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History of Wakefield Cathedral - 18th Century

The Eighteenth Century

The church was never so crowded as it became by the turn of the century, in the previous century there had been numerous lawsuits, including a long running dispute over the Vicarage pew, as families tried to get space to worship! Thomas Scott, Vicar from 1700-1729 found himself ministering to 1400 families. The place was so crowded that it became impossible to do the job properly. In 1708 a three decker pulpit was installed - the top, a preaching level (which is still the pulpit we use today) was high enough to look over the galleries. In 1712 the sides of the family pews on the floor were all made the same height so that families seeking privacy could no longer block the view of others. It still remained so crowded that it was almost too dark for the Preacher and the Clerk to see what they were reading. On 30th September 1730 the Archdeacon of York, making his visitation, took a hand and ordered the Clerestory windows, the only ones not blocked by galleries, to be enlarged and all unnecessary stone taken away so that as much glass as possible could be installed. That is why the Nave Clerestory windows, installed at the time of Edward IV are so out of character with that period. Looking up at them today, one notices the wafer thin stone dividing the two sides of each windows, and appreciates the risks those eighteenth century builders ran to get more light into the crowded church below. It is also fascinating to compare the Nave Clerestory windows with the Chancel ones, which were installed within a decade of each other. The galleries and the overcrowding had dire consequences for the fabric. The basic fabric of the church was neglected until there was a crisis, and crises there were aplenty. In 1714 or 1715, as the Old Pretender (James Edward) was threatening the kingdom with unrest again, a great storm blew down the spire, or at least top 15ft or so. It has often been noted that the fuller the church, the harder it is to get the cash. Besides, there was a serious slump in trade throughout the West Riding in 1714-15. The churchwardens could not afford to rebuild the spire to its full height. For the next 150 years the graceful spire we know today was almost 20ft shorter and therefore stumpier. In 1718, no sooner had they dealt with the spire, than there was trouble with the North East corner of the Nave - where the Nave Console of the organ now stands. The fifteenth century builders had not expected their walls to have to carry the weight of the galleries - so now extensive repairs became necessary, including a complete rebuilding of the aisle arch. It was a botched job as can be seen to this day. The arch dividing the North Nave aisle from the North choir aisle is all askew. In 1724 the whole of the South side, facing the precinct, was refaced - using second hand stone from the tower of Snapethorpe Hall which had just been demolished. This was the time when all the windows were made the same size - until then the first window in the Lady Chapel still had six lights reflecting the size of the transept of the original church. All this repair work was not enough to cope with the pressure of numbers. Thomas Scott wanted to scrap the lot, pull the church down and entirely rebuild it. The parishioners wanted to relieve the pressure by building a second church for the town. There was a lawsuit in 1727 and the Vicar lost, although he was able to impose such onerous conditions that St. John's was not built for another sixty years. The opportunity to rebuild All Saints, however, was thankfully missed. Two years later, Scott died, and George Arnet became Vicar. Though St John's must have taken some of the people and wealth away, much remained. In 1743 there was at last room to install a large organ. It took up the whole of the gallery space under the tower. Its case is still that used in the North Choir aisle today - though then it had an enormous clock and figures on top. Between 1723 an 1767 most of the lovely silver on display today was given to the church. In 1739 the bells were recast and rehung, and again in 1778 and 1817, and a new set of chimes for the clock installed in 1795. By 1787 there was more trouble with the walls - the whole of the Nave North wall this time had to be repaired. the medieval windows were filled in and new ones made, resisted to fit in with the supports of the galleries. At the same time the East end was rebuilt and a large and much needed Vestry added behind the High Altar. The Vicar from 1764-1805 was Michael Bacon. He had endless trouble for the spire, which had been so economically rebuilt in 1738 after the collapse in 1715, with help from the Parish Rate, was in danger again in 1771. The solution then adopted was disastrous, for it was cramped with iron pins which, as they rusted, cracked the stones. in 1802 it was bound with iron bands to hold it all together, but they in turn only hastened its decay by expanding and contracting with changes in temperature. In 1823 there was nothing for it but to rebuild the troublesome top 15ft of the spire.

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This page (cath18.html) was last modified on Sunday 27/01/2013