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)

Praying with USPG and the music of
Vaughan Williams: Saturday 20 August 2022

Upper Clun valley, a little way out of Whitcott Keysett, the view towards Newcastle and the hills beyond. A light shower of rain drifts across the hills near Upper Spoad (Photograph: Geoff Cryer, CC BY-SA 2.0 creative commons licenses via Wikimedia Commons)

Patrick Comerford

Before this day gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose music is celebrated throughout this year’s Proms season. In my prayer diary for these weeks I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a hymn or another piece of music by Vaughan Williams, often drawing, admittedly, on previous postings on the composer;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

The life of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux depicted in a stained-glass window in Mount Melleray Abbey, Cappoquin, Co Waterford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today (20 August) recalls Saint Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux, Teacher of the Faith, 1153 (Lesser Festival) and William and Catherine Booth, founders of the Salvation, 1912 and 1890 (Commemoration).

Saint Bernard was born at Fontaines, near Dijon, in France in the year 1090. He entered the Benedictine abbey at Cîteaux in 1112, taking with him many of his young companions, some of whom were his own brothers. He was a leader of the reform among the Benedictines at this time and in 1115 was sent to establish a new monastery at a place he named Clairvaux, or valley of light.

Though times were hard, he built up the community with his remarkable qualities of leadership. Bernard preached widely and powerfully and proved himself a theologian of renown. Literally hundreds of houses were founded on the Cîteaux or Cistercian system and Bernard’s influence on his own generation and beyond was immense. He died on this day in 1153.

The Gospel reading at the Eucharist this morning in the Lectionary as adapted by the Church of Ireland is:

Matthew 23: 1-12 (NRSVA):

1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practise what they teach. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6 They love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7 and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have people call them rabbi. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. 9 And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.’

The Clun Valley, view eastwards from under the bridge across the valley to May Hill and Saddle Hill (Photograph: Trevor Rickard, creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0), via Wikimedia Commons)

Today’s reflection: ‘Clun’

Ralph Vaughan Williams was the composer of symphonies, chamber music, opera, choral music, and film scores, a collector of English folk music and song. With Percy Dearmer, he co-edited the English Hymnal, in which he included many folk song arrangements as hymn tunes, and several of his own original compositions.

Throughout this week, I am listening to On Wenlock Edge, a setting by Vaughan Williams of six poems from AE Housman’s Shropshire Lad.

This morning [20 August 2022], I am listening to ‘Clun,’ the sixth and final six setting by Vaughan Williams of these poems by AE Housman (1859-1936), published in 1896.

Perhaps the moment most characteristic of Vaughan Williams’s attitude to life comes at the end of this cycle, when his evocation of the calm of death inspires a vision of the Celestial City – something that was to come again and again in his later works.

Although this may be at odds with Housman’s grief and bitterness, Vaughan Williams’s mood of acceptance and fulfilment raises this cycle to a level of exceptional spiritual awareness.

On Wednesday, while I was reflecting on the third of these songs, ‘Is my team ploughing,’ I recalled how Vaughan Williams omitted the two football stanzas in that poem, to the great annoyance pf Housman, who wrote to his publisher, Grant Richards asking: ‘I wonder how he would like me to cut two bars out of his music?’

But in arranging his setting for this sixth poem, ‘Clun,’ Vaughan Williams also deleted Housman’s superscription to his fiftieth poem (L):

Clunton and Clunbury,
Clungunford and Clun
Are the quietest places
Under the sun.

Housman was from Worcestershire and at first knew little of Clunton and Clunbury, Clungunford and Clun in south Shropshire, to the west of Wenlock Edge. The settings in this poem welled up from his imagination, and he wrote most of the poems in A Shropshire Lad while living in Highgate, London, before ever visiting this part of Shropshire, although it is only about 30 miles from his boyhood home.

He presents Shropshire in an idealised pastoral light, as his ‘land of lost content,’ and Housman creates a mythical, idealised Shropshire, similar to the Wessex of the novels of Thomas Hardy. He became so intimately associated with south Shropshire that when he died in Cambridge in1936 he was buried just outside Saint Laurence’s Church in the market town of Ludlow, which stands on a cliff above the River Teme.

Housman’s ‘Famous Four’ in the beautiful Clun Valley can be reached in one long day’s walk along the Shropshire lanes and their verges. They sit in the beautiful Clun Valley in the Clun Forest, although visitors may be confused, for the Clun Forest has few trees and the name “Forest” refers to the area’s mediaeval use as a Royal Hunting Forest.

Clun is surrounded by the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, close to the 1200-year-old Offa’s Dyke and the Offa’s Dyke Path, a 177-mile long National Trail. Clun Castle overlooking the town is said to have inspired Sir Water Scott when he was writing The Betrothed.

The town is divided in two by the 15th century Packhorse Bridge, which has alcoves so people crossing on foot can avoid being trampled by the horses. The ancient part of Clun stands on the south side and the newer Norman town on the north, all set in the idyllic Clun Valley.

Saint George’s Church overlooks the river and the castle. The playwright John Osborne (Look Back in Anger, 1956), who lived nearby, was buried in the churchyard in 1994. The Trinity Hospital and Almshouses are Jacobean, built by the Earl of Northampton in 1614 in two quadrangles, to provide ‘charitable accommodation to 12 men of good character.’

Near Clunton, the fort on Bury Ditches Hill, with its ramparts and ditches towering above the slopes, has been described as one of the finest hill forts in Britain.

Neighbouring Clunbury celebrated the centenary of Housman’s A Shropshire Lad in 1996 with an 1896 weekend. As part of the programme, Christopher Train of Holland House, Clunbury, spoke in Saint Swithin’s Church on Clunbury at the time Housman wrote this poem.

Housman described these neat and quiet Shropshire villages as ‘the quietest places under the sun.’ By 1896 this was certainly true for Clunbury, which had lost its pub – The Raven or Pig and Whistle, which is now Dutch Cottage with its thatched roof – after the last tenant, James Harding, died in 1879.

In his lecture, Christopher Train noted that the parishioner who wrote of the Clunbury entry in the Clun Valley parochial magazine at the end of the 19th century regularly laments the fact that he has nothing of significance to report. For example: ‘There are no stirring events to record as having happened in Clunbury last month. It has always had the name of being ‘one of the quietest under the sun.’ A stranger passing the other day on the road to Clun and looking down upon our little village enquired of the driver of the conveyance what happy looking, peaceful sunshiny place it was.’

He notes that the Revd William Jellicorse retired as Vicar of Clunbury in August 1896 after 40 years. That year, Matins were said daily in the Parish Church at 10 a.m., there were two or three services each Sunday, and one of the highlights of life in Clunbury was the annual entertainment of the choir and bell-ringers.

Clungunford in south Shropshire is near the border with Herefordshire. Saint Cuthbert’s is the village parish church and the Rocke Cottage, formerly the Bird on the Rock, was one named by the UK Tea Guild as Britain’s top tea place.

Knighton, which also features in this poem, is a small market town about seven miles south of Clun. It stands on the River Teme, straddling the border between England and Wales, so that the main part of the town is in Powys, within the historic county boundaries of Radnorshire, while a small part of the town is in Shropshire.

Knighton-on-Teme is a village in the Malvern Hills District in Worcestershire, about 14 miles east of Ludlow. It too stands on the banks of the River Teme.

6, Clun

Clunton and Clunbury,
Clungunford and Clun,
Are the quietest places
Under the sun.

In valleys of springs and rivers,
By Ony and Teme and Clun,
The country for easy livers
The quietest under the sun,

We still had sorrows to lighten,
One could not always be glad,
And lads knew trouble at Knighton
When I was a Knighton lad.

By bridges that Thames runs under,
In London, the town built ill,
’Tis sure small matter for wonder
If sorrow is with one still.

And if as a lad grows older
The troubles he bears are more,
He carries his griefs on a shoulder
That handselled them long before.

Where shall one halt to deliver
This luggage I’d lief set down?
Not Thames, not Teme is the river,
Nor London nor Knighton the town:

’Tis a long way further than Knighton,
A quieter place than Clun
Where doomsday may thunder and lighten
And little ’twill matter to one.

‘They love to have the place of honour at banquets’ (Matthew 23: 6) … preparing for dinner at the Hedgehog Vintage Inn in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer, Saturday 20 August 2022:

The Collect:

Merciful Redeemer,
who, by the life and preaching of your servant Bernard,
rekindled the radiant light of your Church:
grant us, in our generation,
to be inflamed with the same spirit of discipline and love,
and ever to walk before you as children of light;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

God of truth,
whose Wisdom set her table
and invited us to eat the bread and drink the wine
of the kingdom:
help us to lay aside all foolishness
and to live and walk in the way of insight,
that we may come with your servant Bernard
to the eternal feast of heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The theme in the USPG prayer diary this week has been ‘Human Trafficking in Durgapur.’ This them was introduced on Sunday by Raja Moses, Project Co-ordinator of the Anti-Human Trafficking Project, Diocese of Durgapur, Church of North India.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

We pray for refugees, seeking shelter and safety as they have been forced out of their homes. May we offer them whatever pastoral and practical support possible.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org