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Blade 6

Social Reform. And that Sinking Feeling…

In the 1840’s, Model Lodging Houses began to open all over Britain as part of a crusade to promote better facilities for the hard working poor. Supported by Prince Albert, the movement had the aim of providing “clean, organised and disciplined spaces designed to help the poor live civilized lives”. They were mainly designed to house men working away from home, and were considered a step up from the Workhouse, and from the unregulated, overcrowded and insanitary doss houses which single working men had been forced to use in the past. Model Lodging Houses provided residents with their own bed in a private cubicle, access to a kitchen, a common room, wash room and toilets. The first were built in London, but the idea quickly spread. Peterhead’s Model Lodging House opened at 22 Seagate in 1896, with dormitory accommodation for 28 men and 12 women. There were also six rooms for married lodgers. It provided only basic comforts but these were very welcome to the people who stayed there. Single men and women were strictly segregated, and each lodger had a clean bed, and access to washing facilities, a kitchen and communal lounge at the very modest cost of between four and six old pennies a night. Alcohol, gambling and swearing were banned. At the opening ceremony, Provost John Smith said that he hoped facilities at the model lodging house would inspire residents “to seek and obtain quiet, comfortable and respectable homes for themselves”.

Over time, needs changed and the lodging house closed. The building became an engineering works. However, it seems one resident was so at home in the Model Lodging House that even death could not persuade him to leave. Over the years, people working in the building began to report mysterious footsteps and doors opening and closing in empty rooms and corridors. While sometimes noisy, the apparition was never felt to be sinister and soon became an accepted presence. The workers named their ghostly companion “Auld Harry”. Clearly, the Model Lodging House was a place its residents were happy to stay indefinitely.

Two wrecked U Boats lie at sea a few miles from Peterhead Bay. In 1915, U14 had sunk a number of local fishing boats. With feeling running high in the town, a trap was set. On 5th June, a local fishing boat was used as bait to draw the U boat in. When U14 surfaced to attack, armed trawlers were ready for her. A shot from the armed trawler Oceanic II hit the conning tower and killed the captain. The crew surrendered, and the wrecked U boat went to the bottom of the sea.

In 1945, U1206 met a more embarrassing end after her captain’s attempts to flush the toilet caused the boat to flood. U1206 was fitted with a complicated system of valves which allowed the toilet to be flushed even when in deep water. The system was only to be operated by a specially trained technician. Unfortunately, the captain was a proud and independent man who had read the manual and thought he could manage on his own. He failed to operate the valves in the right order, and water rushed in. It hit the batteries that powered the boat and they gave out poisonous chlorine gas. U1206 was forced to surface, where she was spotted, bombed and badly damaged. The crew scuttled her and took to life rafts. Some were picked up by two naval trawlers. Others were rescued by the crew of the Peterhead lobster boat “Reaper”. The last raft washed up near Boddam, where three crew were drowned in heavy seas.

During the Second World War, Peterhead served as the secret base for Norwegian Naval Intelligence, which operated out of Port Henry Harbour. A handful of Norwegian navy cutters used this as their base for carrying out daring missions to ferry Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) Agents into occupied Norway. Operations carried out by these Norwegian crews were crucial in helping Britain gather intelligence on the German forces in Norway and paved the way for numerous commando raids and bombing missions against German forces and resources.

The secret missions operated by the Norwegians out of Peterhead were not revealed to the public until 1980 where all the surviving members of the crews were awarded medals for their bravery and contribution to the war effort. In 2004 a plaque was unveiled in Peterhead harbour commemorating the sacrifices of the Norwegian sailors and was attended by the remaining few Norwegian Veterans.