Tortoise-loving Peter Eade did so much for Norwich

Peter Eade

Peter Eade - Credit: Archant

It was written: 'A more honourable man and patriotic citizen of Norwich it would be impossible to find.' Derek James tells the story of the extraordinary Sir Peter Eade.

You may have heard of Eade Road in Norwich but do you know who this Eade fellow was? He was a man who saved lives, served, protected and improved the city we know today...oh yes, and he loved tortoises.

It was 160 years ago when Peter Eade was appointed physician at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital which, in those days, had 144 beds for patients, 26 for nurses, servants and officers...times were tough.

His story starts in the winter of 1824 when young Peter was born in the parish of Acle where his father, also Peter, was a doctor.

He had a private tutor until, aged 13, he went to grammar school at Yarmouth and hated every minute of it. He later wrote in his diary that they were 'the most unhappy days of my whole life.'

Young Peter was always expected to following his father into the medical profession. He went off to King's College Hospital in London which was far more to his liking.

In 1848 he returned to Norfolk to help his father in his practice at Blofield before moving to Norwich...and we should all be grateful that he did.

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He went from being the physician to the Norwich Public Dispensary, often visiting patients in their own homes, to being physician at the Norfolk and Norwich, an association with the hospital which would last for more than 50 years.

A few years later he moved into the grand home of Dr Ranking at St Giles in the city where he also worked as a doctor. He married Ellen daughter of Hugh Rump of Wells-next-the-Sea.

Both his hospital work and his private practice resulted in him before one of the best loved doctors in the city. He raised money needed to buy land next to the hospital so it could be made larger and also worked at the Jenny Lind Infirmary for Sick Children and the Great Hospital.

But Peter wanted more and wrote: 'Almost from the first I had felt a desire to engage in some kind of general work of the city.'

He became a magistrate. A director of the Norwich Union Life Insurance Society and then was persuaded to stand for council. He was voted in as a member of Norwich Town Council as it was then, and went on to serve his city for many years.

Throwing himself into public life, helping people wherever he could. He was sheriff in 1880 and mayor no less than three times.

Peter was appalled at the poverty he saw around him in Norwich where thousands of people lived in rat-infested, overcrowded courts and yards with no running water. He did much to help improve their conditions.

He launched a campaign in 1876 to establish open spaces and parks for the people. Within a few years he could report on 150 acres of Mousehold Heath, 80 acres of Eaton Park and seven or eight other smaller parks and open spaces.

Then there is the story of Norwich Castle.

During 1883 when he was mayor, the future of the castle came up for debate. At the time it was a prison and the Prison Commissioners wanted to re-build it and their plans would interfere with the way it looked. History and good looks were not high on their agenda

Peter gave the council the news and it was suggested the city buy the castle from the Government who could build a prison on another site.

The trouble was, the Prison Act stated that when a prison was given up, it must be sold at the price of £120 per cell. That would mean a hefty bill of £10,320 for Norwich. Too much to ask the people to pay.

It was Peter who led a deputation to London to discuss the matter with the Home Secretary. Talks took place. A deal was done. The Government agreed to sell 'the castle and its environments' for £4,000.

The council was delighted, a new prison was built on the border of Mousehold, and the people had their castle.

In 1885 Peter received a letter from Prime Minister William Gladstone telling him Queen Victoria wanted to honour him with a knighthood and on August 1 he was at Osbourne House on the Isle of Wight to meet the Queen. Such an honour for him, Norwich and all of Norfolk.

He continued his good works, helping people whenever he could, keeping up his diary, writing books – he was an brilliant writer – and looking after his pet tortoises where he said he bought from a 'street hawker.'

'Tortoises are in many respects both curious and remarkable animals. Intelligent, quiet and affectionate,' he said.

Sir Peter died in August of 1915 at the age of 90. His funeral service took place at St Giles Church and then he was laid to rest at Blofield with other members of his family. Lady Eade died the following year and was also taken to Blofield to be with her beloved husband.

That's why we have an Eade Road. Named after a truly great man. We have much to thank him for.