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The Arm of St Oswald

1000

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A monk from Peterborough Abbey stole the arm of St Oswald from Bamburgh Castle and took it to his abbot at Peterborough in an effort to gain favour. Oswald was a convert to Christianity and King of Northumbria from 634 to 642. He spent much of his early life in exile, but when he returned to fight for his throne, he raised a cross and prayed for victory. Oswald won the battle and ruled as king of Northumbria until his death. While Oswald was king, he became known for his piety and generosity. During the celebration of an Easter feast, he supposedly gave away all the silver plates along with the food to the poor. The chronicles say his chaplain; Bishop Aidan blessed Oswald, saying “may this arm that has been so generous never perish”. When Oswald died in battle against King Penda of Mercia in 642, his arm was taken to Bamburgh where it remained uncorrupted. The arm remained the primary relic of Peterborough and the chapel of St Oswald still has a watch-tower where the monks safeguarded it day and night. St. Oswald’s arm disappeared from the chapel during the reformation along with its silver casket.    





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Cromwell Comes to Stay

1643

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The Cathedral was ravaged during the English Civil War when Peterborough, a town with Royalist sympathies, was taken by Colonel Oliver Cromwell. Nearly all the stained glass windows were destroyed and the altar and reredos, cloisters and Lady Chapel were demolished. Much of the Cathedral’s library was destroyed by Cromwell’s troops, by being burnt in the cloisters. The Royalist newsbook ‘Mercurius Aulicus’ describes it thus: ‘It was advertised this day from Peterburgh, that Colonell Cromwell had bestowed a visit on that little City, and put them to the charge of his entertainment, plundering a great part thereof to discharge the reckoning, and further that in pursuance of the thorow Reformation, he did most miserably deface the Cathedrall Church, breake downe the Organs, and destroy the glasse windowes, committing many other outrages on the house of God which were not acted by the Gothes in the sack of Rome, and are most commonly forborn by the Turks when they possesse themselves by force of a Christian city.’  Cromwell spent a month in Peterborough, lodging in the Vineyard at the back of the Cathedral Precincts, allegedly with concussion from having hit his head whilst galloping under a low gateway. Recent archaeological evidence has been found of Cromwell’s troops being camped in the Cathedral grounds.





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Towering Over Wothorpe

1600

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Wothorpe Towers is a grade 1 listed building on the edge of the Soke of Peterborough. It was commissioned by Thomas Cecil of Burghley House in around 1600 as a lodge. Being so close to Burghley Park, it did not have its own deer park, as many lodges do. The land was originally in the ownership of Crowland Abbey and a small nunnery existed there. Following the reformation the land was gained by Richard Cecil, who was Groom of the Robes in Henry VIII's court and Thomas Cecil's grandfather. Sadly, the building is completely ruinous. The four towers thankfully remain and provide the building with its distinctive silhouette. They are four stories high, which allowed them to stand above the three-storey house. However the main living space has all been lost, with the exception of a central spine wall and a few additions. The ruins of Wothorpe Towers is in private ownership, but the gardens are being landscaped for visitors.





Wothorpe Priory: Nuns on a Hill

1349

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Wothorpe Priory was situated in Wothorpe near to Stamford. It was home to a small group of nuns who lived in what is now, the highest point of the Soke of Peterborough. Records show that the priory existed in the thirteenth and fourteenth century, but the Black Death of 1349 spelt the end of the priory. All of the nuns had either died or moved away, leaving the priory in dire straights. So in 1353-4 the priory, with only one remaining nun named Agnes Bowes, was united with St. Michael's nunnery of Stamford. The land was given to Richard Cecil of Burghley House during the reformation. His grandson Thomas Cecil later built Wothorpe Towers upon the land. Considerable features remain in the surrounding fields which may be buildings from the priory, but the area is scheduled and in private hands. Reference: 'Houses of Benedictine nuns: The priory of Wothorpe', in A History of the County of Northampton: Volume 2, ed. R M Serjeantson and W R D Adkins (London, 1906), p. 101. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/northants/vol2/p101 [accessed 14 November 2018].