Wakefield - The making of a cathedral city

Wakefield Cathedral has helped shape the city. What does the future hold for the church with the tallest spire in Yorkshire?

While the rest of the country is fixated on 2012, Wakefield is bucking the trend and training its gaze firmly ahead on 2013.

This is a landmark year for the city and its iconic cathedral. Before 1888, All Saints was just a parish church at the centre of a hard-working Yorkshire town. After, it was a cathedral at the heart of a city.

‘We are one of the best situated cathedrals in England,’ said Canon Michael Rawson, sub dean and canon pastor. ‘Whenever someone is meeting a friend in town they say ‘see you outside the cathedral’. It’s the landmark that everyone knows.’

Note that they say ‘see you outside the cathedral’ though, as if, almost 125 years after its elevation, meeting inside the cathedral is not on the average Joe’s agenda. So what is it going to take to get them to meet inside?

The answer, it seems, is Project 2013, a multi-million pound scheme to place the cathedral firmly back at the heart of the community in time for the city’s milestone 125th anniversary.

‘We really are all fired up,’ said the Rev Rawson. ‘We’re quite a new group – none of us has been here more than five years – so we’ve taken on this project and made it our own. But it’s also important that we get the greater community on board too. It’s not just our anniversary, it’s the anniversary of the whole city.’

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Project 2013 is an ambitious three phase scheme to make the cathedral – Wakefield’s largest public space – fit for purpose in the 21st century. All in all, it will cost somewhere in the region of  �5 million but, when complete, will provide a concert venue, exhibition space, debating chamber and social hub to rival major commercial venues.

The Heritage Lottery Fund has already granted the scheme an interim �50,000 development grant and has left the door open for a second chance to bid for another �950,000.

When the money was first secured, the Bishop of Wakefield, the Right Reverend Stephen Platten, said it was an important landmark in the regeneration of both the cathedral and the city.

‘This is truly excellent news, and a first step towards renewal,’ he said. ‘Spiritual regeneration is key for human flourishing – which has to be the basis for all forms of regeneration.’His thoughts were echoed by Councillor Peter Box, who added:

‘The cathedral is at the heart of our city and one of our biggest public spaces. This is a real opportunity to develop it for future generations while preserving its history.’

Which is all well and good, but �50,000 is only a fraction of the money needed to revamp the cathedral in time for its landmark anniversary. The rest is going to have to come through community fundraising.

‘We are encouraging groups around the district to raise �125, or multiples of �125, for the 125th anniversary,’

said the Rev Rawson. ‘We want to give the cathedral back to the people, but to do that it’s essential that they play their part.’

Phase one of Project 2013 centres around the nave, the main seating area which makes up around half the footprint of the whole cathedral. The entire floor will be replaced and raised by a step to improve access and make room for underfloor heating. All the pews will be removed to make way for more flexible seating arrangements.

And the audio and lighting systems will both be brought up to date.‘Every time you flick a switch at the moment at least one light blows,’ said the Rev Rawson. ‘And you can only see most of our amazing medieval art if you have a very powerful torch. ‘We’re also going to thoroughly clean the windows and wash and lime the walls. As a former industrial city, the walls are pretty grimy. We’ll be cleaning away 100 years of dirt.’

Phase 2 of the project involves an extension on the north side, while phase 3 will see the conservation and restoration of the medieval choir.

In the meantime, staff at the cathedral are working hard to entice more people through the doors. They’ve opened a relaxed, informal coffee shop and bookshop, are hosting a number of intriguing art exhibitions, hold free weekly music events and have launched a series of crowd-pulling talks and debates. The first of these ‘Cathedral Conversations’ was with veteran politician Tony Benn, who attracted a 450-strong crowd.

‘Ian McMillan, the Barnsley Bard, drew a good crowd too,’ said the Rev Rawson. ‘And I’m sure a lot of our visitors wouldn’t call themselves card-carrying Christians. ‘They come in on their own terms, and that’s fine by us. This is a church, but our events are not all churchy. There is something for everyone.’

But this doesn’t mean the church has lost all its churchiness. It is still very much a place of peace, reflection and worship with at least 120 candles lit by visitors every day. It’s just that now, with the 125th anniversary fast approaching, it is working hard to widen its appeal.‘We really want to stretch the walls of the cathedral and draw in a whole new group of people,’ said the Rev Rawson. ‘Initially we are encouraging people to come in just once a year. It might be for a concert, an exhibition or a service. Just come in.’

Wakefield wouldn’t be Wakefield without its cathedral, in the same way that York wouldn’t be York without its minster. But while people now have to pay to visit the North Yorkshire church, passing through yet another tourist turnstile, its West Yorkshire counterpart remains

resolutely intent on encouraging free and easy access to what it sees as a community facility.‘The cathedral belongs to the people and its our job to respond to their needs,’ said the Rev Rawson. ‘Wakefield Cathedral is an icon. It’s used on the masthead of the local paper and on trains – it’s everywhere.

‘It’s not just an icon of Wakefield, it’s the icon.’

 To find out more about Wakefield Cathedral and its ambitious Project 2013, visit www.wakefieldcathedral.org.uk.

Heritage and history

The Cathedral Church of All Saints Wakefield is the seat of the Bishop of Wakefield and stands on the site of a Saxon church. Evidence of the original building was discovered in 1900 when an extension was added to the east. The north aisle is the oldest part of the church, dating back to around 1150.

The crocketed spire rises to 247 feet (75m) and is the highest in Yorkshire.

In 1992, Wakefield became only the second cathedral in Britain to form a girls’ choir.

The cathedral has only had five organists – Joseph Hardy, Newell Wallbank, Percy Saunders, Jonathan Bielby (who served for 40 years, making him the longest serving English cathedral organist) and Thomas Moore, who took over this year.

John Loughborough Pearson was engaged to design a new extension to the building when it was given cathedral status. His plans were completed seven years later by his son, Frank. Some say his simple, elegant design for Wakefield is the finest example of his work in England.

The cathedral is home to 23 windows by the great Victorian artist Charles Kempe, created throughout his working life up to his death in 1907.

Yorkshire’s cathedral cities

There are more than 70 cathedrals across the UK, from Anglican to Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox.

Not all large and impressive churches are cathedrals though. For instance, Westminster Abbey, for all its pomp and pageantry, doesn’t have that distinction.

A cathedral is the seat of a bishop and is the principal church of the area or diocese he administers. Among the most notable cathedrals in Yorkshire are:

 Bradford Cathedral Church of St Peter, Stott Hill, Bradford, BD1 4EH, 01274 777720, www.bradfordcathedral.co.uk.

Ripon Cathedral, Minster Road, Ripon, HG4 1PE, 01765 602072, www.riponcathedral.org.uk.Sheffield Cathedral Church of St Peter and St Paul, Church Street, Sheffield, S1 1HA, 0114 275 3434, www.sheffield-cathedral.co.uk.

York Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St Peter, known to its many friends as York Minster, Chapter House Street, York, YO1 7JH, 01904 557216, www.yorkminster.org

Leeds Cathedral Church of St Anne, Great George Street, Leeds, LS2 8BE, 0113 244 8634, www.dioceseofleeds.org.uk.

Where is it: Wakefield is in the lower Calder Valley, nine miles southeast of Leeds in West Yorkshire. It’s just off the M1 (at junction 40) and sits at the centre of a busy transport hub for both buses and trains. To check bus and train times, phone MetroLine on 0113 245 7676 or visit www.wymetro.com

Where to park: There are more than 1,500 off-street and 600 on-street council-controlled parking spaces in the city centre. For a downloadable map of all the city’s car parks, visit www.wakefield.gov.uk

What to do: The National Coal Mining Museum for England is located at Caphouse Colliery on the western edge of the Yorkshire coalfield on the outskirts of Wakefield, providing a unique opportunity to travel 140m underground into one of Britain’s oldest working mines. 01924 848806; www.ncm.org.uk

Set in the beautiful grounds and gardens of a 500-acre, 18th century country estate, Yorkshire Sculpture Park is one of the world’s leading open air galleries, presenting a changing programme of international exhibitions. 01924 832631; www.ysp.co.uk

Pugneys Country Park is a 250-acre site with two lakes (the largest of which is a 100-acre watersports lake) offering canoeing, sailing and windsurfing. 01924 302360; www.wakefield.gov.uk/pugneys.

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