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A Royal ‘Resident’

1646

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King Charles I was briefly held prisoner in the city. He was on his way to London to be imprisoned, prior to his execution. He was held in the Abbot’s Gaol, which is next to the west gate of the cathedral. There were many local supporters who included the Orme family.
Evidence of the Gaol
One of the old wooden doors of the gaol can be seen in Peterborough Museum. The goal is currently used as a retail space.  





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Laurel Court House

1870

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Laurel Court House for girls was founded by Margaret Gibson and Annette Van Dissel at first in premises on London Road in 1869 before moving to Laurel Court in the Cathedral Precincts. The school prepared pupils for university examinations and specialised in music and French and German. Miss Gibson had a forceful personality but she had eccentric tendencies. She eventually went blind but remained in charge of her school. Nurse Edith Cavell (executed by German firing squad on 12 October 1915) was a student teacher at the school before taking up nursing. In recognition of Miss Gibson’s almost 60 years as the school principal and of her services to the education of girls she was made an Honorary Freedman of the City of Peterborough in1926- the first woman to receive this honour. She died in 1928 aged 91.





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World War 2 In Peterborough

1939 – 1945

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The Town played a vital role with industry, airfields and a major railway centre. The flat landscape meant there were many airfields including RAF Peterborough, Westwood, which was a major RAF training centre. Local people volunteered for Military Service but those in ‘reserved occupations’, (jobs important to the war effort) were not conscripted but often spent their spare time in Civil Defence e.g. Home Guard and Auxiliary Fire Service. Businesses set up their own firewatchers while first-aiders and plane spotters were essential. National Service became compulsory for unmarried women aged between 20 and 30, then up to 50 in 1943, unless they had children under 14. Many joined the various women’s forces and nurses were attached to all the Services. Women worked in factories making war machines, ammunition, clothing or parachutes. Engineering industries such as Perkins Engines and Baker Perkins switched to wartime production supplying engines, guns, torpedoes and manufacturing machinery. Amidst this, dancing at local hotels and cinema-going were popular and there were several cinemas, showing films three times a day.  Foreign servicemen became familiar sights on the street. They included including Americans, French and Poles, many of the latter remaining in the city at the end of the war. Peterborough was not a prime target for bombs, so the city received 1496 London evacuees. Brick air raid shelters were built in the city centre. There were 644 Air Raid Alert warnings and bombs were hitting Bridge Street and the Lido. Raids of high explosive and incendiary bombs continued to 1942. Peterborough Cathedral was hit by incendiary bombs but damage was limited by the quick reaction of the fire-watchers.





Roman Occupation on Cathedral Site

1st Century AD

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Archaeological evidence around and underneath the Cathedral indicates that there was once a Roman occupation on this site. A building with a boundary ditch and monumental stonework was discovered. These may indicate a substantial building, possibly a temple or monumental arch. The huge amount of Roman pottery found in an archaeological dig in 2016 would agree with this theory. If this building was a temple, it is interesting to speculate whether it was later rededicated as a church when the Romans became Christians. Durobrivae, the nearest major Roman town, has examples of early Christian conversion. A carving at the site, previously thought to be Saxon, has now been identified as Roman. The carving possibly depicts fates or spirits.





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Foundation of the First Abbey

655AD

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A monastery was founded on the current Cathedral site on the north bank of the River Nene in Saxon times. At that time the area was called Medeswell, later Medehamstede. This translates as 'the home or farmstead in the water meadows'. The monastery was founded by Peada, son of King Penda of Mercia. It was completed by Peada’s brother Wulfhere. At that time Mercia was a pagan Saxon kingdom, but as part of a marriage contract with neighbouring Christian Northumbria, Christian missionaries were allowed to found a religious house here. The original monastery may have been built of timber, but seems to have been later replaced in stone. These original monks were Celtic Christians.





Vikings Raid the Abbey

870AD

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Peterborough monastery is said to have been attacked and destroyed by Viking invaders in 870. These were most likely to be a group known as the ‘Great Heathen Army’. They were led by ‘Ivar the Boneless’ and also invaded East Anglia in this year. Some scholars have disputed the violence of this event, but other local monasteries were also attacked at the same time. Therefore the Viking attack in Peterborough seems more credible. A relic of this original monastic church is the ‘Hedda Stone’ displayed in the Cathedral today.





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The Building of the Current Cathedral

1118

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The current Cathedral building started in 1118 with the rounded apse at the east end, which still survives today. The construction took 120 years – about 5 generations of stonemasons and workmen would have helped with the construction. The men who started the work would have known that they or their sons would not live to see the church’s completion. The Cathedral has a rare example of some of the original winding gear used in the building work still surviving inside the West Front.





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More Holy Relics for Peterborough’s Abbey

1174

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Construction of the Becket Chapel and adjacent hospital began in 1174. They were built to house many of the monastery’s holy relics, not least the relics of the newly canonised St Thomas Becket. Becket had visited the abbey with King Henry II in 1154, but was later murdered in Canterbury Cathedral. Abbot Benedict acquired some of Becket’s relics for Peterborough Abbey which were to encourage pilgrims. These included the flagstone his head laid on as he died; a bottle of Becket’s blood (said to never congeal); and furthermore Becket’s bloodied undergown he was wearing as he was murdered. The latter was ceremonially washed on feast days; the washing water was then collected and sold to pilgrims as a cure-all. The Becket Chapel survives today as the Cathedral’s tea-room.





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The ‘New Building’

1496-1509

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The Presbytery roof was renewed and an extensive building programme undertaken at the east end of the Cathedral creating the 'New Building'. It is an excellent example of late Perpendicular work with fine fan vaulting designed by John Wastell, who went on to work on Kings College Chapel in Cambridge. The building was commissioned by the penultimate abbot, Robert Kirkton, who funded some of his works by corrupt means, demolishing local properties and confiscating common land.





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Katharine of Aragon

1536

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Katharine of Aragon, Spanish princess, first wife and queen of Henry VIII, is buried in the monastic church. Katharine died at Kimbolton, where she was living after her marriage to Henry had been annulled, on 7 January 1536, most likely of cancer. She was ordered to be buried at Peterborough Abbey as the nearest great religious house that befitted her status, whilst not giving her a burial in London where she might have been politically embarrassing. Her funeral was held on 29 January 1536. The heart of the funeral cortege included a coffin wagon covered with black velvet, as were the six horses pulling it; Heralds and fifty servants in black carrying torches; four banners in crimson taffeta and four golden standards. At the door of the abbey church the body was received by four bishops and six abbots and placed under a canopy lit by a thousand candles. Today Katharine is remembered annually by a commemorative service and series of events at the Cathedral and elsewhere in the city around the anniversary of her burial, 29 January. Many visitors place pomegranates – her heraldic symbol – on her tomb.





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