Peterborough (pop. 157,000, with suburbs nearly 500,000) is a unitary authority of Cambridgeshire renowned for its cathedral (see History below) and its numerous shopping centres.
In 1968 it became a so-called "new town", thanks to a plan by the local government to build new housing and parkways. The city's population almost doubled between 1971 and 1991.
The Romans built the fort of Durobrivae (which developed into a town) around 43 AD, on the site of present-day Peterborough.
In 655, King Penda of Mercia granted land to the monk Saxulf in order to establish a monastery. The abbey was revived in 972 by Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, after the Danes ravaged it in 870. The town which developed around it became known as Peterburgh, in honour to the saint to which it was dedicated.
The construction of present cathedral commenced in 1118 and took 120 years to complete. It is quite unique in Britain for its triple front, dominated by the statues of the three honoured saints: Saint Peter, Saint Paul and Saint Andrew.
The tower was rebuilt in the Decorated Gothic style in about 1350 and the Perpendicular fan vaulting was added between 1496 and 1508. The three-storied nave is remarkably high and luminous, and possesses a rare timbered ceiling.
Henry VIII's first wife, Catherine of Aragon, was buried in the cathedral in 1536. Although Henry had repudiated her for bearing him only a girl (who was to become Queen Mary I) and did not attend the funeral, nor allowed Mary to, Henry elevated the abbey to a cathedral after the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1541).
The grave of Catherine of Aragon can still be seen, and every 29 January a procession is held to commemorate her death. Visitors decorate her tomb with flowers and pomegranates (her symbol).
Queen Mary I's cousin once removed, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, was buried opposite Catherine after her execution in 1587. When her son, James VI of Scotland became King James I of England upon Elizabeth I's death, the corpse of Mary was moved to Westminster Abbey.
The cathedral was vandalized during the English Civil War. In 1883, extensive restoration work began, with the interior pillars, the choir and the west front being completely rebuilt. The tower was taken down and faithfully reconstructed piece by piece.
How to get there
Peterborough is located near the junction of the A1 (London-Newcastle-Edimburgh) and A47 (Leicester-Norwich) motorways, 60km north of Cambridge.
Trains link Peterborough to London (45min to 1h15min, £16.90), Cambridge (55min to 1h30min, £11.50), Ely (40min, £7.10), Leicester (1h, £10) and Nottingham (1h20min, £13).
National Express has coaches to London (2h20min, £11.50), Notttingham (1h40min, £8.75) and Cambridge (1h).