HomeThe 19th Century

history 19th centuryBy 1800, the cathedral once again looked very different. The visitor entered the building beneath a west front almost bare of adornment. The empty nave was still white and austere but a striking stone screen marked the entrance to the choir. It was at this time that the cathedral received another significant addition. Sir Brooke Boothby purchased some glass from Herkenrode Abbey, near Liège, which had recently been suppressed by Napoleon. The glass was sold to the Dean and Chapter for £200 (the price paid by Boothby) and placed in the Lady Chapel in 1803. The seven easternmost windows date from the 1530s and show scenes from the life and passion of Jesus. The two western windows are also Flemish but were obtained later, in 1895.

The Sleeping Children

 In 1820 the sculptor, Francis Chantry, added another treasure, his monument of The Sleeping Children. The two young sisters, Ellen Jane and Marianne, died tragically in 1812, and Chantry’s sensitive treatment of the subject has made this monument, at the end of the south choir aisle, a focal point for visitors ever since. Chantry also carved the effigy of Bishop Ryder, in the North Transept.

Certain other works were carried out under the Cathedral architect Joseph Potter, who succeeded Wyatt. Comparisons of early 19th-century prints show changes in the internal design of the clerestory windows, which are an important feature of the nave, for example. However, the most dramatic changes to the building were to take place later in the mid-19th century.

Sir Gilbert Scott's commission

Sixty years after Wyatt had transformed the inside of the cathedral, the Dean and Chapter commissioned Sir Gilbert Scott to undertake a restoration project which lasted until the turn of the century.

Scott began work on the choir. He reversed Wyatt’s work by unblocking the choir arches, restoring the High Altar, and once again separating the Lady Chapel from choir, presbytery and sanctuary. The 19th century saw great shifts of population, following the Industrial Revolution, and much church building in new urban areas. Much of this was in the Gothic style, and it was perhaps natural that Scott should restore the cathedral to its Gothic splendour. He worked extensively in England and is not without critics, but here in Lichfield his work shows immense sensitivity. Wherever he could he retained the original medieval work and where this was not possible, he imitated it. Thus he retained the unique join of the Early English and Decorated architecture of the choir, and the aisle arcading shows defaced sculptures beside new carving in the same style. Using clues from carvings severely damaged in the Civil War, he restored the decorations of wall and pillar, and 19th-century reproductions sit side-by-side with Norman Transitional and Gothic decoration. Wyatt’s stone screen was replaced by a fine metal screen, designed by Francis Skidmore. The medieval stonework, re-used by Wyatt in his screen, was skilfully used by Scott in the sedilia of the sanctuary. The new Jacobean-style choir stalls, by Samuel Evans (uncle of George Eliot), matched the bishop’s throne. During the work on the floor, which revealed the Norman foundations, fragments of medieval tiles were found; Mintons used these to create a remarkable tile pavement stretching from choir screen to altar. The designs are similar to those still to be seen in the library, and are now echoed in the design of the kneelers in the nave.

Whitewash removed and façade restored

Once the choir had been restored it was clear to the Chapter that the work should be extended to the whole building. Over the next forty years, the whitewash was carefully removed from all surfaces, often revealing traces of the medieval paintwork, as in the roof bosses, the doorway and vaulting of the Chapter House, and the niches surrounding the Lady Chapel statues. These statues were replaced, as were those in the choir, and in the 1880s the poor Roman Cement statues on the west front were removed and the façade restored to its medieval splendour. St Chad is flanked by Norman and Saxon kings, above a row of apostles. Above the kings, a selection of prophets, angels and Old Testament characters lead the eye to Christ at the summit. The statue of King Charles II, placed there by the 17th-century restorers, is now by the south door.

One of the last restorations of the century was St Chad’s Head Chapel. The cathedral records had been kept there in some disarray. After they had been catalogued by Charles Cox, in 1888, they were placed in the library annexe, above the vestibule, previously the choristers’ practice room. The vaulting of the chapel was replaced, and carved bosses showing scenes from the life of Chad added. Once again, medieval features, like the Early English windows and two fine carvings of the Green Man, were retained. By 1900 the cathedral had been renewed, within and without, but the great work of restoration and preservation has continued to the present day.