by John Bailey, Cathedral Architect
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.