Bradford Cathedral:


A description, narrative and academic study with archaeological and architectural facts from an aesthetic perspective.


Archaeological Artifacts and Points of Interest:

Site type                                                                                     period 

Cross                                                                                           Early medieval               600 AD – 1066

Church                                                                                        Medieval                          1066 – 1550 12th – 15th

Grave Slab                                                                                 Churchyard Medieval     1066 – 1550

Churchyard                                                                                Georgian                          1714 – 1836

Sundial                                                                                       Georgian                          1714 – 1836

Font                                                                                             Victorian                          1837 – 1901

Cathedral                                                                                   Early 20th c                       1901 – 1932

According to the West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service Historic Environment Record the medieval Parish Church of St Peter (awarded cathedral status in 1919) is:

‘’medieval in form, where the church comprised of a nine bay aisled nave, a chancel with flanking chapels and a later tower. The earliest parts of the nave are thought to be of 12/13th century date, whilst the arcades may have been rebuilt when the aisles were added in the early 15th century, possibly reconstructed with reused materials from an earlier decade. The clerestory was completed in 1493 and the tower was constructed between the dates of 1493-1508. The cathedral has a churchyard containing mainly 18th and 19th century monuments.

Ryder, 1993.

Hallmarks of a typical West Yorkshire church of what Ryder (1993: 57- 77) refers to are clerestories, embattled parapets, low-pitched roofs, west towers with corbelled out parapets and angle pinnacles, chamfered arched ribs. Plans of buildings retain chancel arches, full length aisles (where Ryder quotes Bradford as an example prior to a recent extension). Late medieval paneled ceilings are also common in the region (where 15 still survive).

The three great town churches in West Yorkshire which includes Bradford were all buildings of considerable size and status before the end of the medieval period. All underwent several phases of extension and remodeling in the 15th and early 16th century and therefore present the architectural historian with some problems regarding interpretation. Bradford and Wakefield were both raised to cathedral status (1888 and 1919) have had their eastern parts extended as a result.

Pre-Conquest Origins:

The present building is the third church on the site. The parish of Bradford belonged to ancient Saxon parish of Dewsbury and the story goes that when Queen Ethelburga came north from Kent to marry King Edwin of Northumberia she was accompanied by her chaplain Paulinus (627AD) where he was baptized on Easter Eve in what is now the crypt of York Minster. He is said to have visited Dewsbury where a Christian community was established and a mission was sent to the then Bradford Dale. It is of considered opinion that the first church which would have been made from either wood or wattle was built around 633. A preaching cross and small oratory would have been the norm. Bradford Church paid (and still do) an alterage to Dewsbury (eight shillings every Easter Day) as a token of dependence on the mother church.

When the Domesday Book was compiled it was not listed however but the surrounding manor is recorded which concludes that the house lay in the Church-Barkerend area. In the early 13th century after the Norman Conquest a second church was built by the De Lacy family and so the parish of Bradford was built around that time. The earliest written record of the church is a register by the Archbishop Wickwane in 1281. The second church served until 1327 when it was burnt down by Scottish raiders. The four pillars were the only thing left standing which are still in the south arcade, nearest the chancel. Rebuilding after the Black Death 1348-9 (which almost wiped out Bradford) is estimated around 1358. The Leventhorpe Chapel was the first part completed followed by the Bolling Chapel. Their endowments were confiscated during the dissolution of the monasteries.

Two pieces of cross shaft (PRN 2397 and 7246) indicate the pre conquest origins of the site and four medieval grave covers also survive within the church dating from the 12th to 14th centuries (PRN 7949).


Conservation and the immediate surrounding area:

Bradford Council in conjunction with West Yorkshire Archaeological Service and students of Sheffield Hallam University including John Ayers (for drawings and illustrations) worked together to produce an assessment on what is known as the ‘’Cathedral Precinct’’ in October 2005. Their findings established that the Cathedral Precinct Conversation Area was one of the first to be designated in Bradford (11.1973). The conversation assessment includes the ecclesiastical buildings that sit on a piece of rising ground to the east of the city within the commercial heart of Bradford. The report establishes that the area is ‘’archaeologically significant’’ as there is evidence of Anglo-Saxon artefacts (fragments of crosses and foundations of a chancel).

The cathedral and its graveyard represents the earliest known part of Bradford’s medieval settlement with evidence of earlier activity on the site. When the church was refronted in 1833, two fragments of Anglo-Saxon crosses were discovered dating from the 10th and 11th centuries, it is considered that these fragments were associated with a former Anglo-Saxon church or chapel and burial ground that occupied the site. Its antiquity is further confirmed by the oval shape of the graveyard which suggests it has Pre-Norman origin. Additionally, the foundations of an early chapel were uncovered in the 1960’s.

Anglo-Saxon Bradford, according to the report, was situated at the point where the four streams meet at Bradford Beck (Ive Bridge and Church Bridge). A map dated from 1720 confirms the position, further accredited to this fact is the term used to describe Bradford in the Domesday Book (1086) as ‘Broad ford’ which gave the town its name. Although the population of the settlement grew steadily during the late medieval and early industrial periods, the area that is now the Cathedral Precinct Conservation area remained relatively less built up and was predominantly fields until the late 18th century. The only roads of the area that had been established by the end of the 18th century were Church Bank Road and Stott Hill. (see research folder diagram 1820 and ordinance survey plan 1852 for more details).

The report confirms that the Cathedral is a fine example of a 15th century Yorkshire Parish Church with earlier elements and later additions. It is a Grade I listed building. A wealth of architectural styles reflect different periods that juxtapose one another from Gothic to neo-classical
Georgian to the eclectic Victorian style and the later 20th century architecture. The collection of warehouses to the north of the area reaffirm the architectural fashion during the second half of the 19th century. The West tower is the most dominant feature of the cathedral which displays heavy gothic perpendicular detailing which was the style of architecture in England from the 1350’s to the 1550’s. This is a rectilinear system of design based on cusped panels and is a peculiarly English trait. All of which confirm my findings in the remainder of this report.

Summary of characteristics of the Conservation Area:

The topography of Bradford which allows views out of the conservation area to the hills beyond is attractive and provides a connection with the city’s appealing surroundings with the two levels providing an intricacy of form and emphasis the status of the cathedral. That uniformity in colour and texture of the sandstone and slate used throughout gives the conservation area as a whole a sense of unity.

Key Issues affecting the area:

The current poor economic climate within the city has left much of the floorspace within the conservation area redundant. Investment needs to be encouraged into the city with constant conserted efforts to regenerate the area. Finding a productive use to the other buildings would ensure their upkeep as well as improving the amenity of the area.

Extensive areas of wasteland where redundant warehouses have been destroyed and are in a state of disuse. Environmental improvements are urgently needed for the derelict area between the cathedral and the warehouses either with new development or landscaping schemes that would complement those of the cathedral precinct proper and form a cohesive link bringing the two areas together. Policy BH7 of the Unitary Development Plan will be implemented to ensure that new development is of the highest standards of design and respects the character and appearance of the conservation area. (see page 29 and 30 of the report for more details).

Within this document there is stipulation that ‘’important views and vistas should be respected’’, CDMDC 2005:30, due to the current development and expansion of the Westgate Development the Cathedral now no longer stands above other buildings in the area and the scenery has been blighted with the regeneration of this area.



William Rhodes is considered to be responsible for building much of the new church from (1401)

The building, without the tower and transepts was completed in 1458. It is well known that before the Reformation the church was fairly wealthy and had many valuables including a life size solid silver image of St Peter which stood over the altar.

The Tower/Belfry:

At Bradford the best surviving medieval feature is the massive western tower with heavy paired buttresses at each angle, a seven light west window and paired two light belfry openings on each face below a paneled and pinnacled parapet; more impressive in scale than in detail, documentary records show that this tower was being built over the period of 1493 – 1508 and as Wakefield, the tower was constructed as a free standing to the west of the older nave to which it was linked by the construction of an extra bay. Prior to this the nave aisles are said to have been built in 1408 and 1411 (reusing older arcades).

The tower is square in plan and constructed of squared fawn gritstone laid in courses which vary in height begun in 1493 and finished in 1508. At each angle there are paired multi stepped buttresses and a tall two part plinth, where the upper member has a swept moulding and the lower a straight chamfer. The south wall has been entirely refaced or rebuilt in the early 19th century and is of gritstone ashlar. On the North the clerestorey wall is of large squared blocks of gritstone laid in courses which vary in height. The only other part of the church to show pre 19th century masonry is an external elevation in the east part of the south wall of the south chancel chapel (Bolling Chapel – now known as the Ambulatory). This is constructed of square tooled and margined gristone of near ashlar quality. A number of cannon balls have been unearthed at the foot of the tower. The bells were first hung in 1666 and the clock installed a few years later. For a long time it was the only public clock in Bradford.

The tower is lofty and well-proportioned standing nearly 100 feet high.

The old clock room a fine old partly paneled room was made suitable for the ringers and over the door of this room is a stone dated 1268, probably a lintel from an earlier building. The clock was recased in 1695 and a new clock was supplied in 1724 with the present clock fitting in 1860.

The belfry is on the second floor and contains a large frame with 12 bell pits, at first there were only 4 bells. They were recast in 1715 and increased to six then to eight in 1735 and in 1845 to ten, their weight then being 5 tons 5 cwts. Recast again in 1921 as a memorial to the men who lost their lives in WW1, the tenor bell weighs 27cwt. High up, just above the roof of the tower there is an old sanctus bell. The walls are huge and covered with mason’s marks (see Simpson: 1958-13 for details). The walls are covered with memorials which reveal the high infantile mortality in the past and the number of people buried in the church. From this it is apparent that many of the streets of Bradford are named after people whose names appear on the memorials.

On the north wall of the tower is the Field memorial, dedicated to the Field family who owned the manor of Heaton.

Artefacts of note:

In 1691, Mary the daughter of John Midgley of Headley presented the parish with a silver flagon for the communion service. Underneath the cherub of the memorial there are three books carved in stone, these can be lifted down.

The Eagle Lectern was given by one of the churchwardens in the early part of the century.

The carved figures on the choir stalls are worth examining, St Elizabeth of Hungary, St Andrew, a crusader and others being on the bench ends. The Bishop’s Throne, a memorial to Bishop Boyd Carpenter (late Bishop of Ripon) is rather unusual. Instead of St Peter appearing as a saint in robes, he is depicted as a fisherman with a net, under the figure is a lattice work representing the sea with fishes swimming therein and underneath that sea shells. At the top is a pelican (which is symbolic) and on one of the other benches a carving of the Cathedral Tower standing on a rock with a dragon underneath. ‘’Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’’

The Reredos:

Set in Caen stone, were given to the church in 1862 said to represent the passion and the resurrection and at first was intended to have the Lord’s prayer and the ten commandments on the panels on each side but a donor gave the glass mosaics instead. They symbolize from left to right, the annunciation, the nativity, the passion, crucifixion, ascension and judgment. On the right in the wall is an ancient piscine which was found during alterations to the south wall. High up on the left wall is a ‘’priests squint’’. Above the clergy vestry there used to be a priests chamber where a priest could perform his tasks and at the same time by looking through this hole, could keep a watch on the valuables and ensure that the sanctuary lamp was always kept burning.

The Font:

Is not the first font in existence within the church, this example dates to 1705 and is Grecian in design in 1841 it was moved to Christ Church in Darley Street and replaced by the present one. The font cover however is much older namely 1536 and is thought to have been designed as it is in similar style to Halifax which according to Ryder (1993:56) is perpendicular in design.

Grave Slab:

There is a grave slab at the foot of the tower in a wooden frame bearing the name of Thomas Barwick who is said to have sounded the charge at the Battle of Waterloo.

Cathedral Plate:

In most ancient churches the plate is not of one date or style and is often given by different people at different times. There are two small communion cups 6 and 5/8ths in height given by Peter Sunderland in 1671. As one is only mentioned by the terriers at that time it is assumed that these two cups were fashioned from the one in 1799 which is the date of the hallmarks. One of the cups has an episcopal ring of the first Bishop of Bradford on the stem. One was made in London in 1743 and the other dates 1840 and is a replica of the first. There are two large patens eight inches in diameter and like the cups are different dates, the older being made in London in 1788 which reveals that it is a gift from Frances Rawson. There is a smaller paten (6 inches in diameter) of Britannia silver made by Lofthouse in London in 1710. There is also a smaller chalice. The most striking piece of silver plate is the ‘’Reresby Flagon’’ which is 22 inches in height which dates 1691, it does not have a hallmark and instead is stamped with the makers initials. The old alms dish of hammered brass is 20 ¾ inches in diameter which experts say cannot be later that Henry VIII’s reign. Its border has a conventional pattern and the whole of the middle is occupied by a representation of the return of Joshua’s spies carrying the grapes of Eshcol. One of the cathedrals treasured possessions is the Bishop’s jeweled Pastoral Staff in silver and ebony which was given by the members of the Girls’ Friendly Society.

For further details on organs see research folder.


Before the year 1860 the church had no stained glass. Prior to that date the east window, described as of the domestic architecture of the time was placed there by Dame Mary Maynard whose coat of arms and initials with the date 1671 were put over the window. The present east window was the third commission received by the poet-artist William Morris. He and friend Burne-Jones were concerned with drawing the designs which were made expressly for this work. The subjects were selected by John Adam Heaton and the window was inserted in 1863 as a memorial to a Bradford solicitor (Richard Tolson). Dodsworth visited the church in 1619 who reported that there were not any windows at that time but the window of the south choir contained the coat of arms of Badelsmere, Scargill, Elland, Bolling and the Earl of Lancaster. The north window of the chancel 1860 is the work of Hardman and in memory of Thomas Mann. The large west window in the tower was the gift of William Wells who has a churchwarden and is the work of Heaton, Butler and Bayne of London. In the north transcept are two windows by Shrigley and Hart of Lancaster and the two windows in the south wall were given by the families of the late Richard Fawcett (1885) and the late Mary Robertson (1898) and also of Richard Fawcett who died in 1845. In the north wall are two windows in memory of Henrietta Frances Keeling (1905) given by the Rev Keeling who was headmaster of the Grammar School and a freeman of the city. The windows in the south transept are all by Kemp and can be recognized by his trademark of a small wheatsheaf.

The large central window is considered to be the best in the cathedral is in memory of Sir John Cass (1898). The windows in the Bolling Chapel are by Nicholson.

On the North wall is a window given by the old comrades of the 6th battalion, the Prince of Wales own West Yorkshire regiment in memory of the lives given during WW1, designed by A L Davies of Bromsgrove, inserted in 1921. The window ledge is the tomb of an unknown soldier buried around 1408 which is alongside a book of Remembrance for WW2. Cases in front of the window show a sword and part of a helmet.

Opposite window on the square pillar is the Rawson memorial – they lived in Manor Hall, Kirkgate who date back to the reign of Henry VII. Frances Rawson gave one of the large silver patens to the church which is still in use.

Nave Arcades:

Are the oldest architectural feature in the church with eight continuous bays separated from a ninth (Western) bay by a short length of solid wall. The nave roof has ten bays with king post trusses having arch braces to wall posts which rest on brightly painted stone corbels of angel musicians. The aisle arcades appear to date to the 12th to 14th century.

Several heraldic shields can be observed on the nave walls. The ones nearest the chancel arch are both York Minster, then in order the south is the diocese of Bradford, the city of Bradford, Skipton and Bingley and on the north wall the diocese of Ripon, West Riding County Council, Pudsey, Keighley and Otley.

The arches have no keystones one builder taking one side and another the other, which can be seen by the many mason’s mark(s) on the arches of the north arcade the method was not always successful as the chancel arch is nine inches out of centre. (Simpson, 1958:19)

The Chancel:

The present choir and clergy stalls were introduced in 1899 but the canopy of the Provosts stall is quite recent and fitted with a figure of St Blaise as he is the patron saint of Bradford and woolcombers.


The Bolling Chapel gave way in 1615 which accounts for the Jacobean windows in the present chapel and was originally a chantry (which became the pew of the Tempests after the Reformation). The Leventhorpe Chapel ceased to be used when the chantry endowments were confiscated and was used at one time for the heating of the church. In the old wall at the back of the old Leventhorpe doorway is a bit of an old preaching cross which would have belonged to the first church. The chapel is now an organ chamber.

Pews/Stalls and Roof:

Under commission from the Archbishop of York the church was repowered in 1705 and in 1724 the roof was cast. The timber was brought from Tong Wood. Angels support the beams each one is different in design with some playing musical instruments. Near the crossing in the nave a pew has two staves with gilded tops which are the former ‘Constables.’

The stalls in the front pews are modern, those on the right side ‘’civic’’ and those on the left ‘’ecclesiastical’’, the centre stall bears the city arms as this is reserved for the Lord Mayor of Bradford on the bench ends a city mace and boars head is carved. The stalls on the other side are for the cathedral council where the carvings are the cathedral processional cross and the heads of lambs.

Ryder writes (1996:65-70):

‘’These late medieval paneled ceilings were originally mostly decorated with polychromes bosses at the intersections of the timbers and possibly by paintings within the panels as well. The perpendicular trend for ranges of clerestory windows and indeed for larger windows all round, encouraged the decoration of ceilings which would have been all but invisible in the gloom of the earlier medieval church. It is often difficult to tell whether the carved bosses or the painted and gilded corbels which carry the wall posts of a roof (like the dramatic angels over the nave at Bradford) are genuine medieval work or 19th century restoration; quite a number of roofs, including that over the nave at Badsworth shows the scars of removed bosses. Rood stairs are visible at Bradford as a broad buttress like projection externally but is hidden internally by plaster.’’

The North Door:

Above the north door is a royal coat of arms made of wood and coloured, queen anne in design and has a different motto of ‘’semper eadem’’. Near the north door is a memorial to Joseph Priestley who lived at Stott Hill House (behind the Cathedral) and was the superintendent of the Leeds and Liverpool canal for nearly 50 years. At the bottom of the tablet is a relief showing the construction of the canal (the middle figure being Priestley himself). Also near the north door is the memorial of Abraham Sharp, born in 1651 he became a distinguished mathematician and astronomer and friend of Isaac Newton. (For more study on the memorials and the families represented see my research folder).

Baptismal Records:

According to a feature in the Telegraph and Argus (by Helen Mead 12.09.2012), one hundred and fifty years prior to this date, Frederick Delius was baptized at the church. The baptism lists are among many fascinating documents kept at Bradford Cathedral where they are carefully looked after by volunteer archivist Astrid Hansen writes Mead. The register dates back to 1599 and reflect Bradford’s textile past. Additionally records of vestry meetings date back to the 18th century and would also cover law and order. The archives contain photographs of various historic events as well as photographs of how the church bank site looked in the past.

Modern Developments:

These last few years have seen many improvements, the new song room (in memory of Henry Coates 1893-1938 who was an organist and choirmaster), the enrichment of the ceiling of the song room consists of heraldically treated panels partly painted and part silver leaf representing the alms of the province of York and of the see of Bradford, interchanged with musical instruments representative of the musical life of the church from early times. The panels were designed by Charles Feeney to a scheme planned by the Architect Sir Edward Maufe R.A. The statue of St Cecilia the patron saint of music was designed and made by Vernon Hill. Using the symbol of an organ which she holds the design suggests that her inspiration was beyond her pagan world. The wings supporting her are for her angel guardian by whom she hears heavenly music. The wing shape and base, hinting a lyre symbolizes the same idea. The stained glass windows in the oriel are in memory of three lay clerks, Joseph Fell, Arthur T Drake and George S Raby and is the work of Moira Forsyth.

On the 30th of June 1958 work began on the east end which consists of a new chancel, lantern tower, north and south choir aisles, a lady chapel, St Aidan’s Chapel and a chapter house. A baptistery, a south and west porch is to be added (The research information gathered here dates back to 1958).


Austin-Clarke P (Ed)       2008      Brilliant Bradford                                        Breedon

Cannon J                           2014      Medieval Church Architecture                  Shire

Ellwood Post W               1974      Saints, Signs and Symbols                          SPCK

Simpson A E                     1958      A Short History of Bradford Cathedral    British Publishing Company Ltd

Smith Mayhew M           2011      Britain’s Holiest Places                               Lifestyle Press

Robinson A H                   1984      Bradford Cathedral                                    Bradford Cathedral

Rodwell W                        1981      The Archaeology of the English Church  B T Batsford, London

Ryder P                             1997      Medieval Churches of West Yorkshire    WY Archaeology Service

Taylor R                            2003      How to read a church                                 Rider


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