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Peterborough in 1840

PETERBOROUGH, or PETERBURGH, an English city, in the liberty of Peterborough (otherwise called Nassburgh or Nassaburgh soke or hundred), in the county of Northampton, on the river Nene, and on the Hull and Lincoln mail road, 83 miles from the General Post Office, London, by Waltham Cross and Baldock.

This city owes its origin to a celebrated Benedictine abbey founded by Peada, son of Penda, king of the Mercians, soon after the revival of Christianity among the Saxons. Peterborough was anciently called Medeshamsted and Medeswellehamsted. About the year 870 the abbey was destroyed by the Danes ; and after remaining desolate for a century, was restored in the reign of Edgar (A.D. 970), about which time the name Medeshamsted was superseded by that of Burgh, otherwise Gilden-burgh, from the wealth and splendour of the abbey, or Peter-burgh, from the saint to whom it was dedicated. In the reign of William the Conqueror the abbey was attacked and plundered by the insurgents of the fens under Hereward-le-Wake ; and the village which was rising around it was destroyed by fire. In 1116, the village and the greater part of the abbey were again destroyed by fire. The monastic buildings were gradually restored and augmented ; and at the dissolution of the religious houses under Henry VIII, Peterborough was one of the most magnificent abbeys then existing. Having been selected as the seat of one of the new bishoprics erected by Henry, the buildings were preserved entire. In the civil war of Charles I great devastations were committed. The cathedral itself was much injured, and many of the other conventual buildings were utterly demolished and the materials sold. The Lady-chapel was subsequently taken down by the townsmen, to whom the church had been granted for a parish church. No historical interest is attached to the town independent of the abbey or cathedral.

Peterborough is comprehended in the parish of St. John Baptist, which has a total area of 4,880 acres, and a population, in 1831, of 6,313 : of this the limits of the city comprehend an area of 1,430 acres, and a population of 5,553 ; the remaining area and population are included in the hamlets of Dogsthorpe and Eastfield with Newark, and the chapelry of Longthorpe. The city consists of several streets regularly laid out and well paved and lighted, close upon the bank of the river, over which there is a wooden bridge. The houses are in general well built, and several of them are of recent erection. Besides the cathedral, there is a large parish church ; and also some dissenting places of worship. There is a market-house, the upper part of which is used as the town-hall ; and a small gaol and house of correction for the liberty.

The cathedral of Peterborough is a regular cruciform structure of Norman or early English character, remarkable for the solidity and massiveness of its construction. The erection of it was commenced A.D. 1117 (after the great fire of 1116), by John de Sais or Seez, a Norman, then abbot. It is probable that the choir was the part first erected. It has a semicircular eastern end, and at the extremities of the semi-circle there are two slender turrets crowned with pinnacles : the aisles have subsequently been carried out square by an addition of perpendicular character. The chancel was finished (A.D. 1140) by Abbot Martin de Vecti : the great transept and a portion of the central tower were built by Abbot William de Waterville or Vaudeville (A.D. 1160-1175), and the nave by Abbot Benedict (A.D. 1177-1193). The central tower is low, and forms a lantern. The nave has its piers composed of shafts of good proportions and fine appearance, without that overwhelming heaviness which appears in buildings where the great circular piers are used. At the western end of the nave are smaller transepts : over the north-western transept is a tower of early English character, with angular buttresses surmounted with pinnacles, and formerly with a spire. It was obviously part of the architect’s plan to erect a similar tower over the south-western transept, but it was never completed. The fine western front of the cathedral is an addition to the nave ; it consists of a lofty portico of three compartments, that in the centre being the narrowest ; each compartment has an arch equal in height to the nave, supported by triangular piers faced with clustered shafts, and is surmounted by a lofty and richly ornamented pediment and a cross. At each extremity of the western front is a lofty turret flanked at the angles by clustered shafts and pinnacles, and crowned with spires. The fine effect of this western front is much injured a by a small porch or chapel inserted in the central arch between the piers, which, though in itself very beautiful, is here quite misplaced.

Though the general character of the architecture is Norman or early English, great alterations have been made in later styles. Nearly all the windows have had tracery inserted, and some of them have been enlarged. The perpendicular addition at the eastern end, by which the aisles of the choir have been carried out square, is plain in its outward appearance, with large windows and hold buttresses, the latter surmounted by sitting statues in place of pinnacles. The ceiling or inner roof of the nave and of the great transepts is painted wood ; and the choir has a wooden groined roof of very inferior workmanship and appearance. The dean and chapter have recently erected a new organ-screen of stone, and entirely new fitted up the choir with stalls, throne, pulpit, and altar-screen. The organ-screen consists of an entrance into the choir under a richly moulded pointed arch surmounted by a crocketed canopy. The whole of the fitting up of the choir is in the style of the time of Edward III, and the wood-work is of oak richly ornamented. There are few monuments, shrines, or chantry chapels, the devastations of the parliamentary troops having deprived the church of many of its ornaments of this class. The burial-places of the two queens, Catherine of Aragon, and Mary of Scotland, both of whom were interred here, are unmarked by any sepulchral monument.

The dimensions of the church are given by Bridges (Hist. of Northamptonshire) as follows:- total length 476 feet 5 inches, breadth of the nave and aisles 78 feet, height of the ceiling of the church 78 feet, breadth of the church at the great transepts 203 feet, breadth of the transepts 69 feet, height of lantern 135 feet ; all these were (we believe) inside measurements. Length of the western front 156 feet, height of the turrets at the extremities of the west front 156 feet, tower and spire (the latter since taken down) over the north-west transept from the ground, 184 feet, height of the central tower from the ground 150 feet ; these are all outside measurements.

The view of the cathedral is confined on every side except the west, at which end is a large court, the entry to which from the town is by a gateway of Norman architecture, with some later additions. On the south side of the court is a range of the ancient monastic buildings, retaining much of their ancient appearance, and having in the midst of them the tower-gateway to the bishop’s palace, over which is the knight’s chamber. On the greater part of the other sides the cathedral is surrounded by the ancient cemetery of the citizens, which is filled with tombstones. The gate of entrance to this cemetery from the western court is by a late perpendicular gate, remarkably rich in ornament. This cemetery is now not used ; and a new burial-ground has been formed on the western side of the city.

The trade carried on at Peterborough is chiefly in corn, coal, timber, lime, bricks, and stone. The Nene is navigable for boats. There is a weekly market, and there are two yearly fairs ; one of these, called ‘Brigge fair,’ is kept over the bridge on the Huntingdonshire side of the river.

There is no corporation at Peterborough. The dean and chapter exercise certain jurisdiction : their steward holds a court for trying all actions, personal or mixed, arising within the city, but suits above £5 are seldom tried here. The writs issuing from this court are directed to the bailiff of the city, who is appointed by the dean and chapter. Quarte-sessions for the liberty of Peterborough (which includes the whole soke or hundred of Nassaburgh) are held for trying criminal actions of all kinds ; the Custos Rotulorum, who is appointed by the crown, presides. The gaol and house of correction for the city and liberty are both miserably deficient. (‘First Report of Inspectors of Prisons in Great Britain.’) Prisoners committed for trial for capital offences are sent to Northampton.

Peterborough has sent members to parliament from 1 Edward VI (A.D 1647). The boundary of the city for parliamentary purposes was enlarged by the Boundary Act, so as to comprehend the whole parish of St. John the Baptist and the Minster precincts, which are extra-parochial. The bailiff of the city is the returning-officer. The number of voters registered in 1835-36 was 578.

The living of St. John is a vicarage including the chapelry of Longthorpe, of the clear yearly value of £575, with a glebe-house. It is in the gift of the bishop of Peterborough.

There were in the parish, in 1833, one infant-school, with 68 children ; the endowed cathedral grammar-school, with 31 boys ; two endowed schools, with 20 and 16 boys respectively; a national school, with 322 boys and 118 girls, thirteen other boarding or day schools, with 182 boys and 190 girls ; and two Sunday-schools, with 93 boys and 91 girls.

The bishopric of Peterborough was erected by Henry VIII; the diocese, which was taken out of that of Lincoln, comprehends the counties of Northampton and Rutland, except three parishes in each county, which remain in the peculiar jurisdiction of Lincoln. There are two archdeaconries, Northampton and Leicester : that of Northampton comprehends the ten rural deaneries of Brackley, Daventry, Haddon, Higham Ferrars, Northampton, Oundle, Peterborough, Preston, Rothwell, and Weldon, all in Northamptonshire ; the five rural deaneries of Alstow, East Hundred, Oakham soke, Rutland or Martinsley, and Wrandike, all in Rutlandshire ; the archdeaconry of Leicester (lately in the diocese of Lincoln) contains the seven rural deaneries of Akeley, Framland, Gartree, Goodlaxton, Goscot, Leicester, and Sparkenhoe.

The average yearly revenue of the bishopric is returned at £3,518 gross, and £3,103 net, including the preferment’s annexed to the see. The average yearly revenue of the cathedral is returned at £6,357 gross, and £5,118 net. The corporation consists of the dean and six prebendaries ; there are four minor canons, and a precentor, who is also sacrist and librarian. The dignitaries have no separate revenues.