The Design Recast, 1956-1958
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____________________