20 August 2022

Sheffield Cathedral: a former
parish church tells the long
story of England’s fifth city

The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul has been the cathedral of the Church of England Diocese of Sheffield since the diocese was formed in 1914 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

During my visit to Sheffield this week, I visited the two cathedrals in England’s fifth city: the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul has been the cathedral of the Church of England Diocese of Sheffield since the diocese was formed in 1914; nearby, the Cathedral Church of Saint Marie is the cathedral of Roman Catholic Diocese of Hallam.

The Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Sheffield, was originally the city’s parish church, and was originally dedicated to Saint Peter. From some time after the Reformation until the 19th century it was dedicated to Holy Trinity, but it is now dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

The cathedral is one of five Grade I listed buildings in Sheffield, along with the Town Hall, Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, and the parish churches at Ecclesfield and Bradfield.

Inside Sheffield Cathedral, facing the East End (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The cathedral stands on Church Street in the city centre, close to the head of Fargate. It is an unusual mixture of mediaeval and modern architecture, and the earliest section of the cathedral dates back to ca 1200.

The site of the cathedral has a long history. The shaft of the Sheffield Cross, dating from the ninth century and now in the British Museum, is believed to be from this site.

The parish church was founded on the site as a minster of Worksop Priory. It was built in the 12th century by William de Lovetot at the opposite end of the town to Sheffield Castle.

Sheffield Castle was destroyed during the English Civil War in the mid-17th century, but the boundaries of Sheffield parish remained unchanged until the 19th century.

Inside Sheffield Cathedral, facing the West End (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The 12th century church was burnt down in 1266 during the Second Barons’ War against King Henry III. Another parish church was built in 1280, but this church was mostly demolished and rebuilt about 1430 on a cruciform floor plan.

The east end is the oldest part of the cathedral. Stones in the east wall of the sanctuary date from the 13th century. The sanctuary and chancel date from the 15th century. The 15th century cruciform church included lofts and a rood chapel, removed during the reign of Elizabeth I, although their scars can be seen on the walls.

The chancel roof is a hammerbeam roof with gilded angels, and probably dates from the 16th century. The outstretched wings were a modern gift from George Bailey in the 1960s.

The Shrewsbury Chapel was built in the 16th century to house the Tudor monuments of the Earls of Shrewsbury (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The Shrewsbury Chapel was built in the 16th century to house the Tudor monuments of the Earls of Shrewsbury, Lords of the Manor of Sheffield. Several members of the Talbot family are buried in the vault, and the altarpiece is mediaeval in date.

On the south wall of the Shrewsbury Chapel, the alabaster monument of George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, has an architectural surround, an armoured effigy and a Latin inscription.

The monument on the left towards the sanctuary is to George Talbot, 4th Earl of Shrewsbury. It is made of fine marble, carved in an Italian style to depict Talbot and his two wives in positions of prayer. Both are fine examples of Tudor monuments.

The monument to George Talbot, 4th Earl of Shrewsbury (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The altar in the Shrewsbury Chapel is a rare pre-Reformation stone ‘Mensa’ marked with carved consecration crosses.

The Reredos behind dates from the restoration of the chapel in 1935 and features Christ and the saints whose chapels were part of the mediaeval church.

Local craft workers built a screen for the Shrewsbury Chapel, but this was modified and moved to the north aisle in the 1900s. During restoration work in 2013, it was discovered that a number of the Shrewsbury coffins were missing from the crypt.

The window of the ‘Six Sheffield Worthies’ by Christopher Webb (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The stained glass window of the ‘Six Sheffield Worthies’ by Christopher Webb was originally installed in the north wall of the original Saint George’s Chapel but was moved to its current location in the 1960s. It depicts soldiers and benefactors of the church throughout the centuries:

• Waltheof was the last Saxon Lord of the Manor of Hallamshire, an ancient boundary including modern-day Sheffield and parts of Rotherham and north Derbyshire.
• William de Lovetot was a Norman Lord of the Manor who built the first Parish Church on this site around 1101, Sheffield's motte and bailey castle and a hospital for the poor at Spital Hill.
• Gerard de Furnivall inherited the Lordship when he married Maud de Lovetot; he fought and died on the Crusades.
• Thomas Nevil gained the Lordship when he married into the de Furnival family and established Sheffield as a market town by Royal Charter in 1386.
John Talbot (1387-1453), 1st Earl of Shrewsbury , became the Lord of the Manor when he married Maud Nevil, daughter of Thomas Nevill. He is the Talbot of Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part I, and he contributed towards building the 15th century church.
• Colonel Sir John Bright was the Parliamentarian Governor of Sheffield Castle after its surrender in the Civil War in 1644.

The Tudor screen beneath and to the right of the window originally separated the Shrewsbury Chapel from the Lady Chapel and one panel displays some simple carvings of the talbot dog.

Saint George’s Chapel commemorates the York and Lancaster Regiment (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Saint Katharine’s Chapel was added as a vestry chapel in 1777, but it destroyed the cruciform shape of the plan of the church. Today, the chapel celebrates the ministry of women in the Church.

Rebuilding in the 1770s included the addition of tracery to the windows and resurfacing of the walls with moorstone. The north and south walls of the nave were rebuilt in 1790-1793.

The east window is a monument to the poet James Montgomery (1771-1854), who lived in Sheffield.

To the north of the nave, Saint George’s Chapel commemorates the York and Lancaster Regiment. It is furnished with regimental flags and a screen of bayonets and swords.

The ‘Te Deum’ window by Christopher Webb (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Under Saint George’s Chapel are the Chapel of the Holy Spirit and the vaulted crypt chapel of All Saints.

The Chapel of the Holy Spirit is part of the 1930s extension and was planned as a new Lady Chapel of the reoriented Cathedral. The chapel has a four-part vaulting system and a painted screen The is dominated by the great Te Deum stained glass window by Christopher Webb. At the top of the window, inspired by the canticle Te Deum, is the dove of the Holy Spirit, while at the centre Christ in Glory is surrounded by prophets, martyrs and the faithful through the ages.

A Dove can also be seen above the entrance door to the chapel and there are angels around the entrance. The vaulted ceiling is carved with roses, vines, lilies and sunflower motifs. The wooden stalls and canopies were designed by Sir Ninian Comper.

Lorna May Wadsworth’s charcoal cartoon for her monumental altarpiece, ‘A Last Supper’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Below the window are the altar and a reredos in memory of Sheffield Freemasons who died during World War I. However, the reredos has been replaced at present by the charcoal cartoon by the Sheffield artist Lorna May Wadsworth for her monumental altarpiece, ‘A Last Supper,’ in Saint George’s Church, Nailsworth.

All Saints’ Chapel is also in the crypt. With its arches and vaulting, it is an intimate and peaceful place for prayer and contemplation. This is the first purpose-built chapel in an English cathedral for the storage of ashes.

A window in a corner of the chapel is by Keith New (1966) in memory of Rowley Hill, Vicar of Sheffield (1873-1877).

The Lantern Tower with its abstract design by Amber Hiscott (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The lantern tower was an earlier addition to improve light but its glass was replaced by an abstract design by Amber Hiscott in 1998-1999. The wooden structure represents Christ’s Crown of Thorns and the coloured glass represents human conflict and struggle (blues and violets) being transformed through the Resurrection and the Holy Spirit (golds and reds), leading to healing (greens).

A major restoration by Flockton and Gibbs, including the addition of new north and south transepts, was completed in 1880.

During this work, the galleries were removed, the organ was moved to the north transept to clear the chancel, and new oak pews were installed, and the north and south transepts and the west end were extended. These additions left the church an awkward shape in plan, but with an impressive south elevation.

Charles Nicholson drafted plans in the 1900s to extend the cathedral. His designs called for a radical realignment of the axis by 90 degrees and to reorient it on its axis. However, funds and two World Wars modified those designs. The changes carried out throughout the 20th century have mainly affected the northern part of the cathedral, which was extensively expanded.

The main entrance to the cathedral is at the expanded west end, added in 1966 when the cathedral was rededicated. The Baptism font is at this end.

The main entrance to the cathedral is at the expanded west end, added in 1966 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

A fire in the belltower on 17 July 1979 began inside the belfry, and spread down the tower to the ground floor and up to the clockroom. Several cathedral bells were destroyed, including one from the 16th century, and much of the clock mechanism. Burst pipes flooded the choir stalls, and all records of the cathedral’s bellringers were destroyed. But the cathedral was back at work within ten days.

The cathedral underwent another interior and exterior refurbishment in 2013-2014.

But another fire broke out in the cathedral on the evening of 14 May 2020. The fire caused damage to the interior and smoke damage in the entire building, including many stained glass windows. The fire also destroyed the rooms of the Cathedral Archer Project, a homelessness charity.

Although it became the cathedral of the new Diocese of Sheffield in 1914, the cathedral remains the parish church of the smaller Parish of Sheffield.

The Diocese of Sheffield was formed in 1914 out of the Diocese of York, along with part of the Diocese of Southwell in the city of Sheffield. It covers most of South Yorkshire, apart from Barnsley, with a small part of the East Yorkshire, one parish in North Yorkshire and one in North Lincolnshire. It covers an area of almost 1,500 sq km (576 square miles).

The Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Pete Wilcox, is a former Canon Chancellor of Lichfield Cathedral (2016-2012) and a former Dean of Liverpool Cathedral (2012-2017). His wife is the novelist Catherine Fox. The Dean of Sheffield is the Very Revd Abi Thompson.

All Saints’ Chapel in the crypt, with its arches and vaulting (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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