Manchester Cathedral – the modest rise of the Great Churches

Continuing my theme of Abbeys and Cathedrals…

Birmingham Cathedral – Glass by Burne Jones

As the population of England grew throughout the industrial age, more and more people flocked into urban areas. The Church of England in response needed more dioceses and bishops and in turn more cathedrals  to cater for the rising population. Also to counter the popularity of non-conformist chapels and new Catholics as laws against them were relaxed. The Cathedral Act of 1840 paved the way for more churches to become cathedrals.  Many of these church were Great Churches (large parish churches), old abbeys or collegiate churches (non-monastic churches maintained by a college of canons, called wardens, rather than an individual minister).

Manchester, which grew rapidly as the centre of the cotton industry, was one such place needing a cathedral. Its collegiate church was founded by Royal Charter in  1421 and is a good example of the Perpendicular (vertical style) of architect. The church was already a hub of social change when in 1787 in hosted the first ever meeting for the abolish of the slave trade.  In 1847 it became one of the first new cathedrals.

These new cathedrals were not as grand perhaps as the Old Foundation of cathedrals. The Georgian period had seen the removal of stained glass which reflected their preference for plainer, clear glass. The Victorians were Gothic revivalists and they wanted to extend and renovate these new cathedrals, which they did for Manchester in 1882. The Pre-Raphaelite movement was keen on reintroducing new windows and they commissioned artwork from leading painters of the time.

However, the ambitions plans of those like Augustus Pugin, an architect who believed the Gothic style was the greatest, hit financial barriers. Nobody really wanted to fork out for the expense of renovating these churches into cathedrals. So, although these old churches individually had interesting characteristics, they were never, barring a few exceptions, considered the equivalent of the Old Foundation cathedrals. They remain modest, and somewhat ignored by the tourist trade.

In honour of these ‘modest’ cathedrals, I’ve listed them here. Many of these churches can date their origins back to as early as Saxon times and they’re not young churches. They’re young cathedrals.

Birmingham (Building started in 1711), cathedral since 1905.  Only English Cathedral built in baroque style and stained glass by Burne Jones

Blackburn (1826), cathedral since 1926. Lantern tower has 50 different panes of coloured glass.

Bradford (1455), 1919.  Extended in 1960 with a chancel and three chapels.

Chelmsford (1200), 1914. Second smallest Anglican cathedral.

Coventry (1956), (1918). Original cathedral bombed in WW2.

Derby (1510), 1927. Smallest cathedral. Oldest ring of bells in England.

Guildford (1936), 1961. Only new cathedral to be built in southern England since Reformation.

Leicester (1086), 1927. Final resting place of Richard III.

Liverpool (1904), 1924. Largest Anglican cathedral in Britain.

Manchester (1215), 1847. Stained glass lost in 1996 due to IRA bombing.

Newcastle (1091), 1882. Unusual spire – used as the main navigation point for ships in the River Tyne.

Portsmouth (1185) 1927. Houses the flag flown at Trafalgar and carried on Nelson’s funeral procession.

Ripon (1180), 1836. Used to have three spires on top of each tower.

Sheffield (1430), 1914. Shortest spire. Houses stainless steel bell from the first HMS Sheffield.

Southwell Minister, Nottinghamshire. (1108), 1884. Smallest cathedral city in England.

Southwark (1220), 1905. Oldest Gothic building in London.  Well beneath the church contains a pagan shrine.

St Albans (1077), 1877. Longest nave (more on naves tomorrow)

Truro. (1880), 1877. First totally new cathedral built in 800 years. One of three cathedrals in UK with three spires. (watch out for S)

Wakefield (1329), 1888. Tallest spire in Yorkshire.



  1. I love that stained glass window. It looks a little like the zodiac windows at Mount Stuart House.

    Cait @ Click’s Clan


    1. It is amazing – I’d love to see it, but I’ve never visited.


  2. The architecture on these are amazing. I love old churches…especially the stained glass!


    1. Stained glass is my favourite part of old churches – all those stories to tell.


  3. I would definitely pop in to have a look if I was around one of those cities. I like hidden history to buildings that might not be immediately obvious.


    1. I’ve visited the most famous cathedrals, but there are plenty I’ve yet to see.


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