Find out why Peterborough’s Guildhall has got a blue plaque

The Blue Plaque on the GuildhallThe Blue Plaque on the Guildhall
The Blue Plaque on the Guildhall
Peterborough Civic Society has chosen 15 new sites for its popular blue plaques scheme. Each week Looking Back will feature the stories behind the plaques as told by the civic society.

This plaque is located on the south elevation of the Guildhall on Cathedral Square.

The Guildhall (or Old Guildhall or market house as described by Niklaus Pevsner) was built in 1671 from ‘warm local limestone’ by leading local builder and master mason John Lovin and was deliberately built facing the Cathedral gatehouse. It stands on, or close to, the site of a covered ‘Butter Cross’ and it is believed the ‘Chamber over the Cross’ replaced an earlier timber framed Moothall and Guildhall (probably timber-framed, arcaded buildings in need of repair) standing on the northern side of the square.

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It is likely the city’s Feoffees decided to build the Guildhall as a celebration of the restoration of Charles II in 1660 and it is known the project was funded by public subscription.

The GuildhallThe Guildhall
The Guildhall

The Guildhall bears a striking resemblance to the Old Town Hall in Amsterdam as depicted in the 1657 painting ‘The Oude Stadhuis in Amsterdam’ by Pieter Jansz. The picture was bought from the painter in 1658 for 300 guilders by the mayor of Amsterdam for his office in the New Town Hall. It now hangs in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum.

Pevsner describes the building as having ‘coved eaves, steep hipped roof and steep gable towards the square, with painted royal arms, between dormers, and shields with the arms of Bishop Henshaw, Dean Dupont, Sir Humphrey Orme and the Montagu family’.

Postcards and photographs from a hundred years ago show the Guildhall joined to other buildings on the St John’s Church side. That fronting Church Street was the Town Clerk’s office and later the Police Station. Evidence of the join can still be seen on the Guildhall’s rear side at upper floor level. Some pictures also show iron railings enclosing the Guildhall. These are now long gone and the ground floor is now open on all four sides and is occasionally used as a temporary performance space, particularly during events such as the Heritage Festival.

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The building is Grade II* listed and, as a place in which the Council held some of its meetings, was superseded when the Town Hall opened in 1933. Prior to that it had been restored in 1929.

The upper floor of the building, which can only be accessed by a steep spiral cast iron staircase, was used for small group meetings in living memory but is now unused due to its fragile state. The Civic Society is very keen indeed to see an imaginative scheme come forward to allow the upper floor again to be safely accessed and brought back into use.

This plaque is one of a series of 15 blue plaques recently installed in central Peterborough by Peterborough Civic Society. The new series of plaques augments the 20 existing plaques in the city centre. Further details about the plaques will soon be found in an accompanying leaflet which will be available at the Town Hall or via the Society’s own website once the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions are relaxed. The plaques project has been supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Peterborough City Council.