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Peterborough Fast Facts
- State: England
- Famous for/as:
- Population: 183,600
- Area: 132.58 sq mi
- Language: English
- Best Season:
- Local Transport:
- Pincode: 01733
Peterborough, United Kingdom Overview
Peterborough is a Cathedral City and Unitary Authority Area in the East of England, with an estimated population of 183,600 in June 2007. For ceremonial purposes it belongs to the County of Cambridgeshire. 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 between London and Edinburgh.
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.
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Peterborough, United Kingdom History
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 rights of the City of Peterborough."
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 (originally to be called Milton, a hamlet in the Middle Ages), 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.