The season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, when the foreheads of the faithful are marked with ashes as a sign of repentance. In this image we see Bishop Foley, third Bishop of Lancaster, distributing ashes on Ash Wednesday sometime in the 1970s.
This is the Diocean Crozier, an important symbol of the Bishop's pastoral role. It was given to the Diocese by Ealing Abbey to mark the appointment of Bishop Pearson as the first Bishop of Lancaster. It is still regularly used whenever the Bishop presides at the Cathedral, though it does not travel around the Diocese with him.
Appropriately for the Cathedral, it includes an image of Jesus handing the keys to St Peter, a symbol of the God-given authority invested in the Church. Also seen is St Benedict (at the bottom of the image here), an enduring reminder of the Benedictine roots of our first Bishop.
Once a Diocese is created, the Bishop needs a seat. Its proper name is 'cathedra', and the church in which it is found - the cathedral - takes its name from this chair. This is a picture of the original cathedra, installed and first used on 12th February 1928, as the notice book from 29th January that year records: "Sunday Feb 12th, the Sunday within the Octave of Our Lady of Lourdes (11th), the Patroness of the Diocese, there will be the Solemn inauguration of the new Episcopal Throne and Chapter Stalls. There will be Pontifical High Mass and the Chapter will be present. The special preacher will be the eloquent Franciscan preacher Fr. George O.F.M., whom many of you will remember. Subjects: Mon: ‘The Vitality of the Church’. Sun: ‘Our Lady of Lourdes’." The cathedra originally stood in the traditional place - the north side of the sanctuary. After the reforms of the 1960s and 70s it was moved to a central point on the wall of the Apse, before being replaced by the new cathedra in 1995. The original throne can now be seen in the Cathedral's north transept.
This is Thomas Wulstan Pearson, the Benedictine monk of Ealing Abbey who became the first Bishop of Lancaster on this day in 1925. It must have been a time of tremendous excitement for the people of this parish, and demand for tickets to the consecration was, no doubt, high. The notice books speak of people applying for tickets and a committee of canons deciding who would get them. They also hint that there was concern about how smoothly things might go: "Tuesday, the feast of St. Matthias, Apostle, is the day of the Consecration of the Bishop. The church will be closed at 8.30 and opened again at 9.30. Ticket-holders only admitted. In the evening there will be a Reception in honour of His Lordship the Bishop in the Ashton Hall at 7.30. Doors open at 7. We hope the congregation will give every assistance in their power to secure good order both at the Consecration and the Reception. No tickets needed for the Reception. All are invited."
Here we see the new Bishop's coat of arms and motto (Dominus, spes mea - The Lord is my hope). Few details of the ceremony itself are available, though we do know that the Bishop was consecrated by Archbishop Keating of Liverpool; the co-consecrators were Bishop Joseph Butt (a Westminster auxiliary - presumably chosen because the new Bishop had come from Ealing) and Bishop Robert Dobson, a Liverpool auxiliary and former rector of this church. Obviously parishioners were encouraged to take an interest, and booklets detailing the rite of consecration were available: "Books containing the full ceremony of the Consecration may be purchased at the bottom of the church today. Price 8d. If there are not enough, please give your names and the requisite number will be obtained at once" (notice book, 15th February 1925).
In the ringing room of the Cathedral bell tower lies a single bell which used to belong to the school. Part of the original school building, it was removed when the building was demolished. The photograph below shows where it hung: towards the right of the picture, at the end of the school building, the bell hung above the school roof.
This image shows children ready for the Cathedral School Play in 1925. Our copy of this image is labelled with names, as follows: on the back row (left to right): Isabel Thornton, Molly Whiteside, Eileen Rose, Clare Cunliffe; middle row (l-r): Gertie Sowerby, Lily Docherty, Ryan twins (Betty and Rose); front row (l-r): Vera Holland, Ann Ingram.
Bishop Thomas Wulstan Pearson, our first Bishop, is seen here with some priests and altar servers. The photo was found in the Cathedral archive though does not seem to have been taken here. Bishops make regular visitations to all the parishes of their Diocese, but perhaps these visits are less demanding than they used to be. The notice book for this day in 1928 gives some details of a visit from Bishop Pearson: "Today His Lordship the Bishop is making his Visitation of the Cathedral. He will be received by the Rector at the door of the church at 11 o’clock. They proceed to the High Altar, where after some prayers the Bishop retires to a priedieu and assists at Mass. After Mass he will visit the altars and confessionals and examine the vestments and altar linen. This evening he will deliver his visitation address, give the absolutions, and then, during Benediction he will examine the tabernacle and the vessels containing the Blessed Sacrament. Everyone who is able should be present tonight."
In February 1951 the parish took part in a 'Rosary Crusade'. A number of special events and rallies were held, and sermons given, all encouraging families to pray together and particularly to pray the Rosary. The crusade was led by the well-known Fr Patrick Peyton CSC, who travelled the world leading events such as these. He is seen above, standing at the microphone. Bishop Flynn (2nd Bishop of Lancaster) is seen towards the left of the table next to the Mayor; auxiliary Bishop Pearson is to the right of Fr Peyton. The notice book from this day in 1951 advertises a rally in Morecambe: "Next Sunday there will be a gigantic rally at Winter Gardens, Morecambe at 3pm for Catholics and non-Catholics of this area. Spread this news and bring your friends - we want 4000 people there to show these Americans what faith in Our Lady means." Obviously they were out to impress Fr Peyton, who was born in Ireland but had emigrated to the United States in the 1920s. The appeal seemed to work: on 4th March it was announced, "We were delighted with the success of the Rally at Morecambe last Sunday - we thank you for the way you responded to the cause, and congratulate you on the full assembly."
This staff photo was taken to mark the centenary of the Cathedral School in 1951. On the back row (left to right): Monica Smith, Gertrude Sowerby, Edward Whitehouse, Mary Wearden, Mary Fox, Teresa Verity; front row (left to right): Elizabeth Troughton, Dorothy Parker, Marjorie Turner, Mother Mary Agatha, Clare Troughton, Margaret Wray, Rose Brighouse. A booklet produced for the centenary gives an account of an event held on 17th February 1851 to celebrate the opening of the school: "The health of the Queen [Victoria] was proposed, there was a toast to 'our most Holy Father Pius 9th' and the toast of the evening 'Success to the new Catholic Schools.' The Catholics of Lancaster were congratulated on having built such schools, which were to be the nursery of the true religion, the religion of charity and love. The celebrations that day ended with 'God save the Queen'." It was the following day - 18th February 1851 - that the opening of the school, as recorded by Canon Billington (see here) took place.
This is the seal of the Cathedral Chapter, the Canons, who have special responsibilities toward the Cathedral Church of the Diocese. The Chapter has a particular role in advising the Bishop and is responsible for choosing an administrator to run the Diocese if the Bishop should retire, fall ill or die before his successor is appointed. It was on this day in 1925 that the first Canons of the Diocese of Lancaster were installed; the notice book of 15th February announces the event: "Tomorrow morning at 11a.m. Solemn installation of the New Canons of the Lancaster Diocese, followed by Solemn High Mass in the presence of the Archbishop of Liverpool. The new Diocese by this act comes into being tomorrow. As many as possible should attend the ceremony to beg God’s blessing on the Diocese."
The Canons' rightful place in the church is in the choir stalls. Stalls were already in the church but these were enhanced for the foundation of the Diocese, with ornate backs being added; these were not completed until 1928. Originally there were two rows of stalls on each side of the sanctuary; the middle section was removed, reducing the number to one on each side, in the 1970s. The Chapter continues to meet at the Cathedral twice annually. Later in the year Billington's Blog will feature some pictures of the Chapter at different points in the history of the Diocese.
Parish benefactor Thomas Coulston, of Well House, died on this day in 1856. Today an image of him kneeling in prayer (above) can still be seen on a plaque in the Coulston chantry close to the Cathedral entrance. Billington writes of the plaque, "It represents the founder [of this chapel] kneeling at the foot of a floriated cross, at the sides whereof are six scrolls bearing the names of his father Thomas, his mother, stepmother, brother and sisters." The stained glass images in this chapel show St Thomas the Apostle and St Thomas of Canterbury. The benefactor may have had some influence in this choice! The inscription at the foot of the plaque, seen below, speaks not only of his donations to the church and convent but also of his gifts to "the poor schools, in which for 28 years he himself taught on Sundays."
As Billington's Blog is being written in 2009, something of a shadow hangs over the banking world in a crisis that is likely to be remembered for many decades. Lancaster has lived through troubled times in the past, of course, not least when it had its own banking crisis in the 1820s. Some Catholic families were caught up in the difficulties and Billington's parish history records the events: "It is of interest to notice that after the failure of the Worswick bank in 1826 and the disappearance of the family, a new and greater bank was established largely through the efforts of John Coulston, whose family have been great benefactors to the mission. James Whiteside, another benefactor, was also connected with this bank."
It is possible that Canon Billington has made a small error in his account. Other evidence suggests that the Worswick Bank failed on 13 February 1822; a second bank (Dilworth, Arthington & Birkett) failed in 1826, and the historian may have confused the two. It is clear, however, that some large and wealthy Catholic families helped to found the Lancaster Banking Company in 1826. The company began life on Penny Street but moved to the premises of one of the failed banks in Church Street in 1827. In 1870 a new building was built on the same site. The bank was later incorporated into larger companies, ultimately becoming part of the National Westminster Bank in 1970. Natwest still occupies the property today.
February 11th is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, principal patron of the Diocese of Lancaster. It was on this day in 1948 that two more bells were consecrated by Bishop Flynn; their addition to the tower brought the total number of bells to ten - something of a rarity, especially in Catholic churches in England. Strangely the notice books do not appear to mention the event, though perhaps little attention was drawn to it for another reason - February 11th 1948 was also Ash Wednesday, so not a day for public celebration (in fact, the notice book records the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes being transferred to the 12th). It seems strange that this day was chosen for the consecration. Perhaps the Bishop was already due to be at the Cathedral for Ash Wednesday Mass, though this is not mentioned in the notice books either. If anyone can shed any light on this little mystery, do let us know!
This flyer advertises the first annual parish reunion, which took place on this day in 1938. Clearly there was a concert and opportunities for dancing and playing whist - seemingly a favourite passtime; whist drives are often mentioned in the notice books. The most impressive claim on the flyer must have made the event hard to resist: "Here's an evening that hasn't a dull moment", it boasts. There was obviously a big push for a good attendance; the notice book from 6 February states "The reunion does not exclude non-Catholic friends". Seemingly it went well; on 13 Feb it was announced, "We wish to congratulate you on the successful reunion and we thank all who in any way helped in the work of this wonderful event." The reunions appear in the notice books at least until the 1960s.
The famous architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott died on this day in 1960. One of the most important 20th century arhitects, he made a name for himself when he won the commission to design the Anglican cathedral in Liverpool.
He designed many churches and worked on many famous buildings, including Battersea Power Station in London; he also designed the red telephone boxes, a few of which survive today.
Gilbert Scott designed a new altar and triptych for the golden jubilee of St Peter's in 1909. Canon Billington writes, "The design for the altar and reredos was made by Mr. G. Gilbert Scott, and the work was carried out by Brindley and Farmer of London and Lawrence Turner of London. The paintings were by Tosi of London. The figures for the reredos were modelled by Miss Reid, who also carved the altar frontal. The cost of this part of the work was about £3000. Mr. Scott also designed four beautiful candelabra of bronze, each holding seven candles to be lighted at the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. The candelabra are fitted in sockets in the triptych, two at each side of the throne."
The new triptych and altar can be seen in this picture, which was taken sometime between 1909 and 1924. It is an impressive piece of work, but has had a slightly turbulent history. Removed after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, the triptych was placed initially under the bell tower and then in the north transept, before being returned to its original place in the 1995 reordering.
Given that the triptych was commissioned, designed and produced during Canon Billington's time at St Peter's, there can be little doubt that he himself, as rector, both commissioned and approved the design.
On this day in 1928 Frederick William Keating, second Archbishop of Liverpool (successor of Archbishop Whiteside), died unexpectedly at the age of 68. He had grown up in Birmingham and been administrator of the Cathedral there until being made Bishop of Northampton in 1908; he was then appointed to Liverpool after Archbishop Whiteside's death in 1921. During his time the new Diocese of Lancaster was formed, and so Archbishop Keating was the last Liverpool bishop to have jurisdiction over Lancaster. Seemingly he was both surprised and upset by the division of the Liverpool Archdiocese, though after the decision had been taken he pledged his full support to the new Bishop of Lancaster, Thomas Wulstan Pearson. It was Archbishop Keating who began the appeal for a new cathedral to be built in Liverpool, leading eventually to the opening of the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King in 1967.
This picture shows some of the children and staff of the Cathedral school posed for a photograph. We have no exact date for the image but it seems to be from the 1950s. If any reader can shed any light upon the picture, please let us know. Click on the image to enlarge it.
This image will easily be recognised by staff and pupils of today's Cathedral Primary School, as the building shown here is now the main part of the school. It's actually an extension, as Canon Billington records: "owing to the growth of the Catholic population and the more exacting requirements as to space made by the Government, it became necessary to build a new boys' school in 1895-6. Land was purchased to the south-east of the existing school buildings, in Balmoral Road, and the new building, designed by Austin and Paley, was opened in 1897. The total cost was £4700." A picture of the original school building can be seen on the post for 1st February; this building was demolished after the opening of Our Lady's High School in the 1960s. The extension, though the inside is now much modernised for today's educational needs, outwardly retains something of its original appearance, and is a listed building.
On this day in 1902 the new Nazareth House opened, replacing an earlier building in Dalton Square. Canon Billington's account reads as follows: "The work of the Poor Sisters of Nazareth is well known, the blue-edged cloaks and veils of the sisters being familiar in the streets and railway stations. The order was founded in France in 1851, and undertakes the care of orphans, of children suffering from incurable diseases, and of aged men and women. The children must be Catholics, but the older persons may be Protestants. The sisters settled in Dalton Square in 1899, in a house now pulled down to make way for the new Town Hall, and in 1902 entered the new house built for them in Ashton Road, on land procured from Miss Margaret Coulston by an arrangement with Canon Billington."
"There are eleven sisters resident. They are not an independent community, but connected with Nazareth House, Hammersmith. They depend on the alms of the charitable, and have care of 83 poor children who attend school, of 16 infirm and sick ones, and 26 babies; also of 10 old men and 21 old women, who spend their last days in this home." One hundred years after Canon Billington was writing, the work of Nazareth House continues on the same site. A community of sisters works alongside employed staff to provide care for the elderly and a day nursery for children. Currently served by their chaplain, Mgr Paddy O'Dea, they retain strong links with the parish and are amongst the organisations supporting the Cathedral's 150th anniversary celebrations.
Today we feature the first of our pictures of school life in years gone by. Mother Mary Agatha, a sister of the Holy Child Jesus and headteacher of the school, is seen pointing something out to the children. The photograph probably dates from some time in the 1950s.
This month in 1851 the first St Peter's school on this site opened, some eight and a half years before the church. Canon Billington writes, "after some years of effort the new schools were built on the present site, and in February 1851 they were opened. After high mass in the church in Dalton Square, a procession was formed of priests, children, and congregation; and all marched with band and banners to the new building. Here the children, about 200 in number, sang the "Ave, Maris stella," and an address was given. Afterwards they had cake, &c., distributed to them. In the following January an infant school was opened. The cost of the land and schools was over £3300, and it was many years before it was paid off." Throughout February Billington's Blog will feature occasional posts on the school, with some interesting old photographs of school life being featured.
Canon Billington's original history of the parish was published in 1910, and we plan to reprint this fine work next year. A second volume, tracing the parish's history from 1909 until the present day, will also be published. It's too early to give any further details, but if you're interested let us know, and we will contact you when the book is ready to go to print. Email us to register your interest.
Canon Billington wrote the original history of St Peter's parish, which was published in 1910 and is due to be republished, with a second volume covering the last 100 years, in 2010. He is our guide as we look back on 150 years of the church which became Lancaster Cathedral in 1924.