Peterborough (/ˈpiːtərbrə/ or /ˈpiːtərbərə/) is a cathedral city and unitary authority area in the East of England, with an estimated population of 173,400 in June 2007. For ceremonial purposes it is in the county of Cambridgeshire.
Peterborough is home to Peterborough Cathedral.
Situated 75 miles (121 km) north of London, the city stands on the River Nene which flows into the North Sea approximately 30 miles (48 km) to the north-east. The railway station is an important stop on the East Coast Main Line.
The local topography is flat and low-lying, and in some places lies below sea level. The area known as the Fens is to the east of Peterborough. The City of Peterborough includes the outlying military installation of RAF Wittering, and as a unitary authority it borders Northamptonshire and Rutland to the west, Lincolnshire to the north, and Cambridgeshire to the south and east.
Human settlement in the area dates back to before the Bronze Age, as can be seen at the Flag Fen archaeological site to the east of the current city centre. This site also shows evidence of Roman occupation. The Anglo-Saxon period saw the establishment of a monastery, then known as Medeshamstede, which later became Peterborough Cathedral. The population grew rapidly following the arrival of the railways in the 19th century, and Peterborough became an industrial centre, particularly noted for its brick manufacture.
Following the Second World War, growth was limited until designation as a New Town in the 1960s. The population is once again undergoing rapid expansion and a £1 billion regeneration of the city centre and immediately surrounding area is under way. In common with much of the United Kingdom, industrial employment has fallen, with new jobs tending to be in financial services and distribution.
Present-day Peterborough is the latest in a series of settlements which have at one time or other benefited from its situation, where the Nene leaves permanently drained land for the Fens. Remains of Bronze Age settlement and what is thought to be religious activity can be seen at the Flag Fen archaeological site to the east of the city centre. The Romans established a fortified garrison town at Durobrivae on Ermine Street, some five miles (8 km) to the west of the present city, around the middle of the 1st century AD. Durobrivae’s earliest appearance among surviving records is in the Antonine Itinerary of the late 2nd century. There was also a large 1st century Roman fort at Longthorpe, designed to house half a legion, or about 3,000 soldiers; it may have been established as early as around AD 44–48. Peterborough was an important area of ceramic production in the Roman period, providing Nene Valley Ware that was traded as far away as Cornwall and the Antonine Wall.
Peterborough is shown by its original name Medeshamstede to have possibly been an Anglian settlement before AD 655, when Saxwulf founded a monastery on land granted to him for that purpose by Peada of Mercia, who was briefly ruler in the Middle Angles. The abbey church was rebuilt and greatly enlarged in the 12th century. The Peterborough Chronicle, which contains unique information about the history of England after the Norman conquest, was composed here in the 12th century by monks. This is the only known prose history in English between the conquest and the later 14th century. The town’s name changed to Burgh from the late tenth century, possibly after Abbot Kenulf had built a defensive wall around the abbey, and eventually developed into the form Peterborough; the town does not appear to have been a borough until the 12th century. The form Gildenburgh is also found, though only in local, 12th century histories of the abbey, namely the Peterborough version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and a history of the abbey by the monk Hugh Candidus. The burgesses received their first charter from “Abbot Robert” – probably Robert of Sutton (1262–1273). The abbey church became one of Henry VIII’s new secular cathedrals in 1541.
When civil war broke out, Peterborough was divided between supporters of King Charles I (known as Cavaliers) and supporters of the Long Parliament (known as Roundheads). The city lay on the border of the Eastern Association of counties which sided with Parliament, and the war reached Peterborough in 1643 when soldiers arrived in the city to attack Royalist strongholds at Stamford and Crowland. The Royalist forces were defeated within a few weeks and retreated to Burghley House, where they were captured and sent to Cambridge. While the Parliamentary soldiers were in Peterborough, however, they ransacked the cathedral, destroying the Lady Chapel, chapter house, cloister, high altar and choir stalls, as well as medieval decoration and records.
Historically 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 municipal borough was incorporated in 1874 under the government of a mayor, six aldermen and eighteen 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. In 1576 Bishop Edmund Scambler sold the lordship of the hundred of Nassaburgh, which was coextensive with the Soke, to Queen Elizabeth I, who gave it to Lord Burghley, and from that time until the 19th century he and his descendants, the Earls and Marquesses of Exeter, had a separate gaol for prisoners arrested in the Soke. The abbot formerly held four fairs, of which two, St. Peter’s Fair, granted in 1189 and later held on the second Tuesday and Wednesday in July, and the Brigge Fair, granted in 1439 and later held on the first Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in October, were purchased by the corporation from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1876. The Bridge Fair, as it is now known, granted to the abbey by King Henry VI, survives. Prayers for the opening of the fair were once said at the morning service in the cathedral, followed by a civic proclamation and a sausage lunch at the town hall which still takes place. The mayor traditionally leads a procession from the town hall to the fair where the proclamation is read, asking all persons to “behave soberly and civilly, and to pay their just dues and demands according to the laws of the realm and the Railway lines began operating locally during the 1840s, but it was the 1850 opening of the Great Northern Railway’s main line from London to York that transformed Peterborough from a market town to an industrial centre. Lord Exeter had opposed the railway passing through Stamford, so Peterborough, situated between two main terminals at London and Doncaster, increasingly developed as a regional hub.
Coupled with vast local clay deposits, the railway enabled large-scale brick-making and distribution to take place. The area was the UK’s leading producer of bricks for much of the twentieth century. Brick-making had been a small seasonal craft since the early nineteenth century, but during the 1890s successful experiments at Fletton using the harder clays from a lower level had resulted in a much more efficient process. The dominance of London Brick in the market during this period gave rise to some of the country’s most well-known landmarks, all built using the ubiquitous Fletton. Perkins Engines was established in Peterborough in 1932 by Frank Perkins, creator of the Perkins diesel engine. Thirty years later it employed more than a tenth of the population of Peterborough, mainly at Eastfield. Baker Perkins had relocated from London to Westwood, now the site of HMP Peterborough, in 1903, followed by Peter Brotherhood to Walton in 1906; both manufacturers of industrial machinery, they too became major employers in the city. British Sugar remains headquartered in Woodston, although the beet sugar factory, which opened there in 1926, was closed in 1991. Founded at the Corn Exchange in 1860, Norwich and Peterborough, the ninth largest building society, is headquartered at Lynch Wood. Anglia Regional, the UK’s fifth largest co-operative society, is also based in Peterborough, where it was established in 1876.
Designated a New Town in 1967, Peterborough Development Corporation was formed in partnership with the city and county councils to house London’s overspill population in new townships sited around the existing urban area. There were to be four townships, one each at Bretton, Orton, Paston/Werrington and Castor. The last of these was never built, but a fourth, called Hampton, is now taking shape south of the city. It was decided that the city should have a major indoor shopping centre at its heart. Planning permission was received in late summer 1976 and Queensgate, containing over 90 stores and including parking for 2,300 cars, was opened by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in 1982. 34 miles (55 km) of urban roads were planned and a network of high-speed roads, known as parkways, was constructed.
Peterborough’s population grew by 45.4% between 1971 and 1991. New service-sector companies like Thomas Cook and Pearl Assurance were attracted to the city, ending the dominance of the manufacturing industry as employers. An urban regeneration company named Opportunity Peterborough, under the chairmanship of Lord Mawhinney, was set up by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in 2005 to oversee Peterborough’s future development. Between 2006 and 2012 a £1 billion redevelopment of the city centre and surrounding areas is planned. The master plan provides guidelines on the physical shaping of the city centre over the next 15–20 years. Proposals are already progressing for the north of Westgate, the south bank and the station quarter, where Network Rail is preparing a major mixed use development. Whilst recognising that the reconfiguration of the relationship between the city and station was critical, English Heritage found the current plans for Westgate unconvincing and felt more thought should be given to the vitality of the historic core.
The city formed a parliamentary borough returning two members from 1541, with the rest of the Soke being part of Northamptonshire parliamentary county. The Great Reform Act did not affect the borough, although the remaining, rural portion of the Soke was transferred to the northern division of Northamptonshire. In 1885 the borough’s representation was reduced to one member, and in 1918 the boundaries were adjusted to include the whole Soke. The serving member for Peterborough is the Conservative, Stewart Jackson MP, who defeated Labour’s Helen Clark in the 2005 general election. In 1997 the North West Cambridgeshire constituency was formed, incorporating parts of the city and neighbouring Huntingdonshire.
From 1889 the ancient Soke of Peterborough formed an administrative county in its own right with boundaries similar, although not identical, to the current unitary authority. The area however remained geographically part of Northamptonshire until 1965, when the Soke of Peterborough was merged with Huntingdonshire to form the county of Huntingdon and Peterborough. Following a review of local government in 1974, Huntingdon and Peterborough was abolished and the current district created by the merger of the Municipal Borough of Peterborough with Peterborough Rural District, Barnack Rural District, Thorney Rural District, Old Fletton Urban District and part of the Norman Cross Rural District, which had each existed since 1894. This became part of the non-metropolitan county of Cambridgeshire. Letters patent were granted which continued the style of the city over the greater area. In 1998 the city became autonomous of Cambridgeshire county council as a unitary authority, but it continues to form part of that county for ceremonial purposes. The leader and cabinet model of decision-making, first adopted by the city council in 2001, is similar to national government.
In 1994 Peterborough was designated one of four environment cities in the UK and it is now working to become the UK’s acknowledged environment capital. Peterborough Environment City Trust, an independent charity, was set up at this time to work towards Peterborough becoming the UK’s environment capital and deliver’s projects promoting healthier and sustainable living in the city. The council and regional development agency are taking advice on regeneration issues from a number of internationally recognised experts, including Benjamin Barber (formerly an adviser to President Bill Clinton), Jan Gustav Strandenaes (United Nations adviser on environmental issues) and Patama Roorakwit (a Thai “community architect”).
According to the 2001 census, the workplace population of 90,656 is divided into 60,118 people who live in Peterborough and 30,358 people who commute in. A further 13,161 residents commute out of the city to work.
Future employment will also be created through the plan for the city centre launched by the council in 2003. Predictions of the levels and types of employment created were published in 2005. These include 1,421 jobs created in retail; 1,067 created in a variety of leisure and cultural developments; 338 in three hotels; and a further 4,847 jobs created in offices and other workspaces. Recent relocations of large employers include both Tesco (1,070 employees) and Debenhams (850 employees) distribution centres. A further 2,500 jobs are to be created in the £140 million Gateway warehouse and distribution park, this is expected to compensate for the 6,000 job losses as a result of the decline in manufacturing, anticipated in a report cited by the cabinet member for economic growth and regeneration in 2006.
With traditionally low levels of unemployment, Peterborough is a popular destination for workers and has seen significant growth through migration since the post-war period. The leader of the council said he believed Peterborough had taken up to 80% of the 65,000 people who had arrived in East Anglia from the Baltic states. To help cope with this influx the council has put forward plans to construct an average of 1,300 homes each year until 2021. Demand for short term employees remains high and the market supports up to 20 high street recruitment agencies at any given time. Peterborough Trades Council, formed in 1898, is affiliated to the Trades Union Congress.
Peterborough is a major stop on the East Coast Main Line, 45–50 minutes’ journey time from central London, with high-speed intercity services from King’s Cross to Edinburgh Waverley operated by the East Coast Main Line Company at around a 20-minute frequency, and slower commuter services terminating at Peterborough operated by First Capital Connect. It is a major railway junction where a number of cross-country routes converge. East Midlands Trains operate the Peterborough to Lincoln Line, with through services to Doncaster and a route from Liverpool Lime Street to Norwich or Cambridge via the main line north of Peterborough; CrossCountry operate the Birmingham to Peterborough Line and with Greater Anglia, the Ely to Peterborough Line, with through services to Cambridge and Stansted Airport operated by the former and to Ipswich and London Liverpool Street by the latter. Peterborough has a business airport with a paved runway at Holme and a recreational airfield hosting a parachute school at Sibson.
The River Nene, made navigable from the port at Wisbech to Northampton by 1761, passes through the city centre and a green viaduct carries the railway over the river. It was built in 1847 by Lewis Cubitt, who was more famous for his bridges in Australia, India and South America. Apart from some minor repairs in 1910 and 1914 (the steel bands and cross braces around the fluted legs) the bridge remains as he built it. Now a listed structure, it is the oldest surviving cast iron railway bridge in the UK. By the Town Bridge, the Customs House, built in the early eighteenth century, is a visible reminder of the city’s past function as an inland port. The Environment Agency navigation starts at the junction with the Northampton arm of the Grand Union Canal and extends for 91 miles (147 km) ending at Bevis Hall just upstream of Wisbech. The tidal limit used to be Woodston Wharf until the Dog-in-a-Doublet lock was built five miles (8 km) downstream in 1937.
The A1/A1(M) primary route (part of European route E15) broadly follows the path of the historic Great North Road from St Paul’s Cathedral in the heart of London, through Peterborough (Junction 17), continuing north a further 335 miles (539 km) to central Edinburgh. In 1899 the British Electric Traction Company sought permission for a tramway joining the northern suburbs with the city centre. The system, which operated under the name Peterborough Electric Traction Company, opened in 1903 and was abandoned in favour of motor buses in 1930, when it was merged into the Eastern Counties Omnibus Company.
The combination of rail connections to the Port of Felixstowe and to the East Coast Main Line as well as a road connection via the A1(M) has led to Peterborough being proposed as the site of a 334 acres (1.35 km2) rail-road logistics and distibution centre: Magna Park.
The Peterborough Millennium Green Wheel is a 50-mile (80 km) network of cycleways, footpaths and bridleways which provide safe, continuous routes around the city with radiating spokes connecting to the city centre. The project has also created a sculpture trail, which provides functional, landscape artworks along the Green Wheel route and a Living Landmarks project involving the local community in the creation of local landscape features such as mini woodlands, ponds and hedgerows. Another long-distance footpath, the Hereward Way, runs from Oakham in Rutland, through Peterborough, to East Harling in Norfolk.
Peterborough has an estimated population of 173,400 as of June 2007, forecast to rise variously to 190,700 in 2020 by the Office for National Statistics and 204,000 in 2021 by Cambridgeshire County Council Research Group. The city’s population recorded at each census since 1901 is as follows:
The former public library on Broadway was donated by Scottish philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1906; Carnegie was made first freeman of the city on the day of the opening ceremony.
Peterborough enjoys a wide range of events including the annual East of England Show, Peterborough Festival and CAMRA beer festival, which takes place on the river embankment in late August.
The Key Theatre, built in 1973, is situated on the embankment, next to the River Nene. The theatre aims to provide entertainment, enlightenment and education by reflecting the rich culture Peterborough has to offer. The programme is made up of home-grown productions, national touring shows, local community productions and one-off concerts. There is disabled access, an infrared hearing system for the deaf and hard of hearing and there are also regular signed performances.
In 1937 the Odeon Cinema opened on Broadway, where it operated successfully for more than half a century. In 1991 the Odeon showed its last film to the public and was left to fall into a state of disrepair, until 1997, when a local entrepreneur purchased the building as part of a larger project, including a restaurant and art gallery. The Broadway, designed by Tim Foster Architects, was one of the largest theatres in the region and offered a selection of live entertainment, including music, comedy and films. In January 2009, it was severely damaged by arsonists, resulting in closure when its insurers refused to pay the claim due to faulty fire detection systems. The Embassy Theatre, a large Art Deco building designed by David Evelyn Nye, also opened on Broadway in 1937. Nye was usually a cinema architect, and this was his only theatre. The Embassy was converted into a cinema in 1953, becoming the ABC and later the Cannon Cinema, before it was closed in 1989 and converted into a public house in 1996. Today the premises are occupied by the Edwards bar chain.
The John Clare Theatre within the new central library, again on Broadway, is home to the Peterborough Film Society. One of the region’s leading venues, the Cresset in Bretton, provides a wide range of events for the residents of the city and beyond, including theatre, comedy, music and dance. Peterborough has a 13-screen Showcase Cinema, an ice rink and two indoor swimming pools open to the general public. A diverse range of restaurants can be found throughout the city, including Chinese & Cantonese, Indian & Nepalese, Thai and many Italian restaurants. In the closing months of 2006, for instance, Polish, Japanese and Mexican restaurants were all opened.
The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter, Saint Paul and Saint Andrew, whose statues look down from the three high gables of the West Front, was originally founded as a monastery in AD 655 and re-built in its present form between 1118 and 1238. It has been the seat of the Bishop of Peterborough since the Diocese was created in 1541. Peterborough Cathedral is one of the most intact large Norman churches in England and is renowned for its imposing early English Gothic West Front which, with its three enormous arches, is without architectural precedent and with no direct successor. The Cathedral has the distinction of having had two queens buried beneath its paving, Katherine of Aragon and Mary, Queen of Scots. The remains of Queen Mary were later removed to Westminster Abbey by her son James I when he became King of England.
The general layout of Peterborough is attributed to Martin de Vecti who, as abbot from 1133 to 1155, rebuilt the settlement on dry limestone to the west of the monastery, rather than the often-flooded marshlands to the east. Abbot Martin was responsible for laying out the market place and the wharf beside the river. Peterborough’s magnificent seventeenth century Guildhall, built shortly after the restoration of King Charles II, is supported by columns, to provide an open ground floor for the butter and poultry markets which used to be held there. The Market Place was renamed Cathedral Square and the adjacent Gates Memorial Fountain moved to Bishop’s Road Gardens in 1963, when the (then weekly) market was transferred to the site of the old cattle market.
Peterscourt on City Road was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1864, housing St. Peter’s Teacher Training College for men until 1938. The building is mainly listed for the eighteenth century doorway, brought from the London Guildhall following war damage. The city has a large Victorian park containing formal gardens, children’s play areas, an aviary, bowling green, tennis courts, pitch and putt course and tea rooms. The Park has been awarded the Green Flag Award, the national standard for parks and green spaces, by the Civic Trust. The Lido, a striking building with elements of art deco design, was opened in 1936 and is one of the few survivors of its type still in use.
Peterborough Museum and Art Gallery, built in 1816, housed the city’s first infirmary from 1857 to 1928. The museum has a collection of some 227,000 objects, including local archaeology and social history, from the products of the Roman pottery industry to Britain’s oldest known murder victim; a collection of marine fossil remains from the Jurassic period of international importance; the manuscripts of John Clare, the Northamptonshire Peasant Poet as he was commonly known in his own time; and the Norman Cross collection of items made by French prisoners of war. These prisoners were kept at Norman Cross on the outskirts of Peterborough from 1797 to 1814, in what is believed to be the world’s first purpose built prisoner of war camp. The art collection contains an impressive variety of paintings, prints and drawings dating from the 1600s to the present day. Peterborough Museum also holds regular temporary exhibitions, weekend events and guided tours.
Burghley House to the north of Peterborough, near Stamford, was built and mostly designed by Sir William Cecil, later 1st Baron Burghley, who was Lord High Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I for most of her reign. The country house, with a park laid out by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown in the eighteenth century, is one of the principal examples of sixteenth century English architecture. The estate, still home to his descendants, hosts the Burghley Horse Trials, an annual three day event. Another Grade I listed building, Milton Hall near Castor, ancestral home of the Barons and later Earls Fitzwilliam, also dates from the same period. For two centuries following the restoration the city was a pocket borough of this family.
Longthorpe Tower, a fourteenth century three-storey tower and fortified manor house in the care of English Heritage, is situated about two miles (3 km) west of the city centre. A scheduled ancient monument protected by law, it contains the finest and most complete set of domestic paintings of the period in northern Europe. Nearby Thorpe Hall is one of the few mansions built in the Commonwealth period. A maternity hospital from 1943 to 1970, it was acquired by the Sue Ryder Foundation in 1986 and is currently in use as a hospice.
Flag Fen, the Bronze Age archaeological site, was discovered in 1982 when a team led by Dr. Francis Pryor carried out a survey of dykes in the area. Probably religious, it comprises a large number of poles arranged in five long rows, connecting Whittlesey with Peterborough across the wet fenland. The museum exhibits many of the artefacts found, including what is believed to be the oldest wheel in Britain. An exposed section of the Roman road known as the Fen Causeway also crosses the site.
The Nene Valley Railway, a seven and a half mile (12 km) heritage railway, was one of the last passenger lines to fall under the Beeching Axe. In 1974 the former development corporation bought the line, running from the city centre to Yarwell Junction just west of Wansford, via Orton Mere and the 500 acre (202 ha) Ferry Meadows country park, and leased it to the Peterborough Railway Society. Railworld is a railway museum located beside Peterborough Nene Valley railway station.
The Nene Park, which opened in 1978, covers a site three and a half miles (5.6 km) long, from slightly west of Castor to the centre of Peterborough. The park has three lakes, one of which houses a watersports centre. Ferry Meadows, one of the major destinations and attractions signposted on the Green Wheel, occupies a large portion of Nene Park. Orton Mere provides access to the east of the park.
Southey Wood, once included in the Royal Forest of Rockingham, is a mixed woodland maintained by the Forestry Commission between the villages of Upton and Ufford. Nearby, Castor Hanglands, Barnack Hills and Holes and Bedford Purlieus national nature reserves are each sites of special scientific interest. In 2002 the Hills and Holes, one of Natural England’s 35 spotlight reserves, was designated a special area of conservation as part of the Natura 2000 network of sites throughout the European Union.
East Anglia is most notable for being almost flat. During the Ice Age much of the region was covered by ice sheets and this has influenced the topography and nature of the soils. Much of Cambridgeshire is low-lying, in some places below present-day mean sea level. The lowest point on land is supposedly just to the south of the city at Holme Fen, which is 2.75 metres (9 ft) below sea level. The largest of the many settlements along the Fen edge, Peterborough has been called the Gateway to the Fens. Before they were drained the Fens were liable to periodic flooding so arable farming was limited to the higher areas of the Fen edge, with the rest of the Fenland dedicated to pastoral farming. In this way, the medieval and early modern Fens stood in contrast to the rest of southern England, which was primarily arable. Since the advent of modern drainage in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the Fens have been radically transformed such that arable farming has almost entirely replaced pastoral. The city includes the outlying settlement at RAF Wittering, the Home of the Harrier, and as a unitary authority borders Northamptonshire to the west, Lincolnshire to the north, and non-metropolitan Cambridgeshire to the south and east.