top of page
  • Writer's pictureSadie

Peckard and Dowman

The blog this month takes a rather different approach, prompted by a creative writing course I completed a couple of years ago. I hope you enjoy it.

(Please note that although facts are correct, creative liberties have been taken)

In this blog I will contrast the appearance of three roads in Fletton: Fletton Avenue, High Street and Love Lane. The roads are contrasted at two points. Firstly in 1788 when Peter Peckard (1760-1798) was incumbent, and when the parishioners of Fletton worked the land and were predominantly agricultural labourers. Then in 1901 when Charles Dowman (1887-1929) was incumbent, and when Fletton had grown into an industrial village, with the arrival of the railways and brickyards.

Peter Peckard

The early morning sun cast shafts of light onto the oak panelling in ‘The Great House’ study. The house was only 30 years old, having been built by John Proby the 2nd Earl of Carysfoot, for Peter Peckard and his wife Martha when he took on the living at Fletton and nearby Yaxley. The oak panelling still retained it’s new appearance which complimented the moss green paintwork above. Peter Peckard returned his quill and quill knife back to their blue velvet cushion, housed within the ornate mahogany travel writing case. He fastened the ink well and closed the lid, with a click. Sitting back from his desk, he was content with the progress he had made on his latest endeavour, the publication of his father-in-law, Edward Ferrar’s papers. These books and papers, brought from Little Gidding on his death in 1772, had now joined his own extensive library, which lined two of walls of his study here in Fletton.

The desk was conveniently placed under the window of the study. This enabled its user to observe visitors to both the house and St Margarets church. Now in his 70th year, it also allowed Peter to appreciate the rectory garden designed by his wife Martha over the last 28 years, since their arrival in Fletton in 1760. This morning he watched her select and cut several early rose blooms, placing them carefully in the basket which rested on her arm. Behind her, the tree of Lebanon sapling, a recent acquisition from the Botanical garden in Cambridge was nearly 10 feet tall and growing strongly. The fire that the maid had lit in the small hours was now mere embers and the room had grown cool. Time for a walk Peter thought.

The Great House

Leaving his study, Peter paused in the hall, paved with Purbeck stone which was studded with diamond nuggets of black namur marble at the joints, to remove his banyan. The maid was already waiting, and he took the proffered moss green cut away coat, which matched his waistcoat and breeches. As he picked up his walking cane, he fervently hoped that the ground had dried from the morning dew so that his feet might remain dry. The maid ran forward to open the door for him and as he crossed the threshold; he adjusted his stock and placed his hat onto his powdered hair.

Raising his hand to his wife Peter walked down the driveway, leaving ‘The Great House’ behind him. He inhaled deeply relishing the fragrance of the earth laden dew as the morning sun dried the crops, which surrounded this small enclave of habitation. Fletton now numbered two houses, his own and the Manor, and 14 cottages which nestled between the two.

At the end of the driveway Peter looked northwards, to his right. Regardless of the season he always enjoyed this view. Now in late spring the fields stretching before him were filled with red and white clover. These ran down to the River Nene and were bordered on either side by, to the right, Stanground Lode and to the left Fletton Spring, which for several months of the year made the area an impassable marshy swamp. In the distance, on the opposite side of the riverbank, the edifice of Peterborough Cathedral, soared above the flat land that surrounded it, dominating the approach to the city from the southern side. Although out of view Peter knew that the River teamed with industry. Transport by water was Peterborough’s lifeline. The many landings and wharfs in the neighbouring parishes of Woodston and Stanground united the towns of Bedford and Northampton in the west, via the River Nene, with the North Sea. Coal, foodstuffs and general merchandise came into the wharfs and corn, malt, timber and produce from the fertile fens went out for their onward journey to the Midlands, London and beyond.

Peter turned to his left and walked through the village. It was the nucleus of the Fletton parish, which comprised some 700 acres; 650 of strong loam; fertile soil of clay, sand and humus, so suitable for agriculture, and 50 of gravel. Since Fletton was enclosed, the same year that Peter and his wife took up the living at Fletton, the parish had changed significantly. The land was now dissected by low hedges creating numerous fields of between 4 and 20 acres. Peter headed west along the High Street and passed by the Manor House on his right. Not the home of his benefactor John Proby the 2nd Earl of Carysfoot, this was at Elton Hall six miles west of Fletton.

As Peter left the village, he noted that his feet were perfectly dry. Each year as the fields were ploughed the farmers would throw any stone they found into the road. These stones gradually compressed and formed a satisfactory road surface resilient to both cart and horse, whilst improving the field. Peter’s attention was caught by a team of 4 horses on his left, resplendent in their leather saddlery, metal bits jangling as they were expertly driven by their horseman. He stood observing the skill of horse and driver as each furrow was ploughed in perfect alignment with the next. Only a few weeks ago the same field had been home to Leicester sheep eating the stumps of the spring cabbage that had been harvested and when the summer was at an end this field may take its turn to be pared and burnt, as all the fields were, on a seven year rotation to improve the soil.

There was only one notable dwelling to interrupt Peter’s view over the fields as he meandered his way towards the London Road, that of Fletton Lodge to his left. London Road was the main artery south which took travellers away from Peterborough to the great metropolis, London. A journey he did not relish when the need arose for him to make it. The road was poorly made, churned up by the thousands of cattle and sheep which were driven down it each year. The cattle took 6 to 7 days to reach the capital whilst the sheep were slower at 10. Coaches on this route could achieve 5 miles an hour if conditions were favourable. But London still lay a full hard day’s journey away.

Peter was nearing the boundary of the parish now. On his left was Fletton Lodge and his attention was caught by the unusual acrid smokiness in the air accompanied by a multitude of clangings of metal and poundings of wood. A small seasonal brickwork had developed there. The clay was dug out in the autumn and left exposed to the winter weather to break down. In the spring it could be moulded into bricks and then fired in a small kiln. These kilns were temporary affairs, only operating to fill the local requirement for bricks as individual houses were built. Peter turned in preparation for the return journey. The spire of St. Margaret's was a beacon to him, as it had been for pilgrims for many centuries as they travelled between Ely and Peterborough.

Charles Dowman

The grandfather clock, in the tiled hallway struck 10am. Charles Dowman looked up from his large oak desk, which dominated the study at the Rectory. Realising it was time for his daily walk around the parish he stood up, pushing back the walnut captain’s chair, at the same time picking up the red leather-bound service ledger. This was his meticulous record of all the services that had been taken at St. Margaret’s, since the start of his tenure 15 years ago, when he arrived aged 43. It recorded the scripture readings, sermon topics, hymns and organ music. He had updated the record and he returned the volume to the bookshelf. As he did so, his hand lingered on the well-worn oak shelving, which matched the panelling running around the room. Both were now 65 years old and had mellowed with age. The golden patina perfectly complimented the cochineal velvet wallpaper which hung above. The Rectory had been built and completed, in 1835, by the Earls Fitzwilliam when they purchased the Lordship of the Manor from the Proby family. Some of the stones from the former rectory, built for Peter Peckard, had been re-purposed in this new building, and it’s first occupant had been the Reverend Edward Theed.

The hall was empty and the house quiet when Charles went to retrieve his dark grey morning jacket from the hall stand. After putting it on he stopped for a few seconds in front of the mirror. The jacket was suitably conservative matching both his trousers and waistcoat. Not satisfied with his appearance he adjusted his clerical cravat. Knowing he was destined for a relaxed walk he finished his dress with bowler hat and walking cane.

As he left the Rectory, he glanced at the church appreciatively. The substantial porch, that had been added in the 1874 renovations, was both pleasing to the eye and practical. This was now complimented by the extension to the north aisle of the church. Funded in the main by John C. Hill, the prominent local brickyard owner, this had only been completed a few weeks ago. Now that Fletton numbered 4,089 inhabitants the additional capacity in the church was sorely needed. John C. Hill, Charles ruminated. What a difference his arrival in Fletton had made to the parish. John had purchased his first brickyard, Hardy’s Yard, in 1887, the same year that he had arrived to take up the living of Fletton. The last 15 years had seen John bring about such irrevocable change and transformation in the parish.

The Rectory driveway was sheltered by the spreading arms of the cedar of Lebanon, soaring high above him-almost as tall as the spire. The whole churchyard was now neatly enclosed behind a stone and brick wall. Once through the gates he looked to his right, northwards. Fletton now had a link into Peterborough, along Fletton Avenue. This road to the town had, in recent years, become lined by elegant villas occupied by traders and clerks who were eager to leave Peterborough for more peaceful environs. Although, like many of the roads in Fletton it had not yet been made up, it did possess wide pavements for ease of walking, out of the dirt and puddles. Fletton Avenue then swept around in front of the church, eastwards to Stanground.

Fletton Avenue with chimneys in the background

St Margaret's Church and the cedar of Lebanon

Where there had once been cultivated fields leading to the River Nene, the increase in population demanded, that in 1893 a new cemetery and mortuary chapel had to be built. Nestled at the entrance to the cemetery was Mrs. Robinett’s private infant school. Although not clearly visible Charles knew that between the cemetery and the River Nene was the East Station with its associated network of sidings and loco sheds. At this time of day, the railway complex would be alive with its daily operations. Even at this distance the sound and smell of the coal, steam engines and variety of goods, including livestock, that awaited to be hauled to their next destination, could be heard and smelt. Beyond the station, on the opposite side of the bank, Peterborough Cathedral lay observing the changing scene, but when the wind was not favourable it disappeared behind a curtain of smog.

Miss Robinett's School

Charles turned to his left and walked towards the High Street. On his right William Hawkins, builder and undertaker, had built a row of workers houses. Some sat on the roadside, but 7 named Haydn Terrace, and completed in 1887, had small front gardens surrounded by low walls and iron railings. These houses came complete with a long back garden, ideally suited for vegetable growing, and a pig stye. Although Charles had heard that the wives had started to grow flowers as well to compliment the vegetables. These houses were far superior to the small terraces which clustered around the entrance to the church itself.

Joining High Street Charles turned right in the direction of London Road. The railways, centred around the East Station, were firmly established in Fletton and the continued success of the brickyards still attracted many migrants to the area. The parish of Fletton now numbered 1,080 dwellings divided between Old and New Fletton. The increase in traffic; carriers carts, works wagons and the daily needs of the local populace meant that the unmade road was deeply rutted. Charles was careful as he negotiated through this maze of rutted road and parishioner’s intent on their own purpose. He was thankful that there had been no rain for several days, as the addition of the overflow of sewage from the new housing, would have made his route almost impassable.

On his right were the gates of the Manor House now occupied by Robert Oliver, the Inspector of Schools. The Lord of the Manor, James Bristow, co- owner of Hicks Gardner and Company brickmakers, had lived there for a short while in the 1870s but had now moved south to East Barnett, for his retirement. As usual playing in front of the gates was a small gaggle of boys using the gate posts as a goal mouth for their football match. Charles smiled to himself, they would soon be dodging the wrath of the groom if Mr. Oliver needed to go out.

On the opposite side of the road sat Persimmon Terrace, a row of small ‘2 up 2 down’ terraced houses. These were the first houses to be built by the brickyard owners, Hicks Gardner and Company, specifically to accommodate the migrant brick workers. Towering above these homes were the numerous chimneys which sat aloft the hoffman kilns. These belonged to the 5 brickyards that now operated from Fletton: Fletton Brick Company, Hicks, Gardener and Company, London Brick Company, New Peterborough Brick Company and T and M Plowman. Despite attempts by the companies to alleviate the amount of noxious fumes, produced by the brick making process, Charles could smell the sulphur that lay thick in the air. He was grateful that the cloud was not low, as on those days, the fumes could not escape into the atmosphere, and breathing could become difficult. Not to mention the penetrating odour that remained on your clothes even after laundering. There was no respite from these inconveniences. The manufacturing of bricks had lost its seasonal nature and now operated night and day. This had recently required the yards to instal lamps which illuminated the whole area. This had caused outrage in the village, and the arguments had been widely reported in the newspaper.

With a growth in population came a growth in business and on the right hand side of the High Street a row of shops had been established which included: a fried fish shop, a boot and shoemaker, a general store and a hairdresser, newsagent, and tobacconist. Nestling behind these shops the first of the brick workers had recently moved into the 3 tree lined roads, which John C Hill had built: Milton Road, Princes Road and Duke Street.

Charles now walked up the gentle incline that led to the bridge over the Peterborough to London railway line. Access to London was now so easily obtained that shopkeepers in Peterborough feared that their trade would suffer. Taking advantage of good transport links and an increase in available female labour locally, the Farrows factory, on the right of the High Street, had recently opened. Cathedral like in its size and elegance the factory was an ‘imposing architectural landmark’ soaring over the railway line declaring to passersby on the trains ‘Farrow’s A1 Mustard, A1 Green Peas, Mushroom ketchup’ in metal signage. Farrows even had its own sidings. The village had gradually become used to the distinct smell of peas, which permeated the air dependent on the processing cycle at the factory.

As Charles reached the top of the incline he had a splendid view of the remainder of Old Fletton, down to London Road. On the right Fletton Spring glinted in the sunlight and the triangular meadow between Love Lane and London Road was being mown by a small herd of cows. Charles could see Charnwood House sitting up on London Road, where it commanded an excellent view of the church, brickfields, and fens in the far distance.

As he descended along Love Lane, on his left, the sound of children playing was evidence of the newly opened Fletton Board School. What a joyous day the official opening of the school had been only a few months earlier. Charles was reassured that the parish was now providing the children with an education, providing the mother’s ensured that they attended regularly, clean, and properly attired. He made a mental note that he should re-visit this topic in a forthcoming sermon.

As he approached London Road Charles glanced to his left. The roof of Phorpres House was just in view over the houses that John C. Hill had first built, St Margaret’s Road, Victoria Place and St. Margaret’s Place. Phorpres House had been built by John as a gentleman’s club. However, the active Temperance Movement in the area meant that he had been denied a license, so after spending several years as a coffee palace it was now offices for The London Brick Company. The houses on the left-hand side of London Road between Fletton crossroads and Phorpres House were substantial and befitted the status of their occupants, who were, in the main, the managers at the London Brick Company and John C. Hill’s parents. Although these houses looked out over a pastoral scene of cultivated fields the presence of the Woodston brickfields was a constant reminder of the industry that now dominated the area. Charles paused. The walk had taken rather longer than anticipated and he must now return for lunch. The spire of St. Margarets church had all but disappeared behind the new houses and factory, but he knew that it was there a constant in a changing world.

A nineteenth century clergyman

Brandon and Knight, Peterborough Past, pp. 54-55.

The Peterborough Advertiser, 7th December, 1901, p5.

190 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page