The Museum is housed in the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, a Grade II listed building situated in the heart of the historic town of Godmanchester in Cambridgeshire. We are an independent museum and a part of the Friends of the Queen Elizabeth School a registered charity. The museum is run by a small team of enthusiastic volunteers who work together to record the town’s history and its people. We receive no government funding and rely on funds from various organisations, donations and the generosity of our visitors to fund our projects.
One of the Porch Museum aims is to produce and show short films devoted to the history of the town. We want to capture, through the memories of some of the oldest members of our community, as clear a perception as we can get of the way life was in this lovely town during the first half of the 20th century.
Godmanchester is an unusual town because many of the old families who have lived here for hundreds of years and whose ancestors are buried in the churchyard of St. Mary the Virgin, are still here. Markham, Arnold, Thompson and Mortlock are just a few of the many old names still represented here. In many cases we are recording not only memories of old Godmanchester from the vibrant and amusing senior members of these families, but through them the memories and experiences of their grandparents and great grandparents.
This way there’s every hope that we can bring to the community through snatches of remembered anecdote, at least an echo of how it was to live in Victorian Godmanchester.
The Porch Museum plans its new season with fresh local history displays from committee members and very excitingly indeed, from the town community. We are running an exhibition devoted to Godmanchester’s men and women during World War I and World War II. These are subjects close to the heart of those who live here and so we welcome the Women’s Institute and GodmanchesterPrimary School who will present their displays on April 6th at the museum. St Anne’s School will be sending their display for the following opening date. We are grateful to the teachers who have given their time and of course to the children.
Why World War I and World War II?
We are not celebrating these events but giving those who lived through them honourable remembrance. In a town such as this with so many old families still living here, families whose men died or suffered in World War I, insisted that we must cover the second war as well as the first. It is said that with not a generation between them, the advent of World War II broke people’s hearts here. So much had already been sacrificed and was it all for nothing? And perhaps this sentiment was shared with very many ordinary people in the rest of the country.
Our exhibition will bring you stories and memories from local men who died and those who came back; memories too from the families about the impact these experiences had on the families. But there is humour too - and an unusual portrait of life in Godmanchester at that time.
“Bones of an infant at about nine months, Roman cemetery, Godmanchester 1905”. The words were written in copperplate lettering on the slightly battered cigar box. It lay in an archive box amongst the remains of Roman pottery sherds. (i) Norris Museum volunteer Rodney Scarle was meticulously photographing and recording the large collection of Roman artefacts held at the Museum. He pointed out the box to me whilst we were chatting about his work. I asked whether I, as a biologist, could lay them out for photography.
The Reverend Walker’s box containing Roman infant bones, from 1905
I opened the box, and there, protected by cotton wool, were the small bones and fragments. I gently began laying them out on a piece of card. The task was complicated by the fact that the bones of infants and very young children do not look like those of adults. (ii) Our adult hip joints for example, are made up of several bones that fuse together.
On the one hand, it was obvious that not all the bones were present. On the other, there seemed to be duplication. If you look closely at the picture, you can see that bottom right there are at least three very robust long bones that are most likely to be femurs or thighbones. This suggests that we may actually have the bones of several infants mixed together. Even today, thighbones are used for estimating the age of an infant before birth and after. With lengths here of about 7 to 8 cm, these matched those of new-born infants. (iii)
Author, Roger Leivers
It was a very different day to the one back in November 2012, when a short email dropped into the Community Association website. It was forwarded onto me as I have carried out some 'war walks' around the town.
It was from a gentleman called Roy Palmer and he was enquiring about a Stirling bomber that crashed on the outskirts of Godmanchester back in 1942 and could anyone provide any background information.
A few emails later and I soon had confirmation of the crash and also a rough idea as to its location. Of course the obvious question was why was Roy interested ? Well it turned out that the pilot, Squadron Leader Drummond 'Jock' Wilson, had been an avid rally car driver before the second world war. He raced extensively in the UK and even took part in the Monte Carlo rally! Roy had purchased the car, a Squire Supercharged, some years ago and was now trying to find out more about the crash that claimed the life of its previous owner. Only seven Squires were built and only six remain, making it a very rare and extremely valuable car.