Could This Be The End For Britain's Ugliest Cathedral?

Guildford CathedralWikimedia Commons

Guildford Cathedral, the 20th century redbrick structure condemned by critics as 'looking half finished', faces possible closure.

The Grade-2* listed cathedral, which is in financial crisis with an annual deficit of up to £100,000, is on Stag Hill, where kings used to ride to hunt deer. It now overlooks the University of Surrey.

The plan to build 134 homes on land neighbouring the cathedral was intended to replenish the coffers.

But councillors at a planning meeting were told that the new homes would give the cathdral £2 million and an annual income of a few hundred thousand pounds, falling well short of the £17.2 million needed to save it.

Bishop of Guildford Andrew Watson told the meeting: 'The truth is this: that the cathedral faces the real possibility, in fact probability, of financial failure, of closing its doors, if this planning permission is not granted.'

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Dean of Guildford Dianna Gwilliams said: 'There is no plan B, we welcome more than 90,000 people a year and the running cost of the building is immense,' according to the local website, Guildford Dragon which reported the meeting

The Dragon also quoted Richard Vary, a judge and a local resident, who said: 'It's accepted that this development does not comply with planning guidelines: poorly laid out, lacking green space, less than optimal living environment, overlooking neighbours, significantly exceeding the Local Plan.'

Bishop of Guildford Andrew Watson outside the cathedral, which faces possible closureGuildford diocese

Just three councillors voted against a motion to refuse the planning application.

Guildford became a diocese in 1927. The cathedral was designed by architect Sir Edward Maufe. Work began in 1936 but war-time and other delays held back completion until May 1961, during which Holy Trinity church in the city served as the temporary cathedral.

If the cathedral closes for good, Holy Trinity is most likely to become its replacement.

Holy Trinity is far more conducive to the style of new church as witnessed in the Fresh Expressions  initiatives which now make up more than 15 per cent of church communities. An example in the Guildford diocese is the café church of St Paul's, Dorking, which takes place on the first Sunday of the month and where juice, hot chocolate, tea, coffee, croissants and cakes are served, with music playing and Sunday newspapers to enjoy.

Such churches attract young people and families and could not be further removed from Guildford Cathedral, a building which, in spite of the best efforts of clergy and volunteers, is more like an afterthought on top of a hill than an invitation to meet Jesus.

One way it was financed was by inviting people to 'buy a brick' for Guildford.

In his new book, England's Cathedrals, former Times editor Simon Jenkins writes: 'As a child, I "bought a brick" for Guildford. When later taken to see it in place, I was mortified. It was lost among millions of bricks, among cliffs of interminable, relentless brickwork. Disappointment still hangs about this place, lonely on its hill outside the town.

'Cars stream along the A3 below, scarcely noticing. Even the approach road has been likened to the entrance to a crematorium.'

Jenkins gave it just one star in his five-star cathedral ratings guide in the book, making it equal bottom with others such as Derby and Bradford, and also Brentwood Roman Catholic Cathedral.

The cathedral chapter said in a statement: 'Clearly we are disappointed by the decision reached by Guildford Borough Council. As Trustees, members of the Guildford cathedral chapter have a responsibility to consider all options open to securing the Cathedral's long-term future. We will carefully consider the reasons for refusal before deciding the next steps.'

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