The Georgian Birth of Christ - Part Two

A glamorous new religion needs glamorous old buildings. Thu 26 May 2022

Water funnel, Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire.

All British cathedrals are industrial buildings converted into religious buildings. Except for the two 20th century cathedrals: Coventry and Liverpool.

The conversion was achieved by wrapping the severely damaged core in an impressive but purely decorative 'Gothic' wrapping:

What a difference 1880 makes. Source: The Ships of Heaven

The devil is in the detail. So let's take a closer look.

St Albans Cathedral today:

St Albans west front. Source: St Albans Cathedral

St Albans Abbey in 1805:

West front in 1805. Source: St Albans Cathedral

Note the vegetation growing above the door. And the spire, removed about 35 years later.

Those unadorned walls to the sides... they're traces of a much, much longer wall:

Artist's impression of pre-1540 St Albans Abbey. Source: St Albans Cathedral

Presumably, disbelief tempted the artist to add extra doorways to the west front and to ignore hard-to-explain high walls.

At St Albans, the paperwork was also put in order.

From St Albans Cathedral:

on 30 April 1877 the See of St Albans was created, which comprises about 300 churches in the counties of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire.

Which may explain why in 1911 the Anglo-Saxon-sounding Schomberg K McDonnell cited the destruction - and reconstruction - of Hertfordshire's ancient buildings as the reason state power would be required to preserve ancient structures elsewhere.

From On the Protection of Ancient Buildings and Monuments, by Schomberg K McDonnel in Proceedings Of The Society Of Antiquaries Of London 2nd Series Vol.24, 1911-12-07, p16, footnote 21:

we are of opinion that the time has come when such cases ... should be dealt with by a Government Department

Too late. 80% of British churches and cathedrals were 'glamourised' like this:

The Georgian gift of the Gothics. Source: The Ships of Heaven

Religious wrappings extend beyond tacky endings. They hide large-scale removal of industrial interiors.

So this facade:

Hereford Cathedral from north east. Source: The Ships of Heaven

paints religious lipstick on the structure and hides the scars left by the the removal of its original centre:

What lies beneath? The Ships of Heaven

What lay beneath was stark, pragmatic and... pagan:

Hereford's pagan core. Source: The Ships of Heaven

Stark because industrial units are workplaces. Workplaces are usually decorated with utilitarian and safety signs. See:

Tourists can't see the rainwater collection funnels that once fed cisterns beneath the floors. But unanticipated drone technology can:

Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire.

Tanks and cisterns beneath their floors have been built over, filled in, or both. Public access is restricted to small, remnant crypts.

Leominster Priory's floor was inexplicably raised, tiled, then covered with half a metre of soil:

The soil hid its modified floor. Source: The Ships of Heaven

The soil may have been added to 'age' the new building work beneath.

Raised floors left visible clues in other buildings:

Above ground air-vent at Lincoln Cathedral. Source: The Ships of Heaven

Once familiar with the patterns of Georgian and Victorian conversions, we can guess which one came first. Was one conversion a template for subsequent conversions of abbey-toirs, workshops and factories into churches and cathedrals?

From The Torrington Diaries (Abridged), John Byng, at Lincoln Cathedral in an entry dated 1791-06-29, on p343:

This is the finest of our cathedrals I ever saw : and why not, when rebuilding in London, follow such a model ? How superior to a lumbering Grecian St Pauls.

Look at Lincoln Cathedral's west front:

Lincoln Cathedral west front. Source: Lincoln Cathedral

And work out which parts were wrapped around its pagan, industrial core:

The parts you can still see.

How do we know Lincoln Cathedral had already lost its industrial look by 1791 - the year Byng was (allegedly) writing?

Pre-1677 (allegedly) view of west front. Source: Lincoln Cathedral

How about other churches?

Was this built as a church or as an industrial building?

Holy Trinity and St Mary's church, Abbey Dore, Herefordshire. Source: The Ships of Heaven

Also called Dore Abbey.


  • It was Cist-ercian.
  • Abbot wasn't always spelled 'abbot':

Abat-toir to you and me. Source: 1859 newspaper, probably Stamford Mercury.

And this one?

St Mary's Church, Stow, Lincolnshire. 1865. Source: Stow Minster - Wikipedia

That's a quiet graveyard for 'the Mother Church of Lincolnshire' and one of England's biggest and oldest churches. In a former town turned village with a missing documents problem.

And when you consider it had already seen one round of conversion. Starting with the grilled porch partly obscuring an arch and the usual update to the west window.

From Lincolnshire in 1836, Various contributors, 1836, p34:

The west window, and some few others, are much later than the ancient walls, and have been inserted for the sake of giving more light to the interior.

Only in 1850 - after its tatty rendering was stripped off and more gravestones and crosses added - did St Mary's begin to look Christian:

St Mary's today. Source: Stow Minster - Britain Express

The new east wall with its four 'Norman' windows helped:

As Norman as 1850 Victorian can be. Source: Stow-in-Lindsey

Before St Mary's Church was re-labelled as one of England's oldest and biggest churches, what was it?


  1. It's in a village called 'Stow'.
  2. Its other name is 'Stow Minster'.
  3. It sits on a road junction between two rivers and a canal link to a once major port (Lincoln).
  4. It's tall and narrow, with not many windows. Like a warehouse.

How about this one?

Ancient, but not too ancient. Source: Rotherwas Chapel History

Dated to 1304, everything visible here is 18th and 19th century. Rotherwas Chapel is not old. All of it was built after the Georgian Birth of Christ.

But one clue to its pre-Christian industrial past accidentally re-emerged in 2007 - before swiftly being covered up.

Resurrected industrial units.

Or should that be 'agricultural units'?

From Stow-in-Lindsey:

countless long-forgotten rectors were earnestly haranguing peasants and farm labourers up and down the land at innumerable little parish churches. One such is Coates-by-Stow. It’s what I call a “farmyard church” because it feels like it’s just an outbuilding of the nearby farm

From Coates-by-Stow:

Devotees of these pages will know my predilection for the tiny, unsophisticated churches lost in the depths of the countryside and which I like to call “Farmyard Churches” because they are nearly always close to a farm

A farm often called 'Manor Farm'.

© All rights reserved. The original author retains ownership and rights.

More in category: The Mutant Chimp Gets a Culture
More by tag: #Tennyson friend, #Cheyne Row