Thursday, 7 July 2011

Exhibition - Our city’s twin towers (Sheffield)

IT is the oldest building in Sheffield, one of the city’s most instantly recognisable landmarks and a place where thousands gather each year to worship, to pray and to attend the odd concert.

But here is Sheffield Cathedral as you have probably never seen it before.

Because this is how the nearly 600-year-old Grade I listed building was set to look if hugely ambitious plans drawn up in the 1910s had come to fruition.

A second spire, a massive new south-facing nave stretching across the courtyard to where the trams now run and a complete redevelopment of the north side with a modern chancel and sanctuary would have made the cathedral one of the largest in the UK.

These pictures – and more than 100 others from the building’s long past – are to go on display at a special exhibition celebrating its history this month.

“It’s difficult to imagine just how impressive the Cathedral would have looked if the plans had been made reality,” says Paul Sewell, cathedral verger and the man behind the exhibition.

“But these pictures certainly give a flavour of just how huge it would have been if those plans had gone ahead.”

Those plans, then, were drawn up in 1913 when the then parish church had just been granted Cathedral status.

Sheffield was a confident and newly rich city – with the growth of the steel industry – and the Cathedral was to reflect its growing importance.

Celebrated ecclesiastical architect Charles Nicholson drew up the plans which would have been funded by the church and the city.

But, while huge swathes of the development were completed, including the Chapel of the Holy Spirit, the Crypt Chapel of All Saints, the Chapel of St George and the Chapter House – all on the north side and worked on in the 1930s – perhaps the more impressive elements never happened.

“It took so long to complete the development on the north side,” says Paul, “by the time they were ready to work on other areas World War Two had started and the plans were abandoned.

“There just wasn’t the material or funding to carry on, so it never happened.”

Indeed, when the conflict ended in 1945, and with Britain suffering a period of austerity, new scaled back plans were drawn up.

Another architect, Arthur Bailey, was appointed and it was his vision which we today see on the south side – a narthex entrance leading to an extended west end with a lantern tower, completed in the 1960s.

Although the new Cathedral – officially called the Cathedral Church of St Peter and St Paul – was considerably smaller than it would have been, it still dwarfed the old church footprint.

“In a way it was perhaps a blessing because one of the things people really love about the Cathedral now is its open courtyard,” says Paul.

The exhibition of photos, including several newly discovered pictures from the 1920s - 1940s, is being held to celebrate the Cathedral’s Gateway Project, a scheme to make the building more visitor-friendly.

It runs there July 11 – August 19.

A brief history of Sheffield cathedral
900s: The Sheffield Cross, a Saxon religious monument now housed in the British Museum, is believed to have been sited where today’s Cathedral is.

1100s: William de Lovetot builds the first church here. Stones from this first building can still be seen in the east wall of the Cathedral’s sanctuary.

1266: The church is burned down during the Second Barons’ War but is rebuilt some 14 years later.

1430: A new church is built – it is this which forms the basis of the Cathedral we see today.

1520: The Shrewsbury Chapel is built – the first of several expansions over the next 500 years.

1805: A diarist records the church is ‘one of the most gloomy places of worship in the kingdom’ and the nave is later pulled down and rebuilt.

1913-14: The church is granted Cathedral status. There follows four decades of expansion and improvements.

2011: The £1.25 million Gateway Project is launched to make the Cathedral more visitor-friendly.

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