Building » +Lancaster – Cathedral Church of St Peter

+Lancaster – Cathedral Church of St Peter

Cathedral House, Balmoral Road, Lancaster LA1 3BT.

  • Image copyright Alex Ramsay

  • Image copyright Alex Ramsay

Built as an ambitious parish church in the confident years after the restoration of the hierarchy, and the Cathedral since the creation of the Diocese of Lancaster in 1924.  A fine, aspiring building, the chef d’oeuvre of Edward Paley. The northwest steeple is a local landmark, 240 ft high and excellently detailed. Transepts and a high nave and chancel, with an interior that is quite light, yet rich and impressively proportioned. The  style  is  that  of  c1300,  the  material  warm  buff  stone. The baptistery on the north side is like a chapter house; it was added in 1895 by Austin & Paley, and has good group value with the main building.

Lawful Catholic worship in Lancaster started with the building by Dr John Rigby of a chapel (now the Palatine Hall) in Dalton Square in 1799. By 1847 this chapel had become too small for the growing congregation, and a three acre plot was bought at Greenfield for £2,200. The school, convent and cemetery were built first. In 1856 several suns of money became available for the building of a new church, including £2,000 from the will of Thomas Coulston. Plans were drawn up by Edward Paley under the guidance of the Rev. Richard Brown; the foundation stone was laid by the Dr Goss, the Bishop of Liverpool, on April 29 1857, and the new church consecrated and dedicated by Dr Goss on October 4 1859.

In 1924 the Liverpool diocese was divided, and St Peter’s became the Cathedral for the new Diocese of Lancaster.


The list entry (below) describes the building in some detail, but does not generally give attributions for the design of various features. The following puts some flesh on the list description, and is drawn from notes prepared by Clare Hartwell for the revised Pevsner volume for Lancashire.

St Peter’s reminds us that if Hubert Austin brought genius to the partnership, Paley’s contribution  should  not  be  overlooked. The church retains an elaborate decorative scheme with many furnishings.

The narthex has a spiral stair to the elaborate west gallery, which is supported by marble piers. This was rebuilt in 1888 by Austin & Paley following acquisition of a new organ. Lofty six-bay nave arcades, stately vaulted apse. Densely timbered roof with scissor braces, stencilled and with a stencilled frieze with Lancastrian emblems by Bernard Watson to the designs of Francis Roberts who was responsible for extensive and sensitive restoration in 1994-5.

On  the  southwest side  a  door  connects  with  the  presbytery,  then  comes  the  two-bay Coulston Chantry Chapel, founded in 1856, with an arcaded entrance, stone vaulted ceiling and an elaborate carved reredos by Geflowski. Confessionals follow, then another chapel like the first, of the Whiteside Chantry and St Thomas More Chapel, with a reredos relief carving of the Agony in the Garden by Lane. South transept altar, the Sacred Heart, with a carved reredos and alabaster panels by Edward Simpson. The south chancel has two chapels, sharing rich arcading to the chancel. The St Charles Borromeo Chapel (west) has a painted reredos with a figure of the saint and scenes of his works during the sixteenth century plague of Milan. To the east, and accessible only from the convent (see below) is the Convent Chapel, divided from the chancel by glazing and ironwork screens. The northeast Lady Chapel has mosaic floor with lilies etc, a spherical triangular east window with glass by Shrigley & Hunt and an alabaster reredos (Annunciation, with an elaborate canopy over a statue of Our Lady).

The sanctuary has been converted to the Blessed Sacrament chapel. The furnishings relate partly to a reordering of 1909, reinstated by Francis Roberts in 1994-5. The reredos is a huge triptych by Giles Gilbert Scott, . 1909, with scenes from the Passion, executed by Farmer & Brindley. The painting was done by Tosi of London and the figures modelled by Miss Reid. The outer leaves have painted scenes framed by gilded traceried panels in relief, the inner leaves scenes in sharp relief with yet more complex traceried surrounds. At the top, the Crucifixion with attendant figures and angels. The elaborate wall paintings were begun in 1894, and show Christ in majesty  with  attendant  saints,  angels,  etc.,  north  side;  the  Virgin  and Child  with attendants, south side. Blind arcading to the apse has more paintings within the arcading, Saints, missionary saints, etc., with minstrel angels above. The screen is iron and brass with candlesticks across the top. Ornate choir stalls by Austin & Paley carved by Bridgeman of Lichfield in 1899. Dec in inspiration, though with flat testers. They have misericords, six on each side, with beasts, angels, etc. and, more memorably, a scene of a grimacing child being spanked. The nave altar belongs to the Francis Roberts reordering and has over it a large chandelier with angels at the centre. There is a stone pulpit, elongated and low with minimal carving.

The northeast baptistery is a tour de force, the furnishings integral to the scheme, with a carefully considered iconography.  There is a short linking corridor with stained glass by Shrigley and Hunt leading to iron gates guarded by statues of Processus and Martinianus  (Peter’s jailers in Rome, converted and baptised by him) in the uniform of Roman soldiers. There is a two-light window showing on one side the Serpent at the ear of a driven, clean-shaven Herod, sword in hand, an Innocent crushed beneath his foot, with poppies, a fox and the Tree of Knowledge in the background. The other light is much more conventional, Christ cradling a baby in a summery setting with lilies. The significance of the sacrament of Baptism is underlined by the dim light of the passage and the bright space beyond, with the stern Roman soldiers guarding the entrance  adding  a  primitive  note,  while  the  menace  of  evil  is  embodied  in  the depiction of Herod. Inside, all is light, with a stone vaulted ceiling. The font is placed centrally and raised, Connemara marble with an attractive architectural oak lid. At the east end an elaborate carved stone altar and reredos by R. Boulton in a niche. The stained glass is all by Shrigley & Hunt, fine work in carefully chosen pale tones, with St Peter and St Paul and various baptismal scenes.

Other stained glass is largely by Hardman, including English Martyrs, north transept, a rose window with red roses, south transept, both of 1888, and scenes from the life of St Peter in the north aisle. Other glass to note is the Assumption window, SW aisle, by Shrigley & Hunt, late nineteenth century.

Significant monuments include that to Dr John Rigby, builder of the chapel in Dalton Square (+ 1818) in the south transept: Faith with a cross by Richard Westmacott Jun., executed  c.1860,  after  Rigby’s  body  was removed  from  Dalton  Square  to  the cemetery in the new church. In the Whiteside Chapel, a good brass with crocketed pinnacles and a cross over, to members of the Whiteside family. In the Coulston Chapel another good brass, with a kneeling figure before a cross, with panels on each side with names   of   members   of   the   Coulston   family   and   an   inscription commemorating the chapel’s founder, Thomas Coulston (+ 1856). On the north arcade, a brass to the Rev. Richard Brown, who helped draw up plans for the building; a tonsured figure holding a model of the church.  At the southwest end a bronze seated St Peter, a copy of that in St Peter’s, Rome.

Adjoining Buildings

A complex of buildings to the south and east are all by E.G.Paley or successor firms, separately listed Grade II. The passage between the church and the ancillary buildings has a stencilled scheme by Francis Roberts and a stained glass window of St Edmund Arrowsmith, in front of Lancaster Castle, the scene of his martyrdom.  The attached southeast presbytery was built at the same time as the church and is modestly Gothic, with a full-height bay with a pyramidal roof and windows with arched heads. It was extended by Austin & Paley in similar style, 1895-6.

St Walburga’s Convent, to the east and set back from Balmoral Road, was built 1851-3, and is thus the earliest building on the site. It is attached to the Cathedral southeast Convent Chapel by a corridor. L-shaped with mullioned windows with shouldered or cusped heads. Tall gabled wing and a three-bay lower range with upper windows in half dormers extending above the eaves, a favourite Paley motif.

Further east on Balmoral Road Balmoral RC School was designed in 1897 by Austin & Paley. A disposition of unequal gabled ranges along the street, two to the east with tall arched windows with mullions, transoms and plate-traceried heads lighting full-height classrooms. The two to the west project forward of the others and have two storeys and upper arched windows flanked by windows with flat heads. On the east side of the precinct, off East Road, a cemetery was laid out 1849-50.

List description


Roman Catholic cathedral, originally a parish church. 1857-59 and 1895-96. By Edward Paley, with a later baptistry by Paley and Austin. Gothic Revival style. Sandstone ashlar and slate roofs, except for the baptistry roof which is of copper. A tall aisled 5-bay nave with transepts, an aisled 2-bay chancel with a semi-octagonal apse and side chapels, a tower and spire in the north-west corner and an octagonal baptistry attached to the north transept. The west facade has a 5-light window with Geometric tracery, and below it is a deeply recessed doorway with 2 shafts with foliated capitals and orders of crockets and fleurons in the arch. The side elevations have 3-light aisle windows with Decorated tracery and paired clerestory windows flanked by blind arches. The north transept has a 4-light window with Geometric tracery, while the south transept has a round window composed of a 10-light wheel window surrounded by 10 circles. The clerestory windows of the chancel are spherical triangles, while the tall 3-light windows in the apse have Decorated tracery. The baptistry is slightly more decorated, with 2-light windows with panelled tracery and deep buttresses. The tower has 4 stages, separated by string courses, and a stair turret in the north- west corner. The lowest stage has, on the west side, a 3-light window with intersecting tracery and, on the north side, a recessed porch under a shallow gable, over which is a canopied niche containing a statue of St Peter. The second stage has on each face a row of 6 gabled and shafted arches, of which only the central 2 have windows. The third stage contains a single small window, while the belfry stage has paired openings, each containing 2 sub-arches. The graceful spire rises to a height of 73m, with 3 tiers of lucarnes on the cardinal faces.

INTERIOR: 5-bay nave with 2-centred arches of 2 orders of quarter- round mouldings carried on slender round columns with foliated capitals and high octagonal plinths. Directly above each arch is a pair of clerestory windows, whose cusped rear-arches are supported by a central colonnette. Between these windows other colonnettes on foliated corbels carry the principal trusses of the arch-braced roof. The aisles have simple, steeply-pitched rafter roofs. On the south are 2 chantry chapels, each approached through a pair of arches. The arches north and south of the crossing are slightly higher than those of the nave and have clustered shafts. The chancel arch, also with clustered shafts, is much higher and rises to the ridge of the wooden vault of the chancel. This is painted with arabesques and angels and has tierceron ribs and foliated bosses, except for the one over the original position of the high altar, now moved to the west bay of the chancel, which shows Christ in Majesty. On the south and north sides pairs of arches lead respectively to the Convent Chapel and to the Lady Chapel, whose wooden panelled ceiling is painted with fleurs-de-lys and crowns. Above them, but beneath the clerestory windows, is a deep band of painting representing on the south Our Lady enthroned and surrounded by female saints and on the north St Peter and male saints. Around the base of the apse are 2 rows of 5 gabled canopies containing paintings of other saints, with angel musicians above. The carved oak choir stalls have crocketed canopies. he baptistry, approached through fine wrought-iron gates flanked by niches under nodding ogee heads containing statues, has an octagonal stone vault. The floor and font are of polychrome marble, the font bowl being supported on 4 short columns. The oak font cover is a spirelet suspended from a chain. In the south transept is a triptych, by Giles Gilbert Scott, in which the carved and painted panels represent scenes from the Passion. (In 1909 this was the reredos of the high altar.) At the west end of the north aisle is a large seated bronze figure of St Peter. The west gallery contains an organ. The glass in the apse windows and in the west window is original and by Hardman, showing the Ascension and St Peter and St Paul in the east and Christ in Glory at the west. The church is the finest and dominant feature of an important group, also containing a graveyard, school, convent and presbytery (qv), which was built between 1847 and 1859.

Heritage Details

Architect: Edward Paley/Paley and Austin

Original Date: 1859

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II*