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History of Wakefield Cathedral - 14th Century

The Fourteenth Century.

Somewhere around the turn of the century (c.1300) two hundred years after it was first built, towards the end of the reign of Edward I, the Hammer of the Scots, the tower did collapse - falling towards the North West, taking much of that first extension with it. Perhaps the relative stability of Edward's reign disarmed the citizens so that they did not notice what was happening. At any rate their beautiful church was almost totally destroyed. Edward I was succeeded by the unhappy Edward II and the country once more thrown into a further round of Baronial wars, but the demand for wool on the Continent increased, and the River Calder from Wakefield provided the best route for exporting the Yorkshire wool and cloth. The merchants of Wakefield prospered. So they set about rebuilding their church, much bigger and finer than it had been before. They used what was left of the old columns but doubled their height. They widened the North and South aisles. They replaced the two smashed pillars at the East end of the North aisle, either side of where the pulpit now is, with two elegant fluted pillars in the Decorated style, and gave the Nave lovely traceried windows, not unlike those that are there today - but with clear glass filled only with coats of arms of some of the local families. They did not then rebuild the tower, but instead gave the Chancel a steeply pitched roof. The line of the pitch of this roof can be seen on the Eastern side of the Chancel arch. During the rebuilding the congregation moved out and used St John's Chantry Chapel in Northgate, which they had first enlarged to take them all. It stood by the present Porter's lodge of Queen Elizabeth Grammar School. The new Church was consecrated by Archbishop William Melton on the feast of St Lawrence, August 10th 1329, more than 660 years ago. Without its tower, the citizens cannot have been really content, but the Archbishop of York happened to be staying at Nostell Priory, so no doubt it was too good an opportunity to miss. Besides their new Vicar, William de Cusancia, was more of a politician and a courtier that a pastor. Within a few months of his institution in 1325 he became Treasurer to John who was made Earl of Cornwall in 1328, after his brother Edward III succeeded to the throne in 1327. In 1341, four years after the start of the Hundred Years' War, the vicar became Treasurer and Keeper of the Wardrobe to King Edward III. Raising money for the King's wars did not leave much time to raise money for finishing the Church. He it was who saw that the advowson (the right to choose the vicar) of the living of Wakefield should move from the Priory of Lewes to the King's College of St Stephen in Westminster. Politicians liked, even then, to keep power close to their hands. There was other reasons too for delaying the rebuilding of the tower. The bridge over the River Calder collapsed, and the citizens had to put all their energies to rebuilding that. Their immortal souls might depend on the Church but their mortal livelihoods depended on the bridge. However, in best English fashion they hedged their bets by building the lovely Chantry Chapel upon the bridge. Then in the middle of the century, the Black Death struck. In one year, 1349 more than a third of the population was wiped out. In Wakefield, the new Vicar, Thomas de Drayton, appears to have been one to have succumbed. Even twenty five years later in 1377 the total population had only climbed back to 500. A measure of the earlier prosperity of the town was that in 1322, in the new-built church, the first of the Chantries had been endowed by John de Wakefield and dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. By the end of the century the finances were still in a poor way, for the Vicar John Bolteby was outlawed for debt, having failed to deliver the proper income of the Rectory to St Stephen's College, Westminster. He seems to have made his peace though for he died a pensioner of the College.

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This page (cath14.html) was last modified on Sunday 27/01/2013