Coventry Cathedral: Art and Architecture in Post-War Britain

By Louise Campbell | Go to book overview

8
The Turning-Point, 1954-1956

THE period between May 1954, when the Minister issued a licence for building work to the value of £985,000, and the end of 1956, when a contract for building the walls was signed, was a crucial one for the genesis of the cathedral. During this time, Spence and Bishop Gorton, who had watched closely the design of the nave windows and the slow development of Sutherland's ideas for the tapestry, commissioned two further works of art, from Jacob Epstein and from John Piper. These commissions signalled a new confidence about the cathedral project, prompted by the letter from the Minister of Works. After a lean period, a stream of commissions began to arrive in Spence's office from 1954, offering design opportunities across a wide spectrum.1 Talented young assistants--including David Rock, Tony Jackson, Roger Button, and later Anthony Blee, John Bonnington, Christopher Walker, and Brian Nicholls--were recruited to help with these and to produce detailed drawings for the cathedral. An exchange of ideas began between these young assistants and Spence which was important for the development of the cathedral design. The character of this design was also to be shaped by a more triumphalist iconography developed during the conflict with the City Council, and informed by a lively awareness of post-war continental church design.

In June 1954, a meeting of the Planning and Redevelopment Committee of the City Council, chaired by Hodgkinson, declared itself to be 'now more satisfied that the new Cathedral will not seriously interfere with building priorities for other needs, and that the new Cathedral fits beautifully into central development'; the only sour note was struck by an editorial written by a member of the city engineer's department for NALGO's local branch magazine.2 The work of clearing the graveyard began in June and was completed in the autumn. The building contract was divided into four, corresponding to the chief stages of construction; the firm of

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1
Church of Scotland church at Clermiston, Edinburgh (St Andrew's, completed 1957); Anglican churches at Leicester (St Aidan's, completed 1959; Eyres Monsell, completed 1956) and Sheffield (St Paul's, completed 1958); a comprehensive school at Sydenham, London ( 1953-7) and Sheffield ( Parsons Cross Secondary School, 1955).
2
Rec. Minutes, 29 Sept. 1954. John Yates in Camera Principis ( May 1954), quoted Ch. 7 n. 23. The Reconstruction Committee considered suing the author for libel, but decided to let the matter rest.

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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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