While theoretically this made the Abbot of
Peterborough one of the mightiest Churchmen in the country, it was
a considerable strain on the abbey's estates. In the mid 12th
century, however, the resourceful Abbot Martin de Bec planned a new
settlement to the west of the abbey gates. Earlier settlement had
been cramped within the walls of the burh, and outside its walls to
the north-east in the Boongate area. The present Cathedral Square
(the former Market Place), Long Causeway and Bridge Street, which
ran down to wharves (or hithes) on the River Nene, were all
elements of the medieval new town.
At this time the monastic church - the present
cathedral - was also re-planned on a much larger scale. A great
deal of the 12th-century building remains; indeed, the interior of
Peterborough Cathedral is one of the best places in Britain to
appreciate the splendid architecture of this period. The famous
painted ceiling of the nave dates to around 1230.
Further changes to take place in Peterborough during the later
Middle Ages included the construction of the Town Bridge in 1307.
This timber bridge, which stood immediately up-stream of the
present Town Bridge, was ruined during the following winter but
quickly rebuilt. During the early 15th century, a new parish
church, dedicated to St John the Baptist, was built at the west end of the Market Place,
replacing one that had served the old settlement around
Boongate. It is said that excavation and removal of the
tainted ground around the medieval butchers' stalls in the Market
Place created the hole in which the church now stands.
The outlying villages were surrounded by the medieval 'open'
field systems, common throughout England. The distinctive traces of
medieval 'ridge and furrow' agriculture have all but disappeared
across the area, but survive in small pockets here and there. The
land was managed from the abbey's granges (or principal farms),
such as those at Eyebury, Oxney, Northolm, Singlesole and Tanholt,
near Eye, and from manors. Fortified manors were built at
Maxey, Helpston, Northborough and at Woodcroft Castle (also near
Helpston). Substantial parts of the latter two remain, and the
sites of the former may be traced in earthwork remains.