Throughout this virtual exhibition, providing access to our Open Treasure #MuseumFromHome, we have been looking at the changes that occurred to the cathedral during the 19th century.  The last post in the series looks at the biggest of these changes, those that were the brainchild of one man, William Lake.

William Lake, Dean of Durham 1869- 1894

Appointed Dean of Durham in 1869, William Lake found services so neglected that the congregation ‘strolled about in the aisles merely to hear the anthem’.  That went completely against his belief that a church service should ‘interest, warm or soothe’ those in attendance.  It was this philosophy that guided his six year renovation project which included the installation of new stained glass in the aisles of the cathedral and the Chapel of the Nine Altars.

In the cathedral archives are four mounted, hand coloured draft drawings for some stained glass windows.  Made by Clayton and Bell, one of the most important window designers of the 19th century, they offer us a glimpse into the process each window in the cathedral went through at one time or another.  These are relatively rare examples of draft Clayton and Bell works since so much of their archive was lost during World War Two bombing.

Draft design for the Chapel of the Nine Altars Clerestory windows. This drawing is for a generic design with details to be added later. The finished windows include depictions of Bishops William de St. Calais, Hugh of le Puiset, Cuthbert Tunstall, William Van Mildert and Prior John Wessington.
Draft design for an unknown window, probably for the Chapel of Nine Altars.

Of these windows only two, those featuring Coifi and Bernard Gilpin, were actually created, and even then the final designs underwent several changes before completion.  You can read more about the changes to the Coifi window here.

Coifi window draft design

The dead horse in the top section of the Bernard Gilpin window (below) was moved further back in the final design for obvious reasons!

Bernard Gilpin window draft design

Perhaps the greatest name involved in Lake’s restoration project was George Gilbert Scott, the designer of the Albert Memorial in London. 

Sir George Gilbert Scott

Over the course of his career he designed or altered over 800 buildings.  At Durham he replaced the floor of the Quire using the Italian ‘Cosmati’ style using coloured marble arranged in geometric patterns.  He had planned to add a spire to the central tower but was overruled, something he never forgot.  He later recalled that ‘a violent opposition was raised against this work by creation of the canons, who thought thereby to curry favour with the bishop’.

His most famous creation at Durham is likely to be the screen marking the transition into the Quire that takes his name. His most endeared addition is most probably the Pelican Lectern…

The Pelican Lectern in the crossing at Durham Cathedral

This grand structure stands at 8ft tall and is made out of polished bronze. It is actually a giant Victorian desk for reading from the Bible or other holy texts, and is used for worship.

George Gilbert Scott drew on the initial description of a pelican lectern described within The Rites of Durham from the 1590s, as ‘the goodliest letteron of brass that was in all the country’. The original lectern was positioned near the High Altar but was destroyed in the Civil War. Scott’s lectern design (show above) c.1873 –is the one that still stands in the cathedral’s crossing to this day. Watch out for more on this marvelous sculpture in the days to come on our blog.

It is said that Bishop Baring refused to attend the reopening of the cathedral on October 18th 1876 calling the whole project ‘a waste of money’.  Local reports said the work had been done ‘a trifle too well’ as it left the cathedral looking ‘as if it had only the other day come spick-and-span new from the hands of its designers’.  This was absolutely fine in the mind of Katherine Gladstone, wife of Dean Lake, who had previously considered the interior of the cathedral nothing more than a ‘tight-fitting, shabby and perishing case’.

Many of the 19th century alterations to the cathedral can still be seen today, but since then new artists and designers have added their work to that of the past, most recently the stunning stained glass ‘Illumination Window’ by Mel Howse, which was unveiled in 2019. As a living, breathing place of worship this ‘glorious temple’ (as Scott called it) continues to change and grow.


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