History of the Museum

History of the Museum

Peterborough Museum is situated on Priestgate in the City Centre.

This street dates back to the twelfth century when the current town plan was set down by the monks of Peterborough Abbey.

The origins of the name are unclear, but are medievals and likely to have been connected to the dwelling place of the parish priest, coupled with ‘gaeta’, the Anglo-Danish word for street.

The Museum also has a darker side to its past, and is said to be the most haunted building in the city


The first recorded house on the Museum site was in the 16th century, when a grand mansion was built there for the Orme family, who were given land in the area by King Henry VIII in 1536.

This house, called Neville Place, is marked on a 1611 map of Peterborough and can be seen in a 1731 drawing of the city.

The Orme family were MPs and magistrates for the city and were chiefly responsible for building the Guildhall in Cathedral Square which still stands today.

Some stonework still survives from this original house in the cellars under the Museum, and there is likely to be more elsewhere in the building. 


The central core of the current building dates from 1816, when it was a grand Georgian house for the local magistrate, Thomas Cooke and his first wife Judith.

She died shortly after the building had been renovated and Thomas would marry twice more over the intevening years, until his death in 1854.

In 1856, the Priestgate mansion was sold to the 3rd Earl Fitzwilliam, who allowed it to be used as the city’s first hospital, the Peterborough infirmary from 1857 until 1928.

The building was altered after a fire in 1884, with wings being added on the side and an extension to the rear.

The infirmary, run by a charitable trust, continued to outgrow the building, leading to the construction of a new hospital as a memorial to Peterborians killed in the First World War.

Upon completion in 1928, the hospital was moved to this building, until recently part of the Peterborough District Hospital.


The Peterborough Natural History Society and Field Club was founded in 1871 to promote interest in local natural history.

Members included the surgeon at the hospital, Dr Walker (shown left), and local chemist Mr Bodger.

Within a decade, the Society had widened its interest and laid the foundation of a museum and a library.

It became the Natural History, Scientific and Archaeological Society and in 1947 took its modern title of the Peterborough Museum Society.

When the Society began assembling the museum collections, the first collection was kept in a cardboard box under a member’s bed!

Various buildings have housed the collection during its history, including a house on Park Road and a former chapel in the Cathedral Precincts.

The former Infirmary building was acquired by Percy Malcolm Stewart, Chair of the London Brick Company, who donated it to the Museum Society.

It was opened as a museum in 1931, with the art gallery added in 1939.


The Museum and its collections have been owned by the Council since 1968, when the Museum Society gave them to the city.

In May 2010, management of the building and its collections was taken over by Vivacity.

Many of the original Georgian features can still be seen today, as can traces of its use as a hospital – we still have the old operating theatre, which can be seen by visitors in the upper floors.