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Liverpool Echo
Liverpool Echo
Alan Weston & Patrick Edrich

The ambitious Metropolitan Cathedral plans that could have changed Liverpool's skyline

Liverpool's Metropolitan Cathedral is one of the most striking buildings in the city.

The Metropolitan Cathedral - colloquially known in Liverpool as Paddy's Wigwam - is also Britain's largest Catholic cathedral. The cathedral has divided opinion for more than fifty years with American news network CNN naming the building "monstrous" and featuring it in a list of the world's ugliest buildings.

The cathedral has been a dominant figure in Liverpool's skyline since it was completed in 1967 and attracts more than 350,000 visitors each year. But the structure that strands at one end of Hope Street - with the Anglican Cathedral at the other - might have looked very different if ambitious plans had ever been completed.

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The magnificent earlier design for the Catholic cathedral, which was never built, is still mourned by many as one of the greatest missed opportunities in the city's history. The present cathedral was the fourth attempt by the Catholic Church in the North West to build a mother church for the diocese – and the culmination of a story that began way back in the early 1850s, a time when the city's Catholic population had risen sharply due to the Irish potato famine.

The first cathedral was designed in 1853 by Edward Welby Pugin, son of Augustus Pugin who designed the current Houses of Parliament. By 1856 the Lady Chapel of his proposed cathedral had been completed, but the rest was never built. This chapel served as the church of the local parish of Our Lady Immaculate until the 1980s, when it was demolished.

Many decades after the original 19th century plan was put forward, the Archdiocese purchased a nine-acre site on Brownlow Hill in 1930. The site had formerly been occupied by the Liverpool Workhouse, the largest in the world when it was in operation.

Sir Edward Lutyens - an Anglican - was hired as architect, later described by one expert as "surely the greatest British architect of the 20th, or any other, century." His original design for the Liverpool Metropolitan cathedral would have dwarfed its surroundings and completely transformed the skyline of the city.

The proposed cathedral had the same diameter as St Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, while its dome would have been even larger, making it the biggest in the world. And standing 520ft high, it would have been much higher than the 331ft tall Liverpool Cathedral which was then under construction.

Artist's impressions from the time show the majestic scale of Lutyens' creation, which would have made the building as much of a landmark as Blackpool Tower. The foundation stone for his proposed cathedral was laid on June 5, 1933.

After World War II, the Crypt was completed and remains part of the present cathedral but costs for the planned grand structure rose to an astronomical, and unaffordable, £27m - billions in today's money - leading to the plan being shelved. In 1953, and with a relatively modest budget of £4m, Adrian Gilbert Scott (brother of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the architect of the Anglican Cathedral) was commissioned to scale down the Lutyens plans.

But it was decided that this plan, too, couldn’t come to fruition. Finally, in 1960, architects were asked to submit designs capable of becoming a reality within five years and incorporating the existing crypt. Sir Frederick Gibberd’s design was chosen, work began in 1962 – and the cathedral was finally ready in 1967.

The Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ The King, to give it its official name, was consecrated by Cardinal John Heenan - then the Archbishop of Westminster - on the Feast of Pentecost, on May 14 of that year.

Today the only place where you can catch a glimpse of Lutyens' original cathedral design and dream of what might have been is at the Museum of Liverpool, where a giant replica model is on display.

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