The other Peterborough
Former Peterborough resident explores the town by the same name in old world England
Spring has sprung here in the United Kingdom! I almost feel like I have to apologize for saying that, since I know that you are still getting snowstorms back there in New Hampshire. We had a mild winter with no snow at all, and while I certainly missed having snow around, I really can’t complain about warm sunny days and flowers in early March.
The other week I had enough free time to take a day off, so Thomas and I rented a car and drove to Peterborough, England. I thought it would be a nice opportunity to take the chance to visit our Peterborough’s namesake back in the homeland. However, as I prepared for our trip, further research informed me that our Peterborough is in fact not named after Peterborough, England, but rather after a man named Lieutenant Peter Prescott (1709–1784) of Concord, Mass., a prominent land speculator! Regardless, I thought that the fact that the two towns share names is pretty special, and I was looking forward to seeing how different they were, or if I could find any similarities.
The drive from Oxford to Peterborough is only 2 hours, but thanks to England’s love of rotaries it can seem much longer for the novice U.K. driver — that’d be me. Minor highways are regularly interrupted by large rotaries for exits and rest areas; we must have gone through at least 20 on our way there. Making this trip even more exciting was the fact that automatic cars here are absurdly more expensive to rent than manual. While my truck in New Hampshire was a manual and I am used to driving that way, it becomes a little more interesting when you are learning to shift gears with your left hand while simultaneously navigating endless rotaries!
It was a cloudy day, which as I’m sure you know is pretty common here, but it didn’t rain so we made the most of it. We spent a little time walking around Peterborough before finding lunch, and I had a lot of fun thinking about you all and our beloved Peterborough, N.H., as I took pictures of the things that reminded me or didn’t remind me of home.
Peterborough, England, is a city, over 30 times larger than Peterborough, N.H., with a population of over 200,000. It is generally pretty modern in its appearance, though it does have the smattering of history that all English towns have. One of the main squares is known as the Cathedral Square, as it stands in front of the cathedral. Cathedral Square still boasts its original market cross, which was a building designed to designate a market square. The one in Peterborough is known as the Guildhall and dates from the mid-1600s, which is a fact that I learned from Google since there were no plaques to identify it for me — no plaques is a very sad thing for a history nerd like me.
Thomas and I also found the Town Hall as well as the names of streets that, while they may not exist in Peterborough, N.H., still managed to remind me of home. We ended our short tour by going to the cathedral, which is possibly what Peterborough is best known for these days.
The Peterborough Cathedral as it is today was built in the 10th century, but there have been monastic settlements on the site since King Paeda of the Middle Angles founded the first monastery in 665 AD. The cathedral is the final resting place of Queen Katherine of Aragon, who was Henry VIII’s long-suffering first wife, and served as the first resting place of Mary, Queen of Scots. Queen Katherine’s grave still has pomegranates placed on it, which were her emblem when she was queen. The cathedral is also one of the few in England that still has a wood ceiling.
We had a lot of fun exploring our Peterborough’s “sister” in this old country, which is new to us. All in all, though, while the cathedral is certainly awe-inspiring and the bits of history scattered throughout the city are pretty special, in the end I prefer our Peterborough with its smaller, cozier community, friendly faces and sunny days!
Catherine McCosker is a former Peterborough resident currently living in England with her husband, where she attends the University of Oxford and thinks about food a lot. She would love to hear from you at CMcCosker.Oxford@gmail.com.