Among many new and exciting offerings this year, which include a film of remarkable past memories from an elder of Godmanchester, Neville Markham, the Porch Museum remembers a hero of this town and tells his story once again, so that those who already know about him and those who do not, can join together in celebrating an act of bravery.
Outside the south porch of St. Mary’s Church stands a prominent granite cross which marks the coming together of the community to show their grief and honour a remarkable young man from an old Godmanchester family. His name was George Cross.
On a summer’s day in 1920, young George Cross, then 21 years old saw a boat overturn on the river, just by the pool near The Island and the sluice gates. He dived in to rescue the young woman passenger and her little eight year old niece, but try as he might – and he was a strong swimmer - they both drowned. George swam hard, then suddenly struggled against the current. He almost reached the little girl, but ran into trouble himself. He was heard to cry out “I’m done” before sinking below the surface. Nobody could really understand why a strong young man who knew the waters so well could have drowned, but some said that the little girl in her panic grabbed his collar and prevented him swimming.
A massive funeral procession for George Cross wound through the town, from St. Anne’s Lane, along The Causeway, then to the church, the coffin followed by the Mayor of Godmanchester and children from the local schools. Crowds filled the graveyard when the church was too full to take any more, and that evening the bell ringers rang a muffled peal. The community came together and funded the memorial cross that still stands today. His story and the story of his family who were well known in the town will be a new addition to the family history boards which form part of the museum collection. His father Edward Cross, affectionately known as Nutti, held the position of Mace Bearer from 1919 to 1949 and will be affectionately remembered by older people in Godmanchester.
The Neville Markham film will stun both younger and older members of the community, with his photographic memory of life here in the early part of the 20th century, so very different from today. Born before the First World War, only thirteen years after the death of Queen Victoria, his early life was in a town that was still more or less on Victorian. We are lucky to have this exceptionally rare testimony and vivid account of a way of life long gone.
The Porch Museum is making available to purchase, on CD a facsimile of the Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School Pence Book. This book is unique and records attendance at the school between 1850 and 1855 at a time when pupils were asked to pay a subscription of 2d a week. With the majority of Godmanchester men employed as farm labourers earning very little money to support their families, managing to find the 2d for their child’s education was not always possible and entries can be seen where only ½d was being paid. This CD is invaluable for those people interested in genealogy or Godmanchester’s social history, you can look up familiar names from families who live here today, or your own family and find out if your great great grandfather was a regular attender at school. The CD contains the entire register of 19 pages.
New and rare pictures will also be available of the brave and extraordinary Hunts Cycling Battalions, the county’s territorial regiment from around the time of the Great war, 1914-18. So many local men joined up that this exhibition always draws particular interest in Godmanchester and indeed from the rest of the country.
And of course there is a chance to see relics of the town’s ancient Roman past. This year we have added a display detailing the history of Durovigutum, the town constructed by the Romans here. It was burned at the time of Boudica’s revolt against Roman rule. The display looks at public buildings, including the second largest Mansion found in Britain and a temple to the Romano-British God Abandinus, who seems to have been unique to the town.