History and description of the diocese of Peterborough

The Diocese of Peterborough

The origins of the diocese of Peterborough lie – like those of most of the sees of central England – in the Anglo-Saxon ‘superdiocese’ that embraced an area from Dorset to Buckinghamshire and from Surrey to the River Severn, although the instability of the political geography of pre-Conquest England saw its writ intermittently both shrink and extend (at one point it extended as far north as the Humber). In c. 1072–3, however, Bishop Remigius transferred the see to Lincoln, and the territory later to form the diocese of Peterborough remained under the jurisdiction of Lincoln until the Reformation.

The diocese of Peterborough itself came into existence as one of the sees created by Henry VIII, on 4 September 1541. It consisted of the counties of Northamptonshire and Rutland, making the choice of the former abbey of Peterborough as the cathedral a far from central administrative centre, situated as it was at the extreme eastern point of the territory (after the archdeaconry of Leicester was added to the see in 1837, Bishop Francis Jeune would complain that the diocese ‘was in the shape of a pear, and that he lived at the end of the stalk’ [Burns, 1999, 161]).  The former Abbot of Peterborough, John Chambers, was appointed as the first bishop of the new diocese.

The diocese thereafter retained its boundaries intact until the reforms of the nineteenth century mentioned above. It was never a wealthy see: in 1541 the bishop’s income was £333; in 1575 almost £415 (making it the nineteenth richest in the Church of England); by 1831 its value had risen to some £3,103 net, placing it towards the lower end of middling dioceses.

 The territory of the diocese

In 1835 the diocese of Peterborough covered some 1,166 square miles with a population of some 186,000. As with its income, this placed it at the lower end of a middling group of dioceses, although the absence of a major centre of population meant that its population was smaller than that of some less extensive dioceses.  With 290 benefices, however, it was better equipped with church plant than many others.

The diocese was approximately coterminous with the counties of Northamptonshire and Rutland, with many of the peculiar jurisdictions located on its margins, increasing the sense of cohesion and compaction. The most northerly point was the parish of Thistleton in Rutland, from which point the boundary travelled east-south-east along Rutland’s border with Lincolnshire to Essendine, before a small spur of Lincolnshire took in the town of Stamford. South of Stamford the boundary travelled due east along the northern border of Northamptonshire with Lincolnshire to reach the most easterly point in the county at Newborough. Here the boundary turned south along the border of Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire to the location of the cathedral city of Peterborough, from which point it travelled west along the border with Huntingdonshire before turning south at Yarwell. From here it began to trend south-west, following the Northamptonshire border first with Bedfordshire and then with Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire until it reached the diocese’s most southerly point at Aynho. At this point the boundary swung northwards, abutting Warwickshire north of Boddington, where the boundary swung back in a north-easterly direction. From Lilbourne it was the Leicestershire border that was tracked, though those parts of the parish of Theddingworth in Northamptonshire fell within the jurisdiction of the diocese of Lincoln. At Rockingham, the boundary switched north to encompass Rutland once more until at Whissendine it turned east-north-east to reach Thistleton once more.

Historically, at the start of the period covered by the CCED Northamptonshire had suffered from the absence of significant navigable rivers to make it more isolated from coastal trade and communications; moreover there was no major route running through the heart of the county. The north-east of the county formed part of the fenland region. Apart from the quarrying that took place in its limestone uplands, it remained a predominantly agricultural region. Much of the farming was set to pasture for cattle and sheep, although there were also fertile soils suited to arable; enclosure was a significant contributor to the wealth visible in its churches and many landed estates (a feature also of Rutland). In terms of manufactures, silk-stockings were woven and there was some lace-making and spinning. Northampton and Wellingborough had shoe-making industries. Northampton served as the administrative centre of the county, with the cathedral town of Peterborough perched on its eastern extremity Rutland, famously the smallest of the English counties, had a stronger arable base in its valleys as well as pasture on its uplands, supporting two market towns, Oakham (the shire town) and Uppingham. In neither county was there thus a major industrial city or conurbation by the end of the period covered by the CCED.

Shortly after the end of the period covered by the database, the diocese was enlarged by the transfer of the archdeaconry of Leicester from the diocese of Lincoln in 1837. Today, the diocese still embraces the counties of Rutland and Northamptonshire and the soke of Peterborough north of the River Nene, having pretty much returned to its pre-reform boundaries after the creation of the diocese of Leicester in 1927.

 The parishes and structure of the diocese

The county-defined diocese of Peterborough inherited its single archdeaconry from the diocese of Lincoln, the archdeaconry of Northampton. His jurisdiction encompassed the deaneries of Brackley, Daventry, Haddon, Higham-Ferrers, Northampton, Oundle, Peterborough, Preston, Rothwell and Weldon in Northamptonshire and a single deanery of Rutland.

When the Ecclesiastical Commissioners offered their returns relating to the diocese of Peterborough in 1835, based on a survey covering the years 1829–31, they reported as follows. The 293 benefices they considered (six had failed to make returns) had an average gross and net income a bit above the national average: £335 gross (national average £303) and £319 (£285). They recorded 139 curates with an average annual stipend of £81, exactly the national average.

The patronage of these livings in 1831 was as follows: there were 31 crown livings; 18 were in episcopal hands; 12 were controlled by ecclesiastical corporations aggregate, and 40 by single dignitaries or incumbents; 32 were the property of universities or hospitals; and the majority, 171, were in the hands of private patrons.

 Episcopal Patronage in the diocese of Peterborough

The bishop of Peterborough had only very limited parochial patronage within his diocese: the rectories of Barnack, Paston and Polebrooke and the vicarage of St John the Baptist, Peterborough. In addition, he possessed the right of presentation to the rectory of Scotter, (Lincs and diocese of Lincoln) and of South Collingham (Notts., Diocese of York).

 Peculiar Jurisdictions in the Diocese

The peculiar jurisdictions in the territory of the diocese of Peterborough largely reflected its origins in the medieval diocese of Lincoln. Thus several prebendaries of Lincoln cathedral had individual peculiar jurisdictions in the north of the diocese: the prebendary of Nassington (Apethorpe, Nassington, Woodnewton and Yarwell); the prebendary of Gretton (Duddington and Gretton); the prebendary of Empingham (Empingham; the prebendary of Ketton (Ketton and Tixover); and the prebendary of Liddington (Liddington). At the far south west of the diocese, the parish of King’s Sutton formed part of the peculiar of Banbury, which fell under the collective jurisdiction of the dean and chapter of Lincoln.

 Extra-diocesan peculiars of the Bishop of Peterborough

The bishop of Peterborough had no peculiar jurisdiction of his own outside the diocese.

 Treatment and coverage of the diocese of Peterborough in the CCEd

As Peterborough was a single archdeaconry diocese, a single CCED region has been created, ‘Northampton’, coterminous with the archdeaconry but embracing the peculiar jurisdictions within it.