A few weeks ago we decided to take a weekend motorhome trip to Peterborough. The general response was – why??? Even my wife’s best friend, who had been brought up in Peterborough, was entirely confused by our plan to visit her home town. Well of course the answer was – because it’s there!
We stayed at a Motorhome and Caravan Club site on the edge of the city called Ferry Meadows. This is a wonderful country park bordering the River Nene. Think Coombe Abbey but with much more water. There were play areas everywhere, a lovely visitor centre and several attractive cafes. There is sailing and other water sports and fishing. A model railway circles part of the site, although not open at this time of year, but there are extensive cycle and walking routes.
Close to the Country Park is the Nene Valley Railway; an enthusiast’s steam railway that runs for 7.5 miles from Yarwell Junction to the west to Peterborough in the east. Again a limited service at this time of year.
From the campsite there was a lovely 3 mile cycle ride along the Nene River into the city centre. Contrary to all the negative comments, we found the city centre to be rather attractive – a classic red brick county town with some attractive civic and ecclesiastical buildings and a pedestrianised high street.
There is a major indoor shopping centre with all of the brand names you would expect and more. With a catchment area without competition, the retail offering has stood up to the fight with the internet and there are remarkably few vacant shop units. A bit different to Coventry!
Peterborough’s Cathedral Square is a rather fine square, with the attractive St. John the Baptist Church and Peterborough Guildhall, the former Market Hall, both overlooking the square. Evidence of our colleagues in the Peterborough Civic Society was well evident with a range of blue plaques around the city centre.
One attractive feature, overlooking the square, is a metal sculpture by Anthony Gormley looking down from the roof of a building society. I have seen such sculptures in Cambridge and other cities and they are just fantastic. We should campaign to have one in Coventry for City of Culture year.
We visited the splendid Peterborough Cathedral, or more properly the Cathedral Church of St Peter, St Paul and St Andrew. Of course Peterborough is named after the Cathedral’s patron saint.
The Norman building is largely unaltered and gives a fascinating glimpse of what St. Mary’s Cathedral in Coventry must have been like before its destruction. Interestingly the building was not a Cathedral before the reformation, but just a (huge) Abbey Church. The Abbot at that time was pretty smart and negotiated with King Henry VIII offering to give up the abbey in exchange for the Church becoming a Cathedral and remaining. The fact that King Henry’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon, is buried here may be relevant. The Abbot’s negotiation was successful and not only was the Church consecrated as a Cathedral, but the Abbot became its first Bishop. Katherine’s grave is marked with the presence of lots of pomegranates.
We took a tour of the upper levels of the Cathedral and the tower. This gave a fabulous close up view of a medieval window with beautiful colourful glass. Of course the glass was not in its original position, the original windows having been destroyed by Cromwell’s forces during the Civic War. Today’s window has been re-created from the rescued glass and it resembles a mis-assembled jigsaw. The similarity to Coventry’s medieval glass is striking and one has to ask whether some of it could be by John Thornton or perhaps influenced by him.
The tour also took us between the roof and the ceiling and up to the top of the central tower, giving stunning views of the city and surrounding area. There was also a medieval windless used for raising stone to the top of the building during construction. It seems to have been left for the completion of one of the towers that remains incomplete.
Well if you get the chance to visit Peterborough, then I suggest that you ignore all the people questioning your sanity and go and take a look for yourself. You won’t regret it.
John Payne, Secretary of the Coventry Society