Friday, 3 August 2012

Brief history of Southwark Cathedral

Southwark cathedral is one of London's oldest Gothic buildings and is one of the few churches in London of the early English style (only other example is the temple church which is of a transitional period). It began life as a priory founded in 1106 by two Norman knights known as St Mary's Overie, The latter part of the name meaning St Mary's over the water (to London). In 1212 there was a devastating fire and the priory was mostly rebuilt in the early English Gothic style. After the dissolution of the monasteries the church was renamed St Saviour and remained royal property until it was bought by a group of merchants in 1611. It was a parish church since the reformation and a cathedral since 1905. 

The new London bridge of the 1830's played a pivotal role in the history of the cathedral. The bridge committee wanted to demolish the entire church and rebuild it smaller further west as London bridge was moved closer to the church. However, after much debate and persuasion the decision was finally taken to restore the church. Despite the church being saved it would lose much of its medieval fabric, first the lady chapel (to the east of the church) was demolished for the new approach to London bridge and also in the 1830's the nave was pronounced unsafe. By the early nineteenth centuey most of the church was in a poor state and at risk of collapse. Its savior was the young George Gwilt who strengthened the tower in 1818 and in 1821 restored the chancel and the retro-quire. The crumbling thirteenth century nave was in dire need of restoration, although it was decided to demolish it instead, using a unorthodox method of demolition they took off the roof leaving it exposed to the elements for 8 years. After the nave had degraded to a ruinous state they blew what remained of it up. They then employed Henry Rose to build a Gothick (not a misspelling) nave which so horrified people no records of its design were kept and it was demolished in less than a century. In 1890 the present nave was completed by Sir Arthur Bloomfield, as a close copy to what once stood for hundreds of years in an early English style. 

The building has fragments from each period of medieval architecture in England. In the wall of the north transept are fragments of the original Norman monastery. The church is dominated by the Early English style which is evident in the chancel and the retro-quire (and the old nave). The two most distinguishing features of the church are the early English retro-quire and the Triforium (pictured left- {the arcade of arches underneath the windows}). It also has some of the Decorated style which is evident in the south transept. The church also displays the late Gothic style of Perpendicular in the tower which was built around 1400 after rebuilding from a small fire in the 1390's. Also in the church is the Victorian Gothic revival style in the nave and extensions on the north and south transepts. Although it does not have the character and age of the medieval fabric the rebuilding on the inside at least has been generally sympathetic. On the outside however, the building has been much more altered, most obviously with the black flit covering which was added in the late nineteenth century restoration. 

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