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History of Wakefield Cathedral - 17th Century

The Seventeenth Century.

In those first ten years of the Stuart era, Wakefield seems to have lain quiet, assimilating the changes that had come to pass and testing the direction of the political wind. Little changed in the fabric of the church. In 1626 James Lister, who married as his second wife the widow of his predecessor Timothy Mawde, became Vicar - and remained so on and off for the next fifty years. I say 'on and off' because during the Commonwealth he was deprived of his living of Wakefield but was lucky enough to be given the lesser living of Leathley, near Otley. He was not sympathetic to Archbishop Laud and Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, who became Charles I's principal advisers in the struggle with Parliament. Nevertheless, under his leadership the austere Elizabethan Church began to regain some colour. In 1623 the Church was again whitewashed, but then texts of scripture were painted around the arches. In 1632 the ten commandments, as ordered, were painted on the East wall and in 1634 paintings returned to the walls of the church, albeit in Macabre form. 'Time' and 'Death' were painted in the spandrels of the tower arch. Meanwhile Thomas Wentworth himself, who supported the Petition of Right in 1628, but afterwards as Earl of Strafford became the first President of the Council of the North, then Ruler of Ireland and finally Charles I's Chief Minister, gave the Church its first organ in 1624. His family owned much land hereabouts, and he was then its Member of Parliament.
In 1626 the plague once again hit Wakefield. The new Registers of the Church, started in 1615, record 130 deaths from the plague that year, and in 1645, 200 died. Those sorry figures nevertheless reveal the growth in the population of the town.
In 1635 following the Archbishop's insistence on the need to recreate the 'Beauty of Holiness', the beautiful Chancel Screen was carved. It had gates across the centre aisle. They were removed in 1708 and a three decker pulpit was installed, but used by the present Cathedral Architect, Peter Marshall ARIBA, to form the screen to the Lady Chapel. The same year, 1635, a new pulpit was added. A succession of orders from the Chancellor in the 1630's forced the Vicar and Churchwardens to implement some of Archbishop Laud's reforms. The Communion table was placed against the East wall and provided with a cover. An altar rail was introduced. A good large Bible was bought. The pews were made more uniform and a chest bought so that the church registers and accounts could be kept securely in the church and not in private houses. The sun dials over the South Porch and outside the Chancel also date from this time. So, as the struggle between King and parliament developed, All Saints Church, under Reverend James Lister, gradually edged back towards some of its former glory. All that was to be brought to a sudden end. On Whit Sunday 1643 the Roundheads captured the town and entered the Church. We do not know how much actual damage they did here, and how much was the result of obedience to Parliament's decrees, but both organ and font disappeared. In 1647 James Lister was ousted and a series of Presbyterian Divines ministered in the Church. In 1660 however, with the Restoration of the Monarchy, the parishioners began once again to care for their church. They quickly installed the lovely octagonal Restoration font that we have today. In church after church up and down the land there is evidence to show that the greatest mistake the Parliamentarians made was to ban Infant Baptism, even more that their prohibition of organs and musical instruments. Clearly it was so here, for the font was back at once, but the organ not for another sixty years. The most significant change during the rest of the seventeenth century was the installation of galleries all around the church. The rebuilding of the fifteenth century provided the height to make this possible; the galleries all around the church. The gallery at the West and extended forward as far as the fourth bay from the West; the whole of the North and South aisles were covered with galleries right up to the Chancel steps. The Church must have been very crowded and dark, especially as families again began to install their own pews higgledy piggledy all over the floor of the Nave.

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This page (cath17.html) was last modified on Sunday 27/01/2013