The First Parish Church (11th century)
Peterborough has had a parish church since the 11th century. Shortly after the Norman Conquest the monks of Peterborough established a parish church on land to the east of their abbey (now the site of Bishop Creighton Academy). The first recorded Vicar was William of Waterford, instituted by the Bishop of Lincoln in 1229 (Hugh of Wells). Floods in this area made accessing the church difficult. After the market was established outside the western gate of the abbey the locus of the town moved to this side of the town. The people petitioned for the church to be moved and so it was, stone by stone.
The Second Church (early 15th century)
The present building was dedicated by Abbot Genge on 26th June 1407 and dedicated to St John the Baptist. It was built of materials from the old church and the nave of the Chapel of St Thomas Becket, near the west gate to the abbey, together with timber brought from Milton Park.
During the sixteenth century the church bells sounded for the funerals of both Katherine of Aragon (1536) and Mary Queen of Scots (1587), which were held in the abbey/cathedral and buried inside by the parish Sexton, Robert Scarlett. When he died in 1594 at the age of 96 he was himself buried inside the cathedral on the left of the great west doors.
Mary Queen of Scots' burial was recorded in the parish registers:
"The Queen of Scots was most sumptuously buryed in the Cathedrall church of Peterbrugh the first day of August, who was for her deserts beheaded at Ffotheringhay about Saint Paules day before."
During the Commonwealth, the parish church narrowly escaped being demolished to provide materials for the repair of the cathedral. Parliament was petitioned in 1651 for its destruction "for the use of the inhabitants of the city in all times to come for public worship and service of God and for a workhouse to imploy the poorer sort of people in manufactures", the repairs were down to them. The proposal to demolish was dropped. Cromwell's troops left their mark on the two churches, destroying images and stained glass.
The following decade brought plague to Peterborough. This devasted Peterborough for 24 months between 1665 and 1667. During this period the vicar, Simon Gunton, buried 462 people out of a population of 3,000 and at the end of each page in the burial register recorded his gratitude as having been "saved by the goodness and grace of God". This is in sharp contrast to Prebendary Thomas Greaves who procured a licence from the Bishop to absent himself throughtout the plague on the ground that he could not "during the continuance of that contagious sickness with safety reside there, nor read Morning and Evening Prayer in the Cathedral Church as the Act of Uniformity doth require".
Simon Gunton wrote an early history of the cathedral, published in 1686, which stil proves to be an important text for historians recording as he does aspects now lost.
The church tower was originally built with a spire, but in the late 1820s this had to be removed as the building was found to be in an unsafe state. In 1881 a high gale blew the eat pinnacle off the tower and it crashed through the aisle roof. After this disaster an extensive work of restoration was undertaken between 1881-3, when the interior took its present shape. Galleries which had provided additional seating were removed. Further renovation work took place in 1909 and in 1976-7 when the fifteenth century font was moved from the baptisry at the west end of the church to its present location at the east end of the north aisle.
Peterborough has seen several increases in its population over the centuries. In the nineteenth century many people came to live here with the railway coming to the town. New parishes were formed to serve the growing population, but St John's remains Peterborough Parish Church and its vicar bears the title Vicar of Peterborough.
One of the communities established to serve the Midland Railway was the West Town area. In 1901 a mission church was built on Mayor's Walk, which was renamed St Luke's Church in 1983. This church is a daughter church within the parish.
During the Second World War the silence of the bells was only broken in celebration of the victory of El Alamein in 1942. The more recent development of the city has left the church surrounded by a largely commercial city centre and the congregation is drawn from the wider area.
We only keep the most recent registers currently in use at the church. All of the old parish registers are deposited with Northampton Archive Service. Please contact them direct with all enquiries.
Records Office (Archives)
Wootton Hall Park
Northampton NN4 8BQ
01604 362 513
Walk around guide to the church
For a walk round guide to the church click here