PETERBOROUGH, ENGLAND, a city and municipal and parliamentary borough of Northamptonshire, England, 76 m. N. from London by the Great Northern railway; served also by the London & North Western, Great Eastern and Midland railways. Pop. (1891), 25,171; (1901), 30,872. It is built chiefly along the river Nene, on the north side, and on the western border of the Fen country.
The cathedral of St Peter is the third church that has occupied the site; the first, founded under Penda, king of the Mercians, about 656, was entirely destroyed by the Danes in 870, and the second, founded in King Edgar's reign, was accidentally burnt in 1 1 1 6. The present building, founded in the following year, was, inclusive of the west front, 120 years in building, being consecrated on the 4th of October 1237. It embraces in all, however, eight periods of construction, and in no other building can the transition be better studied through the various grades of Norman to Early English, while the later addition is an admirable example of Perpendicular.
The erection proceeded as usual from east to west, and, while an increase in elegance and elaboration is observable in the later parts, the character of the earlier buildings was so carefully kept in mind that no sense of incongruity is produced. A series of uniform Decorated windows were added throughout the church in the 14th century, and their effect is rather to enhance than detract from the unity of design. The choir, early Norman, terminating in an apse, was founded in 1117 or 1118 by John de Sais or Sez, and dedicated in 1140 or 1143; the aisles of both transepts and the whole of the south transept were built by Martin of Bee, 1140-1155 ; the remaining portions of the transepts and the central tower, of three stories, were completed by William de Waterville, 1155-1175; the nave, late Norman, was completed by Abbot Benedict, 1177-1193, who added a beautiful painted roof of wood ; the western transepts, transitional Norman, were the work of Abbot Andrew, 1193-1200; the western front, actually a vast portico of three arches, the unique feature of the building, and one of the finest specimens of Early English extant, must have been built between 1200 and 1250, during which period there were several abbots; but there exists no record of its reconstruction. The lady chapel, built parallel with the choir by William Parys, prior, was consecrated in 1290; the bell-tower was erected by Abbot Richard between 1260 and 1274; the south-west spire, the pinnacles of the flanking tower of the west portal, and the enlargement of the windows of the nave and aisles were the work of Henry de Morcot in the beginning of the 14th century; the " new building " or eastern chapel in the Perpendicular style, begun in 1438, was not completed till 1528. In 1541 the church was converted into a cathedral, the abbot being made the first bishop. The extreme length of the building is 471 ft., and of the nave 211 ft., the breadth of the west front being 156; the height of the central tower, as reconstructed in the 14th century, was 150, that of the spires and tower of the west front is 156 ft. In 1643 the building was defaced by the soldiers of Cromwell, who destroyed nearly all the brasses and monuments, burnt the ancient records, levelled the altar and screen, defaced the windows, and demolished the cloisters. To obtain materials for repairs the lady chapel was taken down. In the latter part of the 18th century the church was repaved. In 1831 a throne, stalls and choir-screen were erected and other restorations completed. On account of the insecure state of the central tower in 1883 it was taken down; and its reconstruction, exactly as it stood with the exception of the four corner turrets added early in the 19th century, was completed in 1886. The choir was reopened in 1889 after being closed, for thorough restoration, for six years.
In 1895 the restoration of the west front and other parts was begun in the face of considerable adverse criticism; but the work was carried on with the utmost care. During the carrying out of this work many interesting discoveries were made, the most important being the site of the cruciform Saxon church, enclosed within a crypt under the south transept. Catherine of Aragon was interred in the cathedral in 1536, and Mary Queen of Scots in 1587, but the body of the Scottish queen was removed to Westminster Abbey in 1612. Both interments were superintended by Robert Scarlett the sexton, commonly known as " Old Scarlett," whose portrait, a copy of the original, hangs in the west transept. He died in 1594 at the age of 98. Of the monastic buildings there are some interesting remains. The cathedral is approached by a Norman gateway, above which is the chapel of St Nicholas, built by Abbot Benedict, and now used as the music school, and on the left the chapel of St Thomas a Becket, built by Abbot Ashton in the 15th century as it stands, but originally Norman. The gateway to the bishop s palace, formerly the abbot's house, was built by Abbot Godfrey de Croyland in 1319, and the deanery gate by Abbot Kirton about 1520. One of the canonry houses is formed partly from a hall of the 13th century.
Peterborough is included for civil purposes in the parish of St John the Baptist, but for ecclesiastical purposes it is divided into four, the additional parishes being St Mary's Boongate (1857), St Mark's (1858) and St Paul's (1869). The old parish church of St John originally stood to the east of the cathedral, but was rebuilt on its present site in the centre of the city (1401-1407) in Perpendicular style. The educational establishments include the Henry VIII. grammar or chapter school, which used the chapel of St Thomas a Becket until 1885; the St Peter's training college for schoolmasters for the dioceses of Peterborough, Ely and Lincoln, erected from designs of Sir Gilbert Scott (1864); and Deacon's and Ireland's charity school, established in 1721 for the clothing and educating of twenty poor boys. The principal public building is the market house (1671), used as a town-hall. The modern prosperity and rapid growth of the town are chiefly due to the trade caused by the junction of so many railway lines. Adjoining the town are extensive works and sheds connected with the Great Northern and Midland railways. The principal manufacture is that of agricultural implements. The parliamentary borough returns one member (since 1885). The municipal borough, incorporated in 1874, is under a mayor, 6 aldermen and 18 councillors. Area, 1878 acres. The soke or liberty of Peterborough, with a population of 41,122, constitutes a separate administrative county (1888). The diocese of Peterborough includes the whole of Rutland, nearly all Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, and small portions of Derbyshire and Huntingdonshire.
Peterborough (Burgh, Burgus sancti Petri) is proved by its original name Medehamstede to have been a Saxon village before 655 when Saxulf, a monk, founded the monastery on land granted to him for that purpose by Penda, king of Mercia. Its name was altered to Burgh between 992 and 1005 after Abbot Kenulf had made a wall round the minister, but the town does not appear to have been a borough until the 12th century. The burgesses received their first charter from " Abbot Robert," probably Robert of Sutton (1262-1273). Until the 19th century the dean and chapter, who succeeded the abbot as lords of the manor, appointed a high bailiff, and the constables and other borough officers were elected at their court leet, but the borough was incorporated in 1874 under the government of a mayor, 6 aldermen and 18 councillors. Among the privileges claimed by the abbot as early as the 13th century was that of having a prison for felons taken in the soke and borough. In 1576 Bishop Scamble sold the lordship of the hundred of Nassaburgh, which is coextensive with the soke, to Queen Elizabeth, who gave it to Lord Burghley, and from that time until the 19th century he and his descendants, marquesses of Exeter, had a separate gaol in Peterborough for prisoners arrested in the soke. The trades of weaving and woolcombing were carried on in Peterborough in the 14th century. The abbot formerly held four fairs, of which two, one called St Peter's fair, granted in 1189 and now held on the second Tuesday and Wednesday in July, and the other called the Bridge fair, granted in 1439 and held on the first Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in October, still survive and were purchased by the corporation from the ecclesiastical commissioners in 1876. Peterborough sent two members to parliament for the first time in 1547.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)