“His second temple lordlier than his first”: St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh. Part II: The Cathedral of Ashlin & Coleman and the Coming Storm, 1873-1963

The spectacle which accompanied the Solemn Dedication of St. Patrick’s Cathedral on the 24th August 1873 was one of the most lavish and theatrical that Armagh had ever seen.  It was estimated that 20,000 people thronged the building and its surrounding lands to witness “snow-white surplices gleaming along an endless line of some four hundred priests, the richly embroidered copes and jewelled mitres of twenty Prelates sparkling in the sunshine, with a former Prelate, now a Prince of the Church, Cardinal Cullen in the place of honour, the many thousands of the laity covering every available inch of the ample grounds, and, towering over all, the gigantic frame of the Cathedral”.  It was, we are told, “a demonstration of the strong, vigorous life of Catholic Ireland such, indeed, as had not been seen in Armagh since the funeral of old King Brian [Boru]”. As a religious spectacle, it was stunning in its richness; as a piece of political propaganda it was incandescent.  Nothing could better express the magnificent resurgence of Catholic Ireland after nearly 300 years of persecution than this soaring monument to its reassertion of position and legitimacy.  Comparisons with the great pre-Norman Celtic feasts of old were made. Musical odes were written extolling its virtues and poetry penned expressing its significance.  The mood was summed up by Aubrey de Vere who composed a Sonnet which was read at the feast following the religious dedication:

This day the crime of ages stand reversed.

This day, with kinglier front and port more high,

St. Patrick’s towers invoke their native sky,

His second temple lordlier than his first;

Orient once more, a vanished Hope hath burst

From night’s black realm; in Stygian pageantry

The stormy wrecks of Penal days go by

Like ghosts remanded to their bourn accurst.

Ho, Watcher on the summits! Cry aloud,

How speeds the dawn! What promise gilds the East!

A voice responds – thy voice, great Patriarch-Priest,

I see a race baptized as in the cloud:

I see a nation round an altar bowed;

I see God’s people share his Marriage Feast.

The message could not have been clearer: Catholic Ireland had come home.  The persecutions of the Penal Laws were in the past and once again Irish Catholics could reassert their dominance over the land.  The Established Church of Ireland and all its attempts to evangelise the Irish populace in the way of Anglicanism had been dealt their death blow.

The Cathedral was cast by the Irish episcopacy as a building which at once asserted the power of the Roman Church but which was also imbued with a keen sense of uniquely Irish national identity and pride.  The Cathedral’s principal architect JJ McCarthy had expended great efforts in persuading the Irish hierarchy of the nationalistic aspects of his Gothic revival. During the early 1840’s McCarthy became closely associated with Charles Gavan Duffy, an influential Irish Nationalist and editor of the Nationalist The Nation newspaper. Duffy and his associates in the Young Ireland movement (of which McCarthy himself was a prominent member) espoused a revival of Irish Nationalism as much through culture and antiquarianism as politics. McCarthy can only have been greatly pleased when in 1846 The Nation reported that “an architect, who has since built more Celtic churches than any man of Irish birth since the Goban Saor taught our ancestors to construct the round towers, told me that he caught the first impulse to revive the Irish Gothic in ecclesiastical buildings from The Nation”. The architect was, of course, McCarthy. This imprimatur from the most influential Nationalist publication of the time combined with the association of Gothic architecture with Celtic cultural nationalism was an most important nexus in fashioning the Cathedral as a source of national and nationalistic pride.  It was a strange assertion, however, in circumstances where it seems clear that McCarthy’s precedential references  at Armagh were almost exclusively English and French, a fact which would not be lost on later commentators.

McCarthy had lived to see his great Cathedral completed.  But by this time, his reputation as an architect had begun to take a distinct downturn. Early in his career, McCarthy realized that aligning the Mediaeval revival with the Catholic and Nationalist political and cultural resurgence would create a potent socio-cultural mix which would be irresistible to the emerging Catholic clergy. Furthermore, rather than dogmatically press the absolute truth of his principles upon an uncultured, unwilling and pro-Roman clergy as Pugin had done (with little success) in the early 1840’s, he instead introduced his principles by means of rational argument and practicality, compromising minor principles where this was necessary to ensure the overall survival of the Ecclesiological movement

But in his beginning was indeed his end; for it was this very willingness to compromise his principles that eventually led to the destruction of his reputation. After the great Ecclesiologial triumphs of the 1840’s and 1850’s which reached their urban apogee with St Saviour’s, Dominick Street, Dublin and their rural peak with Holy Trinity in Cookstown (both of which adhere strictly to Pugin’s ecclesiologist “true principles” and the latter of which is a virtual carbon copy of St Giles, Cheadle), McCarthy began increasingly to allow his taste and principles to be guided by the clergy he had originally sought to evangelize. No one can begin to imagine Pugin slavishly measuring the façade of Sant’ Agata dei Goti in Rome in order to build an entirely incongruous copy at Clonliffe in Dublin, but McCarthy did precisely this in 1873.

Holy Trinity, Cookstown (1854)

Holy Trinity, Cookstown (1854)

Chapel, Holy Cross College, Clonliffe, 1873.

Chapel, Holy Cross College, Clonliffe, 1873.

As Armagh demonstrated, McCarthy flourished in adversity. When, by the 1870’s, funds were more readily available, McCarthy’s style became decadent and over decorated. Gone is the “rude and simple but massive and solemn” country parish church based on St Giles’ found at  Cookstown. Instead we often find an over decorative and incongruous fussy French Gothic structure such as that utilised at St Patrick’s Dungannon which could almost be by an entirely different architect. In compromising his principles to this extent, McCarthy had allowed his reputation to flounder. It is perhaps no wonder that his obituaries are so begrudging, The Builder acidly commenting that “it would be an exaggeration to say that [McCarthy] was a great architect” and attributing the spread of the Gothic Revival in Ireland (bizarrely) to Francis Johnston.

Church of St Patrick, Dungannon, 1871.

Church of St Patrick, Dungannon, 1871.

It was also clear that, magnificent as the building he had left at Armagh was, it was unfinished.  Several unfortunate compromises had been adopted in the interior primary among which was the screening off of the South transept to form a combined Sacristy and Assembly Room for Diocesan purposes.  Archbishop McGettigan continued to make such improvements as funds and his health allowed. Many of these improvements were carried out at the Primate’s own expense. Further murals were commissioned in the Lady Chapel and the ceilings were stencilled.  In 1875, he commissioned a unique set of 14 Stations of the Cross from Herbert & Co. of Liverpool which were cast in plaster and erected around the walls of the Cathedral.

The Third Station of the Cross commissioned from Herbert & Co. of Liverpool, 1875.

The Third Station of the Cross commissioned from Herbert & Co. of Liverpool, 1875.

In the same year, a three manual, thirty-three stop pipe organ was built in the Western gallery by William Telford with a Barker lever action.  It was dedicated in June 1875 with a performance of Haydn’s Imperial Mass. At this point, the gallery, as designed by McCarthy, was of wood.

The Nave looking West towards the Telford organ in its original case, 1875.

The Nave looking West towards the Telford organ in its original case, 1875.

In 1879, Primate McGettigan commissioned the great East window from Earley & Powell of Dublin, the upper sections showing the Crucifixion and the two lower panels around the spires and crockets of the reredos showing St. Patrick preaching to the natives of Ireland and using the shamrock as a demonstration of the nature of the Holy Trinity and the story of the fawn from the Book of Armagh which had so successfully been propagandised by the builders of the Cathedral as evidence of the legitimacy and Divinely ordained nature of the site of the Cathedral (see Part I of this post).

The Great East Window, Earley & Powell, 1879 commissioned by Archbishop McGettigan.

The Great East Window, Earley & Powell, 1879 commissioned by Archbishop McGettigan.

Following this work, Primate McGettigan shifted his attentions to the exterior of the Cathedral, constructing a spectacular seven-terrace flight of stone steps leading to a piazza at the West door from the City. He also built a rather ungainly if not simply ugly residence for the Armagh Archbishops, Ara Coeli, to the rear of the Cathedral in 1877.  In 1884, a sacristan’s lodge was added to the opening flight of steps.

Armagh Cathedral

When Archbishop McGettigan died in December 1887 after some years of failing health, the Cathedral had seen the passing of five successive Archbishops and the expenditure of the unprecedented sum of over £70,000 during a period when Irish Catholics had endured unimaginable poverty, famine and strife. It was a monument to tenacity and devoted poverty.  But by the late 1880’s, the climate in Ireland had changed.  A thriving Catholic middle class had, for the first time, emerged in Ireland and there had been an increasing surge of political and cultural nationalism.  These new Catholic monied classes had begun to make significant inroads into the old Protestant Ascendancy dominance of civic and financial life in Ireland and they were keen to mark their place in the ascendant with lavish monuments of their piety and munificence and thus fashion for themselves a strong position in Irish civic life.  The concept of Irish nationalism shifted suddenly away from outward-looking European ideals of statehood and instead, this new Catholic ascendancy centred its vision of the Irish nation on shared culture, language and most of all Roman Catholic religion.  The Irish episcopacy were swift to capitalise on this new mood, providing a moral foundation and a visual nexus for the fashioning of the new Ireland whilst at the same time cementing themselves into an unmovable position at the heart of Irish political and civic life which would survive until the mid 1990’s.  The Cathedral of JJ McCarthy may well have been a monument to triumph over poverty, religious oppression and adversity, but this new class wanted nothing less than a lavish statement of their new found wealth, self-determination and dominance. At the same time, the Irish episcopacy wished to demonstrate that it had fully shed the illegitimacy and grinding poverty of the Penal Church to become the legitimate and true Church of the Irish state in stark contrast the swiftly decreasing influence and increasing financial hardship of the former Protestant state church following its disestablishment in 1871.

Thus, despite the great sums already expended upon the Cathedral project, the new Primate, Michael Logue, embarked on its most ambitious transformation to date.  Logue’s rise to the See of Armagh had been meteoric and the tireless energy of his episcopate unprecedented.  Born in very modest circumstances as the son of a blacksmith in 1840, the year Primate Crolly had laid the foundation stone of the Cathedral, he proved to be an exceptional scholar, becoming fluent in Irish, Latin and Greek before the age of 14 and gaining first place in the Entrance Examination for the Royal College of St Patrick at Maynooth at the age of only 16.  In 1866, he accepted the Chair of Theology at the Irish College in Paris from where he was ordained a priest on 22nd December of that year. He returned to his native diocese of Raphoe in 1874 and was made a Doctor of Divinity. Two years later he became the Dean of Maynooth College and Professor of Irish, which position he exchanged in 1878 for a chair of Dogmatic and Moral Theology. At the age of 39, he was consecrated Bishop of Raphoe in July, 1879 and soon became well known for his superhuman effort in fund-raising, amassing the huge sum of £40,000 mainly from Irish-Amercian sources for famine relief in his Diocese in 1879.  When Primate McGettigan’s heath began to fail in early 1887, Logue was appointed Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh and succeeded to the Seat of St. Patrick only nine months later.  It was a position he would occupy for over 35 years. On the 19th January 1893, the apotheosis of the See of Armagh was reached when Pope Leo XIII created Logue Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria della Pace, thus making him the first Archbishop of Armagh raised to the College of Cardinals in its history.  It was an honour felt as keenly by the citizens of Armagh as the Primate himself.

Michael, Cardinal Logue (1840-1924) by Sir John Lavery (1856-1941), 1920.

Michael, Cardinal Logue (1840-1924) by Sir John Lavery (1856-1941), 1920.

As though to mark this event of great personal, national and historical significance, Cardinal Logue almost immediately concentrated his energies on  improving the Cathedral he had inherited.  His first act was to deal with the sacristy and hall occupying the screened off South transept, an ungainly compromise left by McCarthy. Logue commissioned the architect William Hague, who had also taken over McCarthy’s work at Maynooth, to construct a Synod Hall and Sacristy to the rear of the Cathedral, linked to the main body of the building by means of a curved cloister.

The Synod Hall and Sacristy, William Hague, 1894-97.

The Synod Hall and Sacristy, William Hague, 1894-97.

The removal of the wooden screens across the South transept gave rise to an opportunity to consider the interior of the Cathedral as a whole. When the Cardinal came to Armagh, he found the interior still comparatively empty; what fittings there were seemed, according to the 1904 guide, “but temporary makeshifts unworthy of the noble and enduring edifice; while previous attempts at decoration, such as painting &c., were not only of a perishable nature, but had already, owing to damp and other causes, succumbed before their time”.  The Cardinal complained of the “weak and beggerly elements” of interior decoration and there was a belief that “visitors who had approached the Cathedral filled with admiration for the beauty of its exterior, were…disagreeably surprised, not to say disedified, at the comparative shabbiness and poverty of the interior”.  The Cardinal’s plans to remedy this defect turned the Cathedral into an almost unimaginable Gothic fantasy of marble, mosaic and carved wood.  The projected costs of his planned beautification were utterly extraordinary by contemporary standards, as the Cardinal planned to add exotic and rare materials from around the globe, fashioned by the most skilled artisans from mainland Europe to his Cathedral.

Nave looking East as it appeared upon the appointment of Cardinal Logue.

Nave looking East as it appeared upon the appointment of Cardinal Logue.

in 1899, His Eminence judged the time was ripe. On the 20th of August he issued his pastoral on “The National Cathedral”, exhorting the people of Ireland to assist in creating a Cathedral worthy of its place in Irish religious and political life by fund raising for his building fund.  From this Pastoral came the idea of the “National Cathedral Bazaar” of 1900, inspired by Primate McGettigan’s successful bazaar of 1865.  First prize was to be a gift from the Pope of an ivory carving.  Second prize was a landau and two well bred carriage horses for which the Primate was to pay himself. Messrs Hague and McNamara of Dublin were appointed to prepare plans for the beautification of the interior of the Cathedral.

Programme published to accompany the Bazaar of 1900.

Programme published to accompany the Bazaar of 1900.

Mainly as a result of the charm and persuasiveness of Cardinal Logue, the Bazaar was an unparalleled success, raising the record sum of £30,000. At his own expense, Cardinal Logue travelled to Italy with William Hague to study the interiors of its great Cathedrals seeking inspiration for the works at Armagh and visiting marble quarries and mosaic workshops.  He persuaded several prominent Italian painters and sculptors to come to Armagh to work on the adornment of the Cathedral.  Alas, when he returned, he was dismayed to discover two major stumbling blocks for his plans. His architect William Hague died shortly after his return from an Italian marble quarry to select marbles for the Rood Screen that he had planned to construct at the Crossing.  Furthermore, a structural survey of the building had revealed faults with the spires of the building.  More seriously, the aisle roofs were found to be structurally unsound and liable to collapse. George Coppinger Ashlin, former partner of Edward Welby Pugin, was appointed architect and his firm (which became Ashlin and Coleman in 1903 after he went into partnership with his pupil Thomas Coleman) oversaw the remaining works.  Ashlin suggested that McCarthy’s original aisle ceilings be completely renewed.  Originally a sloped, wood panelled structure supported on stone angel corbels according to Medieval precedent as filtered by Pugin, the aisle roofs were reconstructed with stone groining concentric with the nave arcade, and springing off the cap level of the piers. This work was in Bath stone with moulded transverse diagonal and intermediate ribs springing off the wall columns, and moulded caps, bases and corbels, bonded into the old walls. The intersections of all the ribs had carved foliated bases.  Whilst this work may have enhanced the lavishness of the interior, it greatly compromised the architectural unity of the interior and its ecclesiological correctitude, and the aisle roofs now seem somewhat at odds with McCarthy’s triumphant hammer beam roof over the nave which once again takes its precedent from earlier work than that of the stone groining below it, again emphasising the architectural conceit seen on the exterior where Duff’s sixteenth century work forms a foundation for McCarthy’s fourteenth century works.

Ashlin & Coleman's plans for the Groining on the new aisle roofs, 1900-1904. (Irish Architectural Archive)

Ashlin & Coleman’s plans for the Groining on the new aisle roofs, 1900-1904. (Irish Architectural Archive)

The complete renewal of the aisle roofs made a significant inroads into the funds raised by the Bazaar and much of the remaining fund was dispersed in paying off past debts still owed on the construction of the exterior.  Cardinal Logues tireless enthusiasm was not however dimmed and he became a frequent visitor, at his own expense, to the quarries of Carrara and the homes of wealthy Irish expats across the world whom he hoped could fund his ambitious plans.

His lavish use of Italian and other rare marbles in adorning the interior was unique in Ireland and has rarely been equalled anywhere in the world.  The 1904 Guide expends an entire chapter merely providing a glossary of the myriad varying and exquisitely rare marbles and semi-precious stones which were used in the interior. Redolent with poetic sounding names such as Breccia Corallina, Mandolato, Fior di Persico, Occhio di Pavone and Diaspro della Corsica, the Guide descends into purple prose in its sensuously licentious description of the exquisite rarity, beauty and touch of these finest marbles.

The first of these marble additions was the great Rood Screen, designed by William Hague just before his death, executed in workshops in Carrara and shipped to Ireland where it was installed by Italian sculptors in 1899. The material used in its construction was statuary marble of finest ivory white, and some of the richest specimens of coloured marbles in the Cathedral were to be found in the panelling and shafting. The Screen filled the entire 30 ft. breadth between the two great eastern pillars of the crossing and rose to a height of 36 ft. It consisted of 5 bays divided by clustered columns of richly toned Rosso di Verona marble. In two of the bays, the lines of the arches with their cuspings were continued down, meeting below to form an oval frame for two carved angel figures. These statues stood on octagonal pedestals of violet and purple Pavonazzetto marble. The lower portions of its pinnacles were decorated with small, finely executed statues of St. Patrick, St. Brigid, and the Irish saints standing on shield-bearing corbel angels, and surmounted by angle shaped and carved canopies.

Rising above the central bay was a sculpted Crucifixion group. The figures of the group stood on a pedestal brought up from a double-staged ground-work, semi-octagonal in shape, and with small flying buttresses. Over and above all was an octagonal canopy, with crocketted angles and carved sides and pinnacles.

Plan for the Rood Screen, William Hague, 1899. (Irish Architectural Archive)

Plan for the Rood Screen, William Hague, 1899. (Irish Architectural Archive)

Rear of the Rood Screen looking into the Crossing. (Irish Architectural Archive)

Rear of the Rood Screen looking into the Crossing. (Irish Architectural Archive)

Fragment of the carved cresting of the Rood Screen sold at Christie's from the collection of Interior designer Tessa Kennedy in 2014.

Fragment of the carved cresting of the Rood Screen sold at Christie’s from the collection of Interior designer Tessa Kennedy in 2014.

In front of Hague’s Rood Screen, Ashlin and Coleman constructed their High Altar, again of finest statuary marble from Carrara inlaid with Jasper, Lapis Lazuli and other rare semi-precious stones. The altar frontal itself was formed of a depiction of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper carved in alto relievo from the finest statuary marble by Cesare Aureli (1844-1923), a Roman sculptor of great repute.  The finished work excited great attention when it was unveiled, the 1904 Guide enthusiastically extolling “the snowy purity of the material, the wonderful relief and delicate flourish of the figures, [and] the marvellous perfection of detail” of the composition, each figure in which was “an apostolic biography in stone”.

Detail of  "The Last Supper", Cesare Aureli.

Detail of “The Last Supper”, Cesare Aureli. Christ with (from l to r) Thomas, James the Great and Phillip.


Detail of “The Last Supper”, Cesare Aureli. From l to r, Bartholomew, James the Less, Andrew, Peter, Judas Iscariot (knocking over a salt) and John.


Detail, “The Last Supper”, Cesare Aureli. L to r, Matthew, Jude and Simon.

Over the Altar Table there was a reredos and super-altar with the Tabernacle at the centre.  The Tabernacle was richly carved and elaborate in design, the door having clustered columns in the jambs with seed ornament between, while the archmould is deeply moulded and carved and surmounted with a gable having perforated cresting and terminating with carved finial. Octagonal turrets flanked the Tabernacle at each side, having panels of tracery inlaid with specimens of Breccia Traccagnina. The Altar was extended at both sides with carved panels and two adoring angels and its steps were of white Sicilian marble.

Ashlin and Coleman closed the Crossing by constructing two side screens of finest statuary marble, 30ft wide, across the north and south transepts and statuary marble communion railings inlaid with Breccia di S Votaleat the Nave.  The side screens consisted of quatrefoil columns and moulded arches, having gables with finials and open tracery between. The Cathedra throne projected in three divisions at the second bay on the North side with canopied niches, having crockets and pinnacles and surmounted by a marble spire.  The centre of the throne was carved with the arms of the cardinal in statuary marble.  The entire crossing was paved with inlaid marbles, designed in squares with quatrefoil panels and crosses and centred on a pietra dura representation of the Cardinal’s armorial bearings.

The Crossing showing the Rood Screen, North side screen, Cathedra, communion rails and High Altar.

The Crossing showing the Rood Screen, North side screen, Cathedra, communion rails and High Altar.

The Arms of Cardinal Logue carved in statuary marble from the Cathedra. (Author's Collection)

The Arms of Cardinal Logue carved in statuary marble from the Archbishop’s Throne. (Author’s Collection)

The work at the crossing was completed by the construction of an unimaginably exuberant pulpit at the South West pier, the work of the Roman sculptor Paolo Medici who was to later carry out work at St Patrick’s New York.  The 1904 Guide glowed “the beauty of its workmanship, together with the size and elaborate nature of its design, afford an exquisite example of architectural composition as yet unequalled in this country”.  Composed of statuary marble inlaid with rare coloured marbles, its plan was octagonal, with angle niches containing statues of the Evangelists, St. Patrick and St. Brigid, the canopies above the statues being groined and carved.  The panels between the statues were filled with inlaid traceries.   The canopy of the pulpit, rising to a height of nearly 36 ft. was carved in Austrian oak painted white and inlaid with coloured enamels and gold leaf.

The pulpit and South side screen.

The pulpit and South side screen.


The overall effect of this work at the crossing was almost overwhelming in its licentious lavishness.  In its use of the finest rare marbles and fine sculpture, the work was unparalleled in the British Isles. It was, however, a far cry from anything Pugin, Duff or McCarthy could have imagined for this space (Pugin in particular was highly critical of the blocking up of Cathedral Crossings in Ireland) and its strongly Italian flavour was greatly at odds with the strictly ecclesiologist English Decorated style imprinted on the interior by McCarthy and with the increasingly nationalistic congregation who more and more wished to see the promotion of an Irish national style inspired not by European precedent but native example.

The Crossing, 1904.

The Crossing, 1904.

The exuberant Italianate marble works were continued throughout the Cathedral. McCarthy’s reredos of Caen Stone with pillars of Armagh, Connemara and Down marbles was retained at the East end, creating a Lady Chapel behind Hague’s Rood Screen which now completely blocked it from view in the Nave. However, the lower portions of the reredos were enriched with with marble inlays in a diaper pattern with fleur de lis in a vibrant variety of coloured Italian marbles.  A new Lady Altar and tabernacle was constructed before the reredos from finest statuary marble at the huge cost of £1,500, donated solely by one parishioner, a Miss Anne Jane Close. The antependium contained three bas-relief groups, the work of the eminent Roman sculptor Michele Trepisciano (1860-1913) showing “The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin in the Temple”, “The Assumption” and “The Coronation” recessed in separate panels with cusped heads, and columns of Breccia di Seravezza antica and Breccia Corallina marbles.  The tabernacle, inlaid with Corsican Jasper, was in the form of a cube topped with a roof of fish scale carvings and finished with two large statuary marble standing angels.  Elaborate marble screens were erected after 1905 to the North and South of the space, enclosing the Lady Chapel from the side aisles and Side Chapels.

The Lady Chapel showing McCarthy's Caen Stone Reredos of 1876 with the marble additions of 1900-1904.

The Lady Chapel showing McCarthy’s Caen Stone Reredos of 1876 with the marble additions of 1900-1904. The Screens between Lady Chapel and side aisles have not yet been completed

Plans for the screens enclosing the Lady Chapel, Ashlin & Coleman, 1904. (Irish Architectural Archive)

Plans for the screens enclosing the Lady Chapel, Ashlin & Coleman, 1904. (Irish Architectural Archive)

The Crossing Screens from the South transept.  The elaborate marble screens enclosing the Lady Chapel can be glimpsed through the arch on the right.

The Crossing Screens from the South transept. The elaborate marble screens enclosing the Lady Chapel can be glimpsed through the arch on the right.

To the North and South of the Lady Chapel, Side Chapels were erected to St Joseph (North) and St Brigid (South), closing the aisles at the East.  these were fitted, as with the window above, off centre, reflecting the rather awkward architectural compromise necessitated by the transition from Duff’s lower walls to McCarthy’s work, and this feeling of unbalance was exacerbated by the symmetrical groining of the aisle roofs. The St Joseph Altar was the most elaborate of the two, being carved from statuary marble inlaid with other Italian marbles and with two panels carved in high relief showing “The Holy Family” and the “Death of St. Joseph”.  These were topped with carved canopies, pinnacles and perforated cresting.

St. Joesph's Altar.

St. Joesph’s Altar.

By contrast, St Brigid’s Altar was marked by its simplicity of design, reflecting, according to the 1904 Guide the attributes of simplicity and perfect beauty associated with the virgin patroness of Ireland.  Carved from inlaid statuary marble, the reredos was arcaded with moulded panels and filled with inlaid tracery rather than a pictorial subject. The altar was topped with pierced cresting and finished with pinnacled niches to either end inlaid with Lapis Lazuli.  Large panels of green Cipollano marble were inserted into the reredos to reflect the national colour of Ireland.

St Brigid's Altar.

St Brigid’s Altar.

In the space created by the removal of the sacristy screen in the South transept, a sumptuous altar was erected to the Sacred Heart, once again the gift of the Close family, at a cost of £1,400. The Altar front had an arcade divided with triple columns having carved caps with foliated panels containing emblems of the Passion.  The panel heads were cusped, moulded and crocketted and terminated in an ogee gable.  Small niches were introduced between the panels with standing angels bearing scrolls.  The main niches had groined canopies with pinnacles, ogee gables enriched with crockets, finials and carved bosses. Statues of St John the Evangelist and St Catherine of Siena and the Sacred Heart were carved by Cesare Aureli and placed in the larger niches.

Ashlin & Coleman, plan for the Sacred Heart Altar (Irish Architectural Archive).

Ashlin & Coleman, plan for the Sacred Heart Altar (Irish Architectural Archive).

Sacred Heart Altar.

Sacred Heart Altar.

Finally, to the West end, McCarthy’s wooden gallery was replaced with a three-bay marble screen of white marble supported on quatrefoil pillars of Portasanta marble and inlaid with Brocatello marble.  The organ itself was rebuilt to suit the newly enlarged space and a new Austrian oak organ case was designed and built.

Organ Gallery.

Organ Gallery.

The aisles of the Cathedral were paved in mosaic of a intricate celtic knots interspersed with Shamrocks, a rare concession to Irish design in the Cathedral scheme.

Intricate Celtic knot mosaic on the Cathedral floors.

Intricate Celtic knot mosaic on the Cathedral floors.


The most striking and lasting of Cardinal Logue’s legacies to the Cathedral were, however, the scheme of mosaics he commissioned to adorn every inch of blank wall in the Cathedral.  Significant thought was given to how best to deal with the decoration of the walls of the building.  Primate McGettigan had instituted a scheme of stencilled decoration on the walls and roof, and murals were painted around the crossing and at the Lady Chapel.  However, as a result of the damp climate in Armagh and poor ventilation in the building, these had significantly deteriorated and by 1904 were in dire need of replacement. When considering the matter, it appeared that the expense of re-plastering the walls in such a manner as to resist  condensation and the cost of re-painting would of necessity be very great, while in a comparatively short time there might be the same trouble and expense in renewing it. It was therefore decided to adopt a mosaic decorative scheme, the initial great cost being defrayed by the future saving on repainting a mural scheme.  The material employed was Italian pottery of various colours in dice-shaped cubes with glass cubes for the gilt portions to prevent tarnishing and to give greater lustre. The sections were put together in two workshops in London and were carefully glued, face downwards, on strips of paper. These were then applied to a fresh coating of special cement on the walls in a manner resembling the hanging of wallpaper. The paper-bearer having been then softened and washed away, the true face of the mosaic was laid bare, and the final process of closing and levelling applied. The scheme was one of the most ambitious ever undertaken in the British Isles and took over two years to complete.  The results were spectacular and are one of the greatest surviving triumphs of Armagh.  Every inch of wall was lavished with floriated ornament, angels and scenes from the lives of the saints.  As the 1904 Guide purred, “the mosaic all over the Cathedral has that wonderful quality of good paintings, that, in changing hours and lights it furnishes an endless series, of surprises, at one time, the crisp, clear, sparkle of a frosty morning, at another, the warm, misty glow of a perfect summer’s eve”.  Such a scheme was then unique in Ireland.

Mosaic borders on the lower walls.

Mosaic borders on the lower walls.

Mosaic on the upper walls of the Nave.

Mosaic on the upper walls of the Nave.

In the Lady Chapel, the spandrils immediately over the arcade have medalions, with gold ground, containing emblems from the Litany of the Virgin outlined in black, whilst a celestial host of angels congregate around the great East window. At the end of the South Aisle, pictorial mosaics show St. Brigid founding her monastery in Kildare, St. Brigid healing the lepers, St. Brigid receiving the veil from St. Mel, St. Brigid before the King of Leinster, St. Brigid herding the cattle of the Druids. Crossing the Lady Chapel are large representations of St. Columbkille and St. Patrick before coming to St. Joesph’s Chapel where The Flight into Egypt, Dream of St. Joseph, Presentation of Child Jesus in the Temple, Espousals of St. Joseph and Presentation of the B.V.M. in the Temple are depicted.

St. Brigid receiving the Veil from St Mel.

St. Brigid receiving the Veil from St Mel.

The spandrils over the nave arcade are filled with medallions of the patron saints of twenty dioceses: St. Patrick, St. Finian, St. Mel, St. Macartan, St. Eugene, St. Malachy, St. Coleman, St Fedlimin, St. Admanan, St. Laurence, St. Conleth, St. Edan, St. Kyran, St. Jarlath, St. Matthew, St. Brendan, St. Asic, St. Moredach, St. Nicholas, St. Brigid all of which are executed in colour on a gold ground. Immediately over these, in the clerestory, are the arms of the dioceses of Ireland in their various colours on a shield, arranged in panels supported by carved angels holding them.

St. Lawrence O'Toole in the Nave.

St. Lawrence O’Toole in the Nave.

St Patrick in the Nave

St Patrick in the Nave


One bay of the Nave demonstrating the mosaic scheme.

At the Crossing, the six spandrils over the great arches are inlaid with mosaic figured subjects in gold and colour representing “The Good Shepherd”, “The Resurrection”, “Christ and Magdalen” and “The Ascension”. The one facing towards the Nave contains a splendid picture of St. Patrick converting and baptising the Irish.  The cartoons for these especially fine mosiacs were executed by Earley of Dublin and were completed in Italian workshops.

St Patrick Baptising the Irish.

St Patrick Baptising the Irish.

The spandrel over the entrance door from the Tower on the south side contains the Arms of Cardinal Logue and that on the North Aisle, the arms of Pope Leo XIII. The Baptistery in Tower, also the porches, are lined with mosaic. The Baptistery contains two large subjects, “The Baptism of Our Lord” and “St. Patrick and the two Princesses at the Well of Clebach”.


The Arms of Cardinal Logue over the South Aisle Porch.

To complete his scheme of decoration, Cardinal Logue commissioned the Italian painter, Oreste Amici (1872-1930), who had been trained at the Institute of Fine Arts in Rome, to paint the entirety of McCarthy’s hammer beam roof in an Italianate style.The ceilings are painted in oils, the prevailing shade adopted for the ground colour throughout being of a soft terra-cotta to harmonise with the colour of the wall mosaic. The panels have foliated ornament in cream colour and gold relieved in various shades of subdued colour outlined in black. The ribs are picked out in gold, the hollows being in red. The groining over the clerestory windows in the nave is similarly treated, the groups, interwoven with ornament on a gold ground, representing incidents connected with the Irish Saints from the time of St. Patrick to that of St. Laurence O’Toole.

Nave Ceiling, Oreste Amici 1900-1904.

Nave Ceiling, Oreste Amici 1900-1904.

The crossing is elaborately decorated with foliated ornament and gold relieved with colour, and the scale of the work is arranged to blend harmoniously with that of the mosaic work in the spandrils underneath.


The Roof at the Crossing, Oreste Amici.

Above the Lady Chapel, the overall colour scheme shifts to a blue emphasis with roundels containing heads of further Irish saints.

Ceiling over the Lady Chapel, Oreste Amici, 1900-1904.

Ceiling over the Lady Chapel, Oreste Amici, 1900-1904.

With the internal works reaching conclusion in Spring 1904, thoughts turned to the solemn rededication of the Cathedral.  The date chosen, 20th July, was Providential, marking not only the reopening of the Cathedral but also Cardinal Logue’s episcopal silver jubilee.  Solemn consecration was to take place on this day with a grand festal celebration of the rededication planned for the following Sunday.  As a set piece of political-religious propaganda, the rededication could not have gone better. On May 23rd, Pope Pius X wrote to Cardinal Logue to state that he was specially deputing one of the most distinguished Cardinals of the Papal Curia – His Eminence Vincent Vannutelli, Cardinal Bishop of Palestrina and Archpriest of the Patriarchal Liberian Basilica  Rome, to attend as Legate a Latere at the Consecration. As the 1904 Guide purred, “Catholic Ireland felt itself rarely honoured, in its old ecclesiastical capital, by a mark of interest and distinction not granted by the Sovereign Pontiff, even on most notable occasions, to great Catholic nations of Europe”. It was a definitive imprimatur on Armagh’s primacy in Ireland and the resurgence of the Catholic church there.  The ceremony itself was of unparalleled majesty rivalling anything done by the Protestant civic authorities in Dublin. The solemn consecration took place over five hours according to an ancient rite stretching back to the ninth century.  Fifteen special trains were laid on to bring the congregation to the Cathedral on the Sunday morning and the ceremony itself and its following banquet were attended by thousands of onlookers.

The works of Cardinal Logue can easily be criticised by the modern eye.  They could be seen as overly lavish, frothy and vulgar.  Arguably they added another layer to the already complex conceit of the Cathedral’s architecture by creating within McCarthy’s sometimes unhappy compromise between the English Perpendicular and French Early Decorated Gothic, a florid Renaissance Italian interior.  In his indiscriminate architectural eclecticism, the Primate had adopted all the worst excesses of high Victorian vulgarity.  However, whilst McCarthy’s compromise to the exterior can look awkward or conceited, somehow the 1904 interior worked.  There was not an inch of the gloom expected in such an ecclesiastical building and the visceral assault on all the senses occasioned by attending a solemn, incense drenched, gorgeously robed and sung Mass within this high Victorian jewel box must surely have been utterly overwhelming, the glowing white vision of the High Altar transporting the congregation heavenward in thought.  As a piece of pure religious theatre, the interior as completed in 1904 could not have been more effective.   Thus, once again, against the odds and at variance with orthodoxy, the conceit was a successful one, creating an other-worldly space of unimaginable many-layered beauty which simultaneously spoke of the wealth, power and magnificence of the Irish Catholic Church and its place at the heart of global Catholicism in a way that no viewer could ignore.  What it perhaps did not speak of was anything inherently Irish and, in attempting to drown any thought of the Penal vicissitudes of the Penal Church, the interior had perhaps divorced itself from the congregations who created it.  This dichotomy was noted as early as 1906 when Stephen Glynn wrote of the new Cathedral: “today Ireland is full of churches – all of them built within a hundred years…but here at Armagh is the greatest monument of them all – planted as if in defiance to dominate the country round and outface that older building on the lesser summit [the Protestant Cathedral]. It is the costliest church that has ever been erected within living memory in Ireland; and not that only.  It is in good truth a monumnet not of generous wealth like the two great Cathedrals of Christ Church and St Patrick’s in Dublin, but of devoted poverty: the gift not of an individual but of a race, out of money won laboriously by the Catholic Irish at home and in the far ends of the world.  So viewed, I question whether modern Christianity can show anything more glorious; yet in other aspects the new St Patrick’s Cathedral must sadden the beholder.  The stone of which it is hewn…is Irish: but the ideas which shaped the fabric are pure Italian”.  These concerns were to congregate in a gathering storm centred around how the Cathedral and in particular its lavish and inherently foreign interior fitted in with developing narratives of Irish nationalism which were focused on shared Celtic culture and inherently Irish Catholicism. These narratives were concentrated on a the principle of an unending struggle against a colonial oppressor and they were centred on the ideal of a uniquely Irish oppressed church gathered around the mass rock and an impoverished clergy, rather than on a lavish foreign Cathedral and a powerful Romanised episcopacy.  But for now, the Cathedral was at last complete and Cardinal Logue could rest upon his laurels, having created the perfect stage set upon which the power and wealth of the Irish Episcopacy could be played out in unparalleled sumptuousness for as long as that vision of the Irish episcopacy was to survive.  His last act before his death in 1924 was to inaugurate a musical Carillon of Bells, the largest in Ireland, fitted within the north tower.

The Carillon of Bells commissioned by Cardinal Logue, 1924.

The Carillon of Bells commissioned by Cardinal Logue, 1924.

The Cathedral played host to a host of national events, none more emotive than the Armistice Day Mass celebrated for the 5th Division of the Belgian Free Army which had arrived in Northern Ireland to train  following the liberation of Belgium in 1944, in May 1945. But by the 1963, with the death of Cardinal D’Alton, a new world had dawned and thoughts once again turned to how the Irish Catholic Church might fashion itself in this new modern Ireland through its use of the architecture of Armagh Cathedral. There were now two Irelands divided by a political border as well as by religion.  The primacy of Armagh over the entirely of the island remained, but the city was now stranded in Protestant dominated Northern Ireland. The Irish Catholic Church wished to adapt to these new circumstances whilst also ensuring that they were in tune with the greatest seismic shift in Catholic thinking and practice since the Reformation: the Second Vatican Council which was opened by Pope John XXIII on 11th October 1962. The results of this refashioning were as polarising as they were definitive.

The Armistice Service held in May 1945 for members of the 5th Belgian brigade exiled in Ireland.

The Armistice Service held in May 1945 for members of the 5th Belgian brigade exiled in Ireland.


“All Arabia Breathes from Yonder Box”: Atkinson’s, 24 Old Bond Street

Scuttling through Mayfair back to St James’s in the menacingly dark icy blast of a freezing January evening, the deliciously balmy evenings of a London summer seem a million miles away.  Certain memories however remain as corporeal and sweet as the crystallised fruits which, jewel like, still sparkle with midsummer plumpness in the window of Charbonnel et Walker. Distilled in the perfection of reverie, they are diffused like a luxuriantly spiced heady perfume through the cold winter air.  The lush, vetiver-green scent of a silent Green Park lit only with intermittent warm pools of gaslight as I saunter home in the early hours of a high-summer morning, the soft tread of grass underfoot and gentle tinkle of laughter from revellers by the Ritz in the air; taking shelter from a summer thunderstorm in the Renaissance sculpture gallery of the V&A, all senses tingling in the strange, heavy, electric atmosphere, much heightened by the flicker of lightening on marble; sipping sweet German Hock on a the quiet terrace at Pall Mall overlooking the grandeur of the surrounding clubs and the far off hubbub of Trafalgar Square; cycling through the almost empty, inexpressibly grand classical squares of Belgravia on a quiet Sunday evening; the marble-cool, restfully restrained relief of a Wren church interior at scorching July noontide; the welcome sight of glinting speckled sunlight on the gilt and semi precious stones of the Albert memorial visible through emerald lit trees during a cycle to Kensington before tea at the Orangery; witnessing, through a fine veil of incense, floral perfume and candle smoke, the decadently Baroque theatre of High Mass at the Oratory brightly lit with shafts of sunlight from iridescent glass windows through perfumed smoke on a bright Sunday morning; and of course the unexpected joy of walking on Old Bond Street when the light summer breeze is suddenly enlivened and the heart lifted with the crystal clear chimes of the Atkinson’s carillon, the only one of its kind in London.

“I Sing of a flashy Hibernian blade”, begins A Bond Street Lounger, George Saville Carey’s satirical broadside ballad of 1800, “that lives like a lord, and has nothing to pay”.  To this charge I am as guilty as the eponymous Hibernian Blade and have spent much time wandering the magnificently grand emporia which surround that venerable thoroughfare. None of them, however, can hope to outdo the gloriously camp, gorgeously gilt, undefinably eccentric majesty of the former home of Atkinson’s Perfumery on the corner of Old Bond Street and Burlington Gardens.  Rising like some incongruous Fantasy cathedral, its soaring Gothic presence can be felt the length of the street from Piccadilly to Grosvenor Street.  Never did I believe that I could find a structure which served to combine by interests in architecture, design, social history, haute perfumery and playing a carillon, but this building has managed spectacularly on every level.


Emerging from the designer banners of Old Bond Street, the Atkinson’s Building comes as quite an architectural surprise to the Bond Street pedestrian.

In the early Spring of 1799, the eighteen year old James Atkinson set forth from the wilds of Cumberland to London to make his fortune. With him he had brought a series of  recipes for fine scents and toiletries, a sizeable quantity of rose-scented bear grease balm and his pet: a live brown bear.  Bear grease was made from the fat of the brown bear mixed with beef marrow and perfume.  Its use for the cure of male baldness, based upon the perceived hairiness of brown bears, had been recommended by Hildegard von Bingen as early as the twelfth century though it only came into wide usage in the mid seventeenth century. Setting himself up at 44 Gerrard Street in Soho and adopting the bear as his trademark, Atkinson soon found that trade in his rose-scented bear grease pomade was exceptionally lucrative, attracting the immediate patronage of Beau Brummell. Brummell had eschewed the male fashion for wearing powdered wigs in favour of the Regency windblown natural hair look. Brummell brought with him the patronage of the Prince of Wales and Lords Wellington, Byron and Nelson.  Soon Atkinson’s had become a centre of London fashion and a host of grandees made their way to Gerrard Street to brave the terrifying prospect of pushing past Mr Atkinson’s brown bear which he had chained at the door of the emporium as a curiosity.

The Atkinson's Bear

The Atkinson’s Bear


A Jar of Atkinson’s Bear Grease, a best seller from 1799 until after the Great War.

By 1800 Atkinson had the required funds to expand his business into perfumery.  From his annotated recipes, he devised a distinctly English Eau de Cologne.  Unlike its Germanic counterparts which had sharp, fresh citrus top notes of lemon, neroli and petitgrain, Atkinson’s formulation was based on warm, spicy notes of aniseed and bergamot. Again it was an immediate success and in 1826, on the basis of his long term patronage of the emporium and lavish use of Atkinson’s eau de cologne, George IV appointed James Atkinson perfumer to the Court of St James’s.  By now, Atkinson had purchased a manufactory works at the Eonia Works in Southwark and he decided it was time to expand his emporium in the newly fashionable district around Mayfair.  In 1832, he purchased a group of small houses at the south west corner of Burlington Gardens abutting Burlington Arcade which had been opened 13 years earlier and opposite Messrs. Truefitt’s gentleman’s perfumery.  Here he constructed a large warehouse with frontages to both Bond Street and Burlington Gardens.

Atkinson's Warehouse, Old Bond Street, 1832-1925

Atkinson’s Warehouse, Old Bond Street, 1832-1925

Atkinson’s continued to expand both in financial terms and in the grandeur of its client list throughout the nineteenth century, winning a Gold Medal for its Eau de Cologneat the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1878. Its surviving ledgers record the creation of eaux de cologne for Emma, Lady Hamilton and Napoleon III, Coronation Bouquet for Queen Victoria in 1840 and successive private blends made for Empress Sissi of Austria, Prince Tomasi di Lampedusa, Queen Margherita di Savoia, Otto von Bismarck, Czars Alexander III and Nicholas II, Queen Alexandra and Queen Mary. Of their more popular “off the peg” fragrances, The Odd Felllow’s Bouquet was a favourite of Lawrence of Arabia whilst Fashion Decree was famously worn by Sarah Bernhardt.  The delicate White Rose was the favourite fragrance of Czarina Alexandra of Russia. Another devotee, Virginia Woolf, included Atkinson’s in Mrs Dalloway’s whimsical shopping trip described in the eponymous novel.

A collection of perfume bottles found in Czarina Alexandra's bed chamber at Tsarskoye Selo Palace including, to the left, a bottle of Atkinson's White Rose, her favourite perfume, which she described as "clean and infinitely sweet."

A collection of perfume bottles found in Czarina Alexandra’s bed chamber at Tsarskoye Selo Palace including, to the left, a bottle of Atkinson’s White Rose, her favourite perfume, which she described as “clean and infinitely sweet.”

By the second decade of the twentieth century, Atkinson’s was firmly established as one of the world’s most prestigious perfumers with emporia not only in London but in Paris, New York, Calcutta and Sydney.

A brochure prepared by Atkinson's in Australia to celebrate the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

A brochure prepared by Atkinson’s in Australia to celebrate the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

At the zenith of its success in 1924, its headquarters at 24 Old Bond Street was burnt to the ground in a disastrous fire. This gave the company an unrivalled opportunity to express its unprecedented financial success and prestigious lineage in the architecture of its flagship store.  By the 1920’s, Bond Street had become a centre for English perfumeries in London. Atkinson’s and Truefitts had, by 1925, been joined by the Crown Perfumery, Taylor’s, Penhaligon’s, and Atkinson’s fiercest competitor in terms of historic prestige, financial success and illustrious clientele, Yardley.

Yardley's emporium at 8 New Bond Street.

Yardley’s emporium at 8 New Bond Street.

As Atkinson’s had been, these perfume houses were housed in narrow Georgian and Victorian buildings which often had been converted from former residential use.  In 1925, the majority seemed somewhat staid and old fashioned.  Atkinson’s set out to create something very different.  The company approached the civic architect Emanuel Vincent Harris to create a groundbreaking new building.

Emanuel Vincent Harris (1876-1971).

Emanuel Vincent Harris (1876-1971).

An acolyte of Edwin Lutyens and associate and contemporary of Charles Holden, the cantankerous and rather eccentric Harris has been generally overshadowed by his contemporaries and associates and much of his work was decried by traditionalists and modernists alike with equal vitriol.  Born in Devonport to a military family, he trained at the Royal Academy Schools  and was admitted as  an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects on 3rd December 1900, his proposers being Sir William Emerson, Leonard Aloysius Stokes and Phene Spiers. He became a Fellow in 1914. In 1901 Harris joined the London County Council’s Architects’ Department, working under William Edward Riley on tramway generating stations. He won the Royal Academy’s Gold Medal and travelling Scholarship in 1903 and set up independent practice in the following year when he began entering architectural competitions.  These civic competitions were to form the mainstay of his architectural practice for the rest of his career. After modest success, he received his first major independent commission in 1915 when he won a competition to design the Board of Trade Headquarters (now the Ministry of Defence Main Building) on Whitehall.  This commission, shelved during the Great War, resuscitated in 1939 and not finally completed (with the help of Charles Holden) until 1959, was unveiled to unmitigated critical derision.  It was immediately nicknamed the “Whitehall Monster” and Pevsner described it as “a monument to tiredness”. The building was to be a thorn in Harris’s side throughout his career and is one of the major reasons his work has, perhaps, been under appreciated in later years.

Ministry of Defence, Whitehall Facade.

Ministry of Defence, Whitehall Facade.

After the Great War, Harris demonstrated his expertise in planning as well as his mastery of monumental Classical architecture with an impressive run of competition wins for county and municipal projects, notably Nottingham County Hall, (1925, built 1937-46) Braintree Town Hall and Leeds Civic Hall (both 1926) and Manchester Central Library and Town Hall Extension (1927).

Leeds Civic Hall

Leeds Civic Hall Showing the influence of Wren and Hawksmoor’s London churches

Manchester Central Library and Town Hall.

Manchester Central Library and Town Hall Extension.

It is clear that Harris was naturally inclined to Classicism and, following research trips to the United States, he was highly influenced by contemporary American Classicism, building methods and town planning. As Arthur Bailey wrote after witnessing Harris at work in his architectural office, ‘Classical proportions were printed indelibly on his mind, and he would take a roll of detail paper, pin it to the top of his board and proceed to detail from cornice to skirting rolling the paper from his feet in the process”. The Atkinson’s Building was thus exceptional both in the fact of its not having resulted from an architectural competition (Harris’ only other private commission was a racquets court for Stephen Courtauld in 1924) and in its eccentric Gothic style.

Having its genesis at the same time as his commission to link Manchester’s gloriously overblown nineteenth century Gothic Town Hall with his new Classical rotunda library, it is clear that there was much cross-pollination between Atkinson’s and the Manchester project.  English Heritage has described Harris’ style at Manchester Town Hall as “eclectic with a Gothic accent”. Harris has clearly made a clear effort to harmonise the Gothic of the Old Town Hall with the rigid Classicism of his Library by creating a unique style incorporating elements of both which is also unabashedly influenced by contemporary American Art Deco elements.  The resultant structure has been derided by many critics as a meaningless mishmash which defies categorisation outside of anomalous and monstrous folly.  Given the innovation involved in its construction and the ingenuity of its amalgam of architectural styles, this criticism may be somewhat unfair and, following a recent restoration, the formerly unloved building is now enjoying something of a resurgence in popularity among Manchester citizens.

Manchester Town Hall Extension.

Manchester Town Hall Extension.

The building is Steel framed with cliff-like cladding of sandstone ashlar and a steeply-pitched slate roof. It is built to an irregular plan with long concave south side over eight storeys and attic, the 7th and 8th storeys set back behind a parapet.  The ground floor is treated as a plinth with a continuous arcade of simple round-headed openings and a chamfered coping. The Mount Street facade has 5 giant oriels from the 2nd to the 5th floors. The gable ends of the Mount Street and St Peter’s Square wings have tall stair-turrets with giant round-headed arches containing elaborate geometrically traceried windows.

Oriel windows, Manchester Town Hall Extension.

Oriel windows, Manchester Town Hall Extension.

Many of these elements are also to be found on a smaller scale at Atkinson’s which was commenced one year before the Manchester work. The choice of Harris’ amalgam Gothic for Atkinson’s seems somewhat less clear cut than in Manchester where it had been dictated by architectural context.  Old Bond Street, by contrast, was substantially composed of Georgian residences and Victorian commercial premises all of which were in varying forms of Classical style.  It seems safe to presume therefore that the style was consciously adopted by the company both to make the building stand out spectacularly from its neighbours and also to express an iconographic and symbolic message about the company ethos.  Certainly, Gothic offered licentious and rich decorative opportunities which would have been anathema to Harris’ cool, starkly undecorated form of Classicism.  Some Gothic elements had been added to the destroyed Atkinson’s warehouse in the form of coats of arms and a Gothic entrance door on the Bond Street facade. Such magnificence in decoration certainly expressed the financial success and luxurious nature of the company, but the Gothic style went deeper than this.  In the aftermath of the Great War, there seemed to be a surge in popularity of the architecture of the pre-industrial age.  This resulted in the creation of a distinctly non-historicist amalgam of Tudor, Elizabethan and Gothic styles along with later Arts and Crafts reinterpretations of these which continues to characterise much domestic architecture and which was almost ubiquitous in the construction of middle class domestic dwellings between the Wars.  It was a style which spoke of safe, comfortable domesticity; it was comprehensible, non threatening, unmechanised and most of all inherently English.  Amid the traumas inherent in a post-conflict society which had been shaken to the core by a industrial war against a foreign foe, society clung to the idea of “Ye Olde England” to provide reassurance, stability and comfort much as early Victorians had turned to romantic Medievalism as a remedy against the trauma of unchecked industrialisation.  It is clear that in commercial architecture, the overblown Teutonic Classicism of Charles William Stephen’s Harrod’s in Knightsbridge or the unsettling foreign industrialised modernity of Daniel Burnham’s Selfridge & Co. in Oxford Street was no longer palatable to a public demanding safe comfort and reassurance.  The clearest possible indication of this shift in style was given with the construction of Liberty’s department store on Great Marlborough Street in 1924. Edwin Thomas Hall designed a wooden framed building in an entirely Tudor style complete with exposed beams, oriel windows with leaded glass and exposed wooden colonnades utilising the timbers from two warships, HMS Impregnable and Hindustan.

Liberty's, Great Marlborough Street.

Liberty’s, Great Marlborough Street.

The shop was engineered around three light wells which form the main focus of the building. Arthur Liberty wanted to create the feeling on the interior of walking around one’s own home. Each of light well was thus surrounded by smaller, domestically inspired rooms, many with open fireplaces.  No greater contrast could be found to the American modernity of Selfridge’s steel cage building which had been built 15 years earlier.

Selfridge & Co. as completed in 1909 and before extension.

Selfridge & Co. as completed in 1909 and before extension.

Liberty has come in for some sustained criticism, Pevsner writing “the scale is wrong, the symmetry is wrong. The proximity to a classical façade put up by the same firm at the same time is wrong, and the goings-on of a store behind such a façade (and below those twisted Tudor chimneys) are wrongest of all.”  However, it set a precedent for the use of a form of architecture which expressed safe and prosperous English contentment.  As a company with a prestigious past behind it wishing to exert its Englishness in an increasingly globalised market, Atkinson’s found this recipe too tempting to resist.

It seems that Harris viewed Atkinson’s as an experiment for ideas he would develop and enrich in Manchester.  As with Manchester the overall feeling is Gothic but upon detailed inspection, the building defies this categorisation, having strong elements of medieval decoration, Classical proportion, Tudor detailing and Art Deco form.  It is constructed from Portland Stone with a leaded roof over five storeys and dormer attic and is topped with an elaborate fleche surrounded by gargoyles.


Atkinson’s showing the fleche.

As at Manchester, the ground floor is treated as a plinth pierced by  a continuous arcade of arched openings, clean cut but for moulding to arch.  Hints of a similar design are also seen in drawings of the original warehouse on the Bond Street site.


The oriel windows from second floor level on the Burlington Gardens facade also seem to provide a prototype for the Manchester project, but here, they are linked at second floor level by an elaborate Gothic traceried balcony whereas those in Manchester are linked by a severe plain balcony at the same level.  Another similarity between Manchester and Atkinson’s can be found in the treatment of the gable end facing Old Bond Street.  In both projects, the steeply pitched gable is dominated by a huge arched recess, at Atkinson’s reaching the height of the gable itself without the addition of stair turret.

Gable end of Atkinson's facing Old Bond Street.

Gable end of Atkinson’s facing Old Bond Street.

In form, there are striking similarities between Manchester Town Hall Extension and Atkinson’s.  In decoration, however, the two schemes could not be more different.  As has been seen, in his civic commissions, Harris tended towards an undecorated if not severe plainness in his elevations.  At Atkinson’s, by contrast, both facades are greatly enlivened by rich and abundant carved and polychromed stonework and heraldic devices on the walls and ornate Arts and Crafts ironwork to rainwater goods.

Gilded and polychromed stonework and elaborate metalwork on the Burlington Gardens facade.

Gilded and polychromed stonework and elaborate metalwork on the Burlington Gardens facade.

There are several references to the company itself and its date of foundation.

Atkinson's stylised logo above one of the entrance doors on Burlington Gardens.

Atkinson’s stylised logo above one of the entrance doors on Burlington Gardens.

There are also heraldic references to the City of London and the City of Westminster.

The Gresham Grasshopper, Crest of Thomas Gresham, founder of the Royal Exchange where his crest was displayed on its famous weathervane.  As a result it became a symbol of the City of London.

The Gresham Grasshopper, Crest of Thomas Gresham, founder of the Royal Exchange where his crest was displayed on its famous weathervane. As a result it became a symbol of the City of London.

Arms of Westminster from above one of the entrances on Old Bond Street.

Arms of Westminster from above one of the entrances on Old Bond Street.

Carvings on the oriel windows make reference to Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar, the three wise men of the nativity.  Through the gifts of Frankincense and Myrrh, the Wise Men are clearly linked to the production of perfume.  Additionally, the Dreikönigsschrein (Shrine of the Three Kings) was kept at Cologne Cathedral at the centre of the European city most associated with the production of perfume.

Carvings from the Oriel Windows.

Carvings from the Oriel Windows.


The Burlington Gardens facade also includes several carvings of heraldic flowers representing the constitutent parts of the United Kingdom.


The Rose of England.

The decorative scheme is thus magnificently rich and many layered in its iconography and symbolism.  It speaks of ancient luxury, civic virtue, historic prestige, commercial success, abundant comfort and sturdy reassurance.  Most of all, it speaks of being inherently English.  These were all attributes any British company would have vied for in the immediate aftermath of the Great War.

In contrast to the richly historic exterior, the interior spoke primarily of contemporary luxury.  Positioned under an colonnaded arcade of vaulted arches, abundant mirrored surfaces, gilt rococo furnishings, Venetian mirrored fountains with perfumed waters trickling over crystal cascades into marble basins and inlaid marble floors all lit by Art Deco crystal chandeliers handing from mirrored starbursts and warmly backlit crustal urns sitting in gilded niches gave a feeling of unabashed decadence and luxurious abandon.

Interior as completed in 1926.

Interior as completed in 1926.

Interior as completed in 1926.

Interior as completed in 1926. Truefitt’s can be seen through the window across Burlington Gardens.

All of this light and airy decadence could not have been more of a contrast to their competitor, Truefitt’s across the road who mouldered in male-dominated comparative Victorian squalor.

Truefitt's, Bond Street.

Truefitt’s, Bond Street.

The building was completed by the addition of a Gothic spire containing the carillon of bells which first brought my attention to this fascinating structure.  It is still the only carillon in London.

The Fleche

The Fleche

Contained inside the fleche can be found 23 bells cast by Gillet & Johnston in 1924.  These are played by means of the clavier which is housed inside the building.

The Clavier

The Clavier

The Carillon can be heard in this Pathe News Report from 1948.  My own experience of playing the one octave Carillon at St Bartholomew’s Church, Clyde Road in Dublin rather pales in comparison with the great skill and musical ability required to operate the Atkinson’s version.

When complete, Atkinson’s could lay claim to being headquartered in the grandest and most splendid building commissioned by any fashion house in Europe.  Alas Atkinson’s did not thrive for long in their new palace of olfactory pleasure.  The company experienced extreme financial hardship in the wake of the Wall Street Crash and in 1930 was sold to Lever Bros.  Struggling to maintain its prestigious reputation in the 1930’s, after the Second World War the fortunes of the company went into an almost terminal decline.  Licence to use its trademarks passed through several conglomerates and tragically its headquarters on Bond Street were sold.  The brand vanished from the UK market in the late 1960’s although the name and trademarks continued to be used on the foreign market for lower quality lavender and gentlemen’s colognes.  In 2008, the trademarks and company archives were purchased from Proctor and Gamble by the Italian company, Perfume Holding.  Initially, the licence was used to brand its I Coloniali range but in 2013 amid great fanfare, Perfume Holding announced a relaunch of Atkinson’s as a luxury niche brand with a small selection of historic and newly created fragrances including Queen Victoria’s Nuptial Bouquet and The Oddfellow’s Bouquet.  The brand has been a success but alas has announced no plans to acquire its old headquarters on Bond Street which is currently home to an Italian designer brand.

Atkinson's relaunched at Harrod's, 2013.

Atkinson’s relaunched at Harrod’s, 2013.

As for E.V. Harris, the architectural competitions continued, bringing him commissions for Bristol Council House (1930); Exeter and South-West England University College (1930-1931); and Kensington Library (1955-1960). His later architectural style owed more to Lutyens than his earlier works. The severity of the much maligned Ministry of Defence Main Building and the licentious decoration of Atkinson’s marked the high and low watermark of his style.  Neither was surpassed and following his death in 1971, Harris slipped into relative obscurity as an architectural anomaly who had most unfairly garnered little praise and much criticism.

The building that Harris provided for Atkinson’s was subject to much the same criticism that was levelled at all buildings constructed during this short lived inter-war Tudor revival.  At its heart, the revival was based on comfortable and reassuring ideals of homeliness and inward-looking domesticity that were swept away by the internationalist Modernist movement in the second half of the 1920’s and which as a result seem irredeemably twee and incongruous.  By the same token, however, historicist architects criticised the style for its lack of precedential historic authenticity and decried it as the worst kind of pastiche.  However, one cannot help but wonder whether these criticisms are entirely fair.  The Atkinson’s building did more than merely provide a warehouse for a commercial product.  It provided a luxuriant feast for all the senses: sight through its abundant lavish decoration; sound through its musical carillon; touch through the tactile marbles and interior materials and delicious olfactory satisfaction through its function.  It also allowed Atkinson’s to fashion for themselves an identity rooted in their prestigious past and which placed them at the heart of English national identity. In all of this, it is an architecture of pleasure and in being so, is ultimately utterly successful and pleasing.  When awarded his RIBA Gold Medal in 1951, Harris prefaced his acceptance speech by exclaiming “look, a lot of you here tonight don’t like what I do and I don’t like what a lot of you do” and in his dogged adherence to his own uniquely exceptional style, one must give credit for his most successful works.  Yes, the Ministry of Defence Main Building may have been a professional disaster, but Atkinson’s and many other of his works were great successes, giving citizens a new sense of civic pride and joy in their built environment.  For providing such a sense of joyous splendour in all his works, I applaud this unfairly maligned architect and his compelling masterpiece on Old Bond Street.


Consorting with the Enemy: The Queen’s Chapel at St James’s Palace

Now the Times are returned in which the Queens of England are Saints again; and the Fruit infinitely great, when people find the way to Heaven, is the way to be well at Court

Anon., The Compleat Office of the Holy Week with Notes and Explanations (Matthew Turner, London, 1687), dedication to Mary of Modena.

One of the greatest privileges of finding oneself living in St James’s is the wealth of beautiful and historically important structures to be found right on the doorstep. One such structure is the Queen’s Chapel at St James’s Palace, a uniquely beautiful little building whose outward inconspicuousness and petite stature belies a history of political and religious turmoil given physical manifestation in the architecture of the building, the lavishness of its furnishings and the rituals carried on there.

When, on a stormy night in December 1688, Mary of Modena boarded a ship bound for Calais as a “poor fugitive Queen, bathed with tears” (Letter from Mary of Modena to Louis XIV of France, 10th December 1688), England had not known a Protestant Queen Consort within living memory. For over a century, England had been a volatile tinderbox liable to erupt in flame with the slightest spark of political or religious dissent. Into this incendiary mêlée were sent three pious, young Catholic women: Henrietta Maria of France, Catherine of Bragança and Mary of Modena. Each was charged with the impossible task of promoting the acceptance of Catholicism in England whilst at the same time ensuring that the authority of their husband remained unquestioned. Their efforts were given immediate physical form in the architectural spaces they created within the privacy of their respective Courts and no architectural space at Court was so potently infused with symbolic meaning than the Catholic Chapels they created and promoted right under the noses of the Protestant establishment.  These highly charged spaces acted as a means of promoting England’s lost Catholicism by importing a distinctly Catholic style of decoration and mode of ritual which spilled over into the Protestant Chapels Royal of their husbands and even into church building in England generally through Archbishop Laud’s promotion of the “beauty of holiness”.

Under the protection of England’s three Catholic Queens, Catholics were able to practice their rites “collectively, publicly and theatrically” (Frances E. Dolan, “Gender and the ‘Lost’ Spaces of Catholicism”, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. XXXII No. 4, Spring 2002, pp. 641-665). The Catholic Chapels Royal held what Simon Thurley has described as “a central position in the choreography of the Court” (Simon Thurley, “The Stuart Kings, Oliver Cromwell and the Chapel Royal 1618-1685” Architectural History, Vol. 45, 2002, pp. 238-274). To Catholics, such devotional spaces were saturated with meaning and their establishment at the centre of the Royal Court imbued them with a sense of hope that the political and social position of English Catholics could be restored. To the Protestant observer, however, the mere presence of Catholics at Court offered the threat that they might seek to displace the political status quo. The Catholic Chapels Royal were thus politically charged spaces. As a result, they became a primary nexus for Protestant hostility which was to spill over into the wider malaise felt towards Stuart rule and in the end they proved to be at the centre of what became an aesthetic undoing of the Stuart dynasty itself.  Of the three Catholic Chapels Royal constructed after 1620 at St James’s Palace, Somerset House and Whitehall, only the Queen’s Chapel at St James’s has survived largely intact.

The origins of the Chapel lie in that most farcical of abortive political alliances: the Spanish Match.  Upon his accession to the English Crown, James I was keen to bring an end to the Anglo-Spanish war which had doggedly persisted during the latter reign of Elizabeth I.  In addition to ending the financial drain of the war, James I was keen to characterise himself as a bringer of peace and prosperity to his newly united Kingdoms and, as heir to Mary Queen of Scots whose execution had provided the propagandised cause of the conflict, he was perfectly placed to offer terms.  Peace was secured under the terms of the Treaty of London signed at Somerset House in 1604.  Popular reaction to the peace can be fathomed by an examination of The Somerset House Conference, a painted record of the signing of the Treaty.

The Somerset House Conference, 1604, National Portrait Gallery. Delegates from Spain and the Spanish Netherlands on the left, the English on the right.

The Somerset House Conference, 1604, National Portrait Gallery. Delegates from Spain and the Spanish Netherlands on the left, the English on the right.

The virtuous English Legates are shown superimposed on the olive bush of peace whilst the Spanish delegation are seated before a tapestry showing King David giving Uriah the sealed message which would send him to his death: a clear reference to deceitfulness.  Keenly aware of this public scepticism, James began to consider cementing the peace though accepting a marriage proposed by the Spanish Ambassador, the Count of Villa Mediana, between Henry, Prince of Wales and the Spanish Infanta Maria Anna.  James’ fear of a popular rejection of the marriage and prevarication about the terms proposed by the Spanish meant that Prince Henry was dead before any treaty could be signed and thus negotiations began regarding the marriage of his younger son Prince Charles.  Protracted negotiations took place between 1614 and 1623 and it was clear that public and parliamentary opinion was strongly opposed to the match.  However, now significantly in debt, James persisted with negotiations, much enticed by the promise of a £600,000 dowry.  In return, the Spanish set difficult terms including a repeal of the Penal Laws, the upbringing of the royal children as Roman Catholics and a public Roman Catholic Chapel together with the freedom of the Catholic priests appointed to it to wear their habits in the street (David Baldwin, The Politico-Religious Usage of the Queen’s Chapel, 1623-1688, Thesis submitted for the Degree of M.Litt., Durham University, 1999).  Such terms were impossible for James to accept and thus to keep matters moving, the new Spanish ambassador, the Count de Gondomar pressed for the fulfilment of the least objectionable prerequisite for the marriage: the construction of a Chapel for the use of the bride-to-be.  In his enthusiasm, Gondomar paid for the foundation stone which was laid on the 16th/30th May 1623 when building was commenced to plans by Inigo Jones.

Erasmus Kempffer, Illustration of His Majesty in England Signing the Spanish Marriage Treaty in an Imagined Chapel Royal, Whitehall including a Catholic Side Chapel and Showing Gondomar Preparing the Foundation Stone of the Queen’s Chapel St James’s Palace

Illustration of His Majesty in England Signing the Spanish Marriage Treaty in an Imagined Chapel Royal, Whitehall including a Catholic Side Chapel and Showing Gondomar Preparing the Foundation Stone of the Queen’s Chapel St James’s Palace


Consecration Cross Painted by Don Diego Sarmiento de Acuña, Conde de Gondomar, Spanish Ambassador to St James’s upon the occasion of the laying of the Foundation Stone of the Queen’s Chapel, St. James’s Palace on 16th/30th May 1623. (David Baldwin)

As negotiations halted, Charles took matters into his own hands and travelled to Spain to secure the marriage.  His unexpected arrival was met with confusion and dismay by the Spanish Court and, although a secret Treaty was concluded, Charles returned to England without the Infanta and much disillusioned with the Spanish. With renewed political opposition to the match in both Spain and England where it was ultimately rejected by the Privy Council after James had dissolved Parliament, it was quietly dropped. French diplomats grabbed this opportunity and pressed for a marriage between Charles and the sister of Louis XIII, Henrietta Maria.  The mechanics of this marriage proved more difficult than had initially been imagined.  James I died in March 1625 before the marriage was settled and the new King Charles was keen to settle the matter before his coronation. Pope Urban VII denied  special dispensation for the marriage to take place necessitating a secular marriage of State followed by a marriage by proxy attended only by Henrietta Maria in Paris on 11th May 1625 and another in person in the Anglican manner at St Augustine’s, Canterbury on 13th June.

After van Dyke, Henrietta Maria of France.

After van Dyke, Henrietta Maria of France.

The newly arrived Queen came ashore with a retinue of over 400 attendants including 29 priests and a Bishop.  Parliament was outraged to discover that secret terms appended to the marriage contract permitted daily celebration of the Catholic Mass in addition to replicating many of the terms of the Spanish Match.  In order to facilitate the religious needs of his new Queen, Charles pressed for the rapid completion of the Queen’s Chapel for Henrietta Maria to Inigo Jones’s existing plans of 1623.  As David Baldwin has argued, as completed, “the Queen’s Chapel was a startlingly bold statement by Inigo Jones of Palladian classical architecture reminiscent of Rome, and stood, intentionally or otherwise, as an embodiment and public statement announcing the arrival/re-establishment of Catholicism at least in London at the heart of the Court, if not of the monarchy – in some eyes perhaps as a prelude to legal re-establishment of Catholicism throughout the Realm”.

The Queen's Chapel as completed to plans of Inigo Jones

The Queen’s Chapel as completed to plans of Inigo Jones

In plan, the Chapel was surprisingly conventional, closely resembling that of the Tudor Chapel Royal proper in the Palace nearby.  It is composed of a pure double cube without transepts or distinct choir and incorporates a spacious Royal Closet at the West End at first floor level along with shallow lateral galleries in place of transepts, thus closely reflecting the precepts of its Tudor predecessor.

The Chapel Royal, St James's Palace looking West towards the Royal Closet. Steel Engraving, Published 1841 by Joseph Mead

The Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace looking West towards the Royal Closet. Steel Engraving, Published 1841 by Joseph Mead

Stylistically, however, the Queen’s Chapel is shockingly innovative if not utterly revolutionary. Built to a strictly Palladian design, the exterior is strikingly simple in its application of Classical principle and decoration.  It is remarkably less given to the licentious richness of decorative effect seen at the Banqueting House at Whitehall, yet it still manages to display an appealingly decorative, light elegance which avoids the heavy, almost crude brutality of St Paul’s Covent Garden or the stark, open spareness of the Queen’s House at Greenwich.  Gone are the deliberate architectural references to the supposed purity and uncorrupted nature of the “primitive” church made so clearly manifest at St Paul’s Covent Garden. It represents an exceptionally brave if not somewhat foolhardy departure from orthodox early seventeenth century church design. It is a building which consciously and conspicuously speaks only of the influence of Italy with all its difficult Catholic and Papal associations and it does so as a bright beacon in its bright painted stucco starkly contrasting with the aged red brick remains of St James Palace, right at the heart of the Stuart Court.

Little remains of Jones’ interior decorative scheme at the Queen’s Chapel, though what does survive speaks once again of innovation and Palladian influence.  The space was lit by windows along the transverse sides of the building, culminating in a large Venetian window at the East end.

An Exterior view of the East Venetian Window.

An Exterior view of the East Venetian Window.

The space is crowned by an elliptical gilded coffered ceiling and is completed at the West end by a screen of Corinthian Columns at the Royal Closet.  Jones’ original chimneypiece survives in this space, though altered subsequently in the time of Charles II.

The Inigo Jones Chimney Piece in the Royal Closet of the Queen's Chapel, surmounted by the combined arms of Charles II and Catherine of Braganza and decorated with Portuguese palms.

The Inigo Jones Chimney Piece in the Royal Closet of the Queen’s Chapel. (David Baldwin)

The interior of the Chapel looking East and showing the coffered ceiling and Venetian window.

The interior of the Chapel looking East and showing the coffered ceiling and Venetian window.

Of Henrietta Maria’s chancel, nothing remains and one must depend on contemporary descriptions of gilded and marbled altar rails and an altar raised on steps. The liturgy practiced in all Henrietta Maria’s Chapels provided for a very deliberate display of magnificence in a conscious effort to impress the Court and attract the attention of the King and it can only be imagined that similar magnificence was applied to this end in all the Queen’s Chapels.  For the first Mass celebrated in Jones’ Chapel at Somerset House, François Dieussart designed a 40 foot monstrance to crown the High Altar.  As Simon Thurley has written, “the Host was held in a large oval flanked by prophets and supported by two pillars that soared through seven layers of ‘clouds’, amongst which nestled two hundred angels, seraphim and cherubim”.  Behind this structure was placed a choir, so its singing would appear to come from the Heavenly host assembled amid the clouds.  In an act verging on garish theatricality, the whole scene, lit by over four hundred candles was hidden behind curtains so that it could be dramatically revealed to the congregation at the right moment.  Henrietta Maria reportedly wept with joy at the revelation and Charles I spent over an hour examining the construction.

Such overt displays of Catholic reverence and magnificence were powerful iconographic symbols of the Queen’s mission to reassert Catholic dominance in England and reestablish its place in English Society.   Henrietta Maria was a blindly pious and evangelical promoter of Catholicism who perhaps underestimated popular opposition to anything seen as representing a revival of Catholic power in England and failed to appreciate the dangers inherent in so open an exhibition of Catholic resurgence. By the 1630’s the Queen’s Chapels had become a powerful magnet for Catholic worshipers and the Queen had openly taken credit for the conversion of several eminent courtiers, much to the embarrassment of the King.  She continually pressurised her husband into adopting Catholic forms of worship and decorative schemes in his own Chapels and was seen to openly revive aspects of Catholic worship that had been purged from English life for over a century.  Early in her reign, she had attracted flagrant outrage by walking barefoot in peasant’s clothing to Tyburn to pray at the feet of a Jesuit priest put to death without trial on the orders of her husband and courted great controversy by flouting laws forbidding the celebration of marriage according to Catholic rites by facilitating the marriages of several Catholics within the growing Queen’s Chapel community.  More dangerously, in 1637, she privately appointed an agent to represent England at the Papal Court and invited the Pope to appoint the first Papal legate to England since the reign of Henry VIII. When Parliament attempted to impeach her for introducing a series of Catholic practices into the Church of England which even Archbishop Laud had decried, she persuaded her husband to face parliament in person to prevent the passing of the measure. It was clear that such open political interference could not continue. A growing popular malaise fuelled by paranoid fears of Catholic resurgence and the rise of monarchical tyranny was given new impetus by the Queen’s actions and, when these combined with Laud’s attempts to reform the Church of England to stress its Catholic roots, the volatile situation became explosive.

From early 1640, sporadic attacks on several City churches saw the destruction of fixed altars and the removal of altar rails and chancel screens recently fitted as part of Laud’s reforms. It was not long before the focus of this movement shifted to the Queen’s chapels which were popularly believed to be “sheltering the Pope and the Devil”.  The Chapel at Somerset House was severely damaged by a riotous crowd in the wake of the Irish Rebellion of 1641.  Tales of the slaughter of Protestants and the confiscation of their properties in the face of an impotent and haughtily detached King raised a very real sense of panic in London. In June 1641, Parliament enacted the “Ten Propositions” and “Grand Remonstrance”, a series of measures founded on the belief that Court favours were being offered in return for Catholic influence in the Queen’s Chapels and designed to censure the Queen and her Chapel communities, officially banishing several members of the Queen’s household (including her mother, Marie de Medici).  A petition was also sent to Parliament demanding the dispersal of the Capuchin Community the Queen had established to operate the Chapels.  Such measures were unprecedented attacks on the very heart of Charles’ Court and invited French retaliation on the basis that the marriage treaty had been breached.  In the event, events in the Civil War overtook the Queen and she was forced into exile in France in March 1643.

By April 1643, Parliament had begun debating an Ordinance for the removal and demolition of all altars, altar rails, altar steps, candlesticks, crucifixes and painted images.  Whilst this triggered an intense and vicious attack of iconoclasm in the City at the cost of the Laudian interiors of St Katharine Cree and St Giles in the Fields (Graham Parry, Glory Laud and Honour: The Arts of the Anglican Counter-Reformation [Boydell Press, 2006]) in addition to untold cost in artistic works in all churches, at first, the Chapels Royal seemed safe from attack despite the absence from London of both the King and Queen. However, in March 1644, an Ordinance was passed demanding that the Royal chapels be “clensed from all Popish Reliques and superstitions”.  In an unparalleled act of vicious iconoclasm perpetrated at the heart of Court, the Queen’s chapels at St James’s and Somerset House were systematically looted and destroyed.

Woodcut Illustrating how the Queen’s Chapels at Somerset House and St. James’s were Sacked and Burned.

Woodcut Illustrating how the Queen’s Chapels at Somerset House and St. James’s were Sacked and Burned.

One eyewitness to the destruction of the Chapel at Somerset House described how one of the Parliamentary Commissioners “climbed on the High Altar and looked at a very valuable picture done by the hand of Rubens…he called for a halberd and struck the first blow on the face of the crucifix…and ripped the painting to bits”.  Altars were demolished, walls were stripped of murals, statues were removed and smashed, ceiling paintings were torn down, altar plate was melted down for coin and the religious communities which inhabited the Chapels were dispersed or deported.  The entire work of Henrietta Maria was thus completely lost amid this orgy of destruction and by the time her Crown had been added to her list of losses, no trace of the original lavish interior of the Queen’s Chapel was left.

During the tenure of the Commonwealth, the Queen’s Chapels, now little more than whitewashed preaching boxes, were given over to the use of various Protestant communities.  To add insult to the French Queen’s injury, her Chapel at St James’s was presented to a group of Huguenots who had fled France in the wake of a Protestant Rebellion against the government of Louis XIII and his Chief Minister Cardinal Richelieu.

With the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, plans for his marriage to Catherine of Bragança, daughter of John IV of Portugal, which had their origins prior to the Civil War were resuscitated.  Catherine was deeply pious and utterly reserved.  She had spent the majority of her 23 years confined to a Convent in Lisbon under the iron fist of her tyranical mother Queen Luisa living under the stiflingly rigid strictures of Portuguese Court etiquette. It was reported that she “hath hardly been ten times out of the palace in her life”.  Speaking not a word of English, she was shipped to Portsmouth in May 1662 where she was swiftly married to the King in two ceremonies: one, secret and Catholic and the other public and Protestant.  One can only imagine the shock suffered by the sheltered young Queen when she arrived at the licentious if not debauched Restoration Court in London to be faced with the many mistresses Charles II openly courted and promoted at Court.  Initially, the Queen retreated into the comfortable isolation of her imported household centred on the Queen’s Chapel.

Among the recitals to the Marriage Treaty was one requiring that the Queen be provided with “a private Chapel in her residence with the right to practice her Catholic religion”.  In order to fulfil his marital obligations, Charles commenced work on the restoration of the Queen’s Chapel. An organ loft was rebuilt, “un Tabernacle d’argent” constructed in the chancel and the great Venetian window glazed with stained glass emblazoned  by Thomas Bagley with “a Crucifix of paynted glass iii foot broad and four foot deep” together with “2 coates of Armes”. A deal pulpit “with a foote pace for it to stand on and a broad stepp ladder to it with seven stepps” was added in 1663, while a “confessing howse…devided into three parts with arches seven foot wide, 7 foote eight inches high, two foote three inches deepe, with an Architrave freeze and cornish” was constructed by Thomas Kinward who also further beautified the pulpit. A new Royal closet was constructed at the West end upholstered with crimson damask.

Further architectural works were carried out by Christopher Wren in around 1669 to extend the friary accommodations to the rear of the Chapel.  Wren added a semi-circular apse which blocked the eastern window from the interior.  The Venetian window was thus hung with tapestries and the stained glass removed.

Engraving showing Wren's exterior extension of the Chapel and Friary.

Engraving showing Wren’s exterior extension of the Chapel and Friary.

A strong hint as to how the Queen wished to fashion her position at Court and an indication of how she was to cast the Queen’s Chapel as the pivotal epicentre of a virtuous Royal Court with her at its head in contrast to the licentious and debauched Court of her husband from which she initially felt excluded can be found in an early portrait of the Queen painted by Jacob Huysmans in about 1664.


Jacob Huysmans, Catherine de Bragança in the guise of St. Catherine of Alexandria

Huysmans depicted the Queen in the guise of St. Catherine of Alexandria with a martyr’s palm in her right hand. Her left rests upon the miraculously shattered wheel on which the Pagan Emperor Maxentius had unsuccessfully attempted to execute the saint for her refusal to relinquish her Christian faith and chastity. The portrait is unusual in the manner in which the Queen’s pose, dress, hairstyle, gesture and gaze all belong to contemporary Catholic depictions of the saints rather than a conventional portrait. The viewer is thus invited to view the Queen as the embodiment of her name-saint in her devout religious belief and chaste wifely devotion in the face of condemnation, indignity and censure at Court.  In this guise, the Queen invited a moral comparison with her debauched husband and his licentious Court and attempted to establish her identity and authority as Consort in a Court replete with Charles’ many mistresses whilst the steadfast refusal of the Saint to accept heresy was reflected in her own retreat into the bosom of the Catholic faith in her Chapel. The sword of St. Catherine’s final martyrdom is omitted, suggesting victory over these enemies.

This dangerous dichotomy within the Royal Household was given further outward recognition in the iconographic and symbolic messages presented by many of the furnishings in the Chapel.  None was so open to public display nor so richly imbued with volatile symbolism than the Processional Cross commissioned by Catherine for her new Chapel in about 1664.

Processional Cross of Catherine de Bragança (Fundação da Casa de Bragança  Museu-Biblioteca da Casa de Bragança, Vila Viçosa)

Processional Cross of Catherine de Bragança (Fundação da Casa de Bragança
Museu-Biblioteca da Casa de Bragança, Vila Viçosa)

This Processional Cross appears to have been a deeply personal commission by Queen Catherine and it remained in her possession until her death at the Palace at Bemposta near Lisbon in 1705.  The Processional Cross was the most visible of the liturgical instruments and the Queen was acutely aware of its potential to broadcast messages about her identity. The Cross is simple in design and rather poor in finish. The Crucifix is of a plain cylindrical shape with cast fleurs-de-lis at the terminations. The cast figure of Christ is poorly finished. The foot of the Crucifix, which is engraved with the Royal Cypher of Charles II, sits upon a silver globe which is joined to the staff of “Unicorn’s Horn” by means of a silver sleeve embossed with fleurs-de-lis, crowns and cherubim.On the reverse an inscription declares: ‘CRUX PASTORALIS SANCTI THOMAE ARCH. EPISCOPI CANTUARIENSIS A. REGINA CATHARINA IN. AMPLIOREM FORMAM REDUCTAM ANNO 1664 (“Crozier staff of St Thomas, Archbishop of Canterbury, Enlarged from fragments by Queen Catherine 1664”). Behind a small window, can be found fragments of pear wood.


A staff of pear wood belonging to Archbishop Thomas Becket appears on an inventory of the treasure of Canterbury Cathedral from 1321 so it may be presumed that the wood contained in the Cross is what remains of this Pastoral Staff. The choice of a relic of Becket for use in a Royal chapel was a potentially explosive one. Becket, having been martyred for defying Henry II, had become a potent symbol of the ascendancy of the Catholic Church over the temporal power of the Monarch. Whilst devotion to Becket had been known in Portugal for some time (see, for instance, Diogo Afonso, História da Vida e Martiírio do glorioso Sao Tomás, Arcebispo, Senhor de Cantuar, [Coimbra, 1554]), in deciding to display a relic of the Saint so conspicuously, the Queen was clearly sending a message to the Court as to where her allegiances lay.

The use of “Unicorn’s Horn” (narwhal tusk) in the staff adds further complexity. “Unicorn’s Horn” had been vested with mystical healing powers by the Medieval Church and was both a symbol of royal authority and of the Incarnation of Christ. It was also related to purity, female chastity and faithful marriage: all attributes towards which Catherine aspired.  However, Catherine must have been aware of the popular medieval legend of the Hunt of the Unicorn in which the unicorn, as the embodiment of fearsome animal passion, is tamed by the chaste maiden and thus captured and broken by civilised noblemen. It seems unlikely that such a pointed similarity to the debauched and religiously ambivalent King Charles and his marriage to the chaste Queen who wished to convert him could have been lost on Catherine nor, indeed, on a hostile Court baying for evidence of the Queen’s potential treachery.

Catherine’s marriage to Charles had initially been deeply unpopular, particularly given recent memory of the political machinations and evangelical Catholicism of Henrietta Maria. However, in providing herself with a “semi-detached” Court which was largely happy to make symbolic statements but which did not politically interfere with the business of the King’s Court, Catherine gradually enamoured herself to the populace.  Fears of Catholic resurgence had not, however, abated and soon the Queen’s Chapels, formerly quiet oases sheltered from both the Court and City, were at the centre of one of the most appalling conspiracy theories in English history: the Popish Plot.  In August 1678, the religious fanatic and fantasist Titus Oates, drafted a manuscript claiming knowledge of a Jesuit plot to assassinate the King.  This he planted in the premises of an acquaintance who passed it to the King.  Initially, the plot was dismissed but on 12th October, an influential anti-Catholic MP was found murdered near the Queen’s Chapel at Somerset House.  Oates seized upon this as evidence of the truth of his conspiracy and as proof of the involvement of the community surrounding the Queen’s Chapels. As one Broadside put it “at Somerset House there is plain to be seen a gate which will lead you into the back Court; this place for the murder most fitting did seem”.  Oates accused five prominent Catholic peers of conspiring with the Jesuits to assassinate the King.  Whilst the King refused to take the matter seriously, Parliament passed the Test Act forbidding Catholics from taking Parliamentary seats which remained in force until 1829. With the Catholic Lords awaiting trial and Parliament debating whether Charles’ Catholic brother James should be excluded from the Succession, the hysteria reached boiling point and, in an outburst of unfounded vitriol, Oates accused the Queen herself of involvement. A Parliamentary measure demanding the Queen’s impeachment and exile was only narrowly avoided through the personal intervention of Charles himself.  Twenty two Catholics were executed including Oliver Plunkett, Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, before it was accepted that Oates had been lying all along.  Whilst Catherine had been saved by the King’s affection, it was clear that her Chapel and its community remained a dangerous and potent symbol of Catholic power.

Popular Broadside suggesting the part the Queen's community played in the murder of Sir Edward Godfrey.

Popular Broadside suggesting the part the Queen’s community played in the murder of Sir Edward Godfrey.


By 1679, Catherine had largely shifted the focus of her Chapel to Somerset House and St James’s Palace was now home to the Duke and Duchess of York.  The Duke of York had secretly converted to Catholicism some time after his marriage to Anne Hyde and when she died in 1671, James felt well positioned to cement his dynastic position by making an advantageous Catholic marriage.  His choice of bride was the deeply religious Mary of Modena.  When news was first announced to the fifteen year old Duchess of Modena that she was to marry the forty year old widower James, she is reported to have been horrified by the thought of entering the debauched Court of Charles II and begged her mother to be permitted to enter a convent instead. Pope Clement X therefore wrote to her in the following terms:

“We…earnestly exhort you to reflect upon the great advantage that would come to the Catholic faith by your marriage…We easily conceived a firm hope that an end might come to the persecution still smouldering in that Kingdom and that the orthodox Faith reinstated by you in a place of honour might recover the splendour and security of former days…”

The effect of the Pope’s words was instant and complete and thrust Mary into the heart of a political crisis which developed in England as it became clear that Charles II would produce no Protestant heir.  The pair were married by proxy on 30th September 1673 with a secret Catholic service being organised for 23rd November.  An attempt by Parliament to introduce a Bill annulling the marriage was avoided only by the dissolving of Parliament by the King.

As Duchess of York, Mary’s deeply pious Catholicism found its expression within the secluded confines of the Queen’s Chapel at St James’s Palace where she and her husband could practice the Roman Rites without the public scrutiny afforded to the more accessible Chapel of Catherine of Bragança at Somerset House.   The relative concealment of her faith, apparent lack of Catholic evangelisation and her seeming inability to produce an heir gradually subdued protests against the accession of her husband in 1685.

From 1682-1685, Mary and James busied themselves with further enriching the Queen’s Chapel.  The quiet politic adopted by Catherine of Bragança in her architectural works and furnishings was abandoned by the politically naïve couple who instead decided to lavish the interior with vastly expensive furnishings and plate. The interior had already been much enriched with statues, altars and paintings during Queen Catherine’s occupation, but just as important was the unavoidable dynastic statement made by the addition of prominent Portuguese heraldry under the tenure of the Duchess of York.  The arms of Queen Catherine, conjoined with those of Charles, appear prominently above the chancel and in the Queen’s closet, stressing the political links between the Royal family and Portugal when links with France (with which Modena was closely related) would have been politically embarrassing.

The Arms of Catherine de Bragança at the East end.

The Arms of Catherine de Bragança at the East end.

Other works carried out at this time included the construction of a new east end where a high Baroque high altar was constructed, carved by Grindling Gibbons and centred on an altarpiece of semicircular plan flanked by kneeling angels and surmounted by the Queen’s arms.  The altar rails were set very far to the West and statues were introduced to the lateral walls.

Johannes Kip, View  of the Interior of the Queen’s Chapel Looking East, 1687

Johannes Kip, View of the Interior of the Queen’s Chapel Looking East, 1687

Simon Thurley has suggested that these works were designed by Wren and were based on engravings of counter-Reformation French altarpieces such as that of Saint Paul-Saint-Louis in Paris by Père François Derand. Gibbons’ work on the High Altar made provision for the liturgical picture barrier supplied by Benedetto Gennari specifically on the Queen’s instructions.  The painting, of the Holy Family, was an intensely private commission for the Duchess and may have hinted at her dynastic intentions within Court and the production of a Catholic heir.

Benedetto Gennari , The Sacra Famiglia, Commissioned by Mary of Modena whilst Duchess of York for the Altarpiece of the Queen’s Chapel, St James’s Palace, 1682.

Benedetto Gennari , The Sacra Famiglia, Commissioned by Mary of Modena whilst Duchess of York for the Altarpiece of the Queen’s Chapel, St James’s Palace, 1682.

The aesthetic connection with the European Counter-Reformation and references to the Duchess’ potential as Catholic family matriarch were a potentially explosive and reinforced the place of the Queen’s Chapel as a centre for Catholic activity and the promotion the interests of foreign Catholic Courts at the heart of the English establishment. This only served to further alienate the Duke and Duchess from popular support on the cusp of their accession to the throne.

With the death of Charles II on 6th February 1685, emphasis shifted away from the Queen’s Chapels.  Somerset House remained in the personal possession of the Dowager Queen whilst the household of Mary of Modena was moved to Whitehall.   James II fervently believed that his Catholicism need no longer be secreted away in Chapels built through marital necessity and protected from a hostile populace only by foreign Treaty.  In his political naïveté and zealous evangelising religious belief, James foolishly thought that the political expediency which had secured his accession could be utilised to re-establish Catholicism at the heart of Court and to revitalise the role of his faith in all aspects of governance. He thus sought to construct a vast and magnificent Catholic Chapel Royal at the heart of government at Whitehall, replace the personnel of the Anglican Chapel Royal with sympathetic courtiers, establish a duplicate Catholic hierarchy at Court and expand the public nature of the Queen’s Chapel at St James’s Palace. James’ attempts to reassert the primacy of the Catholic church increasingly alienated him from a Parliament keen to downplay the King’s religion.  Matters boiled over when it was reported that the Queen was with child and the prospect of a perpetual Catholic succession suddenly became a reality.  The events which unfolded around the birth of the Prince of Wales were crucially centred upon the Queen’s Chapel.  In her lively history of the Royal Bedchamber, Lucy Worsley has keenly stressed the centrality of the privy bedchamber to the downfall of James II.  In doing so, she has perhaps entirely overlooked the actual crucial nexus leading to the fall of the Stuart dynasty: the Queen’s Chapel itself.

Almost as soon as Prince James was born, rumours began to circulate that the baby was not of Royal blood and had been smuggled into the Queen’s bedchamber by the Chaplain of the Queen’s Chapel either in a barrow or, more colourfully, in a bed warmer, to act as a changeling for a the Queen’s stillborn child. Bishop Gilbert Burnet even claimed to suspect that no birth had taken place at all.  He claimed to have observed that the Queen “seemed to be [too] soon recovered, and was…little altered by her labour, either in her looks or voice” (Rev. Gilbert Burnet, Bishop Bumet’s Proof of the Pretender’s Illegitimacy, London, 1724). Simon Burgiss went even further by asserting and even mapping the involvement of those attached to the Queen’s Chapel in the growing hysteria surrounding the supposed conspiracy (Simon Burgis, A full answer to the depositions and to all other the Pretences and Arguments whatsoever concerning the birth of the Prince of Wales. The Intrigue thereof detected, the whole design being set forth, with the way and manner of doing it. Whereunto is annexed a map or Survey engraven of St. James’s Palace, and the Convent there. Describing the place wherein it is supposed the true mother was delivered: with the particular doors and passages through which the child was conveyed to the Queen’s Bed chamber, London, 1689).

Simon Burgiss, plan showing the centrality of the Queen’s Chapel, St James’s Palace to the alleged smuggling of the child into the Queen’s bedchamber.

Simon Burgiss, plan showing the centrality of the Queen’s Chapel, St James’s Palace to the alleged smuggling of the child into the Queen’s bedchamber.

A Jesuit priest attached to the Queen’s Chapel, Fr. Petre, was named as the prime mover behind the conspiracy.  He was said to have taken delivery of the changeling in the Cloisters of the Benedictine Convent before passing through the three great Vestries of the Queen’s Chapel, up the stairs and through the Royal Closet of the Chapel, and thereafter through the adjoining Gallery and numerous winding passages to the Bed Chamber at 9.45 a.m on Trinity Sunday. As David Baldwin has argued, “to have passed unnoticed with a child and warming pan through the midst of the sort of elaborate ceremony being conducted in the Queen’s Chapel and Sacristy that characterised Roman Rites on such a major Festival is little short of miraculous…the Queen’s Chapel would have been full of people, priests and monks involved in the obligatory liturgical ceremony – but one needing thuribles not warming pans. Such a journey must have involved a widespread conspiracy, amazing audacity, and some physical effort”.

Regardless of the truth behind the birth of the Prince of Wales, it is clear that the Queen’s Chapel and its attendant community played a major role in providing ammunition to the Conspiracy theorists.  In the light of this, it was perhaps unfortunate that King James then attempted to utilise and propagandise the Chapel in the very public act of baptism of the child.  The London Gazette reported:

 “Whitehall October 15. This day, in the Chapel of St. James, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, being before Christened, was solemnly named amidst the ceremonies and rites of baptism, James Francis Edward. His Holiness, represented by his Nuncio was the Godfather, and the Queen Dowager, Godmother. The King and Queen assisted at the solemnity with a great attendance of nobility and Gentry, and concourse of people, all expressing their joy and satisfaction which was suitable to the place and occasion”.

This public display of Catholic dominance and Papal influence was all  too much for an already panicked Parliament.  Whatever the truth of the events surrounding the birth and baptism of Prince James Francis Edward, they led directly to seven leading Englishmen signing a request for William of Orange to intervene militarily and thus played a very direct role in the downfall of the Stuart dynasty and the Glorious Revolution.  Much of the movable art in the Queen’s Chapel (perhaps ironically) including Gennari’s Holy Family were stripped from the Chapel by Mary’s retinue and smuggled with the Royal family which had sought to replicate it, into exile.

William III took possession of St James’s Palace in December 1688 and almost immediately set about purging the Queen’s Chapel of its Popish history. David Baldwin has suggested that it provided a venue for a Parliamentary assembly ordered by William to legitimise his rule in late December 1688.  As Baldwin has argued, “William would have seen the political and Protestant triumphalism of using the Queen’s Chapel, of all places, as the venue for having his military victory legitimised, and a wholly Protestant order reinstated”. The long term future of the Chapel remained in doubt and William may have considered its demolition or conversion to Court assembly use.  However, in the end, he granted the Chapel to French and Dutch speaking Protestants who had settled in London to escape persecution in the wake of Louis XIV’s revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685.  The interior was stripped of its statues, relics, side altars and paintings, but much of Gibbons’ work on the High Altar was to survive intact. In 1709, the Wren’s domed monastic Choir was pulled down, uncovering the original east window and in 1729 the remains of the friary were finally demolished. By 1781, the need for a Huguenot Chapel had waned and thus the Chapel was presented to a group of German Lutherans who had come across with the Hanovarian Court, the name of the Chapel changing to the German Chapel Royal.  A new organ was fitted atop Gibbons’ reredos, once again blocking the central panel of Jones’ Venetian window and box pews were fitted.

The German Chapel Royal in 1819.

The German Chapel Royal in 1819.

In 1809 a fire destroyed the Royal apartments abutting the Chapel and, rather than rebuilding them, George III decided to connect Pall Mall to the Mall by constructing Marlborough Road right through the centre of the Palace over the site of the destroyed apartments.  This severed forever the Chapel from the Palace and placed a physical barrier between the royal residence and the former royal chapel, bringing a symbolic full stop to the importance of the Chapel to Court life.  The Chapel now appeared to be connected not to the Palace but to the town house of the Dukes of Marlborough across the road.

The German Chapel continued to flourish under he patronage of Prince Albert but after his death, it too became surplus to the needs of the Court. Marlborough House was now home to the Prince of Wales and his Danish wife Princess Alexandra. The proximity of the Queen’s Chapel to Marlborough House led to its being utilised by Princess Alexandra as a private Chapel and after 1881, a Danish community were established there.  Following the death of Queen Victoria, its name was thus changed to the Marlborough House Chapel and it was given over exclusively to the Danish Church. The box pews were replaced with fixed open pews and a Choir was created to the southeast below a gallery.


The Marlborough House Chapel photographed for the Princess of Wales in 1895.

Services in Danish continued in the chapel for thirteen years after the death of Queen Alexandra until the Chapel was closed in 1938 for its first major restoration since William III purged it of its Catholic past.  The Chapel returned to its original name of Queen’s Chapel in 1939.  Restoration work was largely ceased during the War and was not finally complete until 1951.  As part of the works, the organ, which had blocked the eastern window, was moved to the South gallery, windows in the North and South walls of the chancel were re-opened and the wood panelling was painted and gilded. Choir stalls were constructed in the extended chancel, with the 1679 Thomas Kinward pulpit (now split in two) forming the ends of the stalls and simple eastward facing pews were fitted.

The Chapel in its 1951 colour scheme

The Chapel in its 1951 colour scheme

Following a toning down of the 1951 colour scheme, the Chapel sits today in relative obscurity, playing host to the marriages of minor Royals and providing peaceful surroundings for the repose of many deceased members of the Royal family on their way to the funeral service (as in the case of Princess Margaret in February 2002) or lying in State at Westminster Abbey (as in the case of the Queen Mother a month later).


The Coffin of Princess Margaret resting in the Queen’s Chapel, 2002.

Although used regularly by the Chapel Royal for weekly Sunday services from Easter until October, it no longer plays any major role in the life of the Court. Its current inherently elegant form and restful colour scheme serves only to belie its troubled past and stormy history at the centre of Court life.

The Queen's Chapel prior to a Summer Eucharist in 2014

The Queen’s Chapel prior to a Summer Eucharist in 2014

The Land of “Might have been”: The Competition to Convert the Irish Parliament House to the Bank of Ireland, 1803.

“It’s subjunctive history,” declares the character of Dakin in Alan Bennett’s History Boys (a play which, for a number of reasons, I intensely dislike),  “…you know, the subjunctive? The mood used when something may or may not have happened. When it is imagined.”  This concept of examining “subjunctive” or more correctly speculative history as an inherent part of knowledge for its own sake is central to the themes explored in the play; but in architectural history, consideration of this “land of might have been” is arguably much more immediate.  The reasons for the adoption of a particular architectural, decorative or iconographic scheme provides important evidence as to the patron’s self fashioning of identity and the means by which they have both fashioned and, in turn, been fashioned by the architecture they created. For millennia, Sean Kelsey has written, “claims to authority, legitimacy and distinction have been articulated and contested through the construction, control and adornment of the very fabric of building in which culture is shaped and expressed, governance conducted and governments made and unmade.” (Sean Kelsey, “Housing Parliament: Dublin, Edinburgh and Westminster”, Parliamentary History, 21.1 pp.1-21 at p. 1). An understanding of the reasons a particular scheme was chosen is central to a contextualised understanding of the narrative of history surrounding the construction of the buildings and what they meant to the contemporary societies which viewed them.  It is often only when one considers what was actually built in light of its rejected alternatives that the true aesthetic and iconographic messages inherent in these buildings can be fully comprehended and the resultant understanding of the often complex meanings ascribed to these structures, aesthetic, political and social, can often provide an important means of challenging orthodox historical narratives of the era in which they were constructed.

A prime example of the importance of rejected architectural schemes to the understanding of a built structure and the institution which inhabited it in addition to its contextualised narrative of history are the schemes submitted to the Competition to Convert the Irish Parliament House to the headquarters of the Bank of Ireland in 1803.  The importance of the Irish Parliament House to the history of architecture cannot be overstated.  Designed by the Irish architect Edward Lovett Pearce (who was Knighted on the premises upon its completion), it was the first building in the world to be purpose-built to house a bi-cameral legislature and it was the first Palladian public building to be constructed in the British Isles.


The Parliament House, Dublin as envisaged by Sir Edward Lovett Pearce in 1728.

During its time as the home of Ireland’s patriotic Parliament under Speaker William Conolly and leader of the Irish Patriot Party, Henry Grattan, the building had been invested with potent political and symbolic iconography associated with ideals of a fiscally and politically independent Ireland based on principles of commerce and an outward-looking vision of national identity and statehood based on European precedent (see Kyle Leyden, More Patrick’s House than any Other: Parliament House, Bank of Ireland and the Iconography of the Irish Whig Project, Thesis submitted for the Degree of Master of Arts, Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London, June 2014).  Following the abolition of the Parliament with the Act of Union in 1801, the building was sold to the Bank of Ireland, an institution founded in 1783, which had been seeking a new headquarters in the vicinity of the newly created Eastern business district created with the building of Carlisle (later O’Connell) Bridge and its attendant shift of the centre of gravity in the city Eastward towards the new Sackville Street/Westmoreland Street axis.

In the orthodox narrative of Irish history, this conversion of the Parliament to a Bank was viewed as a sacrilegious aberration and the Bank’s architectural works (carried out principally by Francis Johnston) were written off as acts of vandalism. From the mid-nineteenth century, the Bank’s occupation of the building was cast as anathema and when the Home Rule movement began to exert itself after 1880, calls for a return of the building to Legislative use became even more outspoken.  When the abortive Southern Home Rule Parliament was created by the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, Section 66(1) stated that “if the Government of Southern Ireland signify their desire to acquire for the use of the Parliament of Southern Ireland the premises…of the Bank of Ireland…they shall be entitled to do so.” In the end, for reasons primarily of practicality, the Parliament of Saorstát Éireann sat not at College Green but in the former town house of the Dukes of Leinster and later headquarters of the Royal Dublin Society, Leinster House.  Calls for the Bank’s surrender of the building, however, did not abate.  In 1983, Charles Haughey announced plans to establish a “Forum for a New Ireland” in the former House of Lords and, following the financial collapse of 2008, vociferous members of the Dáil and Seanad called for the building to be surrendered to the government to pay off part of the Bank’s bailout.  These calls resulted in a compromise whereby former offices to the North of the building were surrendered by the Bank for use as an Arts Centre and Museum in 2014.

This orthodox narrative of the history of the building is almost immovably ingrained in the Irish psyche.  Yet, if one examines what the Bank actually did to the building in the context of the schemes it rejected, one immediately becomes aware that it represents an extreme simplification of the history of the building which has led to a fundamental mischaracterisation of the act of conversion and the place of the Bank in the building’s history.

The first mention hinting at the potential purchase of the Parliament House by the Bank of Ireland can be found in the Court of Directors Transactions of 1 September 1801 when “a ground plan of the Parliament House” was “received by the Governor from Mr Secretary Abbott [sic.].”  A proposal to purchase the building being passed by the Board, a verbal offer was made to Dublin Castle to purchase the Parliament House for £40,000 “subject to all rents and covenants to which the Crown as tenants thereof is at present liable”.

There seems to have been little adverse public comment with regard to the sale to the Bank, which was broadly cast as the natural successor to the degraded Parliament most able to restore the reputation of the building. As one contemporary wit quipped “since to a Bank, as ‘tis asserted, our House of Commons is converted; what most We want will be there, in place of what We best can spare.” (Photograph of Manuscript, Irish Architectural Archive Collection, No. 9/33 P.17). The Bank took possession of the Parliament House on 24 August 1802 and on the same day advertised an architectural competition offering several premiums for plans to convert the Parliament House to a National Bank. A Building Committee was established to judge the entries and a series of plans showing the building as it then appeared were commissioned and distributed among the competitors along with a list of specifications for the accommodations.

The South Front as it appeared in 1802.  Survey by Francis Johnston.

The South Front as it appeared in 1802. Survey by Francis Johnston (Irish Architectural Archive, Dublin).

Approximately forty plans were submitted to the Committee, two thirds of which were from England, and exhibited at the building in April 1803. From the plans which survive in the Bank archive, it appears that the approach to the existing building varied widely between architects. Two plans inscribed merely “G.X.W.” and “W.W. London” advocated the complete demolition of Pearce’s south colonnade, whilst Richard Lucius Louch preserved Pearce’s work substantially unaltered.

"GXW" Proposed South Elevation showing the substantial removal of Pearce's colonnade.

“GXW” Proposed South Elevation showing the substantial removal of Pearce’s colonnade. (Irish Architectural Archive)

"WW" Proposed South Elevation of the Bank of Ireland, showing the substantial obliteration of Pearce's work. (Irish Architectural Archive)

“WW” Proposed South Elevation of the Bank of Ireland, showing the substantial obliteration of Pearce’s work. (Irish Architectural Archive)

Richard Lucius Louch, Proposed South Front of Bank of Ireland showing Pearce's work substantially unaltered.

Richard Lucius Louch, Proposed South Front of Bank of Ireland showing Pearce’s work substantially unaltered. (Irish Architectural Archive)

Public opinion tended towards favouring the latter approach, William Tighe writing that “all the artists of taste preserve [Pearce’s] justly admired front to College Green” (Diary of William Tighe, 13th April 1803, quoted in C.P. Curran, “The Building of the Bank” in F.G. Hall, The Bank of Ireland 1783-1946 (Hodges Figgis, Dublin, 1949) pp. 455-471 at p. 458).

When the Building Committee first reported to the Court of Directors, however, it was to inform them that they had found “such difficulty in deciding upon the merits under all the various considerations” that they were unable to adjudge the competition and would instead “express themselves by distinct observations on the subject generally”. They were agreed that “no alteration of the external building is necessary for the purposes of the Bank”, but concluded that “no one set of designs (as produced) could be implicitly adopted”.

With this in mind, the Directors approached Francis Johnston on 30 May 1803 to prepare plans which would assimilate various elements extracted from several of the entries by the Committee in their observations as commendable. A further six premiums were thus awarded for those plans which the Committee felt contained some useful elements in addition to the four main Premiums. The ten winning plans reveal in their diversity that there was little common ground on the Committee. The overall winner, “T.V.”, now known to be Henry Aaron Baker, so impressed the Committee that they requested an additional Elevation dealing with the practicalities of the site suggesting that at one point they may have considered executing his plan in its entirety.

Henry Aaron Baker, Proposed South Front for the Bank of Ireland.

Henry Aaron Baker, Proposed South Front for the Bank of Ireland. (Irish Architectural Archive)

The amended Elevation left Pearce’s front entirely unchanged and even restored his much criticised octagonal dome, raising it, as James Gandon had previously suggested, on a much higher drum. In the original plan, figures representing Britannia with instruments of commerce and Hibernia with the cornucopia of plenty were placed atop Pearce’s terminal pavilions, their location symbolically representing the figures as co-dependent and equal. On the revised version, these figures were, presumably at the Committee’s request, removed: the Bank clearly did not view the symbiotic relationship between Britain and Ireland in trade in this way.

The second Premium was awarded to a plan (now lost) by John Foulston marked “Hibernia”. It may be reconstructed from his Explanation of the Plans published in 1803: Foulston planned to remove the dome and stylistically unite the various façades by replacing Pearce’s angled-volute and Gandon’s Corinthian capitals with Grecian Ionic capitals.  The pediments were to be removed from Pearce’s terminals and four statues erected on them, representing the four corners of the globe.

Reconstruction of Foulston's lost proposal for the South front of the Bank of Ireland (Gregory McAteer)

Reconstruction of Foulston’s lost proposal for the South front of the Bank of Ireland (Gregory McAteer)

Joseph Woods  planned to replace Pearce’s tetrastyle portico with a much wider neo-classical hexastyle version and remove entirely both screen walls from the south front.

Joseph Woods, Proposal for the South Front of the Bank of Ireland. (Irish Architectural Archive)

Joseph Woods, Proposal for the South Front of the Bank of Ireland. (Irish Architectural Archive)

Finally, the fourth premium was awarded to Joseph Henry Good, who left Pearce’s colonnade relatively untouched, merely adding statues to the central portico and removing the pediments from the terminal pavilions, replacing them with lions couchant.

Joseph Henry Good, proposal for the South Front of the Bank of Ireland.

Joseph Henry Good, proposal for the South Front of the Bank of Ireland.

Of the plans awarded the additional Premiums , those of Richard Morrison are most revelatory. Morrison went to significant lengths to stress in lengthy inscriptions on the plans that “in composing this design, the Architect has endeavoured to preserve the character of the original structure” and in the design, Irish iconography it placed to the fore; one plan, for example, represents the four provinces of Ireland supporting the globe atop the dome.

Richard Morrison, proposal for the South Front of the Bank of Ireland. (Irish Architectural Archive)

Richard Morrison, proposal for the South Front of the Bank of Ireland. (Irish Architectural Archive)

Richard Morrison, proposal for the South Front of the Bank of Ireland.

Richard Morrison, proposal for the South Front of the Bank of Ireland. (Irish Architectural Archive)

The most telling aspect of these results is the fact that the two surviving entries which did not receive a premium clearly demonstrate what the Bank did not want: both of them completely obliterated Pearce’s work It is thus clear that the Bank wished at all costs to preserve Pearce’s politically charged colonnade in order to fashion themselves as natural successor to the Parliament.  Thus when Francis Johnston came to produce what was in fact built on the site, he did so with almost sacral reverence to the work of Pearce. As built, Johnston’s external plan preserves Pearce’s work entirely unaltered save for the filling in of the fenestration and the addition to Pearce’s central portico of three allegorical statues representing Hibernia enthroned at the apex and attended by Commerce and Fidelity.

The most major alterations on the interior were the division of Waldré’s Commons chamber into offices and the construction of a new cash office occupying the width of the south wall on the site of Pearce’s Court of Requests. The destruction of the Commons chamber was later propagandised as evidence supporting the argument that the purchase of the building by the Bank was an aberrational break with Parliamentary continuity, but Waldré’s chamber, constructed to a significantly different design after Pearce’s original was destroyed by fire in 1792, was symbolically associated not with the thriving mid-eighteenth century Whiggish Parliament but with its unravelling after 1790, so its destruction cannot have been as symbolic as later writers have argued.

cash office

Francis Johnston’s cash office.

Indeed, Johnston’s new cash office, was significantly more aligned to the strict Palladianism of Pearce than Waldré’s Commons chamber. In the bold simplicity of its restrained plasterwork on the coved ceiling and monumental columns raised on high plinths around the walls and the Cash Office bears a close resemblance to Pearce’s 1728 design for the Court of Requests, which it replaced. Johnston’s deference to Pearce is equally clear in his West Hall, where the heavy three-quarter-height rustication, relieved only by elegant swags between lion’s heads in the entablature, and compartmentalised coffered ceiling is entirely evocative of Pearce’s work. These spaces may have been new, but their message was one of continuity.

It is thus that the traditional narrative decrying the conversion of the Parliament House to Bank can be strenuously challenged. In the lack of contemporary public criticism of the sale of the building to the Bank and in the reverence with which the architecture of the Parliament was retained, restored or replicated it is clear that the Bank saw itself as a natural successor of the Parliament which could seamlessly adopt its iconography and symbolism.  Rather than an aberrational break in the continuity of the narrative of Irish independence represented by this building, the Bank both saw itself and promoted a view of itself as the natural successor to the Parliament and the last remaining vestige of the Irish Whig project to survive the Act of Union.  The fact that this view of the Bank has been severed from modern thinking is mainly the result of the model of independence favoured by the Bank and Parliament (based on Protestantism and centred not on culture but upon commerce) falling out of favour  in the nineteenth century Celtic revival which wished to present Irish national identity as an unbroken narrative of shared Celtic culture, Irish language and Roman Catholic religious belief.

“And so he plays his part”: An evening at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

One of the greatest joys of living in London are those times when, entirely spontaneously and unplanned, one finds oneself in some spectacular setting having the most deliciously pleasurable time imaginable.  I experienced one such event on Saturday evening when, walking back down the South Bank on a gloriously sunny January evening following a languid afternoon spent at the Maltby Street Market in Bermondsey and exploring Southwark Cathedral, I wandered into the new foyer of the Globe Theatre ostensibly to grab a coffee in the lobby cafe.  Once inside, I caught notice of posters advertising the current run of Francis Beaumont’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, bearing a striking image of Pauline McLynn (of Fr. Ted fame) in Elizabethan costume.  I had tried several times to get tickets to a show at the SWP without success but, finding myself arriving on the penultimate night of the run, I decided to try my luck once more.  Being told that there were only two tickets left in the run on that evening with “restricted visibility” in the Musician’s Gallery, I initially thought it might be better to await a better planned visit in the future.  However, upon walking across the minimalist expanse of the new foyer towards the red brick bow of the Playhouse, I was rather taken by the bursts of raucous laughter and merriment issuing forth from inside.  When a member of front-of-house staff approached and encouraged me at all costs to catch the production and assured me that I would not be disappointed with the view from the Gallery, I relented and took the last two seats for the princely sum of £15 per ticket.

Pauline McLynn in the SWP's second run of "The Knight of the Burning Pestle" which ended on 11th January.

Pauline McLynn in the SWP’s second run of “The Knight of the Burning Pestle” which ended on 11th January.

Despite the meagre price, I did so not without some degree of trepidation. Leaving aside my concerns about “limited visibility” in a theatre infamous for its lack of comfort, Beaumont’s play had last been given an outing in October 2005 when it was revived as part of the Barbican’s Young Genius Season to undivided critical scorn.  Writing in the Telegraph, Charles Spencer had dubbed it “the unfunniest show in town”, labelling the experience of watching it a “penance” and concluding that it was a “punishingly unfunny production, while of genius, young or otherwise, there [wasn’t] the faintest trace”.  Describing it as a “whopping turkey” and declaring that “pantomime season [had] arrived early”, Lyn Gardner awarded it one star in The Guardian.  The special restrictions on tickets issued in the Musician’s Gallery meant that one is not permitted to leave the auditorium during the short intermissions in the play. The prospect of spending a solid three hours sitting on a hard bench behind a pillar whilst a monstrous travesty of Jacobean theatre was played out somewhere unseen before me thus presented itself with terrifying anticipation.  What I in fact experienced could not have been further from this gruesome imagining. For what had been missing in the 2005 production, presented in the vast monument to 1970’s Brutalism at the Barbican, was the play’s most important actor: the SWP itself.  Never before have I witnessed an interplay of architecture and theatrical drama so radical and so immediate, to the extent that a kind of symbiology of structure and use existed whereby the one would be much the poorer for the lack of the other.  Such a radical, postmodern reading of both playhouse and play is perhaps the most effective means of rehabilitating Beaumont’s work, so infamously impossible to categorise within orthodox means.

The architectural story of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse has been a protracted and difficult one perhaps worthy of a stage drama in its own right.  When Sam Wanameker conceived his plan to rebuild Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in 1970, he had already decided that an indoor playhouse should form an integral part of the plan, so that the project could present works during the winter and thus all aspects of the dramatic practice of Shakespeare’s time could be explored and presented.

Sam Wanamaker with a plan of his vision for the Shakespeare's Globe project with what is now the SWP shown as an integral part under his arm to the left.

Sam Wanamaker with a plan of his vision for the Shakespeare’s Globe project with what is now the SWP shown as an integral part under his arm to the left.

This immediately presented an architectural difficulty.  The original “winter theatre” serving the Globe’s company of actors and writers was across the river at Blackfriars in the refectory of the former Dominican monastery which had given the area its name. This was one of the largest Medieval halls in London and had been used even prior to the Reformation for meetings of Parliament and other State business, most infamously the annulment trial of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII.  It was similar in form to the surviving refectory at Chester Cathedral.  Following its seizure by the Crown at the dissolution, the Hall was appropriated for the staging of plays ostensibly as practice for Royal command performance but in practice for paying audiences.

The Refectory of Chester Cathedral, similar in form to that of Blackfriars in London.

The Refectory of Chester Cathedral, similar in form to that of Blackfriars in London.

In 1596, it was purchased by the theatre impresario and director of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Richard Burbage.  Burbage tore down internal partitions and inside constructed a U-shaped playhouse, with two galleries surrounding pit seating and a projecting stage.  Burbage, however, never saw his company perform in his new theatre.  The residents of Blackfriars (then an affluent residential quarter) persuaded the Privy Council to forbid his company to play on the site and Burbage was forced to lease the theatre to a company under Royal patronage: the Children of the Queen’s Revels which held a warrant to provide entertainment to the Queen.  Again the excuse for circumventing the Privy Council’s prohibition on a Theatre was one of Royal necessity, but in practice and with dubious legality, the group expanded into a full commercial enterprise offering entertainments for the general public.  During this period, the theatre presented works by Ben Jonson, Thomas Middleton and George Chapman and spearheaded innovations in theatrical practice including the use of artificial light and the introduction of music as a central component part of Jacobean drama.  The premiere of Beaumont’s Knight of the Burning Pestle was given at Blackfriars in 1607.

A detail of Wenceslas Hollar's "Long View" of London (1647) highlighting the second Globe Theatre and the roof of the Blackfriars Theatre across the river.

A detail of Wenceslas Hollar’s “Long View” of London (1647) highlighting the second Globe Theatre and the roof of the Blackfriars Theatre across the river.

Burbage’s company only took possession of the building in 1608 by which time, now dubbed “the King’s Men” and including William Shakespeare in its number, the group was under the direction of his son.  The theatre continued to be at the forefront of theatrical innovation until its closure during the Civil War in 1642.  It was demolished under Cromwell in 1655.  In this lay the major difficulty for Wanamaker’s project.  Whilst there were numerous written descriptions of the building and several hints as to its size and layout in stage directions of the plays first presented there, no pictorial record survived of what it actually looked like.  Several conjectural reconstructions were suggested on the basis of these written hints and a full built reconstruction was attempted by architect Tom McLaughlin in Staunton, Virginia in 2000, but none could claim the banner of proven historic accuracy.  The difficulty was a fundamental one: academics could not even agree about whether the Theatre was rectangular (in the form of the halls at Court, such as the Whitehall Banqueting House, utilised for the performance of politically charged masques) or U-shaped (in the more modern form based on Classical Roman precedent seen in contemporary woodcuts from mainland Europe). (See John Orrell, “The Private Theatre Auditorium”, Theatre Research International, 9.02 (Summer 1984) pp. 79-92) Wanamaker and his architect, the South African born Theo Crosby wished for proven authenticity and an avoidance of “Disneyesque” pastiche.  Thus, they were forced to look elsewhere for a plan which could withstand academic scrutiny.


Conjectural Reconstruction of Blackfriar’s Theatre.


Reconstruction of Blackfriar’s Theatre in Staunton, Virginia by Tom McLaughlin, 2000-2001

In 1960, two drawings had been discovered folded up in a book in the Library of Worcester College, Oxford showing plans for an indoor playhouse.  They were immediately assumed to be the work of Inigo Jones (1573-1662).  Following his death, Jones’ collection of drawings and plans had passed to his protégé John Webb (1611-1672). At his death, Webb bequeathed his library of architectural drawings to his son William with instructions to “keepe them intire together without selling or imbezzling any of them”. This was ignored and from his Estate a large portion were purchased by the 3rd Earl of Burlington (remaining in the possession of  his descendants the Dukes of Devonshire) whilst a smaller collection was bequeathed by Dr George Clarke to Worcester College in 1736.  It was presumed that these newly discovered drawings were part of this bequest and were in the hand of Jones himself.

Plan for a indoor Playhouse discovered at Worcester College Oxford in 1960.

Plan for a indoor Playhouse discovered at Worcester College Oxford in 1960.

Cross section of an indoor Playhouse discovered at Worcester College, Oxford in 1960.

Cross section of an indoor Playhouse discovered at Worcester College, Oxford in 1960.

The importance of this find could not be overstressed.  Writing in 1917, William Grant Keith had argued that

“although the theatre occupied such an important part in the life of Inigo Jones…our knowledge of his work in this direction is almost entirely limited to his stage…There is no record that Inigo Jones was ever commissioned to build a permanent Court theatre of architectural importance”

(W.G. Keith, “A Theatre Project for Inigo Jones”, The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, 31.173 [August 1917] pp.61-63 at p. 61)

Previous knowledge of Jones’ theatre designs (as opposed to his stage designs) was limited to his reconstructive work at the Cockpit-in-Court for Charles I in 1617 and his work on anatomy theatres.  Originally constructed as a pleasure building by Henry VIII in 1529 and frequently used for the presentation of Masques in addition to its use for cock fighting and other sporting pursuits, the Cockpit-in-Court was destroyed by fire early in 1617.  Charles I decided to have it reconstructed as a private theatre.  Plans exist in the hand of Jones showing a raised stage flanked by boxes containing benches and a descending pit seating area.

Engraving of the Cockpit-in-Court, Whitehall Palace.

Engraving of the Cockpit-in-Court, Whitehall Palace.

The Cockpit-in-Court as planned by Inigo Jones in 1617.

The Cockpit-in-Court as planned by Inigo Jones in 1617.

A prominent feature of the playhouse is the Palladian-inspired curved skene frons behind the stage and what is speculated as possibly a small scenic vista opening in the centre of the façade which may have housed attempts at Italianate perspective scenery inspired by Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza.

Model of the Cockpit-in-Court as remodelled by Inigo Jones.

Model of the Cockpit-in-Court as remodelled by Inigo Jones.


Palladio’ s Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza.

In his examination of the anatomy theatres of London in the Jacobean period, Christian Billing has argued that there is a strong link between the public appetite for witnessing human dissection as performance in anatomy theatres and the construction of playhouses in the same era. “Demand from an educated and literary elite to see regular public anatomy demonstrations as entertainment outstripped supply [of cadavers] well into the seventeenth century”, he has argued, “and it was precisely such members of the new ‘intellectual classes’ who were increasingly becoming the audiences of London’s club-like indoor hall theatres”. (Christian Billing, “Modelling the anatomy theatre and the indoor hall theatre: Dissection on the stages of early modern London”, Early Modern Literary Studies Issue 13 [April 2004] pp. 1-17).  He has pointed to Jones’ plans for the Barber Surgeon’s Hall of 1636 as an early indicator that the drawings found at Worcester College were by Jones himself.  He sees close parallels between cockpit design such as that at the Cockpit-in-Court and anatomy theatre layout.  These parallels, he has argued, are also visible in the Worcester College drawings.

Plans for the Barber Surgeon's Hall by Inigo Jones, 1636.

Plans for the Barber Surgeon’s Hall by Inigo Jones, 1636.

A cross section of Inigo Jones' Barber Surgeon's Hall.

A cross section of Inigo Jones’ Barber Surgeon’s Hall.

One major factor affecting the construction of theatres in the early seventeenth century was the restriction placed on new buildings abutting the King’s Highway. The broad thrust of most Jacobean building legislation was two-fold: to control overcrowding by prohibiting new building, and to reduce risk of fire by permitting only stone and brick building.  The practical effect was to severely limit the construction of new buildings large enough to house a theatre and, unless a history of public entertainment could be demonstrated on the site, opportunities to build a new theatre was very limited. Legislation did, however, allow the extension of existing buildings by one third and this, Billing argued, is what made cockpits so important to theatre design.

The then director of the King’s Men and Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Christopher Beeston, leased lands in Dury Lane in 1616 including Best’s Cockpit with the intention of building a new theatre to supplement Blackfriars in this newly fashionable area. Beeston could not simply demolish Best’s cockpit and construct a larger, rectangular, purpose built hall theatre on this attractive site, for the regulations prohibited this.  Billing has thus argued that Beeston simply retained the shape of Best’s circular cockpit and augmented it with a squared-off extension to contain further seating, creating a U-shaped playhouse.  This echoed the work of Iain Mackintosh (Iain Macintosh, “Inigo Jones–Theatre Architect”, TABS 31 [1973], pp. 101-4) and John Orrell (John Orrell, The Theatres of Inigo Jones and John Webb [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985]) who had both argued that the Worcester drawings must be plans for Beetson’s Cockpit (later Phoenix) Theatre.

This argument was based on predominantly circumstantial evidence: the internal dimensions of the round part matched those of a cockpit; the width of the space between the vertical sides of the stage end corresponds with John Webb’s design for the proscenium arch for Sir William Davenant’s opera The Siege of Rhodes, transferred to the Drury Lane Cockpit in late 1657; and the square shape of the opening of the stage end corresponds with the square proportions of Inigo Jones’s sketch at Chatsworth for a perspective stage set framed by an arch-headed proscenium arch, inscribed by Jones, ‘for ye cokpitt for my ld. Chambralin / 1639′”.  However, taking this evidence along with John Harris’ authoritative dating of the drawings to 1616-1618, Wanamaker and Crosby believed they had found the perfect archetype for the indoor playhouse at the Globe site which was linked to Shakespeare’s company, dating to the early part of the seventeenth century and which contained many of the architectural elements known to have been present in Blackfriars’ Theatre, its supposed sister establishment.

The plans for the new Globe site thus incorporated what was deemed the “Inigo Jones Theatre”, a small brick building by Theo Crosby based loosely on Jones’ Worcester Drawings (the vermiculated rustication around the door, buttresses and upper windows are directly copied from the drawings) .  When the Globe itself opened in 1997, the completed brick structure was left internally incomplete, being divided up for education and office use until funds could be found to build the interior.

The Inigo Jones Theatre exterior built 1997

The Inigo Jones Theatre exterior built 1997

By the time thoughts turned to completing the theatre in 2009, disaster had struck.  In a lecture given at the Globe on 13th February 2005, Gordon Higgott, a leading expert on the Worcester College drawings, drew upon strong evidence to demonstrate that the Worcester drawings were in fact by Jones’ protégé, John Webb and dated not to 1616-1618 but rather to after the Restoration in 1660. (Gordon Higgott, “Reassessing the Drawings for the Inigo Jones Theatre: a Restoration project by John Webb?”, Paper Based on a Lecture Given at a Conference at Shakespeare’s Globe, 13th February 2005)  He demonstrated that the drawings were close in appearance and form to one of a Buttery or Brew House at Lothbury in Worcester College which he had argued was not in the hand of Jones and which was dated to 1638. “The Worcester College playhouse drawings compare very closely with this design”, he argued, “in their washed shading technique and in their style of pen drawing. The shading of the roof is identical, and the cartouche over the central door of the frons scenae is drawn in exactly the same way. The drawings must be by Webb, not Jones. One detail that confirms Webb’s authorship is the handling of the figures in the niches. They are too feebly drawn to be by Jones”.  He has argued that the drawings most closely match the work of Webb after 1640, but that

“the drawings are unlikely to date to the years immediately following the closure of London theatres in 1648, so we must consider the possibilities shortly before or soon after the Restoration in 1660, when Webb was petitioning King Charles II for the post of Surveyor of the King’s Works, and when Davenant…was urgently seeking to establish his own theatre company and build a new playhouse for plays and the new scenic drama he had pioneered at Rutland House”.

On this evidence, he placed the unidentified indoor playhouse drawings at the beginning of the Restoration period in 1660, before scenic dramatic had become established practice.

The paper was followed by a damning lecture given in 2009 by Claire van Kampen and Karim Cooper, The Principles of Authenticity, which argued that the original plan for the Inigo Jones Theatre clashed both with the Globe’s ethos of authenticity and Wanamaker’s overarching mission.  Initial thinking was that the IJT should be demolished and a new hall theatre built instead based on the plan of surviving Medieval halls such as that in Middle Temple giving a closer approximation to Blackfriars.  In the end, this plan proved too expensive and thus the decision was taken to use the Worcester drawings as the basis for a new theatre which would incorporate an amalgam of definitively Jacobean features in order not to replicate a particular historic theatre but rather to build an archetype.  When the theatre architect Jon Greenfield examined the Worcester College plans, he found that they may not have been straightforward plans for the building of a particular theatre. Many aspects did not line up and some features appear in one drawing and not on another.  He theorised that they were instead a pitch for a commission drawn up by Webb in the early months of the Restoration which incorporated a plan rooted in the previous generation but which included Restoration period decoration.  Blackfriars, he argued, in all probability “ghosted” this plan and its essential elements were retained.  Following extensive researches into seventeenth century playhouses, work began in 2013.  At the request of one of the major donors to the project, its name was changed to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in honour of the man who had inspired the project and fought for its realisation.

The empty shell of the Inigo Jones Theatre, now diplomatically renamed "Indoor Jacobean Theatre" in 2012.

The empty shell of the Inigo Jones Theatre, now diplomatically renamed “Indoor Jacobean Theatre” in 2012.

The new plans incorporated two oak panelled galleries supported on slender turned columns of green oak.  The work is based on grand houses of the period, particularly Chilham Castle in Kent with its elaborate, balustered gallery-like landings and turned columns.  The columns of the Playhouse, Doric in the lower gallery and Ionic in the upper, are based on those at Clilham and, as the architect intended, do not reflect strict Classical proportion but rather “the right kind of wrongness” which identified this particular Jacobean style.

The staircase at Chilham Castle, Kent (completed 1616) upon which the galleries are based.

The staircase at Chilham Castle, Kent upon which the galleries are based.

An ionic Capital based on those at Chilham

An ionic Capital based on those at Chilham

Designs for the Galleries

Designs for the Galleries

Evidence suggests that painted decoration in theatres was limited during this period to the frons scenae and the ceiling, so the decision was taken to paint only these at the SWP, the frons scenae in dramatic shades of black and gilt and the ceiling with a dramatic gold leafed representation of Luna surrounded by celestial orbs and cherubs.  The latter was based on a Renaissance ceiling at Cullen House, Moray in Scotland which was destroyed by fire in 1986.

Design for the fons scenae

Design for the frons scenae

The Celestial Roof

The Celestial Roof

Cullen House 16th Century tempura painted ceiling (detail of Mercury).

Cullen House 16th Century tempura painted ceiling (detail of Mercury).

The audience sit on three sides of a thrust stage (unless, like me, you find yourself atop the frons scenae itself) with the musicians gallery above and behind.  In the Pit, the audience sits facing each other at right angles to the stage in the front row as shown in drawings of other Jacobean theatres. Most of the construction of the oak interior was carried out off site with the completed galleries being constructed in sections and then fitted to the interior.

Plan of the interior as completed in 2014.

Plan of the interior as completed in 2014.

The galleries being constructed off site here are checked for sight lines and seating plans.

The galleries being constructed off site here are checked for sight lines and seating plans.

As completed and opened in early 2014, its most important element is the layout – the proximities of performers and audience, the flat stage embraced by galleries, and the absence of fly-towers or wings, which require the audience to conjure a scene not from scenery but from words and a few props.

So much for the construction history of this very special building.  What of the experience?  As stated, I had arrived at the building with some expectation, but all of this was to be surpassed.  I had in the past been somewhat critical of the approach taken to the new entrance lobby.  Crosby’s plan for the Globe site envisaged a series of buildings constructed in varying styles and inspired by differing periods, thus creating the illusion that the original Globe had survived and been surrounded by buildings which had been developed and redeveloped over 500 years. Perhaps something an affectation, this approach has been abandoned in the cool minimalism of the vast, glass and metal expanse of the lobby which connects the Globe to the SWP with a series of cafe and retail spaces.

The new Entrance Lobby connecting Globe to SWP (2014)

The new Entrance Lobby connecting Globe to SWP (2014)

It is true that this form of minimalism has become ubiquitous to the point of nausea, but for the SWP it serves an important purpose.  The visitor is lulled into a sense of safe familiarity which makes entrance into the Playhouse itself seem like plunging into another world of dark decadence.  The time travelling aspirations of Wanamaker are thus fully realised as one feels as though one is piercing the veil of another epoch by merely walking the few yards between Lobby and Playhouse.

As stated, I was extremely apprehensive about the restricted aspect of viewing from my seat in the Musician’s Gallery above the frons scenae.  The practicalities of sitting there are somewhat taxing.  One must arrive 20 minutes early and make one’s presence known to the staff so that an escort may be found to the inner recesses of the Playhouse.  No food or drink can be consumed there and one may not leave during the several intermissions interspersed throughout the play to allow candles to be trimmed.  However, my apprehensions soon dispersed as I was marched smartly along the whitewashed corridor outside the upper gallery.  Through openings in the wall, I saw tantalising glimpses of the playhouse itself which, even its unlit darkened state, flickered with gilt and emitted a heavy aroma of beeswax, festive greenery and wood.  On arriving at the Musician’s Gallery, I became immediately aware of the intimate nature of this space.  I was literally sitting right in the middle of a collection of musicians with all manner of weird and wonderful period instruments wearing the most bizarre costumes imaginable.

Getting up close with the musicians in the Gallery.

Getting up close with the musicians in the Gallery.

On taking my seat, far from being disappointed with my view, I was overwhelmed with its clarity.  In a conventional theatre, a seat in this position would place the viewer directly behind the actors who would spend the majority of their time facing away.  The nature of the SWP and its three-quarters in the round layout however means that the action is invariably delivered by the actors in the round and thus the Musician’s Gallery seats are some of the best in the house, missing only the exits and entrances directly below through the frons scenae.  I for one was certainly very glad to have spent only £15 for this view knowing that the lady six inches to my left in the Upper Gallery had paid over £50 for hers.

sam wanamaker playhouse interior

The experience of entering the theatre is overwhelming. The space is at once immediately startlingly beautiful and tantalisingly unsettling. In the absence of stage action, the audience find themselves considering their companions and the excited chatter of the public becomes as much part of the experience as the play. The air was heavy with the festive aroma of swags of greenery placed around the upper gallery for Christmas and the situation was made all the more strange by the sudden outburst of Jacobean Christmas music played on hautboys directly behind me.  The lighting of this theatre is one of its most potently seductive tools.  The theatre is lit entirely by beeswax candles placed in chandeliers suspended around the theatre and on clouded-mirrored sconces around its walls.  The effect of warm candlelight reflected on wood, paint and gilt is astonishing, giving a Baroque, church like feel to surroundings.  In the lighting of these chandeliers, the veil between reality and illusion is again pierced as players themselves proceed to light the candles with raucous merriment.

The lighting of the candles.

The lighting of the candles.

It is this strange interplay of authenticity and illusion, the real and the unreal which lies at the heart of the success of this building and which makes it the only platform which makes the hysterical Pythonesque if not truly post modern raucous romp that is The Knight of the Burning Pestle comprehensible to the modern audience. The play is astonishing in the radicalism of its conception and construction: a satire on the social fluidity of Jacobean London, with the rising middle class, it imagines the staging of a typical high romantic production that is rudely interrupted from the audience by a grocer and his wife (played with great gusto by Pauline McLynn and Phil Daniels) who insist that their grinning apprentice take a leading role. The “improvised” am-dram adventure demanded by the citizens collides with and serves to mangle the “rehearsed” romantic intrigue and all of it is subject to the whimsical interruptions of the apprentice’s proud masters, who munch sweets and raise the anger levels with their prattle.  Throughout the play, there is heavy reliance on the blurring of reality and illusion and of audience and player in a manner not unlike that used by the architects of the playhouse itself.  The “citizens” form part of the audience; yet dressed in their Jacobean finery are significantly “other”.  The players actively (and rowdily) interact with the audience and with the citizens and much of the serious action of both the romantic play and indeed its am-dram interloper are lost in the raucous rowdiness of both citizens and audience. In this theatre, the almost sacral altar rail which has developed between silent worshiping acolyte in the audience and player is entirely and dramatically erased and in doing so, has produced the perfect vehicle in which to present The Knight in all its glorious rowdy hilarity and so re-contextualise it within a space as necessary to comprehension of the play as the actors themselves.

The overall effect, bombarding every sense of  sight, sound, smell and touch, is viscerally compelling in a way which would be entirely lost in a modern minimalist theatre. In the same way that attending a modern play staged in a minimalist manner in a high Victorian theatre of Frank Matcham can seem like gazing from a world of gilded belle époque decadence into a black hole, staging The Knight in a brutalist building will merely serve to strip it of its most fundamental element.  The players use the architecture of the SWP as a silent headline actor: they spring from its galleries, are suspended from its ceilings, dance around its pillars, cavort over its balconies, blunder through its rows of benches and throw open its shutters.  The candlelight serves to both illuminate and add further intensity to the drama, during one scene, shocking in its genuine pathos, bringing a sense of intensity and tragedy to the character of Luce, weeping bereft over the supposed coffin of her lover.  Changes in atmosphere are achieved with startling intensity by merely rising or lowering the chandeliers.

The sense of drama in the space is much heightened with the use of candles suspended from chandeliers which rise and lower in order to bring intensity or drama to  a scene.  Here this is used in Francesco Cavalli's opera L'Ormindo.

The sense of drama in the space is much heightened with the use of candles suspended from chandeliers which rise and lower in order to bring intensity or drama to a scene. Here this is used in Francesco Cavalli’s opera L’Ormindo.

In this radical, postmodern aspect of the theatre lies its greatest success.  Despite its strange hybrid of the authentic and the affected, it inherently works as a means of reconnecting these works of literature to their true context.  In this, the SWP is indeed radical and postmodern and entirely fulfils the vision of its creator in the fullest possible way.

Three hours spent in this truly astonishing space proved, far from being a penance, far too brief a period in which to fully appreciate its many complex and deliciously compelling delights.


“The Crowning Glory of Modern Armagh”: St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh. Part I: The Cathedral of JJ McCarthy 1835-1873

In making the first posting to this blog in which it is my intention to share some of the more interesting and infamous aspects of my researches and interests, it seems only appropriate that I should go back to foundational basics and the one building which I can safely say first inspired my passion for architectural history.  Few buildings indeed can have been imbued with such iconographic and symbolic importance as the Catholic Cathedral of Armagh and few can have had such a difficult albeit fascinating architectural history filled both with great triumph and desolate despair.  The Cathedral was intended to be the nexus and apotheosis of the post-emancipation resurgence of the Irish Catholic Church and in every inch of its site and every stone of its construction, a potent symbolic and iconographic message about the place of that church in Ireland can be discerned.

Steel engraving of 1837 showing the dominance of the Protestant Armagh Cathedral in the city prior to the construction of the Catholic Cathedral.

Steel engraving of 1837 showing the dominance of the Protestant Armagh Cathedral in the city prior to the construction of the Catholic Cathedral.

“FULL of fascinating suggestion to the traveller is the first glimpse of the old Cathedral City of Armagh, most ancient and distinguished of all Ireland’s Schools of learning, the throne of Kings and Queens in her golden age, the tomb of warriors, and of saints, whose names ‘so long as sea girdeth this isle, Shall bring in splendour o’er it like the stars of God’”. So runs the introduction to the “Guide to St. Patrick’s Cathedral Armagh, Historical and Descriptive” printed to mark the solemn rededication of the Cathedral in 1904.

The building of a Cathedral at Armagh was a task imbued with great historic and political symbolism. Armagh was the Primatial seat of Ireland and its ancient ecclesiastical capital where St Patrick had established his Great Church. This building, as Dr Healy, Bishop of Tuam pointed out in his Sermon delivered at the Solemn Rededication of the Cathedral on 24th July 1904, “had been often destroyed accidentally or deliberately and as often restored.  It was often profaned and pillaged and used as a barracks or a fortress by the victors”.  In total, it had been destroyed and rebuilt 17 times. Since the Reformation, the ramshackle remnants of the cathedral as last reconstructed following a disastrous fire of 1511 had been in the hands of the Established Church. In 1834, a full-scale heavy-handed restoration of the building directed by Lewis Nockalls Cottingham was begun which resulted in a building more closely resembling a middle-sized English parish church than an Irish Cathedral.

St Patrick's (CoI) Cathedral, Armagh as restored by Cottingham 1834-1840.

St Patrick’s (CoI) Cathedral, Armagh as restored by Cottingham 1834-1840.

The Catholic church was at this time beginning a feverish period of church building as its position was for the first time since the sixteenth century in the ascendant.  For well over two centuries, the majority Catholic population of Ireland had lived under the rigours of the Penal Laws, a series of enactments which were designed, in the words of the Anglo-Irish historian Lecky, “to deprive Catholics of all civil life; to reduce them to a condition of extreme, brutal ignorance; and, to disassociate them from the soil”. As a result, whilst to some extent tolerated, the public practice of Catholicism was almost completely extinguished and all Churches existent at the time of the enactment of the laws were ceded to the Established Church. Thus, by the end of the Eighteenth Century, there were few Catholic Churches and no Cathedrals in existence in Ireland for a large Catholic population. Following Catholic emancipation in 1829, it soon became clear to the Irish clergy that they could propagandise the re-emergence of Irish Catholicism in the form and scale of the churches they constructed to serve this population.  Irish Catholic Churches were not only to be spaces for the worship of God but also everlasting beacons of light representing the triumph of the Church over its opponents. It was thus that the physical construction of “Catholic Ireland” in the first half of the nineteenth century was to be more than a mere matter of architectural taste. The enterprise was one which would define the very essence of the Faith in Ireland. Dr Bartholomew Thomas Russell wrote in 1839, that Catholics “ought to recollect that at this present time, their religion should be marked by all the accessions calculated to render its solemnities more imposing and more attractive”, whilst the Dublin Review was even more dogmatic exhorting Catholics to “have nothing that can be mistaken for a dissenter’s meeting-house…but let all our churches be so constructed, that no Catholic may pass them without an act of reverence, and no Protestant without a look of admiration”.  No building constructed during this period more perfectly fulfilled this role than the Cathedral at Armagh.

The lack of a Catholic National Cathedral at Armagh was the subject of much disgruntlement on the part both of the Catholic clergy and those of its flock with a Nationalistic leaning. It was true that the position of Armagh as a metropolitan city had been entirely eclipsed and that a Pro Cathedral had been established at Dundalk, but the symbolic importance of seeing the Catholic Primatial See restored to the Seat of St Patrick was of acute import to Catholics as a potent symbol of their new dominance.  In 1835, the sole place of Catholic worship in the Primatial city was St Malachy’s chapel, a building described in the early nineteenth century as “a wretched structure, first built in 1750, in an enclosure off Chapel Lane, and enlarged in the first years of the present century”.

St. Malachy's Chapel, Chapel Lane, sole site of Catholic worship in Armagh in 1835 photographed just before its demolition in 1936.

St. Malachy’s Chapel, Chapel Lane, sole site of Catholic worship in Armagh in 1835 photographed just before its demolition in 1936.

The main difficulty in Armagh was that the ground of Armagh city and suburbs consisted almost entirely of “see-land”,  the mensal estate or demesne of the Protestant Primate. For almost three hundred years since the reign of Mary I, a Catholic Bishop dared not approach within three miles of, much less reside at, Armagh.  A dramatic site at the apex of a hill on the outskirts of the town had been however sold to the Earl of Dartrey. A lease of this land was negotiated by the enthusiastic Archbishop Crolly.  No sooner had he announced his intent to site his Cathedral on the hill than the Church’s propaganda machine began to mythologise the site in order to ensure the legitimacy of the new Cathedral as equal in stature to the Protestant edifice across the city.  The Book of Armagh, written in about A.D. 800 had set out the circumstances of the foundation of the Great Church of St Patrick.  The Book tells of how Patrick had secured land from the Pagan King Daire of Armagh upon which to build his church. During the solemn consecration of the land, a doe and her fawn sprang into the crowd.  The doe ran northward away to another prominence in the city whilst her fawn remained at the head of the throng.  The King’s attendants wished to kill the fawn, but Patrick, in demonstration of the compassion of Christ, took the animal up in his arms decreeing that this was to be the place of the High Altar before returning the fawn to its mother in the thicket of a nearby hill.  This latter hill, the Church declared, was the very site for the new Cathedral.  This site was, according to Archbishop Crolly, “divinely chosen”. In its terms, the myth lent further legitimacy to the Catholic project by the very potently suggestive imagery of the wayward fawn, once lost and in mortal danger, being returned to its true mother on the site of the new Cathedral. The site of the Protestant Cathedral was thus cast as a memorial to fear and uncertainty whilst that of the new Cathedral was characterised by safety and righteousness. The message could not have been clearer: Christianity in Ireland had come home on the site of the Catholic Cathedral.

Following his completion of large Catholic churches at Newry and Dundalk, Thomas Duff of Newry was the natural choice as architect for the new Cathedral.

St. Patrick's Church, Dundalk, as completed between 1835 and 1847 as a romanticised version of the Chapel of King's College, Cambridge and without the later tower of 1903 which compromised this precedent.

St. Patrick’s Church, Dundalk, as completed by Thomas Duff between 1835 and 1847. It was intended to be a romanticised version of the Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge and is shown without Ashlin & Coleman’s later tower of 1903 which greatly compromised its relation to this precedent.

He designed “a cruciform building of splendid dimensions, with nave, aisles, trancepts, chancel, and choir; a large square central tower, and two smaller ones on the west front flanking the great doorway, and flush with the aisle walls, the general lines reminding one rather strongly of York Minster”. As at Dundalk, the style was a highly romanticised and markedly un-historicist  version of the Perpendicular Gothic of the sixteenth century. The foundation stone was laid on St Patrick’s day 1838 but work ground to a halt in 1847 as a result of the Irish famine.

St Patrick's Cathedral, Armagh as originally designed by Thomas Duff

St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh as originally designed by Thomas Duff

The enthusiastic Archbishop Crolly was himself a victim of the famine, contracting cholera whilst visiting famine victims in Drogheda in 1849 and was replaced with Archbishop Cullen who turned his back on Armagh and settled the Primatial See at Drogheda. The foundations of the new Cathedral were abandoned for over five years until, as the Guide of 1904 states,  “the faithful Catholics of Armagh began to fear their great undertaking was about to degenerate into that saddest monument of blasted hopes, an unfinished ruin”.  It was only when Cullen was translated to Dublin and Archbishop Dixon was appointed to the See of Armagh that work recommenced in 1854.  On Easter Sunday 1854, “Resumption Sunday”, Archbishop Dixon ordered that a tarpaulin be stretched across the top of Duff’s unfinished walls to shelter a densely packed congregation who were to hear the first Mass celebrated on the site.  A “Charity Sermon” was given extolling the congregation to provide funds with which to complete “the Great Work” against the sounds of a battering gale which stirred up and tore the tarpaulin asunder, leaving the luckless congregation open to the elements. As the 1904 Guide states, “collectors sent home from time to time handsome sums gathered in far off Montreal and Quebec, New York and Brooklyn, Halifax, St. John’s, and many another friendly spot in the great Western land, and last of all projects of the popular Primate, a grand Bazaar, in those days, a comparatively rare event, was organised” in 1865. “The First Bazaar” of 1865 was exceptional not only for its material success (over £7,000 was raised) but also for the unique character of some of the prizes. From the Vatican, the present of Pius IX, came a beautiful ivory carving of Raphael’s “Madonna di Foligno”. The Emperor of Austria sent two vases, and a table of rare inlaid work specially designed for the occasion; while Napoleon III chose form the Tulleries’ state-rooms two magnificent vases of old Sevrés, “since valued by an expert” so tells the 1904 Guide “at fifteen hundred francs”.  Again the source of the prizes is revealing.  Catholic Europe seemed to be rallying to the call of the resurgence of their faithful brethren in Ireland and, not for the first or indeed last time, the Armagh project was cast as one of not merely national but international significance to the Catholic church.

By this time Thomas Duff was dead and the Dublin architect JJ McCarthy had been charged with the task of completing the Cathedral.  Born in obscure and rather humble circumstances in Dublin in 1817, McCarthy attended the Architecture Schools of the Royal Dublin Society and was apprenticed to William Farrell, architect to the Board of First Fruits in the Ecclesiastical Province of Armagh.  Described by “The Tablet” as a “friend and fellow labourer” of Pugin, McCarthy was an ecclesiologist at heart but a realist in outlook. Whilst greatly influenced by the work of Pugin with whom he was in correspondence for some years before the latter’s death, McCarthy had seen the failure of Pugin’s frantic attempts to evangelise the Irish Catholic clergy in the cause of the purest form of the ecclesiologist Gothic revival mainly as a result of Pugin’s caustic personality, dismissive nature and refusal to compromise to the needs of his ecclesiastical patrons. McCarthy was intuitive enough to realise that no amount of evangelising on the merits of the Rood Screen or Sarum Rite could undo the indoctrination of the Continental European priestly education most of the Irish clergy had received prior to Emancipation.  McCarthy was thus more open to architectural compromise and more willing to accept the wishes of his priestly patrons than Pugin who had despaired of Ireland and indignantly declared that “I see no progress of ecclesiastical ideas in Ireland…It is quite useless to attempt to build true churches, for the clergy have not the least idea of using them properly”.

Thus, when McCarthy came to state the case for his species of Ecclesiology in 1851, he was careful to avoid the dogmatic language and dramatic exhortations of Pugin. In his Suggestions on the Arrangement and Characteristics of Parish Churches, McCarthy the Ecclesiologist meets McCarthy the practical realist. This paper owes a great deal to the works of Pugin and in particular his contemporaneous Some Remarks Relative to Ecclesiastical Architecture and Decoration (1850). However, where the uncompromising views and unbending belief of Pugin had proved to be his undoing in Ireland, McCarthy adopts a much less stringent approach.

There can be no doubt from the tenor of the paper that McCarthy was an ardent Ecclesiologist and Mediaevalist in spirit but it is also clear that he appreciated the relevance and to some extent the correctness of other points of view. He recommends the use of the Rood Screen as a means of creating a “proper” division between nave and chancel but goes on to say that it should be “of construction so light that it will not prevent the faithful seeing satisfactorily the ceremonies in the chancel”, clearly showing his appreciation of how deeply ingrained the visualist rituals of the Baroque were in Ireland. Indeed, whilst Pugin had by this time shamelessly disowned all of his earlier works based on precedents outside of the English Decorated Gothic of the fourteenth century, in the matter of style, McCarthy wished to appear to be rather more pliant. Unlike the rubrics for the form of church architecture, “the reasons and arguments for the [the choice of architectural style] are”, he reasoned, “of a purely artistic and philosophical nature”. Mediaeval revivalists, he believed, had been wrongly “charged with the folly and profanity of urging them as essentials of religion”. Given Pugin’s attitude towards the “true principles” of Mediaevalism, it is perhaps not surprising that this was a generally held criticism of the Ecclesiological movement. It was patently one which McCarthy wished to distance himself from. Thus, he claims that in Ireland, Ecclesiologists will “respect the Basilica, and see in it a reality and fitness for its era; they admire it various offshoots and successors—Byzantine, Romanesque, Lombardic, and the rest. They venerate the mosaics and sculptures of the Catacombs, as they admire and would imitate the frescoes of Angelico, and the sculptures of Ghiberti. They only wage war against the vain attempts to make Pagan temples suitable for Christian worship”. One can never imagine such a sentiment issuing from the pen of Pugin.

Whilst the piece does conclude with a very practical defence of the Gothic style as “the only style that can be adopted [for use in Catholic ritual] without the perpetration of numberless artistic solecisms”, it is clear that McCarthy had a deep understanding of the artistic and religious climate in Catholic Ireland and a clear wish not to step on the toes of his potential clerical patrons. In this, he was infinitely more astute than Pugin, but it was this very pliancy that would eventually prove to be his undoing and arguably the principal reason why Pugin is today revered even in Ireland as the master of Gothic whilst McCarthy is all but forgotten.

The position as architect to the new Cathedral was rather a difficult one for, by the time of McCarthy’s appointment, the walls of Duff’s Perpendicular fantasy were already 34 feet high and had reached the top of the aisles. Whilst McCarthy had often shown himself willing to compromise his principles to suit the requirements of his patrons, he was not however prepared to abandon them altogether at this point and oversee the construction of what he viewed as an inherently flawed design. His solution was as masterful as it was radical. He simply began building a Decorated Gothic Cathedral of the fourteenth century on top of the purportedly sixteenth century foundations and walls. Decorated Gothic tracery was inserted into the existing window openings and at the West end, he reduced the size of the traceried window and inserted below it an arcade of apostolic statues (a device for which he was later to become synonymous).


Duff’s Perpendicular design is still clearly discernible in the West Front of the Cathedral at ground floor level where the Perpendicular hooded doors and blind tracery decoration on the walls can be seen. However, McCarthy’s influence is clearly stamped on the arcade of niches and Decorated Gothic tracery inserted in the otherwise Perpendicular windows.

The pitch of Duff’s roof was raised a full 20 feet, adding greatly to the exterior impact of the building and permitting the insertion of clerestory and triforium to the interior. A sense of drama was added to the trancepts by the addition of asymerical spired turrets to their ends and the addition of rose windows to their gables.

The North Transept of the Cathedral showing the asymmetry and increased height added by McCarthy to Duff's plans.

The North Transept of the Cathedral showing the asymmetry and increased height added by McCarthy to Duff’s plans.

Work continued apace and by 1866, the body of the Cathedral was substantially complete and the towers had risen to their full height requiring only the construction of spires for their completion.  With news that the First Vatican Council was to be summoned in 1870, Archbishop Dixon began to dream of making a grandiose political statement as to the position of Irish Catholics by planning the most elaborate Dedication for the new building. “Visions rose before him” we are told in the 1904 Guide, “of a princely train of Archbishops and Bishops who might make Ireland, and Armagh, a resting-place on their Romeward journey. Old Catholic France and Spain, he knew, held many a warm friend of Ireland, and in the broad new vineyards of the Lord in America and Australia were many Prelates at once his countrymen and his personal friends. All these he pictured to himself gathered, with the Hierarchy of the old land itself, around the successor of Saint Patrick, on the solemn Dedication Day of his Cathedral ‘the greatest day’ he would repeat, ‘ever witnessed in Armagh since the funeral of Brian Boru'”.  The symbolic importance of this vision was manyfold: Irish Cathoics had since the implementation of the Penal Laws looked to Continental Europe for the education of their clergy and as a safe harbour for the more distinguished of their number.  Since the Flight of the Earls and the exile of the Stuart Court, Ireland’s links with the Spanish and French Catholic Churches were strong.  These “wild geese” were symbolically and literally coming home to Armagh.  The move would also have cemented the position of Armagh as the anchor for the Irish diaspora which had devastated the Irish population during the Famine of the 1840’s.  Armagh was to be the primal See not only of Ireland but of all Irish clergy across the globe.  The symbolic messages of legitimacy, strength and importance could not have been stronger.  Reference to Brian Boru, the last High King of and independent Ireland, made direct appeal to the Nationalistic faithful and placed the Catholic Church as the pivotal heart of Irish national identity and statehood.

Alas, Dixon’s plans were not to be as the Primate died in 1866 and was succeeded by the elderly Archbishop Kieran who had no stomach for the final Herculean task of completing the building.  Once again, the See was shifted to Dundalk and the new Cathedral abandoned.  It was not until 1870 with the translation of Archbishop McGettigan from Raphoe that work recommenced in earnest. He oversaw the most dramatic change effected to Duff’s plans when the three rather squat towers designed by Duff to reach a height of 128 feet were abandoned and, instead, two magisterial breached towers crowned with spires 210 feet high were constructed at the West end. Only the densely clustered columns at the crossing remain as testament to Duff’s crossing tower which was never built.

McCarthy's twin spires constrcuted from 1870.

McCarthy’s twin spires constrcuted from 1870.

Tightly cusped and densely clustered Perpendicular columns at the crossing are one of the few remaining indications of Duff's plans for the Cathedral interior and its crossing tower.

Tightly cusped and densely clustered Perpendicular columns at the crossing are one of the few remaining indications of Duff’s plans for the Cathedral interior and its crossing tower.

There can be no doubt that the complex architecture of Armagh is a conceit and at times an ungainly one at that. As Craig commented “the spectator must support the absurdity of ‘fourteenth-century’ works standing on top of ‘sixteenth century’”.  Its towers, upon inspection appear rather too clumsy and over-butressed, its spires rather too angular and significantly too short.  In massing, the building as a whole completely lacks the lightness and elegance of its apparent Medieval precedents and appears, especially when viewed from the east end, clumpy and squat.  Its hints towards ecclesiological correctitude seem to be lost in a building which is unmistakably nineteenth century and which is all too prim and tidy, too austere in decoration and significantly too heavy in massing. But as a set piece designed to fashion the identity of the resurgent Catholic church, the exterior is McCarthy’s greatest success. Soaring majestically on the top of an exposed hill and visible from all parts of the town, no building could better express the self-confidence, wealth, power, piety and vigour of the church which commissioned it, especially when it manages to outshine its Protestant neighbour so dramatically. As the Guide of 1905 glows, “the dark pile of the old Cathedral nestling in its close setting of terraced roofs, may stir up memories of unity of faith; but more conspicuous far, in its combination of size and grace, is the beautiful Catholic Cathedral” which managed to out soar its predecessor in overblown magnificence. As a piece of pure propaganda, McCarthy had designed his “perfect Cheadle” at Armagh.

A modern view showing the dominance of the Catholci Cathedral in the Armagh skyline.

A modern view showing the dominance of the Catholic Cathedral in the Armagh skyline.

Furthermore, it is easily arguable that the true genius of McCarthy’s adaptation of Duff’s Cathedral was not the rather awkward compromise so clearly ascertainable in the architecture of the exterior but rather the magnificence of the space he created in the interior completed under Archbishop McGettigan after 1871.

To capitalise on the increased height gained at the expense of external massing, McCarthy constructed an elaborately carved vaulted hammer-beam roof (perhaps his greatest work at Armagh) with carved angels terminating the hammer beams and stone saints as corbels.

The interior of the Cathedral looking West from the crossing as completed by McCarthy showing his hammer beam roof.

The interior of the Cathedral looking West from the crossing as completed by McCarthy showing his hammer beam roof.

He designed a Caen stone reredos which spans the entire wall of the east end and which is filled with carvings from the life of the Virgin below an arcade of carved and crocketted pinnacles and centered with a carved canopy over a statue of the Madonna and Child.  Archbishop McGettigan commissioned painted murals to adorn the walls of the Lady Chapel and stencilling was applied to its ceiling.

The interior of the Cathedral as completed by McCarthy looking East towards his Caen stone lady chapel reredos of 1871.

The interior of the Cathedral as completed by McCarthy looking East towards his Caen stone lady chapel reredos of 1871. Photographed after the first phase of interior decoration of 1879.

McCarthy's Lady Chapel Reredos.  The lower portion was greatly altered by Ashlin & Coleman in 1904 when an elaborate marble altar was added which was then itself removed in 1982.

McCarthy’s Lady Chapel Reredos. The lower portion was greatly altered by Ashlin & Coleman in 1904 when an elaborate marble altar was added which was then itself removed in 1982.

In the Spring of 1873 Archbishop McGettigan was at last able to make his great announcement – the Cathedral was ready and Sunday the 24th of August was the day fixed for its solemn Dedication. 20,000 people turned up to witness the spectacle.  The interior McCarthy had presented to them was both magisterial and awe-inspiring.  He had decorated the soaring interior in a spartan but ecclesiologically correct manner.  With the exception of his huge reredos, there was little carved decoration and the walls and ceilings had been decorated with Pugin-inspired stencilled decoration.

The south transept as completed by McCarthy showing the temporary sacristy behind a wooden screen and the "Puginesque" historicist stencilled decoration to the walls which was later covered in mosaic.

The south transept as completed by McCarthy showing the temporary sacristy behind a wooden screen and the “Puginesque” historicist stencilled decoration to the walls which was later covered in mosaic. Photographed after the first phase of stained glass installation in 1879-1880.

McCarthy placed his High Altar at the crossing and railed the sanctuary space with wooden Decorated gothic rails.  A Caen stone pulpit of rather plain but dignified design was constructed at the pillar of the crossing and the south transept and a wooden Cathedra was constructed for the enthronement of the Archbishop.

The Crossing as completed by McCarthy with Caen stone pulpit.

The Crossing as completed by McCarthy with Caen stone pulpit photographed before the fitting of the Great East window in 1879.

But for all its magisterial grandeur, it was clear that several temporary compromises had been adopted.  The sacristy was concealed behind a wooden screen which closed off the south transept and the baptismal font was unhappily squeezed behind railings in a cramped enclosure at the westernmost nave pillar. Furthermore, the Cathedral lacked stained glass (though the Great East window arrived from Mayer’s of Munich in late 1879), side altars, stations of the cross or any form of carved decoration and its floors remained earthen.

The original temporary siting of the baptismal font.

The original temporary siting of the baptismal font.

Whilst it is thus clear that McCarthy intended further works to be carried out at the Cathedral as future funds allowed, he could never have begun to guess at the extent of the enrichment of the interior which was to commence under Cardinal Logue in 1904.  By then, the Catholic Church was firmly established and its faithful had greatly increased in social standing, international recognition and wealth.  The Cathedral interior they decided to create to iconographically represent this unprecedented social ascent was as unexpected as it was lavish.  The most extraordinary, unprecedented and lavish architectural statement was yet to come…and will be covered in Part II of this blog.