St Philip's Cathedral, Birmingham

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St Philip's Cathedral, Birmingham

The Cathedral Church of Saint Philip is the Church of England cathedral and the seat of the Bishop of Birmingham. Built as a parish church and consecrated in 1715, St Philip's became the cathedral of the newly-formed Diocese of Birmingham in the West Midlands in 1905. St Philip's was built in the early 18th century in the Baroque style by Thomas Archer and is located on Colmore Row, Birmingham, England. The cathedral is a Grade I listed building. St Philip's is the third smallest cathedral in England after Derby and Chelmsford.


St Philip's Church was planned when the nearby medieval church of St Martin in the Bull Ring became insufficient to house its congregation because of the growing population of Birmingham. The land, previously named The Barley Close, was donated by Robert Philips in 1710. It is one of the highest points in the district and is said to be at the same level as the cross on St Paul's Cathedral in London. Following an Act of Parliament, construction commenced in 1711, to the design of Thomas Archer, and was ready for consecration in 1715, when it was dedicated to the Apostle Philip as a tribute to the benefactor Robert Philips. It appears to have been Archer's first church, apart from a rebuilt chancel at Chicheley attributed to him. Construction was estimated to cost £20,000, however, the final figure was only £5,012. (£660,000 as of 2011), This was because many of the materials were donated and transported to the site at no cost. St Philip's served as a Parish church from 1715 to 1905.

The church contained a theological library which was bequeathed to the church by the Revd William Higgs. In 1792, a library room was constructed next to the parsonage house by the Revd Spencer Madan and was named the Parochial Library.


With the growth of industrial towns in the 18th and 19th centuries, there was a subsequent growth in the number of parishes, and a need for new administrative centres. Birmingham became a city in 1889. While the cities of Liverpool and Truro constructed new cathedrals, in a number of other cities pre-existent churches and ancient abbeys were raised to the administrative status of cathedrals. Through the actions of statesman Joseph Chamberlain and Bishop of Worcester, Charles Gore, St Philip's became the Cathedral of Birmingham in 1905, with Charles Gore as its first bishop.

World War II

During the Second World War, the cathedral was bombed and gutted on the 7 November 1940. Its most significant treasures, several windows by Burne-Jones were removed in the early stages of the war by The Birmingham Civic Society, and were replaced, unharmed, when the building was restored in 1948.


St Philip's was designed by Thomas Archer and constructed between 1711 and 1715, with the tower being complete by 1725, and the urns on the parapet added in 1756. Thomas Archer had visited Rome and his design, in the Baroque style, is influence by the churches of Borromini, being rather more Italianate than churches by Christopher Wren. The rectangular hall church interior has aisles separated from the nave by fluted pillars of classical form with Tuscan capitals supporting an arcade surmounted by a heavily projecting cornice. Wooden galleries are stretched between the pillars in a manner typical of English Baroque churches.

Externally the building is surrounded by tall windows between pilasters of low relief, supporting a balustrade at roof level with an urn rising above each pilaster. The western end is marked by a single tower which rises in stages and is surmounted by a lead-covered dome and delicate lantern. The building is of brick and is faced with stone quarried on Thomas Archer's estate at Umberslade.

The original shallow eastern apse was extended in 1884-8 by J. A. Chatwin into a much larger chancel, articulated by strongly projecting Corinthian columns. This bold design is made richer by the marbled surfaces of the columns and pilasters, the gilding of capitals and cornice and the ornately-coffered ceiling. Chatwin also refaced the exterior of the building because the stone from the original quarry was very soft. The tower was refaced in 1958-59.

Edward Burne-Jones, who was born in nearby Bennett's Hill and baptized in the church, added to the enhancement of St Philips by the donation of several windows, of which three are at the eastern end. The west window, also by Burne-Jones, was dedicated in memory of Bishop Bowlby in 1897.

Precinct and memorials

St Philip's is surrounded by a churchyard with contains graves but which is no longer open for new burials. The churchyard covers an area of 4 acres (16,000 m2). Six of the monuments have heritage listings, including one commemorating two men who died during the construction of Birmingham Town Hall and a memorial to the victims of the Birmingham pub bombings. A statue of Bishop Charles Gore, vested in convocation robes with his right hand raised in blessing, is located at the West entrance. Upon completion of the building, it was decided to prohibit monuments from being added to the interior. Nowadays the lawns around the cathedral are a popular meeting spot for local teenagers.

Cathedral clergy
  • The Very Revd Catherine Ogle - Dean
  • Revd Canon Peter Howell-Jones - Assistant Dean
  • Revd Canon Nigel Hand - Canon Missioner
  • Revd Canon Janet Chapman - Canon Liturgist

St Philip's has a traditional cathedral choir of 20 boys and adult lay clerks (and choral scholars), who sing at the principal services. Since 1992, there has been also a choir of girls who sing at several services a week. The present director of music is Marcus Huxley. The choir has received invitations to sing at other cathedrals and venues, and the Girls' Choir has sung with the well-known soloist Emma Kirkby.


The organ, originally built by Schwarbrick, still dates in part from 1715. It underwent repairs during the late 19th century and was moved from its original position in the gallery. It has been restored, enlarged and modernised several times, most recently by Nicholson's in 1993. Details of the organ can be found at the National Pipe Organ Register.

Directors of Music
Assistant Organists
  • T. Appleby Matthews 1907 - 1914
  • Harrison Oxley 1950 - 1951 (later Organist of St Edmundsbury Cathedral)
  • John K. Nicholas 1954 - 1956
  • Hubert Best (later organist)
  • Rosemary Field 1986 - 1995
  • Rupert Jeffcoat 1995 - 1997 (subsequently Director of Music at Coventry Cathedral and St John's Cathedral, Brisbane)
  • Christopher Allsop 1997 - 2004 (now Assistant Organist at Worcester Cathedral)
  • Stuart Nicholson 2004 - 2010 (now Organist and Master of Choristers at St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin)
  • Tim Harper 2010 -

Following the completion of the tower in 1725 Joseph Smith of Edgbaston provided a ring of eight bells which were subsequently augmented to ten, the tenor weighing approximately 26 cwt (1,320 kg). These bells were to prove unsatisfactory for in 1751 the vestry resolved to have them recast by Thomas Lester of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London. The new bells were slightly larger than the previous, with a tenor weighing 29 cwt 0 qtr 18 lb (3,266 lb/1,481 kg) in the key of D — a total weight of 125 cwt 3 qtr 1 lb (14,085 lb/6,389 kg), and hung in a wooden frame.

Throughout the late 18th and 19th centuries the bells were well used, however from 1906 the bells had become unringable, due in part to concerns about the safety of the tower. Ringing was briefly revived in 1921 but when the Coronation of 1937 provided the impetus to restore the bells they had been unringable again for several years.

The 1937 restoration was carried out by the Croydon bell founders, Gillett & Johnston, the bells being recast and hung in a cast iron frame at the base of the large louvre windows. The same foundry cast two additional treble bells in 1949, given by Frank B Yates, to complete the ring of twelve bells that exists today. The tenor bell weighs 31 cwt 0 qtr 21 lb (3,493 lb/1,584 kg) and is in the key of D.

In 2004 Whitechapel Bell Foundry carried out rehanging and refurbishment of the frame and fittings, including further strengthening work to the upper frame and the installation of a viewing gallery, accessed from the original belfry doorway. Brian Yates, grandson of the above Frank Yates, was the principal donor for this project.


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Building Activity

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