What to See in England
By Gordon Home
Public Domain Books
As was the case with Wells, Peterborough would have had no existence but for its cathedral, which was reared in the midst of the fertile fen country near the slow-flowing river Ness. But the coming of the railways has roused the country town, and in the last fifty years its population has increased fivefold. It is situated in a rich agricultural district, and has a good trade in farm products. Its annual wool and cattle markets are well known in the eastern counties.
On the site of the present cathedral a minster was built in 870 by a king of Mercia. On its being destroyed by Danes, a new building was erected, which was burned down in 1116. The foundations of the Saxon church can be seen in the crypt. The new Norman building was consecrated in 1237, and has remained with few alterations to the present day. While the interior of St. Albans Cathedral shows every phase of Norman and Gothic architecture, that of Peterborough is remarkable as showing practically one style throughout the entire building. The west front has been described as the “grandest portico in Europe.” It is Early English in style, and the finest feature of the cathedral. Its three colossal arches are flanked and strengthened by two turreted towers with spires. It needs a close observer to perceive that the central gable of the west front is smaller than the side ones, for the difficulty has been cleverly overcome. The northern gable and part of the arch below have been repaired very carefully amid an outcry from all parts of England against the restoration. However, the work was proved to be necessary, as the mortar had crumbled to dust, and many stones were merely resting one on the other. The Perpendicular Galilee Porch over the small doorway adds strength to the fašade. The room over it is used as a library.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of the interior is the twelfth-century wooden vaulting of the nave. There is no Lady Chapel at the east end as is usually the case. When the ritual demanded a retro-choir for processions, the Norman apse fortunately was not pulled down, but the new building, Tudor in style, and with a beautiful stone-vaulted roof, was built round it. After Ely’s Tower fell, the Norman central tower of Peterborough was pulled down as if a similar fate was feared for it, and a shorter tower was erected in its place. Two queens have been buried in the church, namely, Catherine of Arragon and Mary Queen of Scots. The remains of both queens have been removed to Westminster Abbey.
Other places worth visiting in Peterborough are the Parish Church and a well-preserved thirteenth-century manor-house at Longthorpe.
[Illustration: Photochrom Co., Ltd. PETERBOROUGH CATHEDRAL
The magnificent west front, which has recently been restored.]