Coventry Cathedral: Art and Architecture in Post-War Britain

By Louise Campbell | Go to book overview

9
The Design Recast, 1956-1958

The Cathedral Exterior

ON 23 March 1956, Queen Elizabeth led a procession through the ruins of the old cathedral and, via a ramp passed through a window arch in the north wall (from which the tracery had been removed for the occasion), down to the site of the new cathedral (Plate 100). She laid as foundation-stone one of the pieces of sandstone with which Laing's were cladding the walls of the foundations. For the architect and the Reconstruction Committee, the enjoyment of this ceremony was clouded by apprehension. The figures which the quantity surveyor had produced at the end of February suggested that the cost of stonework for the nave walls alone would amount to £519,000.1

Presenting the detailed estimates to an appalled Reconstruction Committee on 8 March, Spence warned them that total costs would not be less than £1,900,000--over twice the amount of the original estimate submitted with his competition design. The completion of the cathedral, which had seemed inevitable with the issue of the licence to build in 1954, now appeared to hang in the balance. After appealing for more funds to the War Damage Commission, who agreed merely to increase their grant in line with the inflation in building costs, Spence was obliged to cut expenditure to the bone, proposing where possible to substitute concrete and slate for the more expensive materials originally specified, and eliminating the Christian Service Centre and Guild Chapel.2 Over the next two years, he substantially recast his design, producing a building which although not a great deal smaller than planned, was very differently coloured, textured, and profiled, providing a dramatic setting for the liturgy and an austerely simple foil for the works of art contained in it.

Before his death in November 1955, Bishop Gorton had commissioned Spence to design three small churches to serve new housing estates on the edge of the city at Tile Hill, Willenhall, and Bell Green.3 Using War Damage Commission funds granted in compensation for one

____________________
1
Coventry Cathedral. Estimate of probable cost. 29th February 1956, Rec. Minutes, 8 Mar. 1956.
2
Rec. Minutes, 16 July 1956.
3
The Reconstruction Committee endorsed this on 3 Nov. 1955.

-148-

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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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