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Transcript of Lutyen's cathedral podcast

Welcome to this month's 'Object of the Month' - this magnificent model of the 'Cathedral that never was'.

I should say that Chris Moseley who oversaw the conservation of this model will be giving his last talk about the conservation job that's been done on this on the 19 April. So, come and hear that because there'll be a lot of technical stuff that I do not feel qualified to go into.

Just a word before we start on orientation and liturgy. Christians, be they Anglican or Roman Catholic, are summoned to worship from the West. They enter a church or a cathedral through the west door and they pray towards the altar which is in the East. Unlike the Islamic faithful who worship towards Mecca whichever point of the compass that happens to be when they are doing it.

Christians pray towards the East. Except in Liverpool.

In Liverpool, geographically, we have two cathedrals, as we know. And we meet under a statue exceedingly bare, all that. When the Anglican Cathedral was built, or the foundation stone laid on it, that was designed on a north-south axis because there is a ridge running north-south, parallel with the river. We have the Anglican Cathedral running north-south on that part of the ridge and then we were going to have this, running north-south at the other end of the ridge, at the other end of Hope Street.

Now this means that the Anglican Cathedral's West Door, liturgical west door, that you go in at, is in the north. And the altar, the eastern end of the Cathedral, is at the south. This, as also Paddy's Wigwam, has its West Door pointing south. So the Anglican's go in through the North Door, the Catholics go in through the South Door, but they both go in through the liturgical West Door.

Are we all clear on that?

The architect of the Anglican Cathedral, 22 years old, Giles Gilbert Scott, was chosen after a competition in 1903 to build the Anglican Cathedral. 25 years later, in 1928, the Anglican Cathedral was slowly and steadily rising at the far end of Hope Street, when Richard Downey was appointed Roman Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool. He was actually enthroned at what was called the Pro-Cathedral, which was St Nicholas's, which was pulled down to make a much needed Royal Mail sorting office. There's a plaque on the side of the sorting office saying 'Here was the Roman Catholic Pro-Cathedral of St Nicholas'.

Richard Downey was enthroned at the Pro-Cathedral (I like to think it means provisional cathedral - they used St Nicholas because they didn't have another one). He had plans to build a big Roman Catholic cathedral, a proper one. He met Sir Edwin Lutyens in the Garrick Club in London. 1929. Over lunch. And no doubt cocktails. Sir Edwin Lutyens has left an account of this meeting in his autobiography, he says 'We discussed cathedrals generally. Later, he wrote to me to go up and see him at Liverpool with reference to his cathedral. I was surprised and certainly pleased, dare I say it, as Punch. I think Dr Downey had in his mind that in so much as the Anglican Cathedral was being built by a Roman Catholic, his architect should belong to the Church of England. I thought it to be an excellent idea.'

Well, he would, wouldn't he?

'Why not? Said I. I went to Liverpool and arrived just before lunch. I was shown into a large dull-gloomed room.' Marvellous phrase that - dull-gloomed room. 'And waited feeling rather nervous and shy. In came His Grace, a red biretta on his head and a voluminous sash around his ample waist. He held out a friendly hand, his pectoral cross swung towards me and the first words he said were "Will you have a cocktail?"'.

So, it was all arranged over drinks. This was how Lutyens was given the commission. It was a done deal as they say in American politics, in presidential elections in Florida. A done deal, no competition, no election, just a private decision made between Archbishop Richard Downey, his God and Sir Edwin Lutyens.

Charles Reilly, Liverpool Professor of Architecture at the time, explained that 'The Roman Catholic Church is a dictatorship, accustomed to make direct appointments, no doubt after much thought and prayer'. So Downey knew exactly who he wanted for the job and he also knew the sort of cathedral that he wanted. Lutyens promised him a building of 608 feet long, by 400 feet wide. Multiply those two figures together you get a cathedral stretching across six and a quarter acres. It would have a dome 168 feet in diameter and the entire structure would rise to a height of 510 feet.

To put that into perspective, the Anglican Cathedral is 330 feet high. This would have been another 180 feet higher than the Anglican Cathedral. It would be the second largest Christian church in the world. It would be second only to St Peter's in Rome. I think wisely. You don't really want to upstage the Pope. And the Pope blessed the new cathedral design and suggested, well he ordered, that it be called the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King. It would be dedicated to Christ the King.

It was going to be very, very big. Archbishop Downey wrote an article around the time that this plan had been published and it was in a book called the Gift Book. It was obviously planned and published to raise much-needed funds. He started out by saying 'many philistines have asked me why we want to build a cathedral at Liverpool? And why we want to build it on the magnificent scale of Sir Edwin's plans? Modern minds have marvelled at the immensity of the medieval cathedrals, towering like giants over small towns which often times boasted several lesser churches. But the minds that have marvelled have failed to grasp the extensive function of a cathedral. In the ages of faith a cathedral was built so that on occasion the whole far-flund diocese should drawn nigh and listen to the authoritative words of Christ speaking in the person of the Archbishop. The Liverpool Cathedral is not for the Archdiocese of Liverpool alone, but for the whole northern province. For the metropolis of Liverpool and for Hexham and Newcastle, Lancaster, Leeds, Middlesbrough and Salford.'

In other words this Liverpool Cathedral was to handle the north of England just as Westminster Cathedral on Victoria Street in London serves the southern province of the rest of England.

In Liverpool there were a quarter of a million Roman Catholics. Richard Downey had memories of being enthroned in the pokey little Pro-Cathedral of St Nicholas and thousands of people unable to get in, waiting outside. We are told in Julian Treuherz's article which serves as a catalogue for this exhibition, that Lutyens felt that he was building for posterity, envisaging two centuries for completion, like the medieval cathedrals. If this is what Lutyens believed, then Downey had other ideas. He really felt that it could be done quicker.

He said in this article that I was quoting from earlier 'But say the pessimests, cathedrals take centuries to build. We shall be in our graves before it's finished and at best we can only hope to look down on it from heaven. Cathedrals need not take centuries to build and, as a matter of fact, many have not taken anything like that length of time. The great Gothic cathedrals were built with amazing rapidity, especially when we consider that they were mostly made by hand. Canterbury Cathedral, from the transept to the end of the choir, was raised in a single decade. The Norman part of Durham in less than two decades. Salisbury was built entire within three decades. Amiens Cathedral, the largest in France, was completed  from its first beginnings in five decades. Whilst the erection of the magnificent Santa Sofia at Constantinople occupied altogether only five years'.

I'm not absolutely sure whether he's right on all that, but he was Archbishop and he should know. Anyway, this was his slogan, his aim was for 'A cathedral in our time'. Note, not 'A cathedral for our time', but one we could actually see, that we would live to see. He goes on 'And with modern mechanical appliances, our new cathedral could be built rapidly enough if only we had the funds to pay for the necessary operations'.

As for the cost, Lutyens estimated right from the beginning that it would cost £3 million. That's in 1930, a lot of money today but at that time astronomical. But Downey had an answer for this as well, he said, 'There are people who stand aghast at the thought of a cathedral costing £3million, but take it as a matter of course that a single bridge across Sydney Harbour should cost more than twice that much - £7million. They overlook the fact that a modern battleship costs £8million and that is speedily out of date. Whilst an ocean liner' - or as he says in this article 'ocean greyhound' - 'cannot be launched under £6 million.

Money was going to be found and it wasn't really that much money after all when you compare it to other projects. Lutyens may have been appointed by dictatorship by Archbishop Downey, but his plans had to be vetted by all the Dioceses of what Downey called the northern province. He came up to Liverpool and there was a huge meeting with all the bishops and the clergy and Charles Reilly, Professor of Architecture at the University, (he was quite surprised to be invited along because he was Church of England, but he was invited, possibly at Lutyens' invitation).

He had a big plan upon the wall, he wasn't looking at this model, the model came later. He had the plans all laid out. Reilly says, 'Lutyens pointed on the plan to the big apse at the end of the central vista, beyond the high altar, and said to Archbishop Downey "that is where Your Grace is to be buried". Then he turned to other members of his audience "My Lord of Leeds, that is where you are to be", pointing to another place on the plan. "My Lord of Middleton, that is your spot"'. And so on, all round his audience. Reilly says he had them at once, 'Not only all interested in the plan but each with a sort of freehold precluding alteration'. Marvellous! You couldn't alter a plan like that that actually had your tomb marked on it.

If we imagine this cathedral model here, that thing there, that's the West Door, pointing south. That's been moved apart, but what you are sitting in is the area between the West Door and the central nave. It was supposed to be a large open area called the narthex. I'd never heard this word before, the narthex is a vestibule inside the west door of a cathedral or church and divided from the nave by a wall or screening. The narthex. I intend to use that word at least once a month.

Lutyens pointed to the great narthex at the west end, as big as any ordinary cathedral and crossing the five aisles. He said he wanted great silver grilles in the arches leading from the narthex to each aisle and he wanted the narthex always open, night and day. And heated. He wanted lavatories sunk in its great piers. 'My Lords, I want the poor of Liverpool to come there at any time of the day or night. To sleep there if they had nowhere else to go. But if so, to wake up always in sight of the lights of a distant altar.'

'It was certainly a glorious conception', said Reilly, 'I saw Bishops nudging one another round the table and heard one say, "He is a better Catholic than any of us"'.

It's appropriate that this narthex should be a haven for the poor because this entire six acre of cathedral was to built on the nine acre site of the biggest workhouse in the country ever. It was huge. If you look on a map of the turn of the century, Liverpool Workhouse covers this huge amount of ground. It's a site bounded on one side by Brownlow Hill and on two sides by Mount Pleasant. It's actually at the top of Mount Pleasant. I like to think that it must have been called the Mount Pleasant Workhouse. I'm not sure that it ever was but as good and ironic a name as any.

The workhouse site was bought in 1930 for a hundred thousand pounds and work began on the Crypt. Obviously you don't start with the dome, you start with the crypt and you work up. The key to the overall structure of the building can be seen over there in a photograph of another building that Lutyens had built, the Thiepval Arch Memorial to the Missing on the Somme. It was designed in 1922. The Thiepval Arch consists of a great block, penetrated by three arches from the front. One very large arch and two smaller arches on either side. These arches, as it were, tunnel through this block to the other side. Then from either side there are another three arches one large and two small on either side. These tunnel through the other way. Where they meet they form these great cavernous groined vaults.

It is essentially that design which is replicated in this but on a much vaster, a greater and more complex scale. Here, very simple, you have this large central nave, this large central arch here, flanked by two naves. Two arches here instead of the one in the Thiepval Arch so that there is the large arch here flanked by two smaller arches on either side. They tunnel right through the cathedral to the transept. The transept runs at right angles on the north-south liturgical axis. Or in Liverpool's case, the east-west compass axis.

If you look at either side you have the same arrangement. No, you don't, you have a simpler arrangement, you actually have the arrangement of the Thiepval Arch. One large arch and an arch on either side. The same thing happens and they go through and they cross in the middle and you get all these marvellous groined vaults high above.

That's the general layout. The high altar was to be twelve feet above the nave floor and there would be 53 smaller altars lining the nave, the transept, the apses and the sacresties. 53 altars, including the high altar. In theory you could hold mass 54 times simultaneously, quite a thought.

It was originally intended on the plan to have two bell towers at about this point here. Remember the Christian faithful are summoned by bells from the West. If possible, you have your bell towers at the west end of the Cathedral above the west portal. In some of the early designs he has these big bell towers marked but he couldn't really reconcile it with the magnificence of this dome so what he eventually does is he moves the two campinile back to here to the liturgical north-south axis. And there they are on either side, there and the same thing on the other side.

There were parts of this model that were lost in the years of neglect. Of course those bell towers on either side were two lost parts. The little crown at the top of the dome was also lost. That had to be made from scratch from designs and photographs. Right at the back, you'll see two saucer domes. Shallow domes, one on either side at the back at the east end and they cover the Lady Chapel and the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. Each of these saucer domes has an octagonal spire or spirelet. Apparently that is an architectural term - a spirelet meaning a little spire.

The saucer domes and the spirelets over the Lady Chapel and the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament were lost and have been recreated for this model.

If you notice at the back, above the west portal, the statue of Christ the King, very important. The statue of Christ the King was commissioned by Lutyens from Charles Sargeant Jagger. Charles Sargeant Jagger is best known as a sculptor of war memorials. Lutyens commissioned Charles Sargeant Jagger to create this statue, this design for the statue of Christ the King. He did it without consulting Archbishop Downey. But then Lutyens had been appointed in a spirit of dictatorship so Lutyens in turn appoints his sculptor also in a spirit of dictatorship.

Unfortunately Richard Downey didn't like Jagger's design for the statue. It was a bit too modern for him. Richard Downey was not a great friend of the moderns, he once insulted another sculptor, Jacob Epstein, because he actually went on record as saying 'While the new cathedral should reflect the 20th century, it would be calamitous if this meant something Epsteinish'. He obviously didn't much care for anything Jaggerish either.

The model, it was Lutyens idea that they build this model. His plans for the cathedral were laid out at the Royal Academy in 1932. The foundation stone was laid in 1933. There was an open air mass said at a temporary high altar on the cleared workhouse site and it had an 80 foot high baldacino, also designed by Lutyens and it's a similar design to what would have been the high altar baldacino here. I was talking when I first gave this talk to a man who remembered during the war, this mass was said in 1933 when the foundation stone was laid, but the altar stayed on the site right through the Second World War and this gentleman said that he remembers walking past it and he has a vivid memory of seeing barrage balloons behind the baldacino on the workhouse site.

It was Lutyens who suggested that this model be built. The idea was that it would be built and it could be carted round the country and it could be used for raising the necessary funds. Of course, from about 1933 onwards the estimated cost of this enormous building rose steadily. Twelve men were employed for just over a year building the model. By the time it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1934, it had cost £5000 - the model. It was still incomplete. The outer shell had been finished but none of the inside had been even started on.

Lutyens said that when it was taken from the Royal Academy, after the exhibition, he estimated that it would take another £6500 and a further year to complete. But at this stage the Diocese felt that the model was proving too great a drain on resources. They've got a £3 million cathedral to build. They couldn't waste any more money on the model and said, 'We'll take delivery as it stands'.

Work on the model was abandoned.

Work on the Crypt had started in 1933, it was stopped during the war and the Crypt served as a very useful air raid shelter for a time. Lutyens died in 1944. Archbishop Downey died in 1953 by which time the estimated cost of this cathedral had risen from £3 million to £27 million. It was impossible. A scaled down version of Lutyens' concept was planned by Adrian Gilbert Scott, a relation of Giles Gilbert Scott. But in 1955 even that scaled down version was not pursued.

As for the model it was stored in the Crypt and it was damaged by being moved about. Bits went missing. I mentioned the two bell towers and the little crown at the top. It was partially restored by the University's School of Architecture and it was finally given to the Walker Art Gallery in 1975.

Restoration of the unfinished and badly damaged model began in 1991. It was exhibited as a work in progress in the Walker in 1996 and it's now complete.

With the two years that the model making company in London spent in the thirties and the sixteen years of restoration between 1991 and 2007, the Lutyens model has taken a total of 18 years to finish. In the 1960s, Downey's rallying cry of 'A cathedral in our time' was revived. This time a  competition was held for a new design. The competitive brief was for a cathedral that would accomodate a congregation of 3000. This was later reduced to 2000. This cathedral had to be brought in for £1 million.

That was the brief. Gibberd got the commission and eventually his cathedral came in at £1.9million, which is still nearly twice as much as the brief but it's not bad. Gibberd's cathedral was begun in 1962 and completed in 1967, that's five years. As opposed to the 18 years of this wonderful model here. Bears thinking about.

Of course, Gibberd's Roman Catholic cathedral was built on the cheap. It was built on the cheap and only 30 years later repairs cost £8million. So, it's nearly £10 million in all for what we know as Paddy's Wigwam, but it's still an economy when compared to the £27 million the Lutyens cathedral would have cost at the last estimate.

I'd just like to finish with Robert Lutyens, Edwin Lutyens' son. He was interviewed in 1969 and he said, 'There is one work of my father's which stands quite outside time and period, and which can be judged, therefore, as a totally isolated work of art, without social or cultural connotations, and which has been saved from prejudiced denigration by the singular purity - by the abstraction of its non-completion.'

In other words, it was never built! We can look at this as a glorious idea, a glorious dream. It will never be criticised for not working as a cathedral. The roof will never leak. The fabric will never discolour. It has infinite potential and it will never grow old. I like to think of this as the James Dean of cathedrals.

Robert Lutyens finishes up by saying, 'I am, of course, referring to the Cathedral. It is there, yet it is nowhere. It is architecture - asserted once and for ever - and the very greatest building that was never built!'

Thank you.