Friday, 22 April 2016


The Cathedral

I had to go to Peterborough in a hurry to get my Passport renewed, but I turned it into an opportunity to have a good wander round the city. I had always wanted to see the cathedral, but I wasn't too sure what else to expect. I am writing this without my usual copy of Pevsner at my side, so this may be more sketchy than usual.

I parked in Market Street near the Passport Office, possibly not the conventional departure point for a city walk, and headed towards the centre to be immediately confronted with the red and yellow brick neo-romanesque former County Court, now a club.

Across the road (City Road) was a red brick building (Peterscourt) which is now an "eco centre". It almost looks, from the line of chimneys, that could once have been almshouses, but in fact was built in 1856-64 by Sir G G Scott as a teacher training college for men, a role it continued to have until 1938.

At the crossroads with Broadway and Long Causeway, I carried on into Westgate, where a bit of prior research had identified the former Wortley's Almshouses of 1837, now a pub. The Hon Edward Wortley was the MP for Peterborough.

Retracing my steps to the crossroads, I turned left down the pedestrianised Long Causeway to arrive in Cathedral Square. I turned right to face the wonderful Guildhall, built in 1669-71 by John Lovin. Cathedral Square was known as the Market Place until 1963 and the arcaded section was originally used for butter and poultry markets.

Over to the left was this fine shop front which bears the date 1911.

To the right another set of former almshouses can be found: Miss Pears's Almshouses of 1903 on the site of the old House of Correction.

Behind the Guildhall stands the church of St John. It was built in 1407, but heavily restored by John Loughborough Pearson in the 1880s. Pearson removed galleries above the aisles and replaced most of the aisle windows. Later additions include a rood screen in the 20th century.

Turning back towards the entrance to Cathedral Square you find the Great Gate, the entrance to the cathedral precincts, facing the Guildhall. I decided to save the Cathedral until last however and continued along Bridge St.

On the left is the massive red brick Town Hall which dates from 1933. It appears that there are currently controversial plans to relocate Council staff and let out the accommodation. It is mildly curious that the building is called the Town Hall, when Peterborough has been a city since 1541.

I continued down Bridge St to the River Nene and turned left, passing the Old Custom House of 1790, to find my way to the fantastic art deco 1930s Lido which I had seen by chance on my way in.

From here I returned to the Cathedral precincts, checking out a third set of almshouses (seemingly unnamed) on the left, now a Solicitors.

The Cathedral facade (at the head of this post) is unique in its three great arches and dates from 1237 in Early English Gothic. Most of the rest of the building is Norman: construction started in 1118. You enter the nave facing a wonderful 13th century font. This view shows the great arches of the nave and the magnificent painted ceiling. It is the original ceiling which was completed between 1230 and 1250. It is the only one in Britain and one of only four in the whole of Europe. It has been over-painted twice, once in 1745, then in 1834, but still retains the character and style of the original. (Credit to Wikipedia for this.)

The vaulting over the crossing is extremely impressive as well.

For me, the great surprise was to find fan vaulting in the so-called New Building, constructed as a sort of ambulatory around the east end of the cathedral in 1496 and 1508. It is thought that the architect was John Wastell, who was responsible for the magnificent fan vaulting in King's College Chapel in Cambridge.

Conditions: pretty grey, but not too cold.

Distance: a couple of miles.

Rating: four and a half stars.

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