It was a real pleasure to visit Wakefield’s Cathedral, though I wish I could have seen it before it was surrounded by post-war construction.
Back in the day, the then All Saints Parish Church overlooked the centre of a market town, surrounded by bucolic countryside.
Originally the site of a Saxon church, the Domesday Book of 1086 notes a church on the property. In 1090, William II gave the church and land around it to St Pancras Priory, also known as Lewes Priory. Shortly thereafter, the first Norman church was built, then rebuilt in 1329.
There was no rest for the wicked, apparently, because barring the tower and spire, it was rebuilt and enlarged once more in 1469, largely in the fashionable Perpendicular Gothic style of the time.
The cathedral walls are clad in ashlar sandstone. On the south wall is a porch with a wrought iron gate and a sundial over the door arch.
The church suffered the vicissitudes of the Reformation and Civil War. Prior to the 16th century, the parish church was known as All Hallows, but those reformers couldn’t tolerate anything smacking of paganism, so it became All Saints (though I do have to wonder how the Saints bit got by the censor board of All Things Protestant).
The name was not the only change wrought by the Reformers. The building suffered both damage and subsequent decay due to neglect, but the respectful restoration by George Gilbert Scott and his son John Oldrid Scott between 1858 and 1874 make it very difficult to distinguish where the original fabric ends and the Victorian work begins.
Even more thankfully, when the Diocese of Wakefield was created, and the parish church became Wakefield Cathedral in 1888, it was J L Pearson who was engaged as the architect to extend the East End. The renovations bear none of the modernisation zeal which rendered Blackburn so hideous but reflect the expertise in Gothic revival architecture he displayed at Truro Cathedral.
Wakefield has a four-stage west tower with a very tall crocketed (“a small, independent, sharply projecting medieval ornament, usually occurring in rows, and decorated with foliage”) spire. At 247 feet, it’s the highest spire in Yorkshire. The tower seems to have been far less troublesome than the one at Newcastle Cathedral, however.
The tower is a favoured nesting spot for peregrine falcons. The Wakefield Peregrine Falcon Project has been going since 2015, and 29 chicks have hatched over the seven-year period. You can keep up with their progress on the Cathedral’s social media channels! I love it when modern technology offers such pleasurable windows into nature.
All right, let’s go and look at the delights within, shall we? The west doors lead us right into the nave, where we will see construction that covers three centuries.
The wall of the north aisle is the oldest part of the church, dating from about 1150. The nave piers are from the 12th and 13th centuries; the arcade and chancel arches are from the 14th.
In 2012, the oak pews were removed to provide more flexibility in the use of the space, The labyrinth on the floor is “an aide to contemplation”. Indeed.
Looking back the other way, towards the west door, we can appreciate the wooden ceiling containing some medieval bosses; its tones add warmth to the space, enhanced by the modern chandeliers.
Unfortunately, none of the medieval stained glass survives; most of the cathedral’s glass was created by Charles Eamer Kempe, who created 23 windows over 30 years in a “pre-Raphaelite” style, providing Wakefield’s nave with a uniform look.
The late 15th-century chancel is now the choir.
The 17th-century rood screen is topped by a rood above (the crucifix and flanking figures) by Ninian Comper from 1950. The mop and bucket leaning against the chairs on the left are a nice touch!
The blue-painted ceiling adds a certain majesty, doesn’t it?
The 15th-century choir stalls have carvings of mythical beasts.
This fellow seems to have lost his beak (or nose)—hard to say which it might have been, given the hooded creature above.
The screen between the choir and the north aisle has carved wooden pillars.
Now we move to the 1904 addition, comprising the current chancel, a transept and St Mark’s Chapel by J L Pearson, and completed by his son, Frank L Pearson. Gothic revival architecture does seem to be a family affair!
The chancel has a stone vaulted roof.
The reredos, which you can see peeking above the carved marble partition, is by John Oldrid Scott; it may contain some earlier work. I couldn’t get a shot of it with the altar below, as the space before it was too narrow.
I did manage to get a photo of the sedilia (seats for clergy within the chancel).
They’re topped with intricate carving.
Below is St Mark’s Chapel.
I was a little startled to come across this memorial; it took a bit to figure out what it signified. Wakefield Diocese celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2013, and less than a week later, a reorganization scheme was announced which would see Wakefield subsumed into a new Diocese of Leeds, which would also include Bradford and Ripon. Hence the crosses below.
Despite Wakefield’s objections (bigger is not necessarily better), the scheme went ahead, and the Diocese of Wakefield was dissolved on Easter day, 2014. The Diocese of Leeds is the first new diocese in the Church of England since 1929 and is now the largest diocese in England by area covering 2,425 square miles, 2.3 million people and served by 656 churches. One can see that Wakefield’s objections might have been justified. Wow!
It took a while for all the reassignments of responsibilities to be sorted out; ecclesiastical power struggles are as robust as any in the secular world. The Diocese of Leeds now covers five episcopal areas, each led by an area bishop: Leeds, Ripon, Wakefield, Bradford and Huddersfield.
Wakefield Cathedral lives to see another day!