Ripon Cathedral

December 27, 2009

End of the school term. What better way to cap it all off than with a trip to Ripon Cathedral and nearby Fountains Abbey? As I set off with Tristan and his dad to use his home in Ilkley as a launching-pad the snow is coming down and plunging Britain into the deepest winter that there’s been since everyone in the country died those last two times this century that everyone always goes on about because they remember it (despite having died- spooky).

Ripon is beautiful in the snow, although it would probably be beautiful too if it wasn’t snowy. Ripon was only made a proper cathedral in 1836, but it was always somewhat more than just a regular church- along with Beverley and Southwell one of three great churches in the diocese of York somewhat above regular parish churches but lesser than the minster. This is why there isn’t a Leeds Cathedral (and also why there isn’t a Nottingham Cathedral). There wouldn’t be Hull Cathedral either even if anyone had wanted one, probably (although Hull does claim to have the biggest parish church in England by floor space). Ripon is quite small, but it does have a really nice ceiling. Its also cool how they never finished re-doing the interior, so there is this kind of superfluous column which sticks up at the end of the nave. Also, there is an Anglo-Saxon crypt that is one of the earliest extant parts of church in England (along with a similar crypt at Hexham, apparently).

But, the best thing about Ripon has to be its wonderful misericords. Apparently they were made by the same team who did the ones at Manchester, and also the ones at Beverley (though I’ve never been to Beverley). But they’re brilliant! Perhaps it was the useful information widget (you know those bats that have bits of paper with information on they give you in museums and stuff that rotate?) that a priest gave us which told us what they all represented but I think they’re a lot better than Manchester’s. I might return to Manchester Cathedral soon and give them a proper look though… (when I’m back there). Either way, apparently this one inspired Louis Carroll (but to do what?):

This one has a man pushing his mother about in a cart:

This one has blennyms!

Samson carrying off some gates:

Reynard preaching to the birds:

The owl is in fact a worryingly anti-Semitic symbol:


After Ripon, we headed off to Fountains Abbey. Only to find out that its closed Friday in winter. 😥 Look at these magnificent ruins. I can’t because I’ve never seen them in real life:

Liverpool Cathedral

December 6, 2009

We take the slow train into Liverpool, because its one of those cool trains which is just two carriages and more like a bus than a train. I don’t think it has any toilets either. It strikes myself and my girlfriend as somehow profound that we are travelling on the oldest passenger rail link in the world, the same one William Huskisson got killed on in perhaps the most ludicrous accident in political history. (my friend Jim has likened it to I think something like Jack Straw being hit by the shuttle whilst talking to Gordon Brown during the maiden voyage of the world’s first mass-space travel service, and then driven to hospital by Richard Branson, in the shuttle- the analogy presumes Virgin would win the space shuttle contract, of course) I’ve seen the Huskisson monument but actually I haven’t really, you can’t get to it because its fenced off, being next to the same train tracks he was fatally wounded at, of course.

I’d never been to Liverpool, but its really my kind of place. Its a lot scaffier than Manchester and seems to have a lot more character. When me and my girlfriend emerge from Lime Street we can’t stop giggling because its all so amazing. The statue outside Lewis’s department store is a particular fave, as is the big UFO radio tower. We find a brilliant antique/vintage clothes shop with a ‘first weekend of every month’ sale and have lunch at a quite-good cafe before having a look round a church with no roof (St Luke’s, blitzed out during the blitz).

The initial intention was to have a daytrip where we look round both the Anglican and Catholic cathedrals in Liverpool, but in the end we only have time for the Anglican one. That’s the one I wanted to see most, anyway. So, I will hencefore refer to the Anglican cathedral as ‘Liverpool cathedral’, or just ‘Liverpool’.

The first thing that really impresses about Liverpool is its sheer size. Its the largest cathedral in Britain- I have this book that (being old) claims that “when completed” it will be “the largest cathedral in the world, after St Peter’s in Rome.” Its not- its actually the 5th-largest, or according to a different source the 6th-largest, but whatever, its still really fucking huge. (interestingly, originally the plan for the Catholic cathedral was to make an even bigger cathedral, with the world’s biggest dome- they then ran out of money and eventually, after playing around with the idea of keeping the massive dome but on a smaller rest of cathedral, went with the modernist one) From the outside, its impressive. From the inside, in the huge ‘central space’ underneath the tower, its ridiculously awe-inspiring, dragging my jaw to the floor and forcing the rest of my body into something like an actual religious experience. Although, I think a lot of that might just be because of how closely it resembles the monastery of the Grand Mysterium in Anachronox. (I’m not sure if this was intentional or not, but there were American people there…hmmmmmm) Another major factor was probably the Christmas carols being sung from the nave, behind me.

Behind the choir, the transepts sort of drop out into tunnels which gives you the impression of running about underground approaching the chapter house or the lady chapel (depending on which side). This is really cool as it gives the lady chapel the air of being some sort of secret underground lair. Another really arresting factor about Liverpool cathedral is just how empty it is. Being massive, there’s a lot of space to fill I suppose, but unlike, for example, Winchester, or Ely, or Wells or any of the great old cathedrals of the country, Liverpool hasn’t had the chance to fill itself up yet. So Winchester is bursting with local history in the form of all the worthies buried there over the years with their chantry chapels or whatever, but Liverpool hasn’t even been completed forty years. Part of what makes these old cathedrals so wonderful to visit is the little stories and details they’ve accrued over the centuries, but Liverpool is a great cathedral in pupae. I really hope that the modern world doesn’t snuff out that promise by like, you know, not needing cathedrals or whatever, it could be one of the world’s really special buildings given enough time.

As such, I’m really fascinated by the story of the building of Liverpool Cathedral. The existence of, say, Guildford Cathedral doesn’t seem that bizarre to me but the existence of Liverpool Cathedral does- I mean, I’d have figured that the biggest cathedral in Britain would have been built in the middle ages- I honestly did used to think it was Yorkminster- and especially not at the dawn of widespread non-committal amongst Anglicans everywhere. More than anyone else the building of Liverpool cathedral is associated with Giles Gilbert Scott (grandson of George, who designed St Pancras- often known as the ‘Cathedral of the Railways’- George was also a famed cathedral restorer and his son and Giles’s dad George Jr was also an architect- meanwhile his brother Adrian was the one responsible for the toppled ‘keep the big dome’ Catholic cathedral plan). One of my favourite pieces of stained glass in the cathedral (and Liverpool does have some really good modern stained glass) depicts Giles Gilbert Scott- as you go in the nave is full of stained glass with Edwardian-type figures and ends up looking like a cover of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists rendered in stained glass- can’t be a bad thing. Other stained glass is more biblical- but my personal favourite is probably the ‘good women’ window in the corridor leading up to the lady chapel, which has a lizard straddling the corner and plenty of wholesome faces of various hard-working benevolent Victorian (or similar) women. Giles Scott also, curiously enough, designed the Red Telephone Box and so there is also one of them in the cathedral which you can open up and play around in. Another cool piece of Scott memorabilia the cathedral houses is his vastly different original plan for the cathedral with which he won the competition to design it as an unknown at just 22 (also, this is in 1904- the cathedral wasn’t finished until 1978). It used to be mostly focused around two big towers on the west front- I’m glad he changed it.

Further to my interest in the building of Liverpool Cathedral, my girlfriend bought me a book about that very subject as a sort of early Christmas present in the cathedral gift shop. Later on, I wanted to walk all the way around the cathedral as a final cap to the journey (I always like to take in the circumference) but she didn’t want to walk around in the rain, so I had to not do it, for her. Which I guess is a sign of just how much I love her. (plus, it really is an amazing-looking book) The gift shop is one of the best I’ve ever been to, in a cathedral or elsewhere- other exciting buys included Anglican Cathedrals of England Top Trumps, which you can buy here: (‘Classic Trumps’ seem like my sort of company- for example, if you look on the ‘Contact’ page, you’ll see that they refuse to conform to our now-largely faxless communication discourse)

My cathedral trip drew to a close (aside from gift shop visit) with a ticket on the ‘Tower Experience’, which doesn’t bill itself as a tour I guess because there aren’t any guides. You get to see the underside of the vault, and the bells (the heaviest ringing peel of bells in the world!) , so they’re both a plus, but mostly it involved taking a lot of lifts, which could only fit three at a time, so it also involved a lot of waiting around. At the top you got spectacular views of Merseyside, which was nice, but the only detraction from this was that obviously being at the top of the cathedral I wasn’t able to see the bit of the skyline I’d normally be most excited about. On the way back you can normally see some embroidery and go to the internal viewing balconies but, er, that wasn’t on the day I went to visit, or something. I still had to pay normal price though. (and they didn’t tell me before!) What a fucking rip.

I don’t hold it against you though, Liverpool Cathedral. I would definitely recommend a trip to this fantastic and fascinating masterpiece of a modern cathedral.

Christ Church, Oxford

November 5, 2009

So I was in Oxford the other day, to visit my friend Jim and to have a look round the university because I’m hopefully going to be applying/getting offered a place to study on the postgraduate philosophy course there next year (because I want to be an academic and stuff). And Oxford is basically a weird paradise where the debating union has a library and its painted by William Morris and one of the colleges has two deer parks. I’m sure you knew all this already, but I’m actually genuinely quite taken aback by the picturesque strangeness of it all. An industrial city like Manchester sprang up because of money and is always going to be inextricably tied up with money (particularly the University, I mean I’m sure Manchester must all things considered make about half of its money out of the sheer scale of the education that goes on there- well not the education itself but rather the economic presence of all the students, bored out of their heads on their 5-hours-in-a-week degrees and spending their parents money on drink, food, dancing, entertainment etc), whereas Oxford doesn’t really quite have that same feel about it. I mean sure it’s a proper city and everything and it has a high street and things so its not like its some hippy wank camp but what I mean is that you get the impression that whoever’s running this whole show might actually be in it for the love of all this- all the scholars and the pretty college buildings and ridiculous traditions. Or maybe that’s just some sort of false consciousness perk that the other half get, idk. A bit like how they call it the Isis and not the Thames.

Anyway, the crux of all this is: one of the colleges has its own cathedral. (Christ Church) When you do postgraduate stuff, you apply to the faculty really and not the college, but you have to specify a college, and I think I’m going to pick Christ Church because, you know, it has its own cathedral. Jim had never been there before even though he goes to Oxford and he likes cathedrals too (he used to work in York Minster). And its not that obvious, really, from the outside, so I think he just figured that it was a regular college chapel, really, that they call a cathedral. But then was shocked, going in, because ITS AN ACTUAL FUCKING CATHEDRAL. Like, bigger than Birmingham or Manchester. Or about the same size anyway, and a lot better (at least than Manchester). This is mostly due to its absolutely intensely amazing range of stained glass, many by the master himself, Mister Edmund Burne-Jones- a particular favourite (away from the perhaps overly showy St Fridewide Window, telling the story of Oxford’s particular Anglo-Saxon princess taken off to marry some big bad pagan and refusing, pretty much the identical archetype to St Audrey) is the St Catherine Window, the model for which is none other than Edith Liddel, sister of Alice. (Dean Liddel, he the very same of charming daughters fame, used to be the, well, dean of Christ Church). But trumping even B-J is someone presumably amazing called Abraham van Liege, whose 1630s ‘Jonah Window’ is some sort of brilliant colour trip, I think because mostly its painted glass, not stained glass. So, stained glass eat yr heart out. But then, I guess stained glass is usually preferable because it also lets light in? Actually, I don’t quite know the physics of it, which is fine because if I want to be some sort of philosopher I should be entirely more concerned about the metaphysics anyway.

Manchester Cathedral

October 11, 2009

Although I’ve lived in Manchester as a student since 2007, I’d never actually been inside the cathedral until yesterday, when me and my friend Tristan resolved to visit it to make up for the fact that we didn’t go to see Lincoln Cathedral yesterday as we had originally planned because we were both too tired to get up early enough. The hoots of fascists are in the air, and so we get curtailed by deciding to look at the protest first. Well, Tristan decides to, because he’s actually interested in politics, in a kind of preachy way. I actually study politics and philosophy, but I’m mostly committed to the philosophy side, and anything political that isn’t normative postulating bores me to death, so I’d rather just avoid the dangerous atmosphere. And then there’s a service going on for the St John’s ambulance when we finally do get to the cathedral, so we miss the chance to get a guided tour because we have to wait an hour (till four, when apparently tours normally finish) for it to finish to get in. Manchester Cathedral is mostly famous for its 16th-century misericords, which really are cool, ace intricate designs of mysterious beasts and all that, though a lot of them seemed to have been turned up today. There’s a tiny nave and the chancel is right in the centre so its really a very unusually-shaped cathedral. By the time we’ve got there, there really is that unpleasant ‘about to close’ vibe to it, so I feel kind of uncomfortable.

The diocese of Manchester was only created in 1847, but this church has been there for aaaages, being charted as a collegiate church by Henry V for example (the collegiate buildings are now the Cheatham’s School of Music, or some of them are, or more). But really, the main history that seems to get emphasised is the big-time bombing of the cathedral during World War II, where the ‘Ely Chapel’ got totally destroyed. Now instead there is the Chapel for the Royal Manchester Regiment & The King’s Regiment which has a) a really cool flame stained-glassed window and b) An exhibition there currently called A4 God (art for God), which ostensibly “reflects the name of God who is everywhere, like sheets of A4 paper”. Brilliant. But, as far as smaller cathedrals serving post-industrial revolution dioceses go, its got nothing on Birmingham Cathedral, really.

[pictures to follow, one day]

Birmingham Cathedral

September 19, 2009

People have the bad habit of denigrating Birmingham, but I actually think its a really good city, it has a lot in it, I mean maybe not necessarily relative to its size, I think a lot of people’s main problem with it really though is that it doesn’t seem to have any nice coffee shops in the centre, just crappy chain ones like Coffee Heaven, which, you know, is important for a city, because I think to really like a place you have to see yourself hanging out in it on a regular basis. Either way though if Birmingham was about 1/3 the size everyone would like it, I just think everyone has elevated expectations because its so big. We can’t all be Manchester, you know? Either way I reckon for my money Birmingham’s top attraction is its mega-ace art nouveau (I don’t say this in a technical way, its just reflective of a lot of general early avant-garde tendencies kind of) cathedral, which from the outside looks more like a town hall or maybe a theatre than a cathedral, but inside is definitely all cathedral- the highlight being a set of four as-you-might-expect amazing windows by Edward Burne-Jones. [more on these later when the pics I took get developed and I can explain why they’re so cool visually]

But the centre of Birmingham’s ecclesiastical highlights don’t end here by any means, because right next to the Bull Ring shopping centre/area/whatever is the church of St Martin’s In The Bullring, which also has Burne-Jones windows and moreover enjoys the distinction of looking more like a cathedral than the actual cathedral. It is also in the group of ‘cathedral-like’ churches that includes, amongst others, Beverley Minster and Bath Abbey.

[I have more to write later]

Wells Cathedral

August 4, 2009

wells cathedral
Wells is the second-smallest city in the UK (after St Davids, which is apparently a LOT smaller, and also technically it’s bigger than the ‘square mile’ of London too but that’s just a historical mistake, not a city). It’s also in the middle of nowhere, about an hour and twenty minutes bus ride from Bath, through lots of wiggly-windey little roads (the route also takes you through a place called Radstock, which has given me an idea for a music festival). Apparently originally the cathedral for the diocese was in Bath, for a bit, but then this guy Reginald de Bohun decided to build a cathedral in Wells. Even after that though it doesn’t seem like anyone could really make up their minds where to actually have the cathedral for the diocese of Bath and Wells because apparently the bishop’s seat was moved to Glastonbury Abbey for a bit too. But Wells is probably the best place for it, because what it lacks in ease of access Wells more than makes up for in terms of having an ace cathedral.

Wells is the first cathedral built in England in the Gothic style. However its building was interrupted somewhat by the whole of England being excommunicated in 1207 due to King John being a douche. Just check those amazing flat towers. They were built quite a bit after the rest of the cathedral was completed, by William “I remodelled the nave in Winchester” Wynford. Allegedly they wouldn’t have originally been intended to be flat but would probably have had paired pinnacles at each corner and maybe even spires. I don’t know why they didn’t build them if they wanted them though. Maybe they just decided Wells looks better without them. Wells have been described as “the most poetic of English cathedrals” and also “feminine” in its charms. I think this feminine thing is maybe true- Wells is a very clean, neat, and well-maintained cathedral inside, a tribute to the throughness of its Victorian restorers (the inside was all whitewashed and ruined by Protestants for ages). Plus the ceiling in the nave is painted this lacy, pink pattern. Fruity.

west front

My favourite thing about Wells, though, is all the statues on the west front. It’s built in layers- the bottom is the ‘past’ layer and contains scenes from the Old Testament on the south side (your right if you’re standing facing it), and scenes from the New Testament on the north (by process of elimination, your left). The middle is ‘present’, containing busts of kings and bishops and the likes. Then the top is ‘future’. Above, Christ and his angels and such look down from heaven as below, the naked dead rise from their graves. Rapturific. It’s all a joy to behold, but they best thing about it is how apparently when services used to take place in medieval times, choir boys would be standing in the arches (or behind the windows in the arches, I forget which), singing, while from holes pointing out from the ‘heaven’ bit, trumpets would be thrust out, and playing, as people processed towards the cathedral. Religion’s really coming alive, huh? Another cool thing about the west front is that the doors are really small. It’s like the opposite effect to Peterborough, and they are referred to as “mouseholes.” By contrast, the north door is much more impressive. It has stone decorations illustrating the death of Edmund the martyr and everything. But outside it are these weird statues, look:


(no one knows what these are… scary!)

As I enter Wells cathedral (through neither the west nor north sides, instead Wells has this weird ‘new’ entrance bolted onto the side, it’s kind of unsettling) I am struck by the bizarre, haunting organ music humming across my ears and echoing around the place. It sounds strange, foreign, somehow medieval, a bit like Nico on ‘Desertshore’. Later it turns out they’re tuning the organ, and the tour guide apologises.

Unfortunately, Wells is one of those cathedrals that make you purchase a photo pass, so obviously I’m not paying that, so I have no photos of anything inside. So you’ll have to use your imagine. Anyway as you enter Wells looking down the nave the first and most immediately striking thing is its bizarrely modern-looking ‘scissor arches’, an apparently unique feature which were built in 1338-48 to combat sinking tower foundations, and look kind of like an angry owl. Owls are a recurring feature in Wells cathedral- in the Sugar chantry chapel there is, for example, a statue of an owl. The scissor arches are probably best appreciated though by stepping up into them (they support the central tower on all sides) and sort of feeling yourself encased in them, they really are quite genuinely amazing.

The quire is also very impressive, with all this 1930s/50s embroidery on the stalls, all commemorating various bishops of Bath and Wells with cute little motifs like four blowing winds for this bishop who died when two chimney stacks collapsed on him in a big storm. Two of them next to each other later became cardinals- Thomas Wolsey and Adriano Castellesi. Wolsey you know, but Castellesi  was de facto cardinal protector of England under Alexander “I am a notorious pope” VI , who he may possibly have later poisoned maybe. He was later stripped of his cardinalate after being implicated in a plot against Leo X, who had a pet elephant. “A man of doubtful reputation” indeed. There’s also some great stained glass in the quire- the ‘Jesse window’, installed 1340, shows the family tree of Christ springing from Jesse’s hip and is just so sumptuously medieval-coloured and excellent. Apparently they’re soon to pay about £1 million to maintain it. Money well spent imo. Other top-notch stained-glass in Wells includes the familiar post-Civil War mosaicing of wrecked glass in the lady chapel such as previously demonstrated in Winchester (only in this case there is a second level of stained glass that was apparently too high-up for them to bother smashing and so is still there- it has some great heads in it, of various diginataries, one imagines). In the north transept there is some lovely stained-glass with all these kings of Wessex on it, but I neglected to ask when it dates from- it looks relatively modern though, possibly arts and crafts? Who knows. Still, two thumbs up.

Another top feature of Wells is its breezy, octagonal chapter house. This is where the chapter used to (and apparently sometimes still does, although I think now the chapter is much smaller and so would probably just get drowned-out and lost in the chapter house, which gives the impression of wide, agoraphobia-inducing space, particularly when seated). The ceiling has been described as “the finest example of Fan Vaulting architecture in the world,” although that sounds kind of clumsy- I think maybe the author of that quote meant to write “vaulted” (or maybe just lose the ‘architecture’? It’s not really doing much work in that sentence anyway). Also apparently it’s not even really fan vaulting, it’s like some more primitive sort of fan vaulting. Pfft. Whatevs mate, it looks like a fan. Round the side runs a bench, with pillars in blue lais and  happy little faces carved above them, and then little brass plaques with words like “Wilflakington” and “Wedmore V” engraved on them. This has something to do with where people’s money comes from, or something. To get to the chapter house you have to go up these very idiosyncratic stairs, look:

(the extra stairs lead out to a walkway which connects the cathedral to the cathedral close, which was some way of preventing whoever it was lived there from getting laid. PS look at the cathedral close can you believe some people actually get to live here? The rest of the surrounding streets are very pretty took, look at this street sign approaching the Penniless Porch and the medieval-y sewer thing still intact as well!)

cathedral close
cathedral green


Another top Wells attraction that I already knew about before I went here in fact because I have an old postcard of it is the Wells cathedral clock. The second-oldest clock still working in existence (after Salisbury’s), and the oldest with it’s original face, the original mechanism is actually now in the science museum, but just check it out. There’s two faces- one inside, one out, with the inside face the superior of the two. The face reflects of geocentric world view, with the sun and moon revolving round a fixed earth (sun on the circle for the hours, moon for the minutes- hours and minutes are represented seperately, see). When it hits the hour, knights go round above the clock face, and this little character sitting on the wall along from it hits a bell. His name is Jack Blandifers, and he generally looks quite a cheeky little fellow. The paintwork is excellent. I think more clocks nowadays should have figures doing stuff. Like, how did that ever possibly go out of fashion? Did people for a bit suddenly forget how to be delighted at things? Where’s the delight? Look at the clock:

wells clock

Wells is full of amusing little touches. For example the capitols on the pillars about the place have little cartoonish scenes on like this one about grape thieves getting caught (and another one which is just a guy with toothache)- they are meant to represent typical Somserset scenes. The tomb of former bishop John Harewell has him with two hares and a well at his feet- one of the neatest bits of churchman punning since John Islip, look:

john islip

Harwell’s tomb is also very attractively carved-up, as is Rufus of Shrewsbury’s across the cathedral- some excellent effect the graffiti has given them. Another tomb that has been pleasingly ruined is that of William Bytton, who apparently had perfect teeth even though he died very old- therefore people took to touching his teeth to combat dental complaints. As a result his entire lower jaw and neck is now missing. Looks like they exhausted that particular natural resource, huh?

Less amusing is the thoroughly underwhelming Interpretation centre, just sort of a fairly blank museum telling you about stones. Give it a miss.

But don’t give the cathedral a miss, though! It’s ace!

Winchester Cathedral

July 30, 2009

winchester cathedral(it’s not really this slanty irl, it’s just for some reason staring up at the west front of Winchester cathedral hurts your eyes like a bitch, so it’s hard to get a straight view)

I grew up in Winchester, so I’ve already been to Winchester cathedral quite a bit, well at least like three times at this point, I mean the inside, I go to the outside like all the time. Well, when I’m in Winchester. But I think it’s easy to forget just how impressive Winchester cathedral is from the inside, because it’s such an ugly building on a lot of levels. Patchy and long, like most cathedrals perpetually dotted with scaffolds, and the south-east of the cathedral is sinking, too. It was the longest building in medieval Europe though, so I guess that’s something to be proud of. This cathedral book I have says that Winchester cathedral “could be said to fail every aesthetic test that could be devised by tidy, critical minds.” I think this also refers to the inside, too, though, because inside it’s kind of a muddled clash between stunning, pointy-arched William Wykeham gothic in the nave and thick-mortared romanesque in the north and south transepts, where 14th-century renovations were apparently unforthcoming. This also makes the cathedral more interesting imo though, as well as reinforcing the general sense that you get when exploring it and being guided round that this isn’t just a cathedral- this is a big building encompassing and documenting the entire cultural memory of my home city, inside here, and maybe in the King Alfred statue near the bus station, is represented pretty much everything that ever made Winchester an important place to exist.


One thing that quickly becomes apparent when visiting Winchester cathedral is the sheer disproportionate number of people named William associated with it. For example:

  • William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester, founder of Winchester College and the weirdly-identically-gated New College, Oxford, guy in charge of the gothic renovations and one of the richest and most powerful men in 14th-century England. (an impressive chapel/tomb to him is maintained by the two educational establishments he founded and located on the south-west side of the nave- it’s really tall too so you can’t really miss it)
  • William of Edington, Wykeham’s predecessor, who has a slightly less impressive chantry nearby.
  • William Walker, the diver who pretty much single-handedly saved the cathedral from actually sinking in the 1900s. There is a small statue of him in the sloping, south-east of the cathedral and another, bigger one near the public toilets outside the cathedral shop.
  • William Lampard, long-time captain of the bellringers.
  • William Rufus, who is buried there.
  • Master mason William Wynford, who actually did the gothic renovations.
  • William Morris, Arts and Crafts kingpin who is partly responsible for some utterly lovely stained-glass windows for the chapel in the north transept. (actually designed by Sir Edward Coley ‘William’ Burne-Jones but made in Morris’s workshop)
  • Authoress William Austen, whose tomb is located in Winchester cathedral, and whom there is also a memorial plaque too nearby that, unlike the inscription on the tomb, actually mentions her novels.
  • Queen ‘Bloody William’ Tudor, who married King Guillermo II of Spain here in 1556.

    (there are loads more ACTUAL Williams, too, I just can’t remember all their surnames or what specifically they did, I should have been taking notes)

    Rad library

    One thing you should definitely do if you go to Winchester cathedral is visit the William Morley library, which contains two big highlights you’re allowed to walk round and be deferential towards: firstly the Winchester Bible, which is like this amazingly beautiful illuminated velum bible (commissioned by 12th-century Bishop of Winchester Henry de Blois, brother of King Stephen and one of two highly noted royal Henrys associated with Winchester, along with John of Gaunt’s illegitimate issue, Henry Beaufort, whose painted tomb is hanging about in the Retrochoir) with these colours that will make your heart leap out of your chest to get closer to it but then it will be unable to leach the colour out of the manuscript and so your heart will die. Only don’t let that put you off. It would be better if you were allowed to touch it yourself, I guess, but seriously, the colours are marvel enough. Plus it’s huge and was apparently all written by this one monk. The illuminations were done by more than one artist though. They’re only showing two pages from one manuscript in the cases at a time, but apparently they change them every fortnight. So maybe you should donate £6 to get an annual pass to the cathedral and go back all the time to look at them? I mean, if you live in Winchester, it’s probably not worth doing if you don’t. Today one of the pages has a big whole in it- people used to cut out illuminations, apparently. When one got found by this woman who ‘bound’ the Bible in the last century (I dunno what state it was in before) she sewed some back in. That’s pretty cool. I get into a conversation with the woman guiding people around about the inks when she asks if I’m interested in art and I say yes. Then she asks if I’m studying it at university. In hindsight I should have just lied, it would have made a fun lie to be a fine arts student. You can get a book describing how they make the inks, though. Like crushing up red earth for the reds and stuff. I mean, given like a book of information, you can’t take it away, mind. Still.

    Arguably just as good, yet undoubtedly just as frustratingly un-touchable, is a pair of these amazingly 17th-century Dutch globes in the room across, one of which is of the actual world, and another of which is of the constellations, only it has pictures of the constellations instead of just dots, so there’s a big pictures of a bear on it and stuff, you can imagine just how stunning this is.

    Up the stairs from the library is the Triforium Gallery, which has a scattering of artefacts from the cathedral, like smashed bits of shrine ruined in the reformation and such, it’s OK.

    Compleat Angling

    izaak walton

    Winchester has a lot of nice little chapels in it- from the one in the north transept with those amazing stained-glass windows to the one opposite with the bits of really old mural uncovered to the ones in the Retrochoir with painted ceilings (one of which is similar to how all the ceiling in the surrounding R-choir would have been, but not the stone-vaulted ceiling in the nave, apparently- I asked). But obviously the best one of all is the Fisherman’s Chapel in the south transept- a shrine that not only contains this really cool modern sculpture that looks like a treetrunk with lots of fish on it, but also because it has stained glass relating to Mr. Izaak ‘Study To Be Quiet’ Walton, author the Compleat Angler, one of the most brilliant books EVER, a veritable Civil War-era Bible of apparently often not-very-useful fishing tips and why otters suck so hard, as told in dialogue between wise old master Piscator and eager-eyed student Venator. The pair stroll around rivers on there way from and back to Tottenham High Cross, establish convincingly why fishing beats all other pursuits, play a bit of shuffleboard, chat up a milkmaid, get up to all sorts really. Me and my girlfriend are going to adapt it for the stage. This probably won’t involve much actual adapting, because it is perfect. It’s hilarious both for all the wrong and all the right reasons, and plus it’s central mantra singing the virtues of quietude and humble leisure is an account of the good life that I can really get on board with (not that I’ve ever been fishing in my life, but consider it a metaphor). It’s really good stained-glass of Walton, too, you should definitely go see it.

    Tower Tour

    tower view

    Sure, I’d been to Winchester cathedral before, but before yesterday I’d never taken the tower tour. I’m going to start taking more tower tours at cathedrals (Salisbury do one, so defs that, spires) because I’d never actually been on one before, but this one was like, really, really good. I got to see all sorts of things I could only have ever dreamed of seeing before, and all for only £3 extra on the door price. It’s practically the deal of the century. You get to see the inside of the cathedral from high up, and then you get to go to a bell tower, where you can see the bells, and they tell you about bells (and like how one of them- because they’re all inscribed with whoever was king or queen when they were cast, and one of them is inscribed with Edward VIII’s name, but then he abdicated before the bell was put in, so they had to clumsily cross it off and put George VI’s, it’s pretty amusing), and then we were in it and then the bells went off because it was the hour, they were really loud, its was pretty intense. Apparently the floor used to shake when the bells went off so they had to fix it using steel. The steps up to the bell tower are really steep and I thought I was going to slip and injure myself like I did when I went to Old Sarum. But I didn’t. There were then a whole lot more steep steps, so steep I was climbing them like a ladder, on all fours, up to the very top of the tower, but it was worth it, because the top of the tower is AMAZING, you can see all of Winchester from it, and then they point out stuff and tell you fun facts you’d never otherwise know even as a Winchester native, like how St Giles’ Hill used to have a trade fair of international importance on it which merchants from the continent came to, lasted upwards of fourteen days, and during which all other trade in the surrounding area was halted. Only it ended completely about the start of the 19th century after not being that important or big for years and years, and now St Giles’s Hill is covered in trees. Awesome. Plus you can see people and stuff, and hear ambulances and then see them zooming about like this was SimEmergencyservices or something. On clear days apparently you can see to the Isle of Wight. Yesterday was not a clear day, though, so I didn’t.


    Then the way they lead you back, takes you through the ringing room (for the bells), and then what’s even better is it takes you through the insides of the stone vaulted ceiling in the nave. The stone vaulted ceiling, by the way, is a mightily impressive sight, staring along the nave looking east, it’s absolutely majestic. And then you see the back and, well, you know it’s not as impressive, because obviously it was never meant to be seen by the general public, but still. It’s really cool, there are polystyrene bungs in it underneath rat cages for if the ceiling ever floods, so they can take them out to prevent damage to the ceiling. Well, the nave will get wet but that’s preferable.

    So yeah, take the tower tour.

    Other stuff I haven’t mentioned

    • One thing that I really like about Winchester cathedral is how the stained glass in the big, west window is all jumbled up because of it being smashed by evil Cromwellians (like how a lot of stuff in cathedrals was smashed/ruined by them), but it’s just been glued back together randomly. It’s especially good how if you go up to the otherwise not-that-interesting treasury you can see the glass from eye level and pick out little bits of it.
    • Another cool thing is St Swithun’s shrine, which is a crawl-in. People used to literally crawl into it. I also really like the St Swithun legend, that whole if it rains on St Swithun’s day (July 15th), it will rain for another forty days and forty nights. It’s a good prophesy, because if it rains on a random day in the middle of summer, it probably will be a wet summer. So, the lives of the saints are really coming around in a relevant way for all of us. Also, check the Orthodox-style icons above where the crawlspace is (but no bones are, anymore, cheers Cromwell. Oh wait maybe that was Reformers. Well, anyway, it was someone lame).
    • Behind the High altar is this amazing 15th-century stone screen which is filled with 19th-century statues of saints and the likes (as well as, tellingly, Queen Victoria)- the original statues got smashed up, again by lamewads, but the newer ones are pretty cool too, they make it look all grand. Well, it would look grand anyway. But a different sort of grand, a Victorian grand.
    • There is a Parcel Force logo in the choir, recently installed as a tribute to one of the city’s favourite musical acts. Underneath it the inscription: “seat ye hear Widely Spread,” another intriguing reference to the Winchester music scene circa 2006-07.

      parcel force logo winchester cathedral

      Top Tip: If you should happen to find your way down the crypt, don’t panic- that’s not a real man standing there mysterious, downcast and all alone. It’s actually a statue by ‘English David Cerny on acid!!11!’ Anthony Gormley.

      Hot fact: A lot of the pillars used in the ‘Romanesque’ pits aren’t made up of lots of little drums of pillar mortared together like the Normans liked to make them- they’re solid pillars. This means that they’re either from the original Saxon minster that stood on this site before the Norman conquest or else they are Roman in origin! So, it’s not just Roman’esque’- it’s literally ‘Roman’! (maybe)

      Ely Cathedral

      July 27, 2009


      Ely cathedral is really what gave me the idea for going to see every cathedral in England, I guess that and also the fact that I could go to it in the same day as Peterborough cathedral, when I saw it from the train passing through Ely train station when I was travelling from Norwich to Manchester when my band were on tour. It’s amazing how it does sort of rise up from the dead-flat landscape of the Fens, but I guess that’s what you get when you’re a really big building at the top of a hill. Its nickname is ‘The Ship Of The Fens’- a sad reminder that the Fens used to be a lot better than just flat, as they were previously half-full of water.

      Ely is a really magnificent building but unlike Peterborough, its not so immediately obvious why. But just check out that great late 12th century west tower with the clock in it- yes, excitement of excitements, Ely is a cathedral with a clock in its tower! I ate a peanut butter sandwich in the rain in the grounds outside, across from a cannon.

      Inside (you have to pay to get in- I recommend getting combined entry for both the cathedral and the adjacent stained glass museum- you can also get tours of the tower and the Octagon thrown in as a different deal if they’re doing them that day), the main “omg wow” feature is- mentioned in the brackets- the Octagon, which is just like this amazing lantern thing in the ceiling of the central tower, with these wondrously coloured pictures of angels (or maybe saints or something I dunno, but I think they’re angels at least), and in the centre Christ looming out all 3D-like (I didn’t want to ask whether or not it actually was 3D, for fear of looking stupid).

      Another interesting feature about Ely is how, for a cathedral, it has this strange ‘religious’ vibe to it, which I know probably sounds like a dumb thing to say, because obviously cathedrals are religious buildings, but culturally I think they’ve by-and-large become secularised, or at least the religion in them is never in-your-face, unless you’ve stumbled into a service by mistake, but in Ely the religiousness is almost, like, evangelical and stuff. So the brochure has the slogan: “striving to be a Christian community of worship, welcome and care.” And they make you stop every hour for prayers to remind you its a house of worship. And when talking about the acoustics the tour guide (there are regular tours throughout the day inclusive in the price) was all like: “sometimes if there are children we get them to shout out ‘hossanah’ or ‘hallelugah’ or something to test the acoustics,” which is, you know. Kind of weird.

      Oh and throughout the cathedral there are these little cards you can pick up with photos of bits of the cathedral on them, and then on the back they have a description, but then- get this- they have like a Bible quote, and a website to go to to learn more about the Christian faith. However on the plus side the cards are really cool, look:

      ely cards

      (the best one is the one of 3D Jesus in the Octagon, only that’s on my wall in Manchester)

      Nowadays, no cathedral is complete without a few conspicuous modern sculptures, and you can see two of them from those cards. The winding one with the cross at the end is called ‘The Way Of Life’ and is on one of the walls of the West Tower and is some sort of Christian allegory. The other, cooler one is a sculpture by this guy David Wynne of Mary Magdalene encountering the risen Jesus and is in the South Transept. Radical.

      Another sculpture by David Wynne forms the centrepiece on the refurbished Lady Chapel, complete with recently-built walkway connecting it to the main body of the cathedral. However, it is absolutely hideous. It is ostensibly of the Virgin Mary as a “powerful, attractive” woman (not a passive image of her), which is fine, only the colour and stuff make it look really tacky. The Lady Chapel is pretty cool though, the best part being the decorations round the side which have all had their faces chiselled off (something to do with the dissolution of the monasteries). Apparently the Lady chapel used to be much more separate and functioned as the Parish church. The glass round the sides is mostly empty of stain, which always gives church buildings an odd feel- however there are little logos in some of them announcing the sponsors of its refurbishment- Barclays, TSB, and so forth.

      From the cathedral brochure’s description of the statue of Mary in the Lady chapel: “The words on the base are from St Luke’s gospel: Behold the handmaid of the Lord. You may wish to ask yourself what God is calling you to do?” Idk, I think God is calling me to visit loads of cathedrals maybe?

      Ely was originally founded (as a monastery) in 673 by Queen Etheldreda (now St.) who was a Saxon princess, married twice to a couple of princes, but she wished to be a nun and had made a vow of perpetual virginity, so neither of her marriages were consummated, which eventually caused her second husband to try and forcibly capture her and force her to have sex with him, but his plan failed. Her shrine is in front of the High Altar, and she kind of permeates the whole cathedral. Ely became a cathedral in 1109. Nearby to Etheldreda’s shrine is the chapel to Bishop Alcock, bishop of Ely between 1486 and 1500, and nowadays perhaps best known as an ancestor to trendy rock trend-setter Christopher Alcxxk of Internet Forever.

      Ely the town, unlike Peterborough, a really great place to visit in and of itself. It’s a bit like a version of Alresford- the small, watercress-producing town where my parents’ house is- only good, in that it has a cathedral, the river is way better, the surrounding landscape more interesting, it has this really cool antiques centre called the Wharfside Antiques Centre which is mostly quite reasonably priced and had a LOT of great old cathedral postcards- again, on my wall in Manchester- which I bought up, and even an ‘Ely Stamp Shop’, but that one didn’t seem to be open. The ducks are also FUCKED UP. What’s with this? When I first saw it I thought: “fuck, a duck’s mated with a chicken and produced offspring, why doesn’t science know yet?” but this was in the centre of town… then I went to the river and ALL OF THEM WERE LIKE THAT. What is going on? Ely’s ducks: the great new cryptozoological mystery of our time.

      ely DUCK?!?!

      I have never had eel, but I want to now. Apparently Ely is so associated with eels, taxes there used to be payable in eels. How’s that for trivia? If I was back in Ely, I’d go to the tourist centre earlier to get a riverside walk pack.

      Fun tip: half-priced Ely cathedral Christmas cards can currently be purchased in the gift shop.

      Hot fact: The word ‘tawdry’ originates in Ely due to cheap lace souvenirs related to ‘St Audrey’ (an for Etheldreda) being sold to sucker tourists at the annual fair there!

      Peterborough Cathedral

      July 26, 2009

      There is one thing that is really amazing about Peterborough Cathedral and that is its AMAZING west front with these huge arches which look like three big gaping mouthes threatening to eat Peterborough up. This is maybe preferable, because the non-cathedral part of Peterborough that I saw is kind of ugly. This cathedral book I have says that “the standard authorities vary in their assessment [of the west front] from lavish praise to severe criticism… the praise comes from those who enjoy the drama of the overall effect; the blame comes from those who worry about the way it is achieved.”

      How you could fail to be as excited and awestruck as I was by the west front is probably beyond my powers of reasoning, but one potentially rational explanation is that it is- OK- lopsided due to one of the intended towers on it being missing. Also, as the book points out, “for some unknown reason the original plan, to make the central opening wider than the other two was altered so as to make it narrower, which gives a rather cramped effect [to the design]”. It seems really you have to be kind of a killjoy not to love it, it really is one of the most impresses pieces of architecture in the whole world I think maybe, or at least I’ve never seen anything else like it myself.

      After admiring the west front and giggling a little, I decided to trot round the sides to get a good impression of the whole thing before looking inside. Peterborough cathedral looks mightily impressive from the sides too, however I failed to do a complete circle of it and had to track back and walk the way I’d come to get to the main entrance after reaching a dead end, which is a minus point for it. My favourite thing about the sides is the little statues of people on pillars.

      Peterborough cathedral is free to visit- this is definitely a plus point. Inside you can buy a lovely little pocket guide for £2 which has lots of pictures of the interior- the other alternative is you could buy a photo pass and take your own, which might be better if you want pictures of lots of the details. You can learn a lot interesting facts about the cathedral’s founding (as an abbey) and how it later became a cathedral (in 1541). Prior to this it was part of the absolutely vast diocese of Lincoln. Of course, back then, Lincoln cathedral was the tallest building in the world, so you can understand it covering a large area. The cieling in the nave is painted very prettily and- surprisingly- has been consistently since the early 13th century, apparently (by contrast, Salisbury’s painted cieling was whitewashed over and is only partially restored- you can see big ugly splashes of whitewash on the cieling there though).

      Other fun facts about Peterborough cathedral include the fact that Catherine of Aragon is buried here, and also the Mary Queen of Scots was buried here, because she was executed at (nearby) Fotheringay Castle, but is no longer buried here because James I moved her to Westminster Abbey.  If you go to Peterborough you can also see the Hedda Stone, which was a grave marker for the monks slaughtered here in 870 by the Danes. There is also a painting above the entrance of some guy called ‘Old Scarlett’ who turns out to be a former verger. They sell books about him in the gift shop.

      Overall I don’t know if I really got as much as I could out of Peterborough cathedral- I didn’t get a tour because they were only happening at 2 and I had to rush on to Ely cathedral. And, if I’d gone a day later (on the 22nd) I could have had a tour of the tower :(. Peterborough cathedral also do this amazing-sounding scheme where you can pay £200 to become a “Pinnacle Pioneer” and climb one of the towers, its great they let you do that.

      In conclusion, I give you my guestbook entry: “I’m a fan of Peterborough cathedral!”