Building » +Southwark – Metropolitan Cathedral Church of St George

+Southwark – Metropolitan Cathedral Church of St George

Lambeth Road, Southwark, London SE1

  • Photo Alex Ramsay

  • Photo Alex Ramsay

  • Photo Alex Ramsay

The cathedral church of the Archdiocese of Southwark. As originally built by A.W.N. Pugin in 1841-48 this was the largest Catholic church in England, and the obvious choice of a cathedral for the new Diocese of Southwark, created in 1850. The cathedral contains a number of important furnishings by Pugin and his son Edward. The building was badly damaged by wartime bombing and rebuilt in a different form by Romilly Craze. The new design impresses in its overall massing, although the non-completion of the tower reduces the building’s impact in the townscape. New furnishings included fine stained glass by Harry Clarke Studios of Dublin. The building occupies a prominent corner site opposite the Imperial War Museum. Pugin’s Archbishop’s House and Clergy House to the rear were largely rebuilt by Frederick Walters in the 1880s.

A Catholic chapel was built in St George’s Fields in 1790, at the time of the passing of the Second Relief Act. The architect was the London surveyor and builder James Taylor. Here was reportedly celebrated in January 1793 the first High Mass in England since the days of James II (apart from in the embassy chapels), for the repose of the soul of the late King Louis XVI of France.

By the 1830s this Georgian chapel was inadequate for the numbers attending, prompting Fr Thomas Doyle, the priest in charge of the mission, to develop ambitious plans for a significant new church. In 1838, after extensive fundraising, A.W.N. Pugin was asked to develop plans for a large cruciform church with a central tower and spire, cloister, chapter house, convent and schools. However, these were rejected as too expensive and, instead, designs for a new church, clergy house and two schools were sought in competition from Pugin, John Buckler, Edward Foxhall and J.J. Scoles. By this time the Georgian design of the 1790 chapel was decidedly unfashionable (although it had been internally Gothicised in 1808); the brief called for ‘pointed architecture’ and ‘solidity of construction’ while at the same time emphasising economy and maximum size. Pugin’s design was chosen, the site in St George’s Road purchased (purported to be have been that from which Lord George Gordon had led a march on Parliament in 1780), and builders chosen (Pugin’s favourites, Myers & Wilson). The foundation stone was laid in May 1841, with building continuing intermittently (on account of further fundraising difficulties) until July 1848, when the completed church was opened by Vicar Apostolic Nicholas Wiseman.

Pugin’s second design, although modified from that of 1838, was nevertheless the largest Catholic church in England at that time. The church relied for its effect on its volume; of necessity there had to be economies in the construction (it was built of yellow stock brick, with stone used only for the dressings) and fitting out (although the chancel interior was highly enriched). The intended 320 ft western tower and spire were not realised; instead a 60 ft stub of a tower was built.

Two highly personal events in Pugin’s life are associated with St George’s and its environs. His third marriage, to Jane Knill, took place in the church in 1848. Less happily, four years later, after his descent into psychosis, he was briefly admitted to the Bethlem Hospital (now the Imperial War Museum), opposite the cathedral.

With the re-establishment of the Catholic hierarchy in 1850, the church was the natural choice for the cathedral church of the new Diocese of Southwark, with Pugin’s adjoining clergy house (with schools and convent) becoming the residence of the first bishop, Thomas Grant.

The cathedral was furnished and enriched in the subsequent decades. A.W.N. Pugin added the Petre Chantry in 1848-9 and his son Edward Welby Pugin the Knill Chantry in 1856-7. The chapel of St Joseph, off the south aisle, was built in memory of Samuel Weld and opened in 1890. The cathedral was consecrated on 7 November 1894.

In 1887-8, under Bishop Butt, Pugin’s clergy house and schools were largely subsumed within a larger and grander building housing a residence and offices for the bishop, clergy accommodation and a small convent (the schools having by then relocated to new buildings nearby, designed by Leonard Stokes). The architect for the rebuilding was F.A. Walters.

In 1938-40 Amigo Hall was built alongside the cathedral, from designs by Robert Sharp. It was named after Archbishop Amigo, Bishop of Southwark from 1904 and on whom the personal title of Archbishop was conferred by Pope Pius XI in 1938.

In April 1941 Pugin’s cathedral was gutted by a German incendiary bomb. Worship took place in Amigo Hall until rebuilding was completed. Work began on this in 1953, under the direction of Romilly Craze FRIBA, with Higgs and Hill the builders. The design of the rebuilt cathedral, reopened in 1958, departed from Pugin’s in a number of respects. A great west tower (this time without a spire) was proposed but, like Pugin’s, was never completed. As realised, Craze’s design departs from Pugin in the addition of a tall clerestory (and associated flattening of the roof pitch), and the replacement of the nave column shafts with piers. Short transepts were formed out of the aisles. New furnishings included stained glass in the east and west windows by Harry Clarke Studios of Dublin. In 1961-3 a large Lady Chapel was added, giving off the south aisle at its east end; this with the baptistery at the west end of the south aisle (1965) completed the reconstruction.

In 1982 Pope John Paul II celebrated a liturgy of the sick at the cathedral during his visit to Great Britain, an event subsequently commemorated by a stained glass window in the north transept. In 1988-9 the sanctuary was reordered by Austin Winkley. More recent works overseen by Jonathan Louth architects have included the refurbishment of Amigo Hall, the refitting of the space between the chapels of St Joseph and St Patrick as the Archbishop Romero Chapel, with a large painted cross by Fernando Llort, alterations at the west end to facilitate wheelchair access and the formation of a holy door at the west end of the north aisle.

In 2023-4 two altars designed by F.A. Walters for the chapel of the diocesan seminary at Wonersh (recently closed) were relocated to St George’s Cathedral: the altar of Our Lady, a baroque design of 1900 with opus sectile panels, was installed in the Lady Chapel (photo above), while the marble altar of St John the Evangelist (1925) was set up in the north transept. A 1922-3 copy of the famous painting of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour (the original in the Redemptorist church of St Alphonsus, Rome), in a marble frame designed by Walters, was also relocated. The earthly remains of Bishop Butt (1826-99), who had founded the seminary and been buried in the chapel at Wonersh, were transferred to the crypt at St George’s.


The building is described in the list entry (below). The Blessed Sacrament Chapel is incorrectly attributed to E.W. Pugin rather than A.W.N. Pugin, and the descriptions of this chapel and of the Knill Chantry appear to be muddled. Features not mentioned or insufficiently described in the list entry include:

  • The painted ceiling panels of the nave and of the ribs and panels in the aisle roofs are by Robert Hendra and Geoffrey Harper.
  • The Harry Clarke Studios west window depicts the Coronation of the Virgin and the nine-light east window the Crucifixion and various saints.
  • Table tombs in the north aisle to Provost Doyle (d.1879)  and Archbishop Amigo (d.1949, photo above).
  • Above Archbishop Amigo’s tomb in the north aisle is a window by Goddard and Gibbs recording the papal visit to Southwark Cathedral in 1982.
  • In the north aisle, one of the confessionals has been adapted to form a shrine to St Francis Xavier Cabrini, with a large bronze roundel by the Gillick brothers in an arched recess (2010).
  • Austin Winkley’s chancel reordering involved a new high altar and ambo in marble and stone, the ambo incorporating panel of the Four Evangelists by David John, and a wrought  iron screen and painted fabric by Alan Evans and Sue Ridge.
  • The Stations of the Cross, 1960, are low-relief stone panels by Harold Youngman, in the manner of Eric Gill.
  • In the chapel of St Joseph are displayed the conserved remains of Pugin’s 1848 high altar frontal (photo above).
  • Two altars from Wonersh were introduced in 2023-4, as described above.

Text amended and further photos added by AHP 19.04.24

List descriptions



Catholic cathedral. 1841-48. By Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin; restored and redecorated 1888-1905 by FA Walters; largely rebuilt and extended following war damage, 1953 by Higgs and Hill to designs of Romilly B Craze based on Pugin’s plans.

MATERIALS: yellow stock brick with Portland stone dressings. Slated roofs.

STYLE: C20 Gothic Revival style, mixed with fragments of Pugin’s Decorated Gothic; only the east end, the lowest part of the west tower, the aisle walls and a few internal details remain of Pugin’s work.

PLAN: western tower, tall nave of 8 bays with clerestory (an addition to Pugin’s design), aisles and pseudo-transepts. Large tower and spire intended for west end never built.

EXTERIOR: parapeted west front has full-height buttresses with statues in stone niches at bases flanking central ashlar doorcase with moulded pointed arch; large C20 6-light traceried window. Baptistry north of entrance, completed 1966, has 3- light window and pyramidal roof. Southern return with single-storey, buttressed aisles with traceried windows and parapet. Gabled transepts formed by heightening the east bays of the aisles. East end flanked by small stone turrets with conical roofs.

INTERIOR: has massive stone piers (replacing Pugin’s original ones) designed to support elaborate stone vault over nave, simplified when built to transverse arches with a boarded ceiling in between. Aisles with chapels at east ends have flying ribs, creating illusion of vault. Series of small chapels as extensions to south aisle, with larger Lady Chapel extension (1961-3) at south east. Crossing in 7th bay and sanctuary now extended into last bay of nave. Gallery with gabled pseudo-transepts created by heightening of aisles. Sanctuary now extended into last bay of nave. Gallery at west end. Large Decorated chancel windows and north aisle windows, the remains of Pugin’s work.

FITTINGS include: Petre Chantry of 1848-9 in Perpendicular style by Pugin with vaulted roof and angel finials, has original furnishings including table tomb and carved altarpiece with Virgin and Child and angels. The Blessed Sacrament Chapel, 1856-7 by Edward Welby Pugin in refined Gothic with vault supported by thin internal piers linked to the outer walls by transoms; well carved capitals with birds and frieze; with original fittings including altar, reredos and encaustic tiles; gates by Hardman. Knill Chantry, St Patrick’s Chapel begun 1845 as a chantry for George Talbot, completed as relics chapel in 1905 and largely reconstructed after the war. St Joseph’s Chapel, converted from the Weld Chantry of 1890, with stone vault. The Lady Chapel, 1961-3, contains a small C18 Flemish Virgin and Child. STAINED GLASS: in east and west windows by Henry Clarke Studios of Dublin.

HISTORICAL NOTE: the Cathedral, although not designed as such, was always intended to be an important church but Pugin’s original grand scheme was rejected as too expensive. A competition was held in 1839 which Pugin won and the current, more modest, plan was accepted, being dictated by the restricted site (there was formerly a built-up road immediately to the north).

Archbishop’s House and Cathedral House


Summary:1886-87 bishop’s house and clergy house designed by the architect Frederick A Walters in Gothic style, but incorporating parts of an 1840s clergy house and schools by A W Pugin. Some 1930s and 1950s refurbishing.

Reasons for Designation: The Archbishop’s House and Clergy House, both 1886-87 in Gothic style designed by the architect Frederick A Walters but incorporating parts of an 1840s clergy house and schools by A W Pugin, are listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: Archbishop’s House is a good quality well-articulated asymmetrical design decorated with black brick diaperwork, its two sections separated by an impressive staircase tower and decorative main entrance. Cathedral House is plainer but of good quality with gables, a staircase turret and three arched doorways enlivening the exterior; * Interiors: include original panelled ceilings, panelled doors with elaborate architraves, a number of wood or stone well or winder staircases, elaborate fireplaces, built-in settles and window seats, stained glass windows and a built-in library staircase and gallery; * Intactness: virtually unaltered exteriors and the plan and most interior fittings survive apart from the loss of some fireplaces in Archbishop’s House; * Comparators: comparable in quality with other residential type commissions for the Roman Catholic church by F A Walters, such as religious houses, seminaries and schools, which have been listed elsewhere; * Group Value: part of a complex of ecclesiastical buildings with the adjoining Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. George (Grade II).

History: This building occupies a triangular-shaped corner site at the junction between St. George’s Road and Westminster Bridge Road adjoining St. George’s Roman Catholic Cathedral. In the 1830s a committee was set up to build a large Roman Catholic church to accommodate a great influx of Irish Catholics into the area in the first quarter of the C19. In 1838 A W Pugin, who had been informed of this project by the Earl of Shrewsbury, provided elaborate and detailed plans for a cathedral with chapter house, cloisters and conventual buildings but walked out when the committee enquired about the cost. The north-west view of this scheme is illustrated in Benjamin Ferrey’s ‘Recollections of Pugin’. The following year four architects, including Pugin, were asked to provide designs for buildings to include a church with accommodation for 2,500 on the ground floor, a house for four clergy, and schools for 300 boys and 200 girls, not to exceed an estimated cost of £20,000. A W Pugin’s new simpler designs were selected. In April 1840 the City of London agreed to sell the triangular plot of land opposite Bethlem Hospital for £3,200 provided that the buildings were erected to Pugin’s design, were completed within six years and had no ‘ecclesiastical ornament’ on the outside. The south-west elevation of Pugin’s winning 1839 scheme, which also shows part of the north side and the plan, are preserved in the Cathedral Archives and illustrated as Plate 46 in the Survey of London: Volume 25. The schools are shown located along St. George’s Road in this plan and a house, probably the clergy house, on the north-east side. The Builder of 17 June 1843 stated that ‘An episcopal palace, a convent for the Sisters of Mercy, with spacious sacristies, houses for the clergy, and parochial schools for both sexes are also in course of erection’ (1843, 228). The buildings are shown on the First Edition Ordnance Survey map, which was surveyed in 1872. Schools for boys and girls are labelled in this position, erroneously called National Schools. Trade directories from 1854 include ‘St. George’s Catholic Church and Schools’ in Westminster [Bridge] Road. In July 1869 Provost Doyle reported that the Cathedral Boys’ School comprised two kitchens and a coal cellar. In 1885 Bishop Butt wished to expand the number of priests by enlarging the Clergy House. In 1887 the schools were removed to a new site and the old site used for a new episcopal residence and a clergy house, also including a seminary and convent, designed by Frederick A Walters. However parts of the existing north and north-east wings in particular have a different character so it is likely that some elements of Pugin’s earlier design may survive. Walters’ St. George’s Road elevation and plan of the ground floor were printed in ‘The Builder’ of June 23 1888. The archbishop’s residence was mainly situated fronting St. George’s Road, with nuns originally occupying the top floor, and the attached clergy house and seminary was mainly situated along Westminster Bridge Road and in the north-east wing attached to the cathedral. However there were connecting doors between the two buildings and some vertical mingling of functions between the two buildings. The footprint of Walters’ building, shown on the 1896 Second Edition Ordnance Survey map, is similar to the first edition map, including an internal triangular-shaped courtyard, but a garden area between the cathedral and the new building is shown much reduced in size on the second edition map. The property is now called Archbishop’s House and Cathedral House.

Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-1852) needs no introduction as the founding architect of the Gothic Revival with numerous works listed, including the adjoining St. George’s Roman Catholic Cathedral. Frederick Arthur Walters (1849-1931) was a prolific Catholic architect who was articled to his father, Frederick Page Walters, and then worked for Goldie & Child for nine years before setting up his own practice in 1880. He was responsible for more than 50 Roman Catholic church or building commissions, including this one, Buckfast Abbey (Devon), Ealing Abbey (London) and the Southwark diocesan seminary at Wonersh in Surrey. His son, Edward John (1880-1947), was taken into the practice in 1924, when it became F A Walters and Son. The practice was continued after F A Walters’ death by his partner S Kerr Bate under the name of Walters & Kerr Bate. Currently a numberof buildings wholly designed by F A Walters are listed, three of them, Buckfast Abbey Church and main block and the Sacred Heart, Wimbledon (London) at Grade II*.

Details: DATE: 1886-87 bishop’s house and clergy house designed by the architect Frederick A Walters in Gothic style, but incorporating parts of an 1840s clergy house and schools by A W Pugin. Some 1930s and 1950s refurbishing. MATERIALS: stock brick in English bond, with plinths and some diaper decoration in black brick, and stone dressings. Ornamental iron rainwater goods. Slate roofs, mainly concealed by parapets, with a series of tall channelled and moulded brick chimneystacks. PLAN: the bishop’s, now archbishop’s residence, stretches mainly along St. George’s Road with the clergy house, now Cathedral House, mainly along Westminster Bridge Road. In the archbishop’s house the public rooms are on the ground floor, the archbishop’s private rooms and some offices are on the first floor, originally nuns occupied the third floor and there were service rooms in the basement. The Clergy House has a complicated plan which includes four staircases. It comprised service rooms to the basement and ground floor, accommodation for clergy on the first and second floors, including two communal reception rooms, and originally there was seminary accommodation on the third floor. EXTERIOR: the principal front of Archbishop’s House faces south-west along St. George’s Road. It comprises a south-west block of four storeys and basement and two bays, divided from a lower three-storey and basement seven-bay north-west block by a taller set-back tower behind the main entrance. The south-west block has a crenellated parapet and bands between floors. The third floor windows are triple mullioned casement windows. The other floors have triple mullioned and transomed casement windows with relieving arches above the ground and second floor windows, but the first floor windows additionally have three blank stone panels with cinquefoil carved heads. The south-east return has a tall two-storey canted bay window over two storeys, an external channelled chimneystack and projecting gable. Adjoining the south-west block is the main entrance with gable flanked by buttresses and an arched doorcase with the archbishop’s arms and the date ‘1886’ above: this is flanked by small arched windows with leaded lights. The double door has ornamental iron hinges. The recessed tower behind the main entrance is of five storeys and one bay, with a crenellated parapet, arched windows to the two upper floors and narrow mullioned and transomed windows below. The north-west block is of seven bays with a crenellated parapet and two external channelled chimneystacks. Second-floor windows are two-light mullioned windows with drip moulds. First-floor windows and the two northern ground floor windows are mullioned and transomed with relieving aches, and the five southern windows on the ground floor have more elaborate mullioned and transomed casements and are divided by buttresses. Archbishop’s House terminates in a corner full-height canted bay of three windows, with arched heads to the second floor windows, blank stone cinquefoil-headed panels above the first floor windows, and relieving arches above the ground-floor windows.The principal front of Cathedral House faces north along Westminster Bridge Road and is of three to four storeys with a crenellated parapet, two small gables and a projecting plinth. The irregularly spaced windows are either stone mullioned or mullioned and transomed casements. There are three doorcases, the eastern one an elaborate stone doorcase incorporating an arch with blank shields to the spandrels and a fanlight with three trefoiled arches. The central and western ones are plainer arched doorcases with dripmoulds. A further section, attached to St. George’s Cathedral, faces south-west and is of two storeys with stone paired trefoil-headed lights. It is terminated by a narrow octagonal brick tower with winder staircase on the cathedral side. A gabled section further north-west has taller ground floor mullioned and transomed windows with moulded stone corbel heads. The internal triangular courtyard has a variety of stone mullioned windows including some with gabled heads, some with ogee trefoiled heads and some mullioned and transomed windows with ogee trefoiled heads. The tiled floor has alternate red and black tiles. INTERIOR: an entrance from St. George’s Road into Archbishop’s House leads into a vestibule with an arched ribbed ceiling and two built-in stone settles. This opens onto the main staircase, a stone well staircase incorporating a series of stone arches. In 1935 a lift with ornamental iron grilles was inserted into the well. On the ground floor a passage to the south-west with original doors has a number of small rooms, originally waiting rooms and a large reception room at the south western end, now used as a library, and retaining original cornices and doorcases. Opening off to the north-west of the main staircase is the largest reception room, the dining hall. This is of five bays with a panelled ceiling with moulded tie beams supported on corbels, original arched doorcases and an elaborate carved stone fireplace with end pilasters, five small ogee arches with cinquefoil decorations, and the motto ‘DEUS PROVIDEBIT’. The adjoining room to the north-west, designed to be part of a library and now storing archives, has a late-C19 carved wooden staircase and gallery incorporating book stands. The adjoining north-west corner room, shown as a library on the architect’s plans, has an original stone fireplace with attached colonnettes and patterned tiles. The first floor has a built-in window seat by the staircase and archiepiscopal apartments which include a chapel with stained glass in one window depicting St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, inserted in 1935 to commemorate their canonisation. A number of rooms retain their original ceilings and one window has stained glass with armorial shields. The top floor formerly housed a convent. The basement, which housed the service rooms, retains original room divisions and red and white floor tiles, but the kitchen was refitted in the 1950s. Cathedral House has an oak main staircase from ground to first floor with a rectangular well, chamfered balusters and moulded posts under a large rectangular glazed lantern. Access to the upper floors is by a smaller well staircase in the north-west corner, of similar character to the main staircase except that alternate balusters have been truncated and linked with a T-bar to adjoining balusters. There is also a narrow stone newel staircase in the north-east corner, a stone staircase in the centre of the north side, which has plain iron balusters and scrolled ends to the handrail to the basement flight, and a blocked narrow newel stair to the octagonal tower facing south-west. The semi-basement towards the north end on the St. George’s Road side has a wide Baronial-style stone chimneypiece to a former kitchen, with circular motifs at the sides, one enclosing a bishop’s mitre, the other the shield of St. George. The adjoining room, formerly a coal cellar, retains two elliptical-headed arches, and the corner room between St. George’s Road and Westminster Bridge Road has a tiled larder with marble shelves and steel hanging racks. The ground floor of the north-east side has a tiled corridor and simple door surrounds, some retaining simple six-panelled doors probably by Pugin. The more commodious first floor accommodation is in the north-west corner with moulded cornices, late C19 wooden fireplaces, one retaining decorative tiles and a metal firegrate, and a corridor with panelled doors with battlemented surrounds. The first and second floors each have a communal room with moulded cornices and tie beams. The clergy dining room retains the original fireplace and the window onto the internal courtyard has re-constituted fragments of C19 stained glass which were rescued from St. George’s Cathedral following wartime bomb damage. The upper floor bedrooms also retain their fireplaces which are smaller and simpler.

Books and journals: Cherry, B, Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: London 2: South, (1994), 574; Darlington, I, Survey of London: Volume 25: St George’s Fields (The parishes of St George the Martyr Southwark and St Mary Newington), (1955), 72-75 and Plate 46; ‘The Builder’ (June 23 1888). Other:Architectural History Practice, Taking Stock (Archdiocese of Southwark), July 2011.

Heritage Details

Architect: A.W.N. Pugin, Romilly Craze

Original Date: 1848

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II