The Peterborough Museum is based in an old mansion on Priestgate that dates back to 1816 and with several reported ghosts including an Australian soldier, it is thought by some to be the most haunted building in the city.
Built by a local magistrate named Thomas Cooke and his wife Charlotte, they lived in the Priestgate mansion until 1854. It is often quoted that the building was sold to 3rd Earl Fitzwilliam in 1856 and in 1857 became the new Peterborough Infirmary, which it remained 1928. However William FitzWilliam, 3rd Earl FitzWilliam died on 10 August 1756, therefore it is more likely that Charles Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, 5th Earl Fitzwilliam and Member of Parliament for Peterborough 1831-1832 bought the building and it became the infirmary following his death on 4 October 1857. In 1884 a severe fire destroyed much of the building and reconstruction cost £4,500 and the architect in charge was H M Townsend.
Following the construction of a new hospital in 1928, the building was bought by Sir Percy Malcolm Stewart (Born May 9, 1872 – Died February 27, 1951) and donated to the Peterborough Museum Society (founded 1871) to house their collections. The museum opened in 1931. Since 1968 the museum collections have been managed by the local government.
On 31 August 2006 at article by Jemma Walton entitled ‘MUSEUM: Corridors of the building haunted by ghost of Australian soldier’ appeared in the Peterborough Evening Telegraph in which she describes an experience that took place at the earliest point in the museums history.
When it first opened 75 years ago, the musuem was very different from today – the art gallery had not been built on the back, the top floor was rented out as office space (the income from which helped pay for the running of the museum), and the only full-time member of staff was the caretaker, Mr Yarrow and his wife and two children.
The Yarrow family lived on the premises, in a flat on the first floor in today what is part of the geology gallery – but it was to be a flat which was to chill their blood and give them the fright of their life.
In September 1931, Mr Yarrow went out for the afternoon taking his sons with him. His wife was left alone in the building to deal with the last few visitors and lock up at the end of the day.
This she did, then went back up to the flat in order to start preparing the evening meal ready for the family’s return.
After about half an hour, she heard a noise out on the main staircase, which she assumed was her family returning and went out to greet them.
But when she reached the stair doors she came face-to-face with a young man coming up the stairs.
She described the man as being about 30, with brown hair, and wearing a green suit. Mrs Yarrow assumed he was a visitor she’d locked in by mistake.
But she soon realised he was no human visitor . . .
His footsteps were unnaturally loud, which were scary enough in themselves, apart from the fact that he was actually floating up the stairs.
The ghostly figure reached the landing in front of her, walked through the doors right next to her – without opening them – and down the corridor, and vanished into thin air.
Mrs Yarrow left the building as quickly as possible.
The ghost is thought to be that of a First World War Australian Soldier, Sergeant Thomas Hunter. Hunter was born in Newcastle in 1880, but emigrated to Australia as a young man, where he worked as a coal miner in New South Wales.
In 1914, at the outbreak of the war, he enlisted with the Australian army, the ANZACs, and served at Gallipoli and on the Western Front.
He was seriously wounded in June 1916, then treated in a field hospital. It was decided he needed treatment in a more specialised hospital in Britain, so was shipped back, then put on a train north.
Medical staff found that his condition was worsening, so the train was stopped at the next convenient station – Peterborough.
He was taken to the nearest hospital, which is now the museum, but by then it was too late. He died in the building on July 31, 1916.
He is buried in the Broadway Cemetery, and his ghostly figure hasn’t been seen since the 1970s, but a cold atmosphere may descend over certain parts of the building with no warning.
And people have felt the touch of an ice-cold pair of hands. And museum staff report that furniture is regularly found moved around overnight . . .
It seems strange that since this newspaper article it would appear that the reputed ghosts at the museum have been rather busy. According to the Local Government’s website Sgt Hunter haunts the stairs and first floor corridor and has been seen as recently as June 2009.
However, he is not alone:
A Phantom kitchen maid who fell to her death on the back stairs also haunts the building.
In April 2007 a strange figure was caught on camera on the stairs.
A ghostly Roman soldier seen as recently as September 2006 is apparently connected to a sword on display.
On the first floor by a period shop recreation a ‘dark male presence has been seen and felt’ and in June 2008 footsteps heard.
Poltergeist activity has been reported as recently as September 2007 on the ground floor.
A White Lady has been seen on the upper floor in October 2008.
In the cellars ghost hunters have apparently had things thrown at them as recently as April 2009. Doors slam and a male presence has been felt. Obviously with a Roman soldier and a white lady there has to be a monk……and he has been reported in the cellar as recently as 2009.
The Geology Gallery is haunted by a young girl that was seen in December 2008 and has left taped messages, presumably when someone was researching EVP.
And of course, orbs.
I have never investigated Peterborough Museum and when I first started looking at the initial account of the 1931 experience it sounded interesting. Then you have all this other stuff since 2006 and the case starts to resemble a bit of a mess. The type of thing you get when multiple groups investigate a site with a mix of psychics and the next thing you know you have 20 ghosts.
It would be interesting to know more about each of these experiences and maybe try to clarify exactly what is going on there if anything.