The First Attempt to Design a Cathedral for Liverpool
In pre-Reformation days Liverpool had no Cathedral. It belonged for several centuries to the Diocese of Lichfield, or Lichfield and Coventry, until, at the Reformation in the time of Henry VIII, it came under the newly constituted Diocese of Chester. After the Reformation the Roman Catholic religion was proscribed and could only be practised in secret. It was not until the restoration of the hierarchy in 1850 that the normal structure of dioceses was re-established for Catholics. The first Bishop of the new diocese of Liverpool was George Brown, until then Vicar Apostolic or administrator of the Lancashire District of the Catholic Church in England. His Co-adjutor or Assistant Bishop was Alexander Goss.
As a young priest Fr Goss had been a teacher and subsequently Vice-President at the junior seminary for the training of priests which had been set up in 1845 within the walls of one of Liverpool’s older mansions, San Domingo House in a road named after it, St Domingo Road. Built by a successful merchant, this stood on a ridge in Everton, commanding a view of the North docks, the River Mersey and the Wirral peninsula.
The Catholic population of Liverpool increased dramatically following the Irish potato famine in 1847, and the restoration of the hierarchy gave Catholics a new status and feeling of confidence. It was no surprise, then, that Co-adjutor Bishop Goss saw the need for a Cathedral. He also saw the ideal site in the grounds of the College at Everton.
The commission to design a Catholic Cathedral for Liverpool was entrusted in 1853 to Edward Welby Pugin (1833-1875), son of Augustus Welby Pugin, foremost architect of the Gothic Revival, who had died in the previous year. The design was a bold one dominated by a massive central steeple. Within three years a usable portion of the building was completed in the form of the Lady Chapel, with an entrance built into the surrounding wall of the College. There it stood for over a century, serving as the church of the local parish of
Our Lady Immaculate until the 1980s, when, weather-beaten and structurally unsafe,
it was demolished.
Meanwhile the attention of the diocese was concentrated on more pressing needs – parish churches, schools and orphanages – as the Catholic population increased apace and the completion of the cathedral was shelved.