Fringe Box



The Building Of Guildford Cathedral

Published on: 27 Feb, 2012
Updated on: 27 Feb, 2012

Local historian Stanley Newman looks back over the design, planning, building and consecration of the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit on Stag Hill.

May 2011 marked the 50th anniversary of the consecration of Guildford Cathedral, at its imposing location on Stag Hill.

The idea that Guildford should have its own cathedral was proposed back in the 1920s.

Guildford Cathedral on Stag Hill as viewed from The Mount.

In 1927, Guildford separated from the Diocese of Winchester to form its own diocese, with Holy Trinity Church on the High Street acting as a temporary cathedral church, but it was clearly not large enough for the size of the new diocese.

A diocesan conference in May 1928 decided that a new cathedral should be built within the borough of Guildford.

A sketch of a design for a cathedral at the junction of Upper High Street, Epsom Road and London Road. From the archives at Guildford Institute.

A few interesting ideas at the time included:

1: Erecting it on land between the Castle Grounds and the High Street.

2: Demolishing a house called The Firs, the then home of a Dr Milligan, at the junction of Upper High Street, London Road and Epsom Road.

3: On ‘high ground’ in Stoke Park.

Although all three were turned down, there was quite a debate regarding the Stoke Park site. A letter from the principals of Stoke Park Preparatory School, which occupied the mansion in the park, made the point that an important place of worship (and a parish church at that – St John’s in Stoke Road) stood within the grounds of Stoke Park.

The corporation responded with the suggestion that as the park was in the process of passing into the possession of the town, a site there should be reserved for a cathedral.

The school had an anxious period anticipating that a massive structure would be built that would loom over their building and grounds. However, when the corporation eventually took ownership of the park it decided there was insufficient land available anyway for a cathedral.

It was not until 1932, after an open competition entered by 183 architects, that Edward Maufe’s design for the cathedral was chosen.

The architect, Sir Edward Maufe (left) shows Bishop Macmillan around the unfinished cathedral in 1939.

Although plans for the proposed cathedral were subsequently approved, a suitable location was still to be found. In 1933, the Fifth Earl of Onslow came to the rescue when he donated the land at the top of Stag Hill, which turned out to be a perfect location for the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit.

Unfortunately, a problem arose later when the land on the sides of the hill around the summit were to be sold off in separate lots. However, another benefactor, Viscount Bennett, prime minister of Canada from 1930-35, paid £10,000 for the remaining land surrounding the hilltop and gifted it to the town of Guildford.

His gift was to commemorate the association between Canada and the Diocese of Guildford in two world wars. In the 1914-18 conflict thousands of Canadian soldiers were stationed in the area. One of the principal camps was at Witley. During the 1939-45 war, the first 7,500 Canadian soldiers to arrive in England were quartered at nearby Aldershot, within the Diocese of Guildford.

Driving in the concrete piles on Stag Hill.

Construction work on the cathedral eventually began in 1936, when the first of 778 concrete piles were driven into the clay of Stag Hill to a depth of 50ft.

Each pile weighed five tons; therefore their total weight was 3,890 tons, and if laid in a line, they would have extended to between 22 and 23 miles.

The foundation stone was laid by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt Rev’d Cosmo Gordon Lang, on July 22, 1936. There were approximately 10,000 people on Stag Hill that day to witness this historic event.

When the last concrete pile was driven into place in 1937, Queen Mary was on hand to help it on its way.

Illustration that appeared in the Church Times showing the changing face of Stag Hill.


Queen Mary watches the final concrete pile being driven into the ground in 1937.

The eastern end progressed steadily until 1939, when, with the outbreak of war, building work understandably came to a complete standstill.

For the duration of the hostilities it stood forlorn on Stag Hill surrounded by open fields. Probably an ideal landmark for German bombers!

It was not until 1948 that a small band of workmen resumed their effort to advance the building work. Unfortunately, due to lack of funds, the work again ground to a halt.

Huge pressure was placed on the building industry at that time to provide homes for the increase in the UK’s population and those houses destroyed by bombs during the war.

Another problem was that permits were required for any building work, and a cathedral was not high on the list of priorities. It was not until 1952 that a permit was granted.

The partially completed cathedral in the early 1950s.
Eleanora Iredale (left) with the Queen and Prince Philip as they sign bricks on their visit in 1957.

With the passing of time, the original estimated total cost of £250,000 was hopelessly inadequate. Funds were needed urgently, so it was decided to launch a new fundraising campaign. Thanks largely to the efforts of Miss Eleanora Iredale, who was secretary of the New Cathedral Fund from 1952 to 1962, nearly £660,000 was raised in just 11 years.

This gave a new incentive and the desire for the community to fulfill their dream of a new cathedral on the hill.

Back in 1954, the then Mayor of Guildford, Leslie Codd, had criticised those in the Church for not doing enough to generate funds for the task before them.

His comments were made in response to the opinion of the Provost of Holy Trinity Church who believed that there was a lack of interest on behalf of Guildford council and the public in supporting the project.

Probably the 1950s were the turning point when the Church and the people came together with renewed determination to finally complete the building of Guildford Cathedral.

Building work resumes in the 1950s.
This picture shows the construction of the arches that form the West Arcade. The stone came from Shepton Mallet in Somerset.
Surprisingly, there appear to be few photos of the Queen at the consecration of the cathedral in 1961. This is taken from a newspaper cutting.

The then Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Rev’d George Reindorp, conducted the consecration ceremony on May 17, 1961, witnessed by the Queen and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Also in attendance were the Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong Jones.

Cover of the programme for the consecration. There was also an order of service for those who were in the congregation at the ceremony.

At the time of the consecration a fair amount of money was still required to complete the building work. In the 1950s, a ‘buy a brick’ scheme to raise funds had been a great success. Everyone who bought a brick for 2s 6d (12 and a half pence) had the opportunity to sign their name on it.

When the Queen and Prince Philip visited Guildford and the cathedral in 1957 they both signed bricks, and these are on view in St Ursula’s Porch at the east end of the cathedral.

Prudence Maufe, the wife of the architect, had suggested a brick campaign before the war, but with the threat of hostilities at the time, a fund raising project along those lines never took off. In fact, many of the bricks that form Guildford Cathedral were made at the Guildford Park Brickworks at the foot of Stag Hill, from clay dug on the spot.

In the 1960s a new appeal was launched to raise the £200,000 required for the final stage of building. The 156ft tower became the first priority. With a cost of £95,000, it was felt important to spend the available funds on the tower, as visitors could then see that steps were finally being taken to complete the building, and that it was not going to be left for the next generation to try and finish.

Thankfully, sufficient funds were donated by 1965 to complete the tower and garths as well.

In 1963, ‘the golden angel of Guildford’ wind vane was erected on the tower with its right arm outstretched and a pointing finger, symbolic of a reminder to come and worship.

The congregation is turned towards the west door as Bishop Reindorp knocks for admission at the start of the service of consecration.

Guildford should be proud of it ‘modern’ cathedral, which is the first Anglican cathedral to be built on a new site in the south of England since the Reformation.

The golden angel wind vane is added at the top of the tower in 1963.
This is how they got it there!
The golden angel beckons to ‘come and worship’.

Stanley Newman is the author of local history books The Changing Face of Guildford and Guildford Life Past and Present.

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