The Outstanding Exhibit

‘The Outstanding Exhibit’ Lutyen’s Cathedral That Never Was. Written by Stuart Ian Burns.

The newly restored model of the Liverpool church that never was, the Lutyen’s largely unused design for a Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral is an imposing mass within the gallery space at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool where it is currently being exhibited. Positioned at the opposite end of the display gallery from the entrance it conferring on the space and its visitors the same reverence as any completed architecture. The only way to look properly inside is to kneel down in front so that you can look down the specially lit naive and it’s impossible not to crook your head slightly to try and get a better look at the dome inside which due to the presentation of the work is hidden tantalizingly out of view.

Restoration of the model has taken nearly ten years – I know because I attended a talk at the Conservation Centre in 1997 describing the history of the model and work to be done, a story I’ve been paraphrasing to visitors of Liverpool ever since. I remember seeing the cathedral back then, in the centre of the top floor of the The Walker, its appearance a surprise to many Liverpudlians who assumed that Paddy’s Wigwam had been the original concept. It was bashed about and unloved then and now it’s a marvel. Not just cleaned up but completed too, Lutyen’s original designs used to fill in ideas and proposals not achieved even in the model through lack of funds. Its all been done sympathetically, a collage inside and out of light and dark wood, plaster and metal figures.

In the accompanying catalogue there is a line drawing prepared for a newspaper that shows how this edifice would have looked in situ. The angle of the picture puts the Lutyen’s design in the foreground dwarfing the Anglican Cathedral but it still demonstrates, how, if finished, this building would have dominated the Liverpool skyline, its central dome visible for miles around even as developments swept through the rest of the city. Assuming work had continued on from the completion of the crypt in 1937 (which took three years) and comparing with the schedule of its neighbour, it’s possible to infer that construction would still be continuing even now, modern technology utilized to perfect a design generations old.

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