GILL HAWKES looks at Peterborough’s ghostly tales of the First World War and Victorian bodysnatchers
Peterborough has a long history and many ghost stories associated with it. The cathedral is home to a number of ghosts as are the city’s public houses. Lesser known places also play host to the city’s dead.
Among the places which are haunted is the city’s museum. The ghost of a First World War Australian Soldier, Sergeant Thomas Hunter, is said to walk the corridors. The museum, once the Infirmary, acted as a hospital during the First World War and Sgt Hunter was brought there after being wounded.
Sgt Hunter served in the 10th Corps Australian Expeditionary Force and was from Kurrii Kurrii, New South Wales. He was wounded in France, during the Somme offensive of July 1916 and died in the Infirmary on 31st July 1916. He is buried in Broadway Cemetery and a memorial tablet can be seen in Peterborough Cathedral.
After the visitors have gone, and only the staff remain, curators have reported hearing footsteps walking through the deserted rooms. Sgt Hunter was last seen drifting up the staircase, though those that feel an icy hand on their shoulder whilst wandering the museum believe that they have encountered the late Sergeant.
The Cowgate area of the city, now located near Queensgate Shopping Centre, hides a dark history. A graveyard used to be located here but was removed when the shopping centre was built.
Eerily, it was one of the last known places to be raided by grisly bodysnatchers. During the Georgian and Victorian periods, bodies were difficult to come by as it was only legal to perform a dissection on the corpse of a recently executed criminal. Bodysnatchers, also known as resurrection men, made money by digging up fresh corpses and selling them to medical schools and hospitals.
The Huntingdonshire Quarter Sessions Court records show that in December 1830, the recently buried body of Jane Mason was dug up from Yaxley churchyard by William Patrick and William Whayley, labourers from Forncett. The bodysnatchers alleged that a Mr Grimmer had offered them half a sovereign to dig up the body and that it would be sent down to London. The men were spotted in the churchyard by Jane Mason’s son and the churchwarden. They fired shots but the men fled with the body. The body was later found, buried in a shallow grave, in the cemetery at Cowgate.
The Peterborough Examiner also reported one such case in 1862. One evening a cart was spotted outside the cemetery and a passerby noticed two men loading suspicious sacks into it. The alarm was raised and the men fled, the cart chase ending near Norman Cross on the edge of the city. Here they abandoned their grim cargo and fled over the fields.
According to local reports, their victims still wander Cowgate, eternally trapped and angry at their sad fate.
GILL HAWKES is an archaeologist and writer, living in Norfolk with a family who are scared by ghost stories. When she was little, she saw something nasty in the woodshed.