Edith Cavell and her Peterborough Story by artist Charron Pugsley-Hill

Edith Cavell was a British nurse who was executed in Brussels for helping allied soldiers escape from the occupying German army a hundred years ago in World War I. I am commemorating her life work and execution in THE BLANKET OF POPPIES-an artwork currently in progress-see my other blogs about this work.




This blog is about Edith Cavell’s time and link to Peterborough where I am based and work on my bright colourful art.

Edith Cavell was taught at home until she was 16 by her father and a governess until she was caught smoking a cigarette in his study. As a strict anglican vicar this was something of which he utterly disapproved of and she was promptly sent away to school. She attended 3 different schools between 1882 and 1884 with a view to training her to become the wife of a doctor or clergyman or a governess all acceptable to her father.

When she was 19  as a pupil teacher Edith attended Laurel Court school in the precincts of Peterborough Cathedral run by Miss Margaret Gibson and her partner Miss Annette Van Dissel. Fees were waived for pupil teachers and it is likely this may have influenced the decision to send her there as her family had little money after her father had decided to build a new vicarage in Swardeston.


Laurel court school Peterborough



The school offered high standards of education to ready its pupils for their future lives in Music, drawing and English Literature. It also specialised in the languages of German and French. French was an important element in the future of Edith Cavell-she would not have been offered work in Brussels if she had been unable to speak french fluently.

The school had a strict regime and a strong moral attitude towards right and wrong. There was only one toilet for 50 boarders and only one bath a week with a little water and no lying in comfort whilst there.Miss Gibson had 2 cats and was devoted to them even though they made the school smell strongly.

It is interesting to think of Edith Cavell in Peterborough occasionally walking the city centre streets that we walk today and singing in the beautiful Peterborough Cathedral that is so close to the school.She lived here as we do today with no idea of what impact her life and subsequent death would have on the people of this country and the world in the following years. She who was known as The Florence Nightingale of Brussels laughed and walked in Peterborough streets where most of the people whom walk there today are unaware of her inspirational work and death a hundred years ago.

Following  her time at Laurel Court Edith went home to Swardeston near Norwich until in January 1887 her father found her a post as a governess in Steeple Bumpstead Essex where my teacher cousin currently lives.


When I first started this work I went out and asked people who was Edith Cavell? Most people had no idea, some said they had heard the name as the hospital was called after her or the carpark held her name but didn’t know what she did and a very few people actually knew who she was and what she did. The new hospital dropped the name when it opened although unit still bears her name and until very recently the car park had become the blue carpark following re-development. This has very recently changed and now a beautiful permanent sign gives the name as Cavell blue car park. Hence a lot of my work is telling her story and reminding people of her link to Peterborough. It is a good thing to keep our links to the past as this can inform and shape our future moving forwards.











For more information on Edith Cavell the book by Diana Souhami gives a great account of her story and Diana will be giving a talk at Peterborough Cathedral on 9th October 2015.

This blog is part of my series on WWI commemoration and various prints are available in my shop on my website. www.charronpugsleyhill.com.

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