London Road, Arundel, West Sussex BN18 9AY
The Cathedral Church of Our Lady and Saint Philip Howard was designed from 1868-9 and built from 1870-3. The architect was J A Hansom. Comprising of ashlar walls and vaults with a pitched slate roof, it is a picturesque gothic composition with details from later 13th century sources. Stylobate surrounds the cathedral on the north and west sides, interspersed with ashlar piers: square bases, octagonal tops and pyramidal caps with foliate finials.
The list description is extremely brief by current standards. Joseph Aloysius Hanson (1803-1882) was in partnership with his younger son J S Hansom from 1869 until 1882, so it is likely that the design is that of J A Hansom albeit that the execution was by Hansom & Son. The church was built by Henry, 15th Duke of Norfolk, to celebrate his coming of age in 1868. Built of Bath stone, work began on 27 December 1869 and the church opened on 1 July 1873. It cost almost £100,000 and was funded almost completely by Henry, 15th Duke of Norfolk.
What is perhaps most memorable about the building is its contribution to what Nairn & Pevsner (The Buildings of England Sussex) called ‘one of the great town views in England’. Approached from the east the town is perched on the hill, with the cathedral at one end and the castle at the other, the Arun valley in the foreground. Hansom encountered difficulties with the foundations, necessitating the sinking of concrete supports as deep as 57ft.
The design provided for a more elaborate east end with radiating chapels. More flying buttresses and more pinnacles, as well as a 280ft high steeple at the north-west corner. The church consists of a sanctuary with narrow ambulatory, a nave and aisles of 6-bays, north and south transepts, with a fleche over the sanctuary, an apsidal south-west baptistery and a north-west porch.
Although the style is decidedly that of the French Gothic of around 1300, notably the tall narrow proportions, it is not exclusively a recreation. The spatial ambiguity of the chapels tucked into the angle between transepts and ambulatory is rather a trait of the English Decorated style. The bands of blank arcading externally, and internally the doubled tracery of the clerestory and the shaft rings and the capitals are more Early English than French.
Some of the tracery design is of Hansom’s own imagination and the idea of a porte-cohere (for the proposed north-west steeple) is a Victorian convenience. The nave is 72ft high, 33ft wide and 97ft long, proportions that give a sense of soaring height on entering the cathedral, crowned by the quadripartite vaulting. The lack of stained glass in the nave somewhat spoils the effect and the harsh light gives a coldness to the rather mechanical detailing. Elsewhere the stained glass was designed by Hansom, to 13th century imagery, made by John Hardman Powell and put in during the 1880s.
The Stations of the Cross, in memory of John Butt, 4th Bishop of Southwark, were put up from 1885 to 1899. The shrine of St Philip Howard is in the north transept. The tabernacle in the Lady Chapel is thought to be the first English tabernacle made after the Reformation; it is the work of Charles Kandler and was made for Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, in 1730. The church became a cathedral in 1965, on the creation of the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton.
Listed Grade I, and of undoubted importance, Ian Nairn, writing in The Buildings of England Sussex in 1965 struggles with the validity of ‘replica’ architecture but acknowledges that it is tremendously impressive in terms of scale, form and siting. As Nairn in fact acknowledges the 13th century borrowings are selective and this is not a replica at all but a 19th century belief in the continued relevance of Gothic as a modern building style. The cathedral is unmistakably Victorian and all the more impressive for it.
Architect: J A Hansom
Original Date: 1868
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Grade I