Heritage & Culture

The ghosts of Christmas past… at The Vaults!

In October 2015, Vivacity’s Priestgate Vaults – the restored ancient cellars beneath Peterborough Museum – opened to the public. Offering an atmospheric tour through five centuries of history, it features sometimes spooky visitations from residents past – and they have something special lined up for Christmas! Toby Venables talked to Vivacity Heritage Programmes Manager Rachel Walmsley about what’s in store...

First of all, for those who have not experienced it, can you describe the Vaults tour?
As part of Vivacity’s original redevelopment we discovered there was much more to the Vaults than at first meets the eye. A fascinating world clambering to get out, bringing the bricks and mortar of the Vaults – and their inhabitants – back to life. So now, if you take the guided tour you will encounter characters from the building’s past, who will share their personal stories and tell you how the Museum building was being used during their lifetime – however distant. What we now call Priestgate Vaults actually has a much older history than most of the building you see above ground. The cellars date back to Tudor times when the original mansion was built, and as you are guided through the different rooms by our mysterious visitors – each of which represents a different period of history – they will transport you back in time to their worlds, and often to a specific day in history. Our building is well known as the most haunted building in Peterborough, so the final room is appropriately a haunted room, where you will hear – and experience – a ghost story!

So, what’s new this Christmas? Everyone loves the festive season and our resident ancestors are no exception.
They will no doubt regale you with a Christmas tale or two of their own; you’ll get to hear all about the history of this great building, but with a Christmas twist. It has been reported that our resident Victorian nurse still comes down to the cellars from time to time, in search of the Christmas decorations for the hospital. So it is quite fitting that Sir Humphrey Orme tell you about his time during the Civil War when Christmas was banned! It’s a very special and interesting experience.

So one of the rooms involves a ghost story?
Yes, and the festivities continue through here too but this one is rather spookier and more sinister. I’m saying no more than that!

And I believe it can also be used as an atmospheric party venue…
Yes, the Vaults are available for private hire. So, it could be a place where you have your pre-Christmas party drinks and nibbles before heading out for a meal. We’ve had several parties down there and people have had a great time, including the ghosts of Christmas past. But to be fair to our apparitions, we all need company – especially at Christmas.

Priestgate Vaults – room by room

The Tudor vault
Against a backdrop of original Tudor stonework, we meet Sir Humphrey Orme, owner of the house in the 1640s at the time of the English Civil War.

The Georgian wine cellar
The year is now 1841, the house is owned by city magistrate Thomas Cook, and his butler John Webb has been dispatched to the wine cellars…

The Victorian coal cellar
It is 1901, during the days when the house was in use as the town’s first hospital, and here we meet Nurse Ethel Reynolds.

The air-raid shelter
Here, we enter a makeshift air raid shelter on the night of 10 May 1941, during WWII. The hospital has now become the Museum, and we meet the caretaker who lived on the premises with his family.

The haunted chamber
In a room once used by the hospital as its mortuary chamber, a ghostly figure relates dark deeds and hauntings related to the Museum – Peterborough’s most haunted building.

Priestgate Vaults Priestgate, Peterborough, PE1 1LF To book, call: 01733 864663 www.vivacity-peterborough.com

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