Liverpool: The cathedral

A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1911.

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'Liverpool: The cathedral', in A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 4, (London, 1911) pp. 52-53. British History Online [accessed 20 April 2024]


The establishment of the diocese of Liverpool (fn. 1) immediately gave rise to the demand for the erection of a cathedral; the parish church of St. Peter, which had been assigned as pro-cathedral by an Order in Council of 1880, being manifestly inadequate, being indeed the most modest church to which that dignity has been allotted in any English diocese. A committee was formed in 1881, and a lively discussion as to sites was carried on, (fn. 2) the St. John's churchyard site (west of St. George's Hall) being eventually decided on. In 1885 an Act was obtained empowering the erection of a cathedral, and a competition was held for designs, (fn. 3) and the premium was awarded to Mr. William Emerton. The problem of raising funds, however, was found too great, and in 1888 the project was abandoned. Under Bishop Ryle the main strength of the diocese was devoted to the urgently-needed provision of new churches and the augmentation of poorer livings. At the beginning of 1901, however, the project was revived (fn. 4) by Bishop Chavasse, who appointed a committee to discuss the question of sites. Amid much public discussion, St. James's Mount, in the south-central district of the city, was decided upon—a rocky plateau occupied in part by public gardens and overlooking an ancient quarry, now used as a cemetery. The site presented a clear open space of 22 acres; the steep side of the plateau, clothed with trees, gives it something of the picturesqueness of Durham, while the deep hollow of the cemetery will serve to isolate the cathedral and give to its architecture its full effect. Over 150 ft. above sea-level, the site will enable the cathedral to dominate the city and the estuary. The drawbacks of the site were two: its shape forbade a proper orientation, and made it necessary to put the 'east' end of the cathedral to the south, while the fact that the southern part of the plateau was made ground involved a large expenditure for foundations.

The scheme was formally initiated and committees appointed (fn. 5) at a town hall meeting on 17 June 1901, and on 2 August 1902 an Act was obtained authorizing the purchase from the corporation of the St. James's Mount site. After a preliminary competition, competitive designs were submitted by five selected candidates on 30 April 1903; the assessors, Mr. G. F. Bodley and Mr. Norman Shaw, selected the design of Mr. G. Gilbert Scott, who was accordingly appointed architect in conjunction with Mr. Bodley. On 19 July 1904 the foundation stone was laid by His Majesty the King. The general character of the design is Gothic, but it is not a reproduction of the style of any particular period. The main qualities aimed at are simplicity and massiveness. The most striking features will be the twin central towers and a third tower at the north end, respectively rising 415 and 355 ft. above sea-level; the vast height of the nave and choir, and the six high transepts, which are carried to the full roof height, and will produce unusual light effects. Both in height and in area the dimensions considerably exceed those of any other English cathedral. The principal dimensions are as follows:—

Total external length (including Lady chapel) 584 ft.
Length of nave, without narthex 192 "
Width of nave between centres of pillars 53½ "
Width across transepts 198 "
Width of north façade 196 "
Height of arches in nave and choir 65 "
Height of barrel-vaulting in nave and choir 116 "
Height of vaulting in high transepts 140 "
Height of vaulting under towers 161 "
Height of central towers 260 "
Height of northern tower 200 "
Superficial area 90,000 sq. ft.

It is estimated that the cost of erecting the whole cathedral will be at least £750,000; of the Lady Chapel, choir, and twin towers, which are being first built, about £350,000. Towards this sum over £300,000 has been already contributed, including over £70,000 for special purposes, among which may be named the Lady Chapel, to be erected by the Earle and Langton families, the chapter-house, to be erected by the Masonic Lodges of the West Lancashire province, as well as several windows, the organ, the font, &c., which have been already given by various donors.


  • 1. V.C.H. Lancs. ii, 96.
  • 2. Articles in Nineteenth Century, 1881 and 1884, &c.
  • 3. Copies of designs are preserved in the City Library.
  • 4. A collection of papers, &c., &c., in seven volumes, in the City Library, provides full material for the history of the movement.
  • 5. Rep. of Proceedings published by Cathedral Committee.