The Architecture

John Bailey is the Cathedral Architect at Wakefield Cathedral.

Expand the section below to read John’s architectural guide which makes the cathedral, in John’s own words, “one of Yorkshire’s greatest churches.”

  • Architectural Guide - by John Bailey

    The spire of Wakefield Cathedral, at a height of approximately 247 feet, is the tallest church in Yorkshire and still dominates the city skyline, drawing pilgrims and visitors to the cathedral. This hidden architectural gem has its origins in a pre-Conquest church, but the story of the present building starts circa 1150 when parts of the surviving nave north arcade were first built.

    This was followed in approximately 1220 by the southern arcade, which is made up of alternating round and octagonal columns. Following the probable collapse of a central tower around 1320, both arcades were heightened, giving their present form, and new multi-shaft columns added. The church was re-consecrated by Archbishop William de Melton in 1329.

    Between 1409 and 1420, the magnificent western tower and spire were added to the church and, after 1440, the present nave clerestory was constructed. This contains finely carved capitals including one of a wild boar eating acorns. The eastern half of the mediaeval church also dates from the second half of the 15th century, traditionally under the vicarship of Thomas Rogers 1462-1502. The five bay quire contains 25 magnificent stalls with misericords and carved animals paid for by Sir Thomas Savile in 1482 in celebration of his marriage to Margaret Bosworth. The cathedral also contains a complete set of 15th century ceilings throughout the Nave, aisles and east end. These have a fine collection of carved bosses depicting a wide range of religious and secular themes.

    Other gems include the sundial added to the south porch in 1635 and the quire screen, carved by Thomas Grundy of Leeds for the sum of £17.15s in 1636. The cathedral font also dates from the 17th century and was installed in 1661 to replace the mediaeval font destroyed in the Commonwealth.

    The cathedral we see today is the work of three men who were associated with Wakefield during the 19th century. The first was Sir George Gilbert Scott, who worked on the cathedral between 1857 and 1874. His involvement included re-casing the tower in 1859 and rebuilding the spire in 1860. This was followed by major external repairs, reordering of the quire and, finally, the nave that was completed in 1874. His son, John Oldrid Scott, added the organ chamber and vestries and completed part of the present reredos, which is considered one of the finest Victorian examples in England.

    Following the raising of the parish church to Cathedral status in 1888, John Loughborough Pearson was engaged to design a new east end to the cathedral. These plans came to fruition between 1903-05, when his son, Frank, completed arguably the finest Pearson work on an English cathedral. This simple and elegant design makes a majestic addition to the cathedral. Complementing this work, is the cathedral’s collection of glass by the great Victorian artist, Charles Kempe. Wakefield has 23 Kempe windows, spanning his complete working life up to his death in 1907.

    The 20th century has also seen important changes at Wakefield. The rood screen figures were designed by Sir Ninian Comper in 1938 for Provost Hopkins, but were not completed until 1950. This was followed by the Cathedra designed by George Pace in 1974. In 1982, the Treacy Hall was added by the then Cathedral Architect, Peter Marshall, he also added the linking offices in the 1990s.

    Wakefield Cathedral has magnificent historic fabric spanning over 800 years and is one of Yorkshire’s greatest churches.

  • An overview of some of Wakefield Cathedral’s extraordinary architecture

    The Tower and Spire

    At 247ft high (or 75 metres), the cathedral tower is the tallest church tower in the whole of Yorkshire.

    The glass windows in the tower are engraved with the Wakefield Cross designed by Celia Kilner, the calligrapher and stonemason who created the Saxon Cross which can be found on the land outside the south-west corner of the cathedral.

    The tower and spire were originally added to the church between 1409-1420, with the tower recased and the spire rebuilt between 1859-1860 by Sir George Gilbert Scott.

    In recent years a family of peregrines have made the cathedral tower their home, fledging over twenty chicks in this time.


    The Saxon Cross

    The original cross from the late 10th century was discovered in 1861 being used as a door step at a local barber’s shop (now situated at the Wakefield Museum).

    Today’s Saxon Cross, standing at ten-foot tall, was hewn from a quarry in Holmfirth and hand carved by Celia Kilner, her final piece before retirement in 2016.


    The Font and Labyrinth

    The cathedral font dates back to 1661 and can be found central to the nave as you descend the steps from the west entrance. 

    The font, octagonal in shape, underwent some tremendous conservation work in 2012 to bring it back to how we find it today. Decorations upon the font include the initials of Charles II (the monarch at the time of installation) and those of the churchwardens. 

    You can find a message on the floor circling the font which celebrates the church becoming a cathedral at the end of the 19th century. This messaging was also installed in 2012 alongside the Labyrinth which can also be found central to the nave and was also installed as part of the works carried out in 2012.

    The Nave

    There are a number of unique features within the nave at Wakefield Cathedral; there are an odd number of columns stretching down the south side compared to the north side varying in shape (both at the base of the column and the column itself) and visitors soon discover that the chancel arch – which is so striking upon first entering the cathedral – is not actually symmetrical. 

    The nave’s north arcade is the oldest surviving part of the cathedral today, dating back to around 1150.

    The Rood Screen

    The tremendous Rood figures were designed by Sir Ninian Comper in 1938 and completed in 1950.

    The Rood Screen itself was carved by Francis Gunby of Leeds back in 1635.

    Visible on the Rood alongside Christ is the Virgin Mary and St John the Evangelist, both depicted standing atop serpents symbolising Christ overcoming death on Easter Day. On each end of the cross the symbols of the four evangelists are engraved.

    Two six-winged angels stand on either side of the Rood.

    The Quire and the Misericords

    Our five-bay quire contains twenty-five stalls dating back to 1482 and paid for then by Sir Thomas saville in celebration of his marriage to Margaret Bosworth, complete with their original misericords which can be discovered underneath the seats.

    On one of the stall ends you can see a beautifully carved owl which was the Saville’s family emblem.

    The quire was reordered in the 1860’s as part of the extensive work carried out by Sir George Gilbert Scott. 

    When visiting don’t forget to look up at the vibrant blue painted ceiling adorned with gold detail.

    The High Altar and Reredos

    The high altar stands in front of the stunning reredos at the back of the quire and in between the sedilia (the stone seats) used by the Bishops of the Diocese of Leeds since inception in 2014.

    Part of the present reredos was completed by John Aldrid Scott (son of the aforementioned George Gilbert Scott) and is one of the finest Victorian examples of such fabric in England today.

    The Lady Chapel

    The lady chapel at Wakefield Cathedral is unusually located in the south aisle of the cathedral and, alongside seating and candles, hosts a cross-legged Madonna statue holding an infant Christ – created by Ian Judd in 1986 and carved out of Cadeby limestone.

    St Mark’s Chapel

    Following the raising of the parish church to cathedral status in 1888 the development of the East End began, completed between 1903-1905, designed by John Loughborough Pearson and completed by his son Frank.

    The Stained Glass

    Wakefield Cathedral has a fine collection of 29 Victorian and Edwardian stained glass windows, 23 of which were designed and made by the great Victorian artist Charles Kempe over a period of 35 years.

    His later windows, found in the east end of the cathedral, carry his golden wheatsheaf trademark in the lower left-hand margin.

Did you know: An Angelic Discovery

During the interior cleaning of the cathedral in the early noughties, a medieval painting of an angel was discovered on the arch adjacent to the rood screen, uncovered for the first time in centuries!

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Wakefield Cathedral

Cathedral Centre
8-10 Westmorland St
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