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History of Wakefield Cathedral - 19th Century

The Nineteenth Century.

When he rebuilt the East end, Dr Bacon bought a picture of the Ascension by 'William of Leeds' to hang over his new High Altar. It does not seem to have met with much approval and has sunk without trace. In 1801 he also gave the church its final replastering. When one looks at the interior North wall of the Nave and notes how rough the stones are, it is worth remembering that when it was originally built, and when it was repaired in 1787 it was designed to be plastered. By the middle of the nineteenth century all the patching up of the previous 150 years was beginning to show up the perilous state of the building. Although congregations were still large, following the Napoleonic wars, and the huge increase in the population brought about by the industrial revolution, the building was palpably unsafe. In 1848, 500 additional sittings had somehow been squeezed into the building. In 1858 it could seat 1700 adults besides the 600 children from three schools who regularly attended out of a parish population of 9000 but the Architect and engraver A. B. Higham in 1853 was forced to publish at his own expense an impassioned plea for a major rebuilding, at least of the tower and spire before it should collapse yet again. His engravings show the problem. Two years later Charles Camidge became Vicar and set about the task with a will. George Gilbert Scott was retained as Architect. He was working at the time on his masterpiece All Souls, Haley Hill in Halifax. Most of the local supervision and planning was in the hands of J. T. Micklethwaite - who later set up his own practice. First the tower was recased. Scott thought the tower was a century older than it is, and so put an early English thirteenth century shaped door on the West face instead of the perpendicular fifteenth century shape that remains on the inside. He also gave us the lovely fan vaulting under the ringing chamber. Then when the tower was secure, the whole spire was taken down and rebuilt to its original height in the remarkably short time of ten months between January 19th and November 22nd in 1860. Next the galleries were all removed. New churches had been built at Stanley, Wrenthorpe, Alverthorpe and Outwood so that pressure on the space had been reduced. Fewer seats were needed. It was not so much the fewer people went to church as that there were other places for them to go. With the galleries went all the old pews, and the three decker pulpit. By the time the restoration was complete in 1874 the church's interior at last looked very much as it does today. Four years later the Bishopric of Wakefield Act was passed but it was another ten years before the Diocese raised enough money to enthrone its first Bishop, William Walsham Howe, in 1888. But the future of Wakefield's Parish Church was to take yet another turn as it became a cathedral. Its parish had become smaller but its role was vastly increased. Two main changes remained. In 1887 J. L. Pearson, already 80, was commissioned to design an extension to the East as a memorial to Bishop How. Pearson died within four months but his son, Frank L. Pearson took up the sketches and completed the work, giving Wakefield some of the most graceful twentieth century stone Lierne vaulting to be found anywhere. In 1872 there began to be installed the marvellous collection of windows by Charles Eamer Kempe. They date from 1872 to 1907, the year he died. The earliest was installed when he was only 35, the last at the end of his life when he was 70, so that they provide a unique and fascinating record of one man's artistic development. The earliest are in the South Nave wall and depict the Apostles and New Testament themes. The next series in the North Nave cover the Old Testament Patriarchs. Kempe's trade mark was a sheaf of corn, which appears in Wakefield in the windows he made from about 1900 onwards. Another well known trade mark is the mouse of Robert Thompson who made the furniture for St Mark's Chapel, the Hymn boards and other pieces.

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This page (cath19.html) was last modified on Sunday 27/01/2013