Church Architecture: Hereford Cathedral

Search Britannia

History | Travel | British Life Shop Britannia

History Quicklist

Pitkin Guides

The Architectural Details of Hereford Cathedral in Herefordshire
Edited by David Nash Ford


Architecture of Every Period

Although, from the point of view of size, Hereford is one of the smaller Cathedrals of England, it is an architectural gem for, at least in the opinion of Sir Gilbert Scott, few English Cathedrals have a more perfect series of specimens of the different styles of English architecture. The visitor can see here examples of all the fashions of architecture in use in this country during the five centuries preceding the sixteenth. The outside length of the Cathedral is 342 feet; inside, 327 feet 5 inches; nave, 158 feet 6 inches; choir from screen to reredos, 75 feet 6 inches; Lady Chapel, 93 feet 5 inches.

The massive central tower (1320-40), the decorated work of which is enriched with ball-flower ornament, was at one time surmounted by a timber spire. The north or Booth porch, noticeable for its fine windows, the arcading on the Lady Chapel and the north transept are other striking features of the exterior.

The earliest portions of the present Cathedral Church are the choir, transepts and choir aisles, erected in 1079 by Robert De Losinga, the first Norman Bishop. He is thought to have taken as his pattern the basilica of Aix-la-Chapelle. The diocese had been without a central church since a disastrous fire had almost completely destroyed the previous Saxon edifice some twenty years before. The original plan was continued by Bishop Reynelm - whose monument in the choir contains the phrase "Fundator Ecclesiae" - and the nave and transepts were completed in 1148 by Bishop Robert de Betun. About 1180-90, the gothic or pointed style began to be developed at Hereford, as elsewhere, and the eastern apses of the Norman church gave way to transitional work. A considerable portion of this still remains to be seen at the ambulatory or crossing of the eastern transept, west of the Lady Chapel. From the 13th century the changes and additions to the Cathedral may be arranged chronologically as follows:

13th century or Early English: The Lady Chapel and crypt, the clerestory of the choir and the north transept, a remarkable piece of work, transformed by pointed arches and windows of a very original kind under the direction of Bishop Peter de Aquablanca in circa 1260.

14th century or Decorated: The rebuilding of the choir and nave aisles, the inner north porch, the north and south ends of the eastern transept, the central tower, a western tower (now destroyed) and the Chapter House (now, unfortunately, in ruins).

15th century or Perpendicular: The first work of this period at Hereford began about 1400 by alterations in the south transept, followed by the Stanbury Chantry Chapel (1470) and the Audley Chapel (1500). The Cloisters also belong to this period and, finally, the north or Booth porch, completing the pre-Reformation church.

In 1786, the western tower, originally built it is believed by De Braose, fell, carrying with it two bays of the nave, one of which has never been rebuilt. The present triforium and clerestory of the Nave are the work of James Wyatt, 1786-96, replacing the magnificent Norman work which he wantonly destroyed.

From 1901 to 7, the West Front reconstructed by Wyatt after the tower's collapse, was replaced by infinitely superior work designed by John Oldrid Scott. It presents a handsome facade containing sculptured figures and includes a stained glass window to the memory of Queen Victoria, the gift of the women of Herefordshire.

The Crypt, like the Lady Chapel above it, is a beautiful specimen of Early English architecture, built soon after 1200, was for many generations desolate from disuse. It was restored in the 1920s and reopened as a place of worship, with an altar of stone surmounted by a reredos in which are figures of St. Michael, St. George and St. Aethelbert, the work of Sir William Goscombe John, R.A.

The latter-day pilgrim will enjoy the Cathedral and the cloisters, but the grandeur of the Norman Bishop's Palace and the Medieval College of the Vicars Choral are mostly off-limits.

Edited from "Cathedrals" (1924).

Click for a History of Hereford Cathedral      Copyright ©2000, LLC