Heritage & Culture

Peterborough Cathedral visitor centre: something old, something new…

↑ Image: courtesy Peterborough Cathedral

This year saw one of the city’s oldest and most historic buildings, Peterborough Cathedral, adding something completely new to its ancient premises. Opened by historian and broadcaster Dr David Starkey – who gave a characteristically quirky and insightful talk for the occasion – the Cathedral Visitor Centre may be grounded in the past, but has its eyes fixed firmly on the future. We take a peek inside the Centre, and find out what visitors can expect…

People may be rather used to seeing medieval knights at the Cathedral. During the annual Heritage Festival you are likely to encounter these and much more within the Cathedral precincts: Romans, Vikings, Normans, Tudors – there has even been a full competitive joust, 15th century style. On 10 September 2016, however – during Heritage Open Weekend – it was a little different.

The re-enactors dressed as medieval knights were there that day not only to honour the history of the Cathedral and the city, but to help launch something completely new, providing a guard of honour for historian and broadcaster Dr David Starkey as he cut a ribbon across the entrance to the Cathedral Visitor Centre. The public were welcomed to the ceremony and, once the ribbon was cut, were also invited inside to explore the new Centre for the first time.

The Centre features new displays illustrating the Cathedral’s history, its people and its faith, from Anglo-Saxon times right up to the present day, and while it’s common to hear the claim that there is something for everyone, here it really seems to be the case. There’s a timeline showing priceless artefacts, hands-on exhibits and a digital touch-table for visitors to follow the Cathedral story through pictures whilst discovering some amazing facts. There is also an audio presentation for those who prefer to listen rather than to look.

The opening of the Centre is the culmination of two years’ work in carefully conserving and converting two listed buildings in the Precincts. It is the second part of an ambitious project to improve physical and intellectual access to the Cathedral in the years leading up to its 900th anniversary in 2018. The first phase, installing level access and glazed doors at the West Front entrance of the Cathedral, was completed in April 2015, with the whole project being supported by a £2.4 million Heritage Lottery grant, as well as contributions from other donors.

‘It is wonderful to see the new Centre completed and open to visitors,’ said the Very Revd Charles Taylor, Dean of Peterborough at the opening. ‘We hope that people of all ages and backgrounds will find it a welcoming place that enriches their visit to our magnificent Cathedral. We are enormously grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund and all those who have enabled us to bring this project to fruition.’ Bringing together rich history and cutting-edge technology, the centre features rooms that can be booked for events or meetings, and is also dedicated to education, featuring a fully equipped classroom and craft room for use by visiting schools, all tying in with the curriculum. It’s a reminder, if one were needed, that the Cathedral itself is far more than a historical artefact (though it certainly is that, and an amazing one too); it is a living, breathing institution – both a community in itself and a community hub, which aims to change and improve lives now and into the future.

A TOUR OF THE CATHEDRAL LEARNING CENTRE

Historical displays
On the ground floor are displays about the history of the Cathedral. Amongst the priceless artefacts exhibited are the original letter from King James I, written in 1613, asking for the mortal remains of his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, to be removed from Peterborough to Westminster Abbey, and the Deed of Endowment by which King Henry VIII changed Peterborough Abbey into a Cathedral on the creation of the Diocese of Peterborough in 1541. The displays and historical illustrations have been produced by leading exhibition designers, Haley Sharpe Design.

The Exhibition Room
On the mezzanine is an Exhibition Room showing temporary exhibitions. On show in the coming months will be art and craft works by students at Peterborough City College (until 20 November) and shortlisted entries from the Peterborough Cathedral at Night photography competition (until 6 January). Don’t forget to call in and vote for the picture you think should be a winner!

Palace View Room
On the first floor is the Palace View Room, a meeting room which is available for external bookings. There is also a common room for Cathedral volunteers.

The Cathedral Learning Centre
On the top floor is the Learning Centre, with a fully equipped classroom and craft room for use by schools visiting the Cathedral. An exciting programme of activities entitled ‘Learning in Inspiring Places’ is offered to visiting primary and secondary schools, covering various aspects of the curriculum. This work is headed up by Alex Carton, the Cathedral’s Schools and Families Officer.

The Knights’ Chamber
Also on the top floor is the 13th century Knights’ Chamber, a stunning, historic space which may be hired for events and gatherings. This Grade I listed building and Scheduled Ancient Monument was originally constructed in around 1220 for the use of the sixty knights of Peterborough Abbey.

● Both the Palace View Room and the Knights’ Chamber may be hired by external users. For details please contact Jackie Newman on 01733 355315 or
● There is a lift in the building, and accessible toilet facilities on every floor.  
● The Centre is open to the public daily from 10.00am to 4.00pm Monday to Saturday, and from 11.00am to 4.00pm on Sundays. There is no charge for entry but donations are encouraged to help with Cathedral running costs. ●
 For more information please visit the Cathedral website at www.peterborough-cathedral.org.uk or call 01733 355315.  

Anyone still wishing to volunteer is welcome to contact Cathedral Volunteer Coordinator, Lisa Foulkes-Arnold on 01733 355316,

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