Tales from Tour Guides: 20

Tales from Tour Guides: the stories that fascinate, perplex and inspire the Tour Guides of Peterborough Cathedral, written during lockdown.


The Bells of Peterborough Cathedral

The belfry is in the north west tower

The North West Tower

by Christopher Groome

English cathedrals are mostly known in bell ringing circles for the quality of their bells and the quality of the ringers who ring them. Peterborough missed out for several centuries because of bad decisions and only joined the list of cathedrals with good ringing as recently as 1986. The records show various attempts being made to give Peterborough a ring of bells worthy of the Cathedral and why, for various reasons, they failed.

The Abbey kept poor records of its bells before the dissolution of the monasteries, but there are records from the thirteenth century referring to the ‘great bells’ being rung for the death of various notables. By inference, there were four such bells, presumably housed in the north west tower.  

In 1709 there was a flurry of activity to bring Peterborough Cathedral into the age of change ringing, with the casting of a new ring of 10 bells from the metal of the four ‘great bells.’  Rings of bells are classified by the weight of the heaviest bell, which is known as the tenor.  The tenor at Peterborough weighed 30 cwt. The weight was suitable for the Cathedral but there were two problems which dogged ringing right up to the present day.

The first problem was the choice of founder.  The founder given the job was Henry Penn.  He was a local man who had his foundry by the river.  The job was much the biggest he had ever done.  Small rings of, for example, six bells in a village he could turn out without a problem.  A 30cwt ring of 10 was quite a different matter.  There are no records of the discussions leading to the decision to appoint Henry Penn, but I guess that several people argued for using the local man.  The consequence was a ring of bells which was out of tune and difficult to ring.  They should have employed a national foundry which had a track record for casting and hanging bells of cathedral weight.

The second problem was the reputation of the west front, that it would collapse if the bells were rung.  For the whole life of the ring, the glib answer to any move to ring the bells more frequently was: To protect the west front the answer is ‘No’.  This was the position until 1980.  Who would raise money for improvements if the answer is always ‘No’?

The next milestone was in 1831 when the ninth bell cracked.  It was a measure of the importance attached to the bells that the Dean and Chapter of the time traded in the front five bells to pay for the recasting of the ninth.  Then there were five!

The bells limped on for most of the Victorian period.  When the energy which led to the rebuilding of the central tower was paralleled by many other works, the bells again came into view.  The leading figure was Henry Pearson Gates who was the Mayor of Peterborough in 1891.  He paid for a new 10 bell frame by Taylor of Loughborough, at that time the best bell founders in the land.  He challenged other leading citizens to pay for the five missing bells.  He had no takers.  It was hardly surprising given the still prevailing view that the west front would collapse if the bells were rung.  So the Cathedral entered the twentieth century with the heaviest ring of five bells in the world, bells of indifferent quality, and an excellent 10 bell frame.

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Some of the current bells. Photo: Geoffrey Gent

For bell ringers, to have a cathedral without ringing bells was almost a badge of shame.  The Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers therefore decided in 1980 to make the Cathedral its Diamond Jubilee project for delivery in 1984.  Canon Ernest Orland, who was my predecessor as President, and I visited Dick Wingfield-Digby, then Dean, and Canon Thomas Christie, Canon Treasurer, to seek their support.  They were unable to help us financially but would share the cost of employing Professor Jacques Heyman of Cambridge University, the leading structural engineer of the time for mediaeval masonry buildings.  If he decided the North West tower was safe to carry a ring of bells, the Cathedral would back it, if not financially.  Professor Heyman gave the tower a clean bill of health. His report particularly commended the bell frame of 1891.

The next step was to draw up and cost a scheme preparatory to getting detailed approval and launching an appeal. The starting point was the 10-bell frame, but the bells of 1709 could not be tuned to provide a ring of quality.  The good news was that a second-hand ring of 10 bells from the redundant Church of St John the Divine, Leicester, was available for purchase.  These Taylor bells were contemporary with the Peterborough frame, of excellent quality, and had been installed when Leicester was in the Peterborough Diocese.  The tenor weight was 21 cwt so it would fit into the 9th pit, leaving the 10th pit for three new trebles to form a ring of 13 bells as befits a cathedral.

Our proposal for dealing with the old bells was to sell the recast 4th to Withycombe Raleigh in Devon to become the tenor of a ring of 10 bells. It was the best of the old bells.  We proposed to retune the 5th and retain it as a bourdon bell because it had historical significance as the biggest bell cast in Peterborough.  It is the bell which sounds before services and strikes the hours and half hours for the clock.  The other three bells we proposed to sell for scrap.  The budget for the scheme was £100,000.

At this point we came up against the conservation lobby which wanted to retain all the old five bells as the basis for the new ring.  This would have perpetuated the string of bad decisions made starting in 1709.  It would have cost more and produced a bad outcome.  With the backing of the Dean and Chapter the Diocesan Guild appealed to the Cathedrals Advisory Commission for its scheme to be approved and I went to London for the meeting.  The Commission backed our scheme subject to trying to sell the three old bells in the USA, which we did successfully with the help of Peterborough Development Corporation.

Peterborough Cathedral’s ‘new’ bells were slightly late for the Guild’s Diamond Jubilee, being blessed by Bishop Bill Westwood in November 1986, whereas the actual Jubilee year was 1984.  In the context of three centuries messing around and no substantial progress, two years late is a modest delay.  I think Henry Pearson Gates would be pleased with what we did, albeit nearly a century after he issued his challenge.

20 bells3


We know that this is a very difficult time for everyone, but if you feel able to make a donation to help the Cathedral now, when income from visitors, worshippers and events have all plummeted, that would be very much appreciated. You can do so via the Cathedral’s Virgin Money Giving page. Thank you.

Tales from Tour Guides: 19

Tales from Tour Guides: the stories that fascinate, perplex and inspire the Tour Guides of Peterborough Cathedral, written during lockdown.


Henry Topclyffe – an unlikely (and unwitting) hero

by Paul Middleton

The story of the sacking of Peterborough Cathedral by Parliamentarian soldiers in April 1643 is well known, in large part thanks to the careful gathering of contemporary accounts, preserved in Simon Gunton’sHistory of the Church of Peterborough”.

lecturnAs well as so much destruction to the altars, tombs, screens and stained glass windows in the church, the religious zeal of the soldiers was turned on anything that they considered to be associated with popery. For illiterate soldiers, Latin texts, such as prayer books, were readily assumed to be Papal Bulls or to be relics of Roman Catholic practice and accordingly fit for burning. Only the great bible, placed on the brass eagle lectern (see photo), which can still be seen in the choir, was left, out of reverence for the Scriptures.

One of the soldiers, our hero Henry Topclyffe, serving under Captain Henry Cromwell, Oliver’s son, was a member of the party engaged in destroying the images which they found painted on the woodwork of the choir stalls. It seems that, in anticipation of some trouble, the clergy of the cathedral had hidden various documents behind the woodwork, hoping to preserve them from the soldiers. However, when 20 gold coins were discovered along with a great parchment, the soldiers’ enthusiasm for the task was no doubt heightened and in the course of the further breaking down of the fittings, a volume we know as the Swaffham Cartulary was retrieved and fell into the hands of Henry.

This collection of manuscripts, including a copy of a 12th century chronicle compiled by an abbey monk, Hugh Candidus, is a priceless source for much that is known  about the early Saxon and medieval history of the abbey and its estates.

No doubt set on committing the volume to the bonfire on which all the prayer books and other manuscripts were being thrown, Henry was approached by the cathedral precentor, Humphrey Austin, who, with great presence of mind, managed to persuade Henry that the volume he held was in fact an old Latin bible and therefore should be respected.

Henry recorded his agreement that the volume deserved to survive by having the following wording written down in the book:

“I pray let this scripture book alone for he hath paid me for it; therefore I would desire you to let it alone, by me Henry Topclyffe, souldyer under Capt. Cromwell, Coll. Cromwell’s sonn; therefore I pray let it alone.

                                                                                    By me Henry Topclyffe”

Gunton records that Henry was paid ten shillings, a significant sum.

In this way, much of the early history of the Abbey was preserved and Henry earns his place among the heroes of the cathedral, though perhaps Humphrey Austin deserves the greater credit!

The Swaffham Cartulary survives to this day and is kept securely in the Cambridge University Library collections.  A more recent stained glass window, located in the South Transept, depicts the moment that Henry passed over the volume to a relieved Humphrey Austin (see below).  The ten shillings seems already to be safely tucked away in Henry’s pockets!  Have a look for the window when you visit.

topcliffe


We know that this is a very difficult time for everyone, but if you feel able to make a donation to help the Cathedral now, when income from visitors, worshippers and events have all plummeted, that would be very much appreciated. You can do so via the Cathedral’s Virgin Money Giving page. Thank you.

Tales from Tour Guides: 18

Tales from Tour Guides: the stories that fascinate, perplex and inspire the Tour Guides of Peterborough Cathedral, written during lockdown.


The Cathedral in the Civil War

by Geoffrey Gent

Civil Wars are the most divisive and destructive conflicts and that between Charles 1st and Parliament was no exception.

orme memorial

The Orme family memorial, defaced during the Civil War.

Records show that Parliamentary troops entered Peterborough in 1643 to besiege Crowland, which was then held for the King, with the assurance that the cathedral would be respected. Two days later a regiment of foot under Colonel Cromwell forced entry to the building and indulged in wanton destruction of carved stonework, books, stained glass and other artefacts.

The eagle lectern from the medieval abbey was spared, and a fortuitous intervention by a minor canon enabled the retrieval of the 13th century chronicle by Robert of Swapham (Swaffham). It is now in the care of the University of Cambridge library. More of this in our next Tales from Tour Guides.

What was going on then, for Cromwell’s troops were usually models of restraint and discipline?

Part of the answer is that the Puritans wanted a very simple form of building and contents as the spoken word was central to their faith. This is demonstrated in the chapel built at nearby Guyhirn in this period, where only a pulpit and pews were thought necessary. Hardly a justification for the great losses inflicted, but it did allow the great re-establishment of stained glass and wood carving of the highest quality during the Victorian period. Then also, fragments of surviving medieval stained glass were retrieved and relocated in the lower windows of the Apse. This shows art work of great skill and is always a highlight of Tower Tours (see the window fragments shown below).

medieval-glass

P1050735

Footnote: In 2016, Access Cambridge Archaeology with Cambridge Archaeological Unit undertook a community archaeology excavation in the north west area of the Precincts (supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund).  They found refuse deposits from the time that Cromwell’s troops were quartered in the Precincts. Alongside the ceramic pots, clay pipes and animal bones from prepared food that you would expect from an encampment, there was also a large quantity of painted window glass with fragments of lead within them. See our blog from the 2016 archaeology dig.


We know that this is a very difficult time for everyone, but if you feel able to make a donation to help the Cathedral now, when income from visitors, worshippers and events have all plummeted, that would be very much appreciated. You can do so via the Cathedral’s Virgin Money Giving page. Thank you.

Tales from Tour Guides: 17

Tales from Tour Guides: the stories that fascinate, perplex and inspire the Tour Guides of Peterborough Cathedral, written during lockdown.


John Chambers – a Survivor

by Richard Asher

“If you can keep your head when all around you are losing theirs ….”

Portrait-Of-John-Chambers-1543 by Hans Holbein

Portrait of John Chambers 1543 by Hans Holbein. http://www.hans-holbein.org/Portrait-Of-John-Chambers-1543.html

So goes Kipling’s famous poem, If. Well, John Chambers not only kept his head but also survived very well, when many of his contemporaries literally lost theirs – by execution!

Not a huge amount is known about John Chambers’ early life or background, except that he is believed to have been born in Peterborough. Nor is it known when he became a monk at Peterborough Abbey, but in 1505 he read for an M.A. at the University of Cambridge .

He was clearly well regarded by the other monks. In 1528, when the abbot, Robert Kirton (or Kirkton), was removed for expropriating abbey funds, Chambers was appointed abbot in his place. At the time Peterborough was one of the pre-eminent Benedictine monasteries in the country, at the height of its power and wealth. The abbot had a seat in the House of Lords and mixed with the great and powerful.

But these were difficult times for monks and abbots in particular. King Henry VIII had ordered the Dissolution of the Monasteries. His agent Richard Layton, accompanied by Richard Cromwell, the nephew of the King’s key advisor Thomas Cromwell, was at Ramsey Abbey supervising its dissolution. Peterborough was next on his list.

Chambers was an astute man; today he would probably be called “an operator”. He had contacts, including Sir William Parr, Marquess of Northampton, whose sister Katherine was later to become Henry VIII’s sixth and last wife. It is believed that Chambers approached him to seek his help in saving the abbey. Chambers was perhaps hoping to buy the abbey out of the dissolution. However, it soon became clear that this was not a situation where a bribe would do the trick.

Chambers realised the way the wind was blowing and handed the abbey over to Henry’s commissioners. Many abbots did not, including the abbot of the famous Glastonbury Abbey. He refused to hand over the keys to the abbey and was executed. Most abbots and priors who did hand the keys over received a pension, and so did the monks. Chambers was appointed “guardian of the temporalities”, in other words he was responsible for looking after the abbey church after the rest of the abbey buildings had become uninhabitable. For this he received a pension and became a royal chaplain. Looking after the church did not seem to require him to be resident in Peterborough, as he completed his Bachelor of Divinity degree at Cambridge in the same year (1539).

So why did Henry and the Commissioners keep Peterborough Abbey Church? Many abbeys had their church roofs removed, others were only part retained to provide a parish church for the local community. Peterborough already had the parish church of St John’s, yet unusually the whole of the abbey church was preserved. Henry had different plans for Peterborough *. In 1541 he created, by letters patent, six new dioceses and cathedrals. The reason for this was to reduce the power, wealth and influence of the existing bishops and their sees. The new diocese of Peterborough was designed to break up the power of the see of Lincoln, one of the largest of the old dioceses, stretching from the River Humber to the Thames. John Chambers became the new Bishop, the only abbot to become a bishop following the reformation. He was consecrated in his new Cathedral on 23rd October 1541, by the Bishop of Ely, Thomas Goodrich.

Chambers survived and thrived through three reigns at a time of unparalleled religious turmoil. He lived through the incredible upheaval of the Reformation – Henry’s break with Rome, the extensive further evangelical changes wrought by Henry’s son, Edward VI, and the beginning of the attempt to re-join the church of Rome under Queen Mary.

Chambers died, still Bishop of Peterborough, on 7th February 1556. His funeral took place on 6th March 1556 and he was buried in the choir of the Cathedral. According to some accounts, Chambers had two monuments, both of which were destroyed during the English Civil War. However, it is believed that the much-damaged effigy currently located in the south west corner of the New Building of the Cathedral is that of John Chambers. A survival which is a fitting monument to a real survivor of the Reformation.

The tomb thought to be that of John Chambers, in Peterborough Cathedral.

The tomb thought to be that of John Chambers. Photo used by kind permission of Julian White http://www.julianwhite.uk/

* Respect for the grave of his first wife, Katharine (divorced by Henry but regarded by him as a Dowager Princess) may also have been a factor in retaining the abbey church. She was buried in there in January 1536.


We know that this is a very difficult time for everyone, but if you feel able to make a donation to help the Cathedral now, when income from visitors, worshippers and events have all plummeted, that would be very much appreciated. You can do so via the Cathedral’s Virgin Money Giving page. Thank you.

Tales from Tour Guides: 16

Tales from Tour Guides: the stories that fascinate, perplex and inspire the Tour Guides of Peterborough Cathedral, written during lockdown.


Peterborough’s “King of Spades”

By Paul Middleton

15 old scarlett1As you step inside the great west entrance of the cathedral and pause to take in the magnificent view which is revealed, take a moment to turn and look either side of the doorway.  There you will see on one side, an oil painting, and on the other side a painted mural.

Both depict a man, standing, with spade and pick, in the dress typical of a working man in the 1500s.  This figure, we know, is Robert Scarlett, the town gravedigger, described in contemporary verse under the mural, and he is buried directly underneath the mural. His was an important role in the rhythm of life of the community, for certain, but for a common man to be buried inside the cathedral in 1594 was altogether exceptional.  What, then, made him so notable  a figure and why two portraits?

MR4_1630For one thing, Robert lived to the age of 98, and that must have made him something of a local legend, especially with his public role which would have touched all the families of the town at one time or another.  However, his greatest claim to celebrity status at the time was the fact that he could state that he had been involved in the burial of two Queens – Katharine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife, buried in the cathedral in1536, and Mary Queen of Scots, who was buried here after her execution in 1587 and remained in the Presbytery until her son, as James I of England, removed her body for burial at Westminster Abbey.

MR4_0823

Robert Scarlett’s grave stone, beneath the mural portrait of him inside the Cathedral

There is a story that Robert used to claim that he had in fact buried three Queens and he no doubt strung out the story as his listeners counted Katherine, then Mary, then …who might the third Queen have been?  Answer: his first wife!

Church records show that Robert was also much involved in helping to organise supplies which were used to support the poor of the town – perhaps one of his more pleasurable duties was the collection of 22 quarts of wine from a public house in the market square.  New spades provided to him in 1564 and again in 1568 indicate the regular use to which his tools were put.  Already in his late 70s, he was provided with a gown to keep him warm when he was called out to toll the bell for sick persons, something he was evidently expected to do in all weathers.

Robert has one further possible claim to fame.

William Shakespeare. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

During his time as gravedigger, a young John Fletcher lived in the Cathedral precincts and later earned his living as a dramatist and contemporary of William Shakespeare in London.  Might John have remembered conversations with old Robert Scarlett as he dug new graves, disturbing older burials as he dug?  Might this have been the origin of Shakespeare’s gravedigger, holding aloft the skull of poor Yorick?  We shall never know, of course, but it is a pleasant thought that Robert’s fame might have spread to the taverns of London!

And the two portraits?

You must ask the guide when you visit!


We know that this is a very difficult time for everyone, but if you feel able to make a donation to help the Cathedral now, when income from visitors, worshippers and events have all plummeted, that would be very much appreciated. You can do so via the Cathedral’s Virgin Money Giving page. Thank you.

Tales from Tour Guides: 15

Tales from Tour Guides: the stories that fascinate, perplex and inspire the Tour Guides of Peterborough Cathedral, written during lockdown.


The New Building

By Steven Dodding

The New Building, Peterborough CathedralDespite its name, the New Building which encloses the lower levels of the apse at the eastern end of the Cathedral, has been with us for over 500 years. In contrast with the Romanesque style of much of the rest of the Cathedral, it is a striking example of late Perpendicular Gothic architecture and was largely added in the early years of the 16th century.

The man responsible for its construction was Robert Kirkton, the penultimate abbot of the pre-reformation Benedictine monastery and by all accounts something of a rogue. Alongside a campaign of personal enrichment and the confiscation of public land to create his own deer park, he decided to invest in this magnificent architectural legacy. It was intended to serve as a retrochoir or processional route around the rear of the high altar which the Cathedral had lacked up to this point. 15 new building 1One would imagine that Abbot Kirkton was not the most self-effacing of characters and indeed he seemed determined to be remembered by posterity as he has left his name on the masonry in several places in the form of a rebus (a pictorial representation) to be regularly pointed out by guides of the future. See above the ‘kirk’ (church) on the left and the ‘ton’ (barrel) on the right.

The fan vaulted ceiling in the New Building, Peterborough Cathedral. Photo credit: Jigsaw Design and Publishing

Perhaps the most striking feature of the New Building is its wonderful fan vaulted ceiling. This is one of the four largest expanses of fan vaulting in the country (the others being in Bath Abbey, Westminster Abbey and King’s College Chapel, Cambridge) and the largest in a cathedral church.

On stylistic grounds the architect seems likely to have been John Wastell of Bury St Edmunds who went on to create the very similar but larger ceiling at King’s College. I’m sure most people would agree that Peterborough’s is not a bad first attempt.

The building is very much a Tudor confection. An ornate frieze runs roughly at head level around the walls and the symbols within it perhaps reflect Kirkton’s wish to curry favour with the relatively new dynasty of Henry VII. Tudor rose, Prince Arthur and Princess KatharineAmongst the carvings are Tudor roses, Prince of Wales’ feathers (for Arthur, the first husband of Katherine of Aragon) and Portcullises, the heraldic symbol of Henry’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort; Kirkton was a close friend. Of particular interest are two small crowned heads alongside each other (see photo). These are believed to be images of Arthur and his new bride, Katherine created around the time of their wedding in 1501. This is notable as there are very few representions of Prince Arthur surviving anywhere else in the country.

There are several burials and memorials of note. On the south wall of the apse is the ruined funerary monument to Sir Humphrey Orme, the Royalist MP for Peterborough at the time of the English Civil War. As such he was hardly likely to have been a favourite of the marauding Roundheads who ran riot in the Cathedral in 1643. The beautiful tomb, which was yet to be occupied, was destroyed by Cromwell’s troops and the shattered remains have been preserved as a reminder of the wanton vandalism of those days. Sir Humphrey decided not to rebuild his monument and when his time eventually came he decided to be buried elsewhere.

Opposite can be found the tomb of Kirkton’s successor as Abbot, John Chambers who through political manoeuvring managed to save the church from destruction at the time of the reformation. He became the Anglican Bishop of the new Cathedral in 1541; the only man in the country to have made 

Thomas Deacon's memorial in the New Building, Peterborough Cathedral. Photo credit: Jigsaw Design & Publishing

this transition. Nearby is the tomb of Peter Peckard, an 18th century Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge who was a pioneer in the movement for the abolition of slavery and a major influence on William Wilberforce. Thomas Deacon (d. 1721), the founder of the local school which bears his name lies in a magnificent white and greyish marble tomb a short distance away (photo on right).

The New Building is a truly beautiful and peaceful space and it is undoubtedly worth spending time getting to know. Robert Kirkton was certainly no angel but he left the people of Peterborough a little piece of paradise by which to remember him.


We know that this is a very difficult time for everyone, but if you feel able to make a donation to help the Cathedral now, when income from visitors, worshippers and events have all plummeted, that would be very much appreciated. You can do so via the Cathedral’s Virgin Money Giving page. Thank you.

Tales from Tour Guides: 14

Tales from Tour Guides: the stories that fascinate, perplex and inspire the Tour Guides of Peterborough Cathedral, written during lockdown.


Benedict of Peterborough

By Susan Mashford

When I became a Tour Guide, I was disappointed to learn that Abbot Benedict was not the founder of the order whose rules the monastery followed (that Benedict had died some some 120 years earlier), but I was thrilled to discover the benefits that our own Benedict brought to Peterborough.

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Stained glass window depicting the murder of Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. Source: Wikipedia Commons

His abbacy began in 1177 and lasted until his death in 1194. But it was his previous experience which allowed him to make lasting and beneficial changes to the monastery. Benedict was a monk at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Canterbury when Thomas Becket was martyred there, and he was involved with the copying and dissemination of books about the life of the saint. Some historians claim that he was the author of two such books but this is disputed by others. There is no doubt that he was a learned man, with a comprehensive knowledge of the law as well as other disciplines.

He had been Chancellor to the Archbishop of Canterbury and Prior of the monastery there, at the heart of Christianity in southern England. In that role he had overseen the rebuilding of the choir after a disastrous fire, along with Master Mason William of Sens, who had built the first cathedral in Europe to employ the pointed arches and slim columns of what would later become known as the Gothic style.

When Henry II appointed Benedict to the abbacy in Peterborough, the position had been vacant for two years since the previous abbot, William of Waterville, had been deposed (more of which below). In that time all the dues had been acquired by the king rather than the monastery. We can imagine Benedict’s dismay on arrival; a half finished church in a greatly indebted monastery, situated on the edge of the watery fens in a tiny settlement entirely at its service, populated by ill-disciplined, leaderless monks. He only lasted a few days before disappearing back to Canterbury without notice and only one monk for company.

Whilst there he clearly made a plan to make the best of his new appointment. He gathered together some relics of Thomas Becket; his shirt, surplice, two vials of blood and some of the floor stones from where he was murdered, and returned with them to Peterborough.

Benedict had two main tasks; to finish the building of the abbey church and to restore order and prosperity to the monastery.

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On the first, we could assume that he would want to redesign the plans of the buildings to incorporate the taller and lighter pointed arches and slimmer piers that he had seen installed at Canterbury, and there is evidence in the first bays at clerestory level that that was his intention (see photo on left). There is also evidence in the more foliate designs of some of the capitals at gallery level, that he may have brought with him some masons skilled in those techniques. But a complete change of style did not happen and we can only speculate about the reasons. It may have been that the local masons had no relevant knowledge or experience and new designs would take longer and cost more, but he may equally have taken the decision to preserve the unity of the Romanesque design which we now appreciate so much.

Whatever the reason, Benedict continued the building of the nave in the same style to the west end. There was one significant change of plan; the original position of the west end was abandoned and the nave extended by one bay and the western transept added (where the Shop and Holy Spirit Chapel are now, either side of the main entrance) to allow for a much grander west front. This was probably achieved in Benedict’s time, although there is a difference of opinion and little written evidence to support either view.

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The Becket Chapel (now the Cathedral cafe) is what remains of the building containing Becket’s relics

The second task was more complex.  The previous abbot, William of Waterville, had been deposed on trumped up charges, but his chief offence was to borrow money for all his building works without the means to repay it. In the hundred or so years since the Norman Conquest, the abbey’s finances had diminished dramatically, largely because of alienation of the monastery lands to Norman knights. Benedict set about restoring the finances in two very distinct ways; he used the floor stones from the site of Becket’s murder to construct an altar in a specially built chapel in the saint’s memory, which provided an income stream from pilgrims for many generations. He also worked hard to restore lands to the monastery’s tenure by any means possible, both legal and forceful. He was extremely successful in this task, clearing the debt of 1500 marks by the end of his life.

Abbot BenedictSo it is clear that Benedict was both an opportunist (making use of his Becket connections) and a pragmatist (not imposing a new style on the building works). In the north aisle there is a tomb effigy of an unnamed monk which is often attributed to him. The image is of a man who is strong but not arrogant, devout but forceful. It is just the sort of face that I image Benedict to have.


We know that this is a very difficult time for everyone, but if you feel able to make a donation to help the Cathedral now, when income from visitors, worshippers and events have all plummeted, that would be very much appreciated. You can do so via the Cathedral’s Virgin Money Giving page. Thank you.

Tales from Tour Guides: 13

Tales from Tour Guides: the stories that fascinate, perplex and inspire the Tour Guides of Peterborough Cathedral, written during lockdown.


Edith Cavell

by Lydia Forrest
Published on International Nurses’ Day, Tuesday 12 May 2020.

A brief introduction from the writer

Having worked for 32 years as a nurse, I find  Edith Cavell’s life story inspiring and incredibly moving. I would like to think that her strong religious faith enabled her to undertake huge acts of bravery and self-sacrifice.

Her final words of forgiveness, just before her execution, serve as a message to us all, whatever our walk of life.

I would just like to add my personal thanks to all the NHS nurses and staff for their selfless dedication to their duty during these very trying times.

Edith Cavell’s story

Edith Cavell drawing crop -lr

In the south nave aisle there is a memorial plaque and a lamp dedicated to Nurse Edith Louisa Cavell (1865 – 1915). 

Here is her story.

Edith was born in Swardeston, Norfolk. Her father was a vicar, which probably helped to foster Edith’s strong Anglican beliefs. Her education was completed at Laurel Court, the girls’ school run by Miss Gibson in the cathedral grounds.  Edith then became a teacher herself at Laurel Court and whilst there she learned to speak German and French. 

Aged 19 she started working as a governess. She did this for 10 years and was, for some time, employed by a family in Brussels.  When her father became seriously ill, she returned home to care for him.  After his recovery in 1896, Edith decided to train as a nurse (now aged 30) and began her training at the London Hospital.

laurel court web1

Laurel Court in the Cathedral Cloisters

After working in various hospitals, in 1907 Edith returned to Brussels and was recruited to be the matron of a newly established nursing school in Brussels.  As there was no formal nurse training in Belgium at this time, Edith was seen as a pioneer of such.  In 1910 she became the matron of a new secular hospital in St. Gilles, Brussels.

When the First World War broke out, Edith was visiting her widowed mother in Norfolk, but she returned to Brussels straight away. In November 1914, after the German occupation of Brussels, Edith became part of a secret escape network (organised by the Prince Reginald and Princess Marie de Croy).  The network began sheltering British and French soldiers and Belgian civilians of military age, helping them to escape out of occupied Belgium into neutral Holland. 

Edith was arrested 3rd August 1915 and charged with harbouring Allied soldiers.  She was held in Saint-Gilles prison for 10 weeks. The last two weeks were in solitary confinement.  At her trial, Edith freely admitted to assisting 200 British, French and Belgian soldiers, and Belgian civilians of military age, to the Frontier. She had sheltered many of them in her house.

The night before her execution, she said to the Anglican chaplain:

“Standing as I do in view of God and Eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone”.

Edith was executed by firing squad 12 October 1915, aged 49 years. She was buried immediately after her execution next to St. Gilles prison.  The international outcry which followed astonished the German government. They had made a serious error of judgement and her death helped to bring America into the war. Also, following her death, Edith became an iconic propaganda figure for military recruitment in Britain.

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The lamp and memorial to Edith Cavell in the south aisle of Peterborough Cathedral

After the war, in 1919, her remains were taken to Westminster Abbey for a memorial service attended by members of the royal family. Edith was the first female commoner to be given a state funeral at Westminster Abbey (an honour she shares with Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher).  She was then transferred to Norwich by train, where her body was reburied in the cathedral grounds.  The King had to grant a special order to allow her body to be buried in the cathedral grounds.

In 2008, Princess Elizabeth De Croy, (a direct descendant of Prince Reginald of Croy and his sister, Princess Marie of Croy), donated a lamp which was used by Edith Cavell’s network for leading the escaping soldiers to their secret rendezvous. It hangs above the plaque in her memory in the south aisle.

The Church of England commemorates her in it’s calendar of Saints on 12th October.


We know that this is a very difficult time for everyone, but if you feel able to make a donation to help the Cathedral now, when income from visitors, worshippers and events have all plummeted, that would be very much appreciated. Details are here: https://www.peterborough-cathedral.org.uk/newsarticle.aspx/41/please-donate.

 

Tales from Tour Guides: 12

Tales from Tour Guides: the stories that fascinate, perplex and inspire the Tour Guides of Peterborough Cathedral, written during lockdown.

Published on VE Day, Friday 8 May 2020.


Vigilance and ingenuity of WW2 fire watchers saves Cathedral

During the Second World War, a team of ARP fire watchers was on duty on the roof of the Cathedral during enemy air raids to make sure that any incoming incendiary bombs were dealt with swiftly. Although these bombs weighed only about 1kg, they could cause tremendous devastation, like at Coventry Cathedral.

A trip to the upper levels of the Cathedral on Tower Tours sparked first-hand memories for some of our visitors recently. Both shared their parents’ recollections of the frightening and dangerous work the fire watchers did.

Tour Guide, Neil Barker, said:

WWII helmet at Peterborough Cathedral

An ARP fire watcher’s helmet, on display in the Cathedral Visitor Centre

Taking visitors on a Tower Tour is always a learning experience for the guides as well as for the visitors. When we get to the upper level inside the Cathedral, we show visitors some WW2 fire watchers’ helmets and talk about their work.

Twice they prevented incendiary bombs dropped from German aircraft from burning the Cathedral down. Coventry Cathedral was not so fortunate. The fire watchers who threw those incendiary bombs from the nave roof were certainly very brave.

tower tourOne day, when I got to this bit of the tour, a man asked if I knew where the fire watchers threw the bombs from. Later, as we walked out onto the nave walkway and looked out over the parapet, I explained that this was the spot where the bombs were thrown from. By now the man now had tears in his eyes, and he recalled his late mother talking about one of the nights when the bombs came.

She told him that dances used to be held in the City Road building now known as the Eco Innovation Centre. The townspeople would go there and dance to the latest Glenn Miller tunes. One night she was there at the dance when the sirens went and an air raid started. She remembered some US Military men at the dance rushing away to help the fire watchers. She had often told this story, and her son always wondered where the bombs were thrown from. Now he knew.

Tour Guide, Geoffrey Gent, said:

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Eric and Tony Broom outside on the Cathedral tower

I took Dr Eric Broom and his brother Tony on a Tower Tour. Tony lives in Peterborough and Eric, an active 90 year old, is Professor Emeritus at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. They recalled the experiences of their father, Frederick Broom, who was an ARP Warden. The Broom family had retail businesses in Peterborough during the war, when Eric was in his early teens. This is what Eric said:

“My father was a Warden in the city centre and developed a device for neutralising the activation of incendiary bombs.

This was based on a galvanised metal domed cover of a dustbin. The base of the domed lid consisted of a vertical metal rim about 4cm deep which fitted around the dustpan wall. Three small holes were drilled on the rim, through which were inserted wooden rods. Above the rods was a circular piece of thick cardboard; above that, sand which completely filled the inside of the top of the lid.

When a dormant incendiary bomb was found, the lid was placed over the bomb and when the bomb ignited, the cardboard burned and released the sand onto the bomb. Deprived of oxygen, the bomb was made harmless. This dealt with one of the dangers of incendiary bombs when a delayed action timing device activated ignition several hours after landing.”


It is thanks to the bravery of ARP Wardens that the Cathedral survived the air raids. And it is thanks to their children, who have shared these memories, that our Tour Guides can pass on these stories to future generations.

[Cathedral Tower Tours will resume only once it is considered safe to do so following the coronavirus outbreak.]


We know that this is a very difficult time for everyone, but if you feel able to make a donation to help the Cathedral now, when income from visitors, worshippers and events have all plummeted, that would be very much appreciated. Details are here: https://www.peterborough-cathedral.org.uk/newsarticle.aspx/41/please-donate.

Tales from Tour Guides: 11

Tales from Tour Guides: the stories that fascinate, perplex and inspire the Tour Guides of Peterborough Cathedral, written during lockdown.


The Library at Peterborough Cathedral

by Graham Nunn

The monastery library

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An artist’s impression of a monk working on a manuscript above the Cloisters.

After its re-establishment as ‘Burgh’ by St Aethelwold, the Bishop of Winchester, in 972, Peterborough Abbey became an intellectual and artistic centre.

Many books and manuscripts were studied and produced in rooms above the Cloister. The collection seemed to survive the dissolution of the monastery and the establishment of the Cathedral in 1541.

In 1643, however, Cromwell and his soldiers sacked Peterborough and ransacked the library. Later in the same year, Parliament ordered the destruction of what remained of many of the Abbey buildings, including the outer arcade of the Cloister and the rooms above it where the library was housed.

In 1672 a new library was established in the New Building. When the energetic White Kennet became Dean in 1708, he donated his own personal library and made it a priority to restore and catalogue the collection.

A new location in the Trinity Chapel

11 library 3We know that the library had moved to its present location in the Trinity Chapel – the galleried room over the front porch – by 1828. There is a book in the collection that was published in that year. It contains an engraving of a drawing by R. Cattermole, which is labelled ‘View of the Library, West Front’. The porch, of which the Chapel is a part, had been added in 1380, possibly in an attempt to stop the forward lean of the central portion of the West Front.

The role of William Mellows

 

William Thomas Mellows M.B.E. 1882 – 1950 was a prominent local lawyer. He was Peterborough’s Town Clerk between 1919 and 1930, a period that saw the widening of Narrow Street, the building of the Town Hall and the construction of the present bridge over the River Nene. 

MJR_8611

He lived in The Vineyard, within the Precincts, and became the Cathedral’s Chapter Clerk and Treasurer. In 1940 he became the Cathedral Librarian and was the  Archivist until his death. After the second world war he re-furbished and fitted out the library with its current layout in memory of his son Anthony, who had died in the war. See also The Anthony Mellows Memorial Trust.

The shields which decorate the upper level are from the altar screen designed by Edward Blore (1787–1879). They were installed with a new Quire (seating for the clergy and choir) in 1828 and taken down when replaced with the J.L. Pearson Quire in 1884.

Cambridge University Library

Following negotiations which had begun in 1968, the Chapter reached an agreement to place “books that were printed before 1800” on a long term, rather than permanent, loan to Cambridge University Library. It has the specialist staff,  resources and facilities to ensure their long term future. The collection of around 5,000 volumes is in regular use in the Rare Books Reading Room and is said to be strong on early English printing.


We know that this is a very difficult time for everyone, but if you feel able to make a donation to help the Cathedral now, when income from visitors, worshippers and events have all plummeted, that would be very much appreciated. Details are here: https://www.peterborough-cathedral.org.uk/newsarticle.aspx/41/please-donate