Category Archives: Peterborough Cathedral

It began with a visit in 1876

John Ruskin was a leading English art critic of the Victorian era, as well as being an art patron, draughtsman, watercolourist, a prominent social thinker and philanthropist.  He wrote on subjects as varied as geology, architecture, myth, ornithology, literature, education, botany and political economy.  He also penned travel guides and, on Sunday 23rd April 1876, he wrote a piece about the city of Peterborough:

‘In comfortable room with horriblest outlook on waste garden and vile buildings; Italian architraves in brick of coldest mud colour – cretinous imitation.  A Bridewell or Clerkenwell with Genovese cornices travestied!  The Cathedral here for a wonder, spared.  Bitter black day yesterday so cold I could neither stand to look at it an instance, nor at the beautiful old inn at Stilton.  Road here from Cambridge very flat and dull and in the black days, nothing but gloom over distance towards the Wash.’

Not very pleasant but – in 1858 he had opened the Cambridge School of Art. The art school grew to become Anglia Ruskin University, and it’s still at the heart of the modern-day campus in Cambridge.  But that was just the beginning – over the years, a number of colleges and institutes have become part of Anglia Ruskin. This now includes the Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology and the Essex Institute of Higher Education.  At first these colleges combined to become Anglia Polytechnic, and then Anglia Polytechnic University in 1992. It has been known as Anglia Ruskin University since 2005. As well as Cambridge, they have campuses in Chelmsford, London and Peterborough.  The campus at Guild House, Peterborough opened in 2011 and is a dedicated healthcare site where they train many of the region’s nurses and healthcare professionals.

It took time but maybe the City is forgiven it’s looks in 1876!

This could be fact but it may be fiction

The past few days have been more than a little hectic – on Friday our group of re-enactors were involved in a Commemoration Service for Katherine of Aragon – King Henry VIII’s first wife – who is buried in our Cathedral on this day in 1536.

On Saturday and Sunday we were providing Tudor re-enactments in our local museum and yesterday and half of today [Tuesday] I’ve been involved in a number of bits and bobs. The result is – no fictional story put together for this posting.  All is not lost though. I’ve raided some of my files in the cupboards and found some little pieces that may be fact – but they can equally be faction or fiction. I’ll leave it to you – the reader – to decide what they are.

The first one was recorded in the mid-1930s but probably dated from many years earlier and is about the naming of a baby daughter at the baptismal font.
When the priest asked the father to ‘Name this Child’ the proud father said it clearly and the girl-child was baptised. When, however, the priest began to record the little girl’s name in the Baptism record book he was not too sure how to spell it. He knew what it sounded like but was it to be written ‘Doris’ or was it ‘Dorys’ – but there again, it could be ‘Dorice’. So he asked the father – ‘How do you spell your child’s name?’   The response was of little help when the father said. ‘Naay, master – I’m just like you; I can’t spell it naayther!’ 
The entry in the register is said to list all three spellings!


On a totally different line – with confirmed origin – this is something that we should all remember wherever we live in the world.  This is written by John Ruskin who lived 1819 to 1900 and remains so so true today.

‘It is unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little.
When you pay too much, you lose a little money – that is all.
When you pay too little you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do.
The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot – that cannot be done.
If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run.   And if you do that, you will have enough to pay for something better.


Now – just to round off today’s set of stories – I’d like to tell you one that comes from Derbyshire, probably in the 1800s. You may find the contents useful!
A farmer’s wife was looking to hire a new maid-servant and asked a number of young girls of the village to come and see her. In this way all had the chance to show their skills and for the lady to assess their capabilities. When her husband’s man-servant heard what she was going to do he said he would show her how to select the best of the applicants.
The farmer’s wife was happy to let him do this. He then took a besom brush [a broom made from a bundle of twigs tied to a stouter pole] and laid it across the path that the maid-servant applicants would cross on their way to the house. She and he then watched the applicants as they came for consideration.
The first girl who came kicked the besom aside as she walked up the path. The man-servant said: ‘She is an idle slut and cannot, or will-not, bend her back.’
The next girl to arrive jumped over the besom. The man-servant said: ‘She won’t do; she’ll skip her work.’
The last girl to come picked up the besom and placed it in the corner out of the way. The man-servant said: ‘That is the girl for me. She will be careful, industrious and tidy.’
She was hired – and was perfect in every way!

Black Shuck – the Barghest – the Devil Dog

The Peterborough Chronicle of Hugh Candidus covers the period 655 to 1117 and tells us of the arrival in 1128 of Henry of Angely, he having been appointed Abbot of the Abbey then known as Burch by King Henry I.  This had not been a very popular appointment as far as the monks were concerned and Hugh records a great many of their complaints, and Abbot Henry’s actions. One such record tells us that:

‘In the very year in which he came to the abbey, marvellous portents were seen and heard at night during the whole of Lent, throughout the woodlands and plains, from the monastery as far as Stamford. For there appeared, as it were, hunters with horns and hounds, all being jet black, their horses and their hounds as well, and some rode as it were on goats and had great eyes and there were twenty or thirty together. And this is no false tale, for many men of faithful report both saw them and heard the horns.’

Dr Simon Sherwood in ‘Apparitions of Black Dogs’ [University of Northampton Psychology Department, 2008] suggests that the earliest surviving description of devilish black hounds is the account of an incident in the Peterborough Abbey recorded in the Peterborough Chronicle (one version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) around 1127:

‘Let no-one be surprised at the truth of what we are about to relate, for it was common knowledge throughout the whole country that immediately after Abbot Henry of Poitou’s arrival at Peterborough Abbey – it was the Sunday when they sing Exurge Quare – many men both saw and heard a great number of huntsmen hunting. The huntsmen were black, huge and hideous, and rode on black horses and on black he-goats and the hounds were jet black with eyes like saucers and horrible. This was seen in the very deer park of the town of Peterborough and in all the woods that stretch from that same town to Stamford, and in the night the monks heard them sounding and winding their horns. Reliable witnesses who kept watch in the night declared that there might well have been as many as twenty or thirty of them winding their horns as near they could tell. This was seen and heard from the time of his arrival all through Lent and right up to Easter.’

Is the story true – or just made up to scare people?  I don’t know.  It is said to be the basis of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ story and I do know that it makes one heck of a spooky story when told late in the evening, in the dark, under trees with the shelter of a beautiful, towering Cathedral close by!