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Foundation of the First Abbey



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.

Katharine of Aragon



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.


Death of Thomas Alderson Cooke



Thomas Alderson Cooke was born into a rich family in Salford. He moved to Peterborough where he became a local magistrate, Sherriff of Northamptonshire and later High Sherriff. He married Julia Image, the daughter of the late vicar of St John's church John Image. Together they had 12 children, 10 of whom survived childhood. He had 4 wives in total, including a very public annulment of the marriage to his second wife Charlotte Squires. She was from a successful merchant family, but was many years younger than him. Thomas Alderson Cooke is best remembered for commissioning a large mansion on Priestgate in 1816, on Neville Place, which is home to Peterborough Museum. He is also credited with building the Dower House on the corner of Trinity Street. It was built in the 1840s for his fourth wife Mary. It was a church for some years, which is how it gained a spire, and is currently a nursery. A well-respected magistrate for many years, he continued to preside until the week before he died, despite being incapacitated. He died in December 1854, after which his house was bought by the Fitzwilliams in an auction and gifted to the city as an infirmary.  

Albert Place Tragedy



John Francis Eayrs aged fifty six years, a tinsmith, was charged before the magistrates with the murder of his wife, and attempted suicide. John Francis Eayrs had married his housekeeper, Sarah Ann Weldon, a widow with a ten year old son in 1907. By 1911 they were living at the School House in Albert Place, but the marriage appears to have been a tempestuous one, with the couple both drinking and quarrelling; their next door neighbour stated, “Both appeared to drink and at such times they quarrelled. She had often heard the prisoner say to his wife “I will do you in”. During his trial  on the 20th of October at the Northamptonshire Assizes witnesses gave their accounts of the family and the events of 22nd August. A neighbour living opposite said, “During the past two years he often heard them quarrelling. On 22ndAugust he saw them quarrelling in the street and they were struggling on the pavement”. Another neighbour also added she was bathing her children when, “Mrs Eayrs came in and played with the children then returned to her own house. She seemed to have had a little drink”. Another witness had seen Eayrs in the Bull & Dolphin, “he was complaining about his wife’s drinking habits, and that if she did not alter he would have to do something desperate.” The witness said, “I told him not to talk like that, I had heard it before so didn’t take much notice of it.” A further witness stated, “He heard moaning in the prisoner’s backyard and found the prisoner lying under the living-room window. He was without a coat, had a wound in the throat, and was covered with blood. He spoke to the prisoner who did not reply so he sent for P.C. Powley. He later saw the dead body of Mrs Eayrs.”. P.C. Powley reported Eayrs was semi-conscious and that he had a wound two-inches long in the left side of his throat and was taken to the Infirmary. The constable found the body of Mrs Eayrs at the bottom of the yard. There was a large gash on the right side of the face. In the scullery, he found blood in the sink, on the floor and in a tub. On the window-ledge was a blood-stained razor, closed. Dr R. Jolley, Police Surgeon at Peterborough stated the wound in Mrs Eayrs neck commenced under the left ear and extended down to the left side of the breast bone. It was an inch deep in the upper part and gradually became shallower. All the arteries and veins on that side had been severed, and Mrs Eayrs dress and jacket had been cut through. Considerable force must have been used to produce such injuries, which might have been caused by the razor. John Francis Eayrs was reported as saying “They had quarrelled over a halfpenny.” He was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging and was executed at Northampton Gaol. In a situation of dramatic intensity, there was one fleeting moment of poignant pathos. As the little procession was reaching the doors of the execution shed, Eayrs saw a warder standing upright at the entrance, he nodded slightly and said very quietly, “Good morning.” Another three steps, and he was in full view of the gallows. Then he halted, half turned to the same warder, and in a low voice, which could be heard with perfect distinctness, said, “I am going to die for a bad woman, you know.” And without further word, and evidently expecting no reply, he walked on to the fatal trap-door. Ten seconds more and only a white-shrouded head, hanging listlessly to one side, was visible above the open pit. (Execution details taken from Northampton Mercury 13 November 1914. Page 6, Column 2.                                                          Quote’s taken from Peterborough Citizen 8 September 1914. Page 3 Column 3 and Northampton Mercury 23 October 1914. Page 6, Column 2)


Cardinal Wolsey Visits at Easter



Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was an important figure in the life and politics of Henry VIII. A well-educated man, he became an advisor to Henry. He is possibly best known for failing to annul Henry's marriage to Katherine of Aragon. Henry wished for more children and wanted marry Anne Boleyn, but divorce wasn't an option. Wolsey tried to get the marriage annulled by the Pope, but this was unsuccessful. Henry was angry that he couldn't end his marriage and Wolsey was in trouble. His failure to convince the Pope was seen as an act of treason and he was called to London to face Henry. But Wolsey's health had been deteriorating and he never made it back to London. He did, however, make it to Peterborough. Peterborough Abbey hosted Wolsey's visit at Easter in 1530. He took part in many ceremonial duties including observing Maundy Thursday. As tradition dictates, he washed the feet of 59 poor men (the same number of men as his age), this was carried out in the Lady Chapel, which no longer exists. He also handed out gifts to the men. They received '12 pence, three ells of canvas to make them shirts, a pair of new shoes, a cast of bread, three red herrings and three white herrings and the odd person had two shillings.' (1) Wolsey travelled on from Peterborough to the Fitzwilliams at Milton for a few days. His health gradually faded until he died in Leicester Cathedral on 29th November 1530. One of his many legacies was the building of Hampton Court Palace, which was taken by Henry VIII after Wolsey fell out of favour. His visit was also remembered in an iconic LNER poster advertising Peterborough, designed by Fred Taylor. A copy is on display on the top floor of Peterborough Museum.
(1) W. T. Mellors, The Last Days of Peterborough Monastery, Northamptonshire Record Society, 1950, p xviii


Birth of Thomas Worlidge



Thomas Worlidge was born in Peterborough in 1700 to Roman Catholic parents. He studied art in London as a pupil of the Genoese refugee Alessandro Maria Grimaldi. He went on to study with engraver Louis-Philippe Boitard. About 1740 Worlidge settled in London in the neighbourhood of Covent Garden, where he remained for the rest of his life. He spent the winter social season in Bath, painting the portraits of society members. His most popular work consisted of heads in pencil, for which he charged two guineas. The dominant force in his work was Rembrandt. His imitations of Rembrandt's work in etching and dry point sold well and remained popular after his death. He married three times and is said to have had thirty-two children by his three marriages. Sadly, only Thomas, a son by his third wife, survived him. He died on 23 September 1766, and was buried in Hammersmith church. Image from the National Portrait Gallery collection.

A Very Special Wedding



The local church registers record all of the special births, marriages and deaths in Peterborough. One marriage stands out more than the others. On 7th July 1711 the cathedral register states: 'John Sherwood a negro 3 foot high and Margaret Steward 2 foot and a half marry'd.' Not only is this likely to be Peterborough's first recorded mixed-race wedding, but possibly the first marriage of two little people. No other records have been discovered relating to John and Margaret, so it is possible that they did not remain in the city. It is possible that John was, or had been, a slave, slavery not being abolished until 1833. Let's hope the marriage was a long and happy one.

Mary Cooke’s Dower House



Several buildings on Priestgate are worthy of merit through age and architecture, but none are as unusual than Mary Cooke's Dower House. The house is correctly credited to the hand of Thomas Alderson Cooke, owner of Priestgate Mansion. However, it has been incorrectly associated to the divorce of his second wife Charlotte Squires. It was originally believed that the dower house was given to Charlotte when she and Thomas divorced. But newspaper reports from the time reveal that Thomas had the marriage annulled. Because they did not divorce, no money or property was owed to Charlotte. Furthermore, documents kept in Northamptonshire Archives reveal that the dower house was not built until 1840's, over 20 years after his annulment! By this point Thomas had moved on to his fourth wife Mary. His will of 1854 reveals how he had left the house for his 'dear Mary' to live in upon his death. A later conveyance from 1863 from Mary Cooke detailed: '[Thomas] Cooke devised to his wife for her life the mansion house he had lately erected next door to his mansion, together with land he had lately purchased extending southward from the garden wall.' Sadly, there is no evidence that Mary lived in the house. Thomas died in 1854 and by the 1861 census she was already living in London with her daughter and son-in-law (who was also her step son) and conveyancing relating to the house gave her address as London too. References: The National Archives; Kew, England; Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 2204 Abstract of conveyance from Mrs Mary Cooke and others to William Vergette, ref ZB1826/01 accessed via (Northamptonshire Records Office)

John Claypole Marries an Angell



John Claypole was born into the Claypole or Claypoole family of Northborough and Lolham. He was the fourth child born to Adam Claypole and Dorothy Wingfield. On 8th June 1622 John married Marie/Mary Angel at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in London. The Angels held the manor of Peakirk since at least the Fifteenth Century and were said to have provided a dowry of £1500. On account of their marriage John was given the manor of Northborough and also nearby Waldram Park by his father. John trained to be a lawyer and was likely to be an early friend of Oliver Cromwell. He was MP for Northamptonshire during the protectorate; his friend Cromwell had been MP for Huntingdon. He was given a knighthood and later baronet by Cromwell, although he is rarely known as Sir John Claypole. He worked with his son John to levy taxes in Northamptonshire and later supported the marriage of John to Oliver Cromwell's favourite daughter Elizabeth. Sir John died in 1664 in London, but his wife Mary was buried in Northborough when she died in 1661. References: Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed 28 November 2018), memorial page for John Claypoole (13 Apr 1593–10 Apr 1664), Find A Grave Memorial no. 13526109, citing St. Andrew's Churchyard, Northborough, Peterborough Unitary Authority, Cambridgeshire, England ; Maintained by Wayne L. Osborne (contributor 46540493) . Photo credit: cc-by-sa/2.0 - © Paul Bryan -