasn’t been listed. So that at some time in the future we may find that going. But I’m sure not without a fight. One of the remarkable things about historic buildings is sometimes you don’t realise the significance of them. And one of those is actually within the hospital site. And that’s The Gables. Now some people, Peterborough people, will have been born there, because for a while it was a maternity hospital. But very few people know that that was designed by an architect of national significance, a guy called Gotch, in 1885. And he was generally recognised as a superb exponent of architectural detail of the Jacobean and Elizabethan era. And a lot of that’s in that building. And so it’s great that that will be staying.
CHRIS MANN: And Trevor, as Chairman of the Peterborough Local History Society, I’m sure you”ll be aware of lots of history that has been lost, and you’ll want to preserve much that’s still there. But where do you draw the line between progress and preserving the past?
TREVOR PEARCE: Like Peter says, it’s very very difficult. I accept the position that some town and city planners are in when a huge development is being held up. But often they can incorporate it into it. And I think yes, we’ve lost some good stuff, but there’s still a lot of good stuff in the city. And going on from what Peter said, yes, I would definitely keep The Gables. I’m one of the people that was born in it. I want a blue plaque on the front. (THEY LAUGH)
CHRIS MANN: Well actually I was coming onto blue plaques and things like that. Should more be done to point out the wonderful history that’s still there? Trevor first.
TREVOR PEARCE: Yes definitely. I think it should. There are a number. And don’t get me wrong, the Civic Society have done a great job in putting on buildings like the office block in Park Road where the Bowas? Hall was and places like that. And telling people exactly what was there. Because a lot of our streets have changed enormously over the years.
PETER LEE: Yes. One of the things about our plaques, there are virtually thirty of them all around Peterborough. But they’re aluminium, and they tend to be not very conspicuous. So what the Civic Society is thinking of doing now is to actually go over to blue plaques. And so with the owners’ support and so on, hopefully we’ll make a bit more of our plaques being in the city within the next year or two.
CHRIS MANN: Gentlemen, thank you both for joining me. Appreciate it.

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