Coventry Cathedral: Art and Architecture in Post-War Britain

By Louise Campbell | Go to book overview

7
The Licence to Build, 1954

ON 31 July 1953, the Coventry Cathedral Act, modified in order to mitigate opposition from a faction within the Church of England, received the royal assent.1 Meanwhile the town clerk and city architect had been consulted about the repercussions for land usage and the street pattern in this area. The Reconstruction Committee therefore felt that the main obstacles to the scheme had been overcome; but they were to find progress blocked by a growing opposition to the cathedral scheme on the part of the City Council. Gibson was sympathetic to Spence's design, and modified his original plans for the area north of the old cathedral accordingly.2 However, Councillors were becoming increasingly indignant at the way in which their own plans for the redevelopment of the city centre were being hampered by lack of funds from central government. The cathedral scheme, funded by the War Damage Commission but subject to the system whereby licences had to be obtained for building work, seemed to them likely to enjoy preferential treatment. Early in 1953, the City Council initiated a vigorous campaign to postpone it, a campaign which was only resolved by the direct intervention of the Minister of Works.

The controversy illuminates the differences in attitude which emerged towards the cathedral project locally and nationally, as successive governments retreated from the promises of reconstruction which characterized the war years. Interesting differences in attitude towards the various new buildings planned for the post-war city also emerge. In the debate of 1953-4 over whether the cathedral should be allowed an earlier start than other public buildings, Spence's design was to play a significant part. The promoters of the cathedral scheme emphasized the traditional elements in his design in order to differentiate it--in terms of the materials

____________________
1
A layman criticized chapels of unity as undesirable at a meeting of the Church Assembly in Feb. 1953; Bishop and Provost defended the idea. Later they were persuaded to withdraw a clause relating to the Joint Council of Christian Service from the Bill, for fear that High Church opposition would result in a parliamentary defeat. See R. T. Howard, Ruined and Rebuilt: The Story of Coventry Cathedral 1939-1962 (Coventry, 1962), 33-4, and Rec. Minutes, 8 Jan. and 27 Feb. Minutes of 19 May 1953 reported a conference between Provost, Bishop, and the Archbishop of Canterbury held on 30 Mar.
2
Before the competition, this area was designated a public open space, linked with a garden to be created on the roof of the bus garage in Pool Meadow. Letter from town clerk to Thurston, 25 May 1948, Town Clerk's Dept. correspondence, SEC/CF/1/11432, CRO.

-133-

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Coventry Cathedral: Art and Architecture in Post-War Britain
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS v
  • Contents vii
  • List of Color Plates ix
  • LIST OF BLACK AND WHITE PLATES xi
  • Abbreviations xix
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I. Architecture and Politics 5
  • 1 The Cathedral and the City: The Blitz, Civic Ideology And Reconstruction 7
  • 2 The Cathedral Project 1940-1947 22
  • 3 'towards a New Cathedral'? 37
  • Part II. The Creative Process 69
  • 4 Modernism and Tradition: The Genesis of Spence's Competition Design 71
  • 5 The Competition Design Refined, 1951-1954 81
  • 6 The Architect and the Artist 102
  • Part III. Design into Building 131
  • 7 The Licence to Build, 1954 133
  • 8 The Turning-Point, 1954-1956 141
  • 9 The Design Recast, 1956-1958 148
  • Pa IV. For and Function 193
  • 10 The Modern Church 195
  • 11 Provost and Architect 206
  • 12 The Cathedral Completed, 1960-1962 216
  • 13 The Cathedral and the Post-War World: Austerity and Triumphalism 243
  • Conclusion 254
  • APPENDIX: DONATIONS 276
  • Bibliography 278
  • Index 283
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