Celebrating Guyana's Built Heritage: A Brief History of the four St. Georges History This Week
By Lloyd F. Kandasammy
Stabroek News
September 7th 2006

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The Pro Cathedral

In an effort to resolve the problems, a site adjacent to the rectory in Carmichael Street was procured in 1878 and the third St. Georges, the Pro-Cathedral, was soon erected. It was described by one observer in the Liberal as an 'unsightly structure in which the Anglicans were forced and cursed to conduct services in.' The brick church was then demolished under the supervision of Archdeacon Wyatt.

The Pro Cathedral was built at an estimated cost of $9,000 and it was described as being a 'temporary mother church of the diocese.' The Synod of 1877 had adopted a resolution calling upon all members of the church in this diocese to make 'an earnest and concerted effort to carry out the completion of the Cathedral, worthy of a mother church.'

Bishop Austin, in 1878 noted during an address to the congregation that 'everything has been utilized which could be transferred from one building to the other, the very windows and doors, the seats as far as they could be made available, the pulpit, the communion table etc.'

He further noted 'our chief town is increasing year by year and so are our worshippers and although I cannot hope to see our new cathedral completely finished yet I desire that I may at least be instrumental in paving the way for whoever may succeed me.' By this time approximately $41,189.80 had been allocated towards the construction of the new cathedral.

Blomfield's first submission to the Building Committee and the Vestry was a grand structure to be built with brick, stuccoed over, reflecting elements of Gothic and medieval architecture. This Cathedral, according to a report in the Daily Chronicle in 1892 was to have been designed in the form of a Latin cross, the traditional design for European Cathedrals. Sir Arthur Blomfield

The walls were to have been built of Portland cement concrete and brick would be used for certain elements of the structure such as quoins, arches, string courses and cornices. Additionally Terra Cotta was to have been used for selected portions of ornamental portions, including the tower arcading.

The ceilings, on the other hand, were to have been of North American pitch pine, bored and ribbed in a pointed wagon form for both Nave and Transept, and groined for aisles and choir sections. The plans further reveal that the cathedral would be accentuated with a tall octagonal tower, which would be constructed above the juncture of the Nave and Transept, tapering into a graceful spire rising 132 feet from ground level.

The design also catered for two shorter towers, each eighty feet high, at the western extremity of the Nave. Seating accommodation catered for a congregation of 1,368 worshippers, or 2000 if extra chairs were used.

The design reflected Blomfield's choice as is evident in the structures, which were designed by him in Great Britain. These included the Law Courts of London (1883), Shrewsbury School (1881), St. Mary's Church, Portsea, the Chapel of Haileybury College and St. Peter's Church, Eaton Square, which is considered by many to be his masterpiece.

Had the vestry endorsed this design, it would no doubt have been absolutely magnificent, a change in the traditional use of timber in local construction. Given the difficulties endured by the vestry in maintaining the second St Georges, members were understandably sceptical.

Members of the Vestry, upon examining the plan submitted, expressed concern as to the cost for the foundation of the structure. They noted that this cost far exceeded the finances available for the structure to be erected.

The weight of the structure was also another area of concern. In the circumstance Blomfield, who never set foot in British Guiana despite expressing his desire to design the new cathedral, offered to despatch a foundation architect to British Guiana to determine the feasibility of the foundation structure. Mr. Coulson, an engineer, was tasked with this responsibility and during his short stay in Georgetown, he collaborated with Messrs Smith and Oldfield and took borings of the site.

The use of brick was nothing new. The Lighthouse, the Parliament Buildings and the Hand in Hand Building, which had a foundation of concrete blocks with internal cells formed by using waste materials such as old bottles and tins as designed by Luke M Hill, an engineer attached to the Town Council, all stood as testimony to the possibility of using the brick and concrete in the construction of buildings.

Coulson's findings reflected the favourableness of Bloomfield's design but it was scoffed at by leading engineers within British Guiana and with the Vestry being understandably biased against the use of brick, given their experience with the brick church, rejected the design. Changes were made and new Committees were formed to absorb existing Committees as their duties often overlapped, naturally leading to considerable delays in the decision making process.

Blomfield was once again called upon to submit a new plan. Timber was specified as the preferred material of construction to cater for the lightness of the structure. Some of the features from the original plan were retained, such as the central tower and the Latin cross formation of the Nave and Transept. Bishop Austin enthusiastically reported the submission and unanimous approval of Blomfield's new plans at a commemoration service in 1882.

The Committee made it clear that 'woods of this country and no others were to be used.' Further specifications required tenderers to stipulate the names of the woods that they intended to use for different portions of the work. Records indicate some amount of disagreements over the type of timber to be used and it was decided that for 'exposure to the weather only greenheart should be used.'

There were further disagreements about the choice of building material and Mr. F A Conyers, who had been instrumental in the construction of the RACS building, presently the National Museum and Hand in Hand objected to the use of timber.

`As I consider the constructional designs for the Cathedral quite unsuitable to this climate and as I am adverse to the erection of the accepted plans I beg to resign my seat on the New Cathedral Committee.'

Conyers' resignation, temporarily stalled the progress of erecting the new Cathedral but the Committee pressed ahead with their work.

On 22 November 1889, the Daily Chronicle noted that 'after more than ten years of weary waiting, trouble, irritation and anxiety, those connected with the mother church of British Guiana's diocese yesterday afternoon saw the primary step taken towards the consolation of their heartfelt desire.'

The local newspapers provided varying accounts of the size of the crowds, which they estimated, ranged from 10,000 to 15,000 'outside the wooden pailings which surrounded the site of the new cathedral.' They were reportedly kept in good order by a strong detachment of police under the supervision of Colonel Cotton, Inspector Harrigin and others. Additionally some sixty members of the West India Regiment were also on standby to prevent any disturbances that may have occurred.

Inside the oval over 100 seats were placed to accommodate the special invitees including Bishop William Piercy Austin, Archdeacons Wyatt, Austin and Farrar as well as canons May, Castillo and Smith along with many other members of the clergy. Mayor R P Drysdale and numerous other officials and businessmen were also present.

The afternoon was overcast with threatening rains, but despite showers the previous day not a drop of rain fell from the sky. The proceedings, from the account in the Daily Chronicle must have been rather long having commenced with a procession by various choirs from St. Barnabas, St Philips, St. George's and Christ Church. Four prayers were then offered by his worship the Bishop and Archdeacon Austin then addressed the gathering; 'at last', he exclaimed `the new cathedral is commenced.' His address related the history and selection of the plan for the cathedral, which he explained was 'based on the presence of lightness and economy with a due regard to ecclesiastical art.'

At the conclusion of his speech he turned and stated to His Lordship Bishop William Piercy Austin:

'I have the great honour and pleasure in presenting you on behalf of the building committee with this trowel to preserve the memory of this interesting proceeding.'

This trowel which was made of silver bore an inscription by H Gale in a heart shape "The cathedral of St George, corner stone laid by W P Guiana D P Primate of the WI, 21 November 1889 (FW) Austin MA, Deans Francis Webber J."

In addition, the report in the newspaper stated that a parchment in illuminated letters by Reverend Canon May was placed in a glass bottle and laid with the corner stone. It was inscribed with the following words: 'Benedict's Deus - In honour of the most Holy Trinity this cathedral of the diocese of Guyana and Parish Church dedicated to St. George is commenced this 21st day of November A D 1889 by the laying of the corner stone by the most Reverend William Piercy Austin, Lord Bishop of Guiana and Primate of the province of the West Indies.'

The glass bottle which was laid with the corner stone also contained some coins which were found in the first two corner stones of the previous St George's, copies of newspapers of the day, the first number of the diocesan magazine and some new coins of the realm. After the corner stone was then laid the crowd was reported to have quietly dispersed.

Advertisements inviting contracts for the erection of the new cathedral were soon placed in the local newspapers. However this proved to be unsuccessful as the Committee noted the rather exorbitant prices, which the contractors had tendered for the construction of the Cathedral. In an effort to cut the cost of paying contractors to execute the works they decided to undertake to erect the cathedral with the guidance of a Clerk of Works.

To supervise these works and guide the committee Mr. John Anderson 'a brither Scot, a native of Hamilton, Lankashire', 32 years old was selected. His former employers Messrs Atkins & Mansel - Shipbuilders of Glasgow in a testimonial, described him as 'a competent architect, possessing a full knowledge of plan and specifications and the various questions which crop up in building operations.'

Anderson had arrived in Demerara in 1886 as a draughtsman working with the firm of Messrs Smith & Oldfield which was responsible for the erection of the Holy Trinity Church in Essequibo, St. Simons Church at De Kinderen and a School house at St Swithin on the West Bank.

A special arrangement was brokered with La Penitence Woodworking Company to supply the lumber needed for a cost of $20,000. The construction of St George's marked the first recorded case where greenheart was used so extensively in constructing a building. Despite the regulations requiring that only local hardwoods be used in the construction of the Cathedral 5, 259, 201 board feet of North American and 4,717,301 board feet of lumber from the United States were imported.

Under Anderson's supervision seventy six Guyanese labourers including carpenters, masons, joiners and skilled artisans toiled for numerous hours to ensure the completion of the Cathedral, which would be completed in 1892.