The old staggered crossroads in Wansford with the Great North Road crossing left to right and the old Leicester Road passing towards and away from the cameraman. Today that equates to the A1 crossing the A47 !
Eventually the crossroads were straightened by demolishing the Old Mermaid Inn which is just out of shot to the left of the photographer but both roads were eventually replaced with bypasses.
The former New Mermaid Inn on the A1 at Wansford re-opened in 2016 after significant, superb and sympathetic restoration took it from the decaying ruin of the old Little Chef building to the new offices for Harris McCormack Architects (upstairs) and Peterborough Ducati (downstairs).
The original building dates back to 1932 when it opened as The Wansford Knight, the fifth “roadhouse” of the “Knights of the Road” chain. In 1936 it changed hands and became the New Mermaid Inn which was touted as the replacement for the Olde Mermaid Inn that was demolished that year at the point where the old Great North Road and Leicester Road crossed at the heart of Wansford village. The new premises were a popular wartime drinking location for USAAF airmen based at nearby Kings Cliffe Airfield.
In the late 1970s, the Inn was bought by Forte who rebranded it as a Little Chef restaurant which continued in existence until 2007 after which it fell into rapid, graffiti strewn, decay.
The original building was considered an architectural rarity as it was one of a small number surviving in the “Bauhaus” style which saw the building listed for preservation before renovations by Forte removed key elements of the original design.
Today, the building has been renamed “Archaus”, in recognition of the resident architects and of the original architectural style.
Thanks to Eddy Baxter of Ducati Peterborough for keeping us updated and for the 2016 images.
A fascinating shot of the Fitzwilliam hounds outside the Haycock in Wansford in 1947. The character second from right is carrying a movie camera and is from a 20th Century Fox film-crew who were shooting a scene from the movie “Escape” starring Rex Harrison.
007 James Bond, played by Roger Moore, shot a number of scenes for the movie Octopussy in Peterborough in September 1982. Most of these were at or around the Nene Valley Railway HQ at Wansford station but a number were also shot at or around Orton Mere (see bottom image).
In Spring 1989, the rock band Queen shot a video at the Nene Valley Railway HQ at Wansford for their single “Breakthru“ that reached number 7 in the British charts. The video showed them on a steam train (No.3822 from Didcot, repainted) that was given the name ‘Miracle Express’ after the title of their 1989 album The Miracle.
Two 1940s images showing the New Mermaid Inn on the Great North Road at Wansford which was very popular at the time with airmen from the USAAF base at Kings Cliffe.
The original “bauhaus” design of the building would have made it an architectural rarity (one of only five in the country) and undoubtedly a preserved building had it not been for destructive modernisations made to the largest of the curved corner windows by the Little Chef chain in its later life.
It opened in 1932 as “The Wansford Knight” before changing name in 1936 to replace the (Olde) Mermaid Inn which previously sat at the main crossroads in the village. Although Little Chef’s ownership removed the chance of gaining preserved status, the restaurant kept the building alive until 2007 after which the building was vandalised and seemed doomed for imminent extinction.
After being up for sale since 2011, the building was eventually purchased by architects Harris McCormack who aim to turn it into the firm’s new ‘showcase’ headquarters. The essential fabric of the 1932 Bauhaus-inspired building will stay, but with some new exterior flourishes. These will include a glass walkway at the back and new Art Deco style windows replacing the bay ones at the front.
The company recently stated, ‘the plan is to return this iconic building to its former glory, The graffiti will all be gone and hopefully, it won’t be back. We’ve had to overcome quite a lot of problems such as dry rot inside, but now that’s sorted out, in the next few months it should be really transformed. Our intention is that it will really stand out.’
At 1:14am in the morning, Yorkshire based Herbert Ashworth crashed his London bound Bowyer & Jackson (Dewsbury) lorry through the fence adjoining the crossing gates and bumped across the lines before bouncing off a concrete wall and rolling the vehicle onto its side across the tracks.
Despite the dramatic impact, the driver was completely unhurt and scrambled out to be confronted by the oncoming 12:40am Peterborough to Birmingham express goods train. He frantically tried to alert and stop the train but driver Fullen and his crew from Saltley impact were unable to stop in time and the impact threw the lorry across the adjoining line before it exploded into flames.
“When I scrambled out after the crash, I ran up the line to stop the approaching train”, said Ashworth, “I had just got beyond the signal box shouting and waving my arms as the train got up to me. I could see the driver braking his engine but he had no chance to pull up”.
Ashworth later claimed that his brakes had completely failed him and he was left with the choice of hitting one of the roadside houses or crashing the fence between the gates and the station.
Despite damage to both tracks and sleepers from the fire, maintenance gangs from Peterborough had the line back open by 5:30am and the undamaged goods train was able to continue its journey having earlier been backed up short of the signal box to wait it out.
Looking down towards Wansford Bridge from outside the old Mermaid Inn on the right. The AA patrol man was a regular sight at the location as the staggered crossroads either side of him was, in effect, the A1 and A47 !