When lockdown began in March 2020, the Cathedral was getting ready for Easter. The great Christian festival is usually followed by a surge in visitors as the weather gets warmer and people roll up to enjoy guided tours, including the first Tower Tours of the season. Not this year...
The volunteer guides, some of whom were used to running tours at least once a week, were stood down for the duration. Newly trained guides, who had just completed their course and were eager to try out their new skills, were stopped in their tracks.
This is where the idea of the Tales from Tour Guides blog sprang from. It was a way of both keeping in touch with the volunteer guides during lockdown, and of sharing their considerable knowledge of the Cathedral through social media. The result is 26 blog posts and a feast of little-known stories.
Rather than following a strict timeline, the blog has deliberately allowed guides to follow their own interests, spotlighting the themes that have always fascinated, perplexed and inspired them. You won’t find Katharine of Aragon or Mary Queen of Scots featured here as their histories are already well told. Instead you will find out about the lost Lady Chapel, why it took so long to build the Gothic west front (in the 13th century, when a dispute between Pope Innocent III and King John resulted in the last national closure of churches), where the castle was, and which window was designed by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
On occasion the sequence of blog themes has been tailored to coincide with special dates. For example, first-hand accounts from relatives of Second World War Cathedral fire watchers, told to our guides during Tower Tours, were published on VE Day. The story of Edith Cavell, the First World War nurse who had attended school in the Precincts and was later executed in Brussels for helping allied soldiers to escape from the front line, was published on International Nurses’ Day. When there was a sudden interest in Peter Peckard, the 18th century Dean of Peterborough who was a major force in the anti-slavery movement, it was possible to point people to his story in the blog.
For the guides, writing the blogs has been a welcome distraction from lockdown. “It was a chance to work on something constructive, especially in the early days of lockdown when all structure and pattern to our weeks had been removed,” said Paul Middleton. “It was also an opportunity to research some additional areas and people of interest, which I hope to work into tours when they are possible again.” Kate Brown agrees, “It gave me a tangible link with the building and people that are so important to me and I was missing so much.”
You can read Tales from Tour Guides on the Cathedral’s WordPress site here: peterboroughcathedral.wordpress.com/category/tales-from-tour-guides
Many Tales from Tour Guides writers refer to Dr Jonathan Foyle’s book, Peterborough Cathedral, A Glimpse of Heaven. This architectural history of the Cathedral is currently available for the special price of £10 (rrp £19.95) from the Cathedral online at shorturl.at/dksT1 (Go to www.peterborough-cathedral.org.uk and scroll down to ‘Shop online’)