Southwark Catholic Cathedral
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: AW Pugin Victorian design
In 1820 Father Thomas Doyle came to serve the Catholic community on the south bank of the Thames at St George's chapel on London Road. The St George's and Walworth districts were undergoing a population explosion as the working-class areas were drawing a huge number of Irish Catholic immigrants.
Father Doyle soon realised the the 18th century chapel could not hold his growing congregation. He gathered support for a larger Catholic church, and news of the project came to architect AW Pugin, a staunch Catholic. Pugin, immediately drew up plans for a grandiose cathedral complex, complete with a cloisters, chapter house, and conventual buildings. In a famous episode that summed up Pugin's passion for his work over such mundane questions as economy, a committee member asked how much the ambitious plan would cost to realise, and Pugin immediately rolled up the plans, wished the committee good day, and left the meeting.
Despite the rather rocky relationship between Pugin and the committee, a new version of his plans were approved in 1839. The only site the City of London would agree to sell the Catholic church was a triangle of land on St George's Road. By a curious twist of fate, the location of the new church was very close to the site of the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots in 1770. In fact, the high altar is said to be placed on the exact spot where the Gordon Riots began, though this seems unlikely.
Anti-Catholic feeling in England was still running high at the time, and there were severe restrictions on the sale; Pugin's design had to be executed with no "ecclesiastical Ornament" on the exterior. To avoid a public scene, the foundation stone was laid at 7am, 26th May, 1841, in a private ceremony. The church opened in 1848.
The very first marriage ceremony to take place at St George's church was that of AW Pugin himself. On 10 August, 1848 Pugin married his 3rd wife.Jane Krill.
In 1850 St George's was raised to cathedral status, becoming the first Catholic cathedral in England since the 16th century Reformation.
Unfortunately, Pugin's church was badly damaged in 1941 when German bombs left the church a roofless shell. The building was rebuilt by architect Romilly B. Craze, who managed to retain much of Pugin's Gothic Revival work. The best surviving feature of Pugin's original design is the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, fronted by exquisitely detailed wrought-iron gates.
The Petre Chapel also remains. This exceptional Gothic chantry was desined by Pugin, who overaw every detail of the construction. The church guide calls the Petre Chapel a 'Gothic gem', it is thought to be the very first chantry to be built since the Reformation.
Despite the devastation of the WWII bombs, so much of Pugin's Victorian vision has survived, including extremely good stained glass windows by the Hardman company. One unexpected survivor is the stone frontispiece of the high altar. The frontispiece, crafted from Caen stone, was found in the rubble of the bombed church. Though damaged, it is a reminder of the superlative craftsmanship and detail demanded by Pugin in the original church design.
The cathedral is technically The Metropolitan Cathedral Church of St George, but is commonly called St George's Cathedral, Southwark.
Note: Do not mistake this church for the much older Anglican Southwark Cathedral, located on the South Bank near London Bridge.
About Southwark Catholic Cathedral
Address: Cathedral House, Westminster Bridge Road, London, Greater London, England, SE1 7HY
Attraction Type: Cathedral
Location: Opposite the Imperial War Museum. Entrance on Lambeth Road. The nearest tube station is Lambeth North, on the Bakerloo line.
Website: Southwark Catholic Cathedral
Phone: 020 7928 5256
Fax: 020 7202 2189
Photo Credit: Anthony O'Neil, licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence
Nearest station: Lambeth North - 0.1 miles (straight line) - Zone: 1
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NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
Imperial War Museum London - 0.2 miles (Museum)
Florence Nightingale Museum - 0.4 miles (Museum)
Cinema Museum - 0.4 miles (Museum)
Garden Museum - 0.5 miles (Museum)
Lambeth Palace - 0.5 miles (Historic Building)
London Dungeon - 0.5 miles (Museum)
London Eye - 0.5 miles (Family Attraction)
Hayward Gallery - 0.6 miles (Museum)
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