Home > Architecture & Urban Design, Art, Sculpture & Photography, Things I Like..., Travels > Liverpool Metropolitan Cathederal & William George Mitchell

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathederal & William George Mitchell

We were in Liverpool a couple of weekends ago and we took the opportunity to visit the Metropolitan Cathedral.

Designed in the early 1960’s by Frederick Gibberd, this stunning building was the result of a competition to design a replacement for the partially finished design of Sir Edwin Lutyens. Lutyen’s proposal was begun in 1933 and upon completion would have been the second largest Cathedral in the world, with the worlds largest dome. Unfortunately for Mr. Lutyens, WWII happened and what with one thing and another, the post war Catholic Community of Liverpool found it could no longer afford such a grand gesture.

A reduced (and much derided) design was produced by Adrian Gilbert Scott (the brother of Giles, the man famous for giving us the red K2 phone boxes and Battersea Power Station) and its rejection at the end of 1950’s paved the way for a completely new approach. The new proposal had to incorporate the completed crypt of Lutyen’s design, and had to allow over 2000 people to be able to see the altar at any one time. The Catholic Diocese of Liverpool had been much impressed with Coventry’s new Cathedral (consecrated in 1962) and appointed its architect Basil Spence to the board of judges. As such, Gibberd’s throughly modern proposal found a receptive audience and work began in 1962.

When we were there I was taken not only with the wonderful interior (which even for a complete non believer like me, really is amazing, full of colour and space ) but also by the external sculptural works of William Mitchell.

At either side of the main entrance to the building are two huge panels. They look as if they are made from some form of cast or wrought copper or bronze, but are in fact made from glass reinforced plastic (GRP).

The inspiration for these fantastic works is taken from Revelation 4 which describes the animals John saw looking up into heaven…

“And round the throne were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.
And the first beast was like a lion and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man and the fourth beast was as a flying eagle.
And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him and they were full of eyes within.”

Whilst the idea of organised religion leaves me totally cold, I do think this wonderful work sums up the rather bizarre biblical descriptions with immense success… there are eyes and wings everywhere, and the face of the man is breathtaking (especially close up)

Mitchell also designed and executed the stone carving on the huge bell tower that rises above the Cathedrals entrance pavilion.

If you get the time to have a look at some of the other works on his web site, it’s surprising  to me that Mitchell is not more widely known and respected. His work has a very strong sense of style which not only incorporates large, bold images and shapes but is then beautifully executed through the use of unusual materials and techniques.

I particularly like “The Story of Wool” bas relief on the International Wool Secretariat building (although this black and white, presumably contemporary, image is the only one I can find and as such I can’t actually confirm if it still exists)

I think I can feel the need for some futher research…

  1. Susan MacKell
    August 6, 2011 at 21:30

    I have just re-installed another piece of William George Mitchell’s work in the foyer of Kirkby Library, Kirkby, Merseyside. William originally made it for the new library building in the 70s. However, when the building was refurbished, the piece of work was put into storage. I was very proud to be involved in redisplaying it (although temporarily) in the foyer gallery of the library. It’s a wonderful piece, and I completely agree, he should be much more celebrated than he is – he is an amazing artist, and he was pleased to hear that his work is back on display in Kirkby.

    • August 22, 2011 at 10:33

      Hi Susan, apologies for the delay in responding (I’ve been on leave) and thanks for taking the time to comment.
      I am in the process of writing another post on MitchelI, and would be very interested to include photos of the piece in Kirkby if you took any (and if you wouldn’t mind of course)
      I’ve had a look around the interweb for stuff on Mitchell, and other than his own comprehensive site and another interested blogger, there is a criminal lack of info on one of our most gifted and creative sculptors…. I intend to try and rectify this….
      I did find this wonderful film on the British Pathe site about cement murals… http://www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=1034 … which shows Mitchell at work in his studio.

  2. Susan MacKell
    January 6, 2012 at 22:01

    HI Joe, sorry for not responding – I have only just returned to this site and then noticed your reply.
    I did take some photographs when we were installing the piece at Kirkby Library, so it shows it all in pieces and then the finished thing – it was like putting together a giant jig-saw.
    Bill is hoping to come over at some point to revisit it after many many years, I’m guessing he will also go into Liverpool to see his work there too.
    Not quite sure how to put the photographs on here though? Would it be easier to email them over to you?

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