Sheffield is one weird cathedral. It started, like many others, as a parish church. A nice, ordinary roots-in-the-12th-century church, begun when the City of Sheffield was established by William de Lovetot (yes, seriously).
Here it is in 1819, a little battered from all the damage and carryings-on during the Reformation and the Civil War.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. In 1919, architect Charles Nicholson was hired to draw up plans to gussy up the parish church and turn it into something that befitted Shefield’s recent promotion to Cathedral status in 1914.
Away he went, producing his first scheme in 1921, which was relegated to the cutting room floor due to lack of funds. In 1936, undeterred by the “no money” aspect, his second plan was staggeringly ambitious, involving rotating the building by 90* and adding a new tower, spire, chancel and sanctuary on the north side and building out a new nave on the south side. The existing nave was to be demolished.
There is how he envisioned it would look. And the much-maligned Victorians are accused of “reaching”! Great Scott! They had nothing on Nicholson.
Out of every disaster, however, comes some compensation. The onset of World War II halted these plans. By 1948, Nicholson was 80, and he’d had enough. He retired from the lists, having completed the Chapel of the Holy Spirit, intended to be the end of the (now northern) nave in the new “ecclesiastical east”. To make things even more strange, it’s set much lower than the rest of the cathedral—down a slope. One wonders how the dots connected in Nicholson’s mind.The focal point of its severe interior is the Te Deum stained glass window by Christopher Webb; however, I’ve observed that little good comes from these “ecclesiastical orientations—looking at you, oh “hulk on the hill”, Liverpool Cathedral.
The rest of the cathedral jogged on in the interim. The Shrewsbury Chapel survived its 1520 addition, a private family chapel with a burial vault underneath.
It was sponsored by the Lord of the Manor of Sheffield, George Talbot, the 4th Earl of Shrewsbury; he was buried here in great pomp and circumstance after he died in 1538. His first wife, Anne, who died around 1520, is on his right; his second wife, Elizabeth, died in 1567 and is shown to his left.
The alabaster figures rest on a marble tomb. The Earl is dressed as a Knight of the Garter, and the two Countesses wear their coronets and robes; the effigies would originally have been brightly coloured.
Not to be outdone, George, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, is remembered on the opposite wall. Poor George had quite a time of it. Queen Elizabeth I put him in the awkward position of acting as custodian to Mary Queen of Scots, who was suspected of plotting against Queen Elizabeth. At the same time, he was married to Bess of Hardwick (she was his second wife; he was her fourth and penultimate husband).
This task lasted for fourteen years. The lengthy (self-exculpatory) Latin inscription on his memorial details his faithful and loyal service to Queen Elizabeth I and his military achievements. Here is the English translation (abridged – heaven knows how much longer it was. I suspect marriage to Bess of Hardwick while babysitting Mary Queen of Scots was no bed of roses).
He is depicted wearing armour, lying on a woven mat with his feet resting on a Talbot dog.
Above his head lay the helmets carried on top of his coffin at his funeral.
The Reredos behind the altar in the Shrewsbury chapel dates from the restoration of the chapel in 1935. It features Christ and the Saints whose chapels were part of the medieval church.
The picture below shows the Lady Chapel in front of the Shrewsbury Chapel (this side of the railing).
The St Katharine’s Chapel is another odd feature of this strange Cathedral. It began life in the 1700s as an extension to the Parish Church, replacing a wooden shed in the same spot, which housed Sheffield’s only fire engine.
In 1936, it was made into a chapel in memory of Anna Louisa Burrows, wife of the first Bishop of Sheffield. The stained glass window above the altar by Christopher Webb features monograms of societies for whom Mrs Burrows did work: the Mothers’ Union and the Girls’ Friendly Society.
Now we come to St George’s Chapel.
It was initially planned to be the new Sanctuary of the Nicholson’s plan, and now the Memorial Chapel dedicated to the York and Lancaster Regiment (formed in 1758, disbanded in 1968).
This Chapel holds many memorials to those who lost their lives in conflict.
The wooden seats are carved in memory of some members of the Regiment.
Beneath the stained glass windows are three cases containing the “Roll of Honour” books of the York and Lancaster Regiment from 1914 to 1968. The hand-embroidered kneelers made by the ladies of the Regiment bear the Regiment’s crest.
The Screen of Swords and Bayonets was presented to the Cathedral by the York and Lancaster Regiment after its disbandment in memory of those who gave their lives whilst serving with the Regiment. The swords pointing upwards indicate readiness to serve; the bayonets pointing downwards represent the laying aside of weapons.
The early 15th-century part of the church was built in the Perpendicular style. It comprises the Chancel, Sanctuary, Tower and Spire. The gilded angels on the ceiling of the Sanctuary and Chancel are medieval. They are all different! (and difficult to photograph up close—I tried several times, but it was too dark to get a good shot). Their wings were added in the 1960s.
The stained glass window depicts Saint Matthew, Moses, David and Saint John. It was given to the Cathedral by the Mappin family (presumably of jewellery-store fame). It’s in memory of James Montgomery (1771 – 1854), who spent most of his life in Sheffield. In his roles as a newspaper editor, social reformer, anti-slavery campaigner, writer of hymns and supporter of the Sunday School movement, he was a very influential figure.
Here’s the ceiling in the original tower crossing.
Lively. I suspect it references the War of the Roses with the White Rose of York and the Red Rose of Lancaster.
Now we’ve visited all the parts of the old parish church that survived, but we’re still left with the started-not-finished renovation of Nicholson. What happened next? In the forgiving 50s, Stephen Dykes-Bower and George Pace picked up where Nicholson left off. Though experienced and talented church architects, they could not reconcile their inherited design with the few funds on hand. They both resigned in frustration.
In the 1960s, the ‘Six Sheffield Worthies’ stained glass window by Christopher Webb (initially installed in the north wall of the original St George’s Chapel) was moved to its current location. It depicts soldiers and benefactors of the church over the centuries. Starting at the top left, they are:
- Waltheof, the last Saxon Lord of the Manor of Hallamshire.
- We met William de Lovetot at the beginning—Norman Lord of the Manor, who built the first Parish Church on this site around 1101.
- Gerard de Furnivall inherited the Lordship through marriage to Maud de Lovetot; he fought and died on the Crusades.
- Thomas Nevil married into the de Furnival family, gained the Lordship, and established Sheffield as a market town by Royal Charter in 1386.
- John Talbot, 1st Lord of Shrewsbury, another Lordship through marriage, this time to Maud Nevil, Thomas’ daughter. He was a famous soldier – the Talbot of Shakespeare’s “Henry IV Part I”. He contributed towards building the 15th-century church.
- Colonel Sir John Bright, Parliamentarian Governor of Sheffield Castle, following its surrender in the Civil War in 1644. He must have been politically flexible, as he later served under Charles II after the Restoration.
The swinging 60s also brought architect Arthur Bailey of Ansell and Bailey. He ditched Nicholson’s plan, tidied things up a bit, installed a new crossing marked by a towered open porch and narthex (vestibule) and capped it with a modernist-gothic crown-of-thorns lantern. Job done.
All very 1960s, but a bit confused. The baptismal font sits alone and unadorned, like a giant metal champagne coupe.
At least the mouse looks friendly.
Bailey’s narthex is now a new hexagonal entrance. Beneath is a new “flexible space” (all the current rage) with stackable wooden benches which can easily be reconfigured for services or event rentals.
The cathedral’s recently completed centenary “Gateway” project won an award for the latest round of architects, Thomas Ford and Partners. Their underfloor heating has gone a long way to making Sheffield more comfortable. It may sound hopelessly prosaic, but it was no small feat; More than 1000 square metres of flooring had to be excavated and relaid. Bonus: the Cathedral is wheelchair-accessible throughout.
Bailey’s open porch has been glazed in and is now the cathedral shop (furthering the vestibule sensation).
Now, let’s step outside and admire the latest in Cathedral landscaping—the Cathedral tram stop, right on its doorstep.
You can’t have everything.