Plymouth - St Mary and St Boniface Cathedral

Wyndham Street West, Plymouth, Devon

title= title= title= title= title= title=

The Cathedral church of the Diocese, when built perhaps the grandest of the new, purpose-built Catholic cathedrals. The design is by Charles and Joseph Hansom (Joseph’s first church) and, like Charles’ slightly earlier cathedral at Nottingham, is in the Early English style. The spire was added later, also from the Hansoms’ designs. The interior has been reordered at various times over the years (most recently, and most radically, in 1994) but includes a number of important furnishings, including a Hardman brass to Bishop Vaughan, Stations of the Cross by Joseph Cribb and good side altars. The Cathedral forms a good group with the contemporary Bishop’s House and School to the south, and is a landmark building on the eastern side of the city. 

Catholicism almost died out in the Plymoutharea during the penal years. However, a mainly Irish congregation grew in the late 18th century in the dock area, and in 1792 a small chapel was built over a stable building attached to an inn in Plymouth Dock (as Devonport was then known). Then in 1806-07 the French émigré Abbe Louis Guilbert built a chapel dedicated to St Mary andSt John the Evangelist in the Stonehouse district near theNavalHospital. The congregation grew and in 1828 a gallery was added.


With the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in 1850 Dr George Errington was appointed first Bishop of Plymouth and the little chapel in Stonehouse was designated the Cathedral of the new diocese. Errington was made an Archbishop in 1855 and moved toWestminsteras Cardinal Wiseman’s co-adjutor. His successor atPlymouthwas William Vaughan, previously a Canon atClifton.Vaughanwas from the old Catholic Courtfield family, the nephew of Cardinal Weld and related to the future Cardinal Vaughan, Archbishop of Westminster.  In February 1856 Vaughan was able to purchase for £2400 a site in an area known as Fivefields, with the help of large donations from Edmund Bastard of Kirtley and Letitia Trelawney of Cornwall.Vaughanappointed theBristolarchitects Joseph and Charles Hansom to draw up plans for a Cathedral in the Early English style, capable of seating 700. After further fundraising, a local builder named Roberts put in a tender to build their design, minus the spire, for £3084. The foundation stone was laid on 28 June 1856. Construction proceeded quickly, and despite the collapse of the roof and clerestory shortly before the originally planned opening, the Cathedral was opened on the Feast of the Annunciation, 25 March 1858.  The adjoining Bishop’s House inCecil Street, also built to the Hansoms’ designs, was ready for occupation in September 1857.   The school buildings to the south were completed in 1859, probably from the designs of the Hansoms.


Fittings installed in time for the opening included the high altar, the stained glass in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel (given by Mrs Trelawney, a major donor) and the organ (placed in the Blessed Sacrament chapel, this was a reconditioned late 18th century instrument from St Martin in the Fields in London).  In 1859 aCaen stone pulpit was installed in the nave and in 1864 a stone altar designed by Joseph Hansom was installed in the Blessed Sacrament chapel and Stations of the Cross in the aisles. In November 1864 the foundation stone was laid for a new convent of Notre Dame on the adjoining site inWyndham Street.


The 207 ft tower and spire (always intended) were added in 1866, from designs by the Hansoms, at a cost of £1500.


In 1876 the capitals of the pillars at the crossing were carved, the chancel ceiling decorated and gas lighting installed. 


The Cathedral was consecrated in 1880, at which time the stained glass window depicting St Boniface was installed at the west end.


In 1889 a magnificent 30 foot high stone reredos was added behind the high altar, sculpted by A.B. Wall ofCheltenham(no longer extant).


In 1893 a south wing was added to the Bishop’s House, containing a new dining room and library, at a cost of £800.


In 1902 Bishop Vaughan died and a large memorial brass with the recumbent figure of the bishop by Hardman & Co. was placed in the south transept.


In the 1920s and 30s, during the time of Bishop Keily, the building was reordered by F.A. Walters. The Lady Chapel was remodelled to become the Diocesan War Memorial, the large reredos to the high altar replaced by a triple arched structure surmounted by a statue of Our Lady, the choir gallery in the north transept was removed and the Blessed Sacrament chapel redecorated. TheSt Martinin the Fields organ was rebuilt by Hele’s of Milehouse and moved to the former Sacred Heart Chapel (replaced in 1997).


The Cathedral suffered some damage in thePlymouthblitz, and the adjoining convent of Notre Dame more severe damage; the nuns and schoolchildren were evacuated to Teignmouth. In 1954 Bishop Grimshaw launched a fundraising appeal to carry out repairs and improvements, but he soon moved on and these were completed under his successor Cyril Restieaux.  The floor of the sanctuary was relaid with wooden blocks, the walls replastered, new ceilings of woodwool slabs installed in the nave and transepts (painted sky blue), and the building rewired, all under the direction of Hugh Bankart, architect.  


In 1958, the year of the building’s centenary, new stone Stations of the Cross were installed in the aisles, from designs by Joseph Cribb of Ditchling, and clearly influenced by the Stations made for Westminster Cathedral by Eric Gill, to whom Cribb was apprenticed.


The next major phase of re-ordering was also undertaken by Bishop Restieaux, in 1972, when the sanctuary was remodelled to accord with post-Vatican II liturgical practice.  Walters’ arched screen behind the high altar and the choir stalls were removed, and a new forward altar of black Belgian marble introduced.


A more radical reordering took place in 1994, described below. This was part of a major grant aided repair (including stainless steel cramps and anchors to retain the stonework in the spire) and redevelopment scheme. The latter included the consolidation and extension of the school in one building and development of the derelict convent site with new sheltered accommodation (while retaining part of the façade nearest the west end of the Cathedral, which now houses the Cathedral Centre). The Centre is linked to the new main entrance doors of the Cathedral by a covered way or narthex with a lead roof with a series of steeply pitched gables supported on cruciform concrete posts. The sides are in part glazed (with the words of the Our Father, Hail Mary etc etched in the glass) and in part open (under the larger gabled bay adjoining the Cathedral Centre, to allow for vehicular access to the car park behind). The area around the Cathedral was repaved and relit. The architects for the Cathedral and Cathedral Centre were Harrison Sutton of Totnes. 



740-1/57/845 (South side)

01/05/75 St Mary and St Boniface Roman Catholic Cathedral

(Formerly Listed as:WYNDHAM STREET WEST,Plymouth

St Mary & St Boniface Roman Catholic Cathedral)




Roman Catholic cathedral. 1855-58 byJA (his 1st church) and CF Hansom for Bishop Vaughan, spire added to tower in 1866; restored 1920-7 by FA Walters.Plymouthlimestone rubble with limestone dressings; steep dry slate roofs with coped gable ends, chancel roof with polygonal end; tower with very steep and slender stone spire.

STYLE: Middle Pointed with Early English lancets.


PLAN: 5-bay nave with clerestory; chancel with canted E end; N an S lean-to nave aisles and chancel aisles; N and S transepts; small-plan square tower to north near W end, and presumed chapel in angle with N transept and chancel aisle.


EXTERIOR: mostly paired lancets, those to E end with quatrefoil or round tracery; rose window over triple lancets at W end of nave and similar windows to transepts. Pointed moulded arch to west door of south transept. Very slender 2-stage buttressed tower with clasping buttresses: plank double doors set in moulded pointed-arched doorway with 2 orders of engaged shafts; statue set in trefoil-headed niche above; second stage has round window above 4 lancets with engaged shafts to each side; tall 2-light windows to belfry;

broached spire with Decorated 2-light windows to lucarnes. West gable wall, with 2 flanking offset buttresses, has round window with trefoils set above 3 lancets and 2

Caernarvon-arched doorways framed by pointed moulded arch on engaged shafts with cushion capitals.


INTERIOR: polygonal apse with decorative tile floor divided from chancel by pointed arch set on engaged shafts with foliate capitals; decorative wrought-iron screen and shafts to capitals supporting figures set in canopies. Chancel of 4 bays has chamfered arches of 2 orders set on marble columns with fine foliate capitals to ambulatory, with trefoil-headed recesses articulated by shafts with foliate capitals to east end. Chancel arch of 2 chamfered orders set on marble shafts with capitals; arches with engaged columns and capitals to organ chamber, south-east chapel and transepts, the latter being taller with foliate capitals. Nave of 5 bays has chamfered arches of 2 orders set on octagonal granite columns with bell capitals. Corbels to scissor-truss roof, that to chancel with painted panels.


FITTINGS include fine chancel reredos with gilt decorative canopy and decorative wrought-iron screens to south-east chapel of the Blessed Sacrament refitted 1920-7 by FA Walters.


MONUMENTS include brass with recumbent figure by Hardman & Co. to Bishop William Vaughan, d.1902. Stained glass by Hardman.


The first of the Hansoms' churches in the south-west, and a prominent feature of the skyline ofPlymouth.


(The Buildings ofEngland: Pevsner N: Devon:London: 1989-: 645 & 646).


Listing NGR: SX4710054859

Diocese: Plymouth

Architect: J.A. and C.F. Hansom

Original Date: 1858

Conservation Area: Yes

Modifications: 1866

Listed Grade: Grade II