On this day: Chichester Cathedral tower and spire collapse in 1861

February 21 marks the anniversary of the day the tower and spire of Chichester Cathedral collapsed in 1861.

Friday, 21st February 2020, 10:26 am

Marking the 150th anniversary in the West Sussex Gazette in 2011, reporter Jeanne Knight wrote: “In autumn 1860 work had begun to repair the huge cracks that had appeared in the crossing piers inside Chichester Cathedral but by November it became clear that fresh cracks were appearing.

“In desperation shoring was put in but the cracks continued to form. Timber jackets with iron hoops were unable to cope with the strain and soon it became apparent that the collapse of the tower and the spire was imminent.

“On the day of the collapse, 70 dedicated men worked tirelessly and in desperation from 3.30am but the inevitable happened and just before 1.30pm the spire fell.”

Chichester Cathedral with no spire after the collapse in 1861

Cathedral spokesman Cathy Clark said: “The Arundel (stone) Screen which runs across the cathedral was removed in 1861 to open up the vista along the length of the cathedral.

“When the screen was dismantled the foundations of the central tower were found to be seriously unsettled, serious cracks appeared in the masonry and the cathedral’s tower and spire eventually collapsed.

“As people were aware that problems had arisen the area had been cleared and no-one was hurt.”

Following the collapse, the then Duke of Richmond formed a restoration committee to raise the £48,000 needed and even Queen Victoria and Prince Albert contributed 350 guineas.

Inside Chichester Cathedral after the spire collapsed in 1861

The programme of rebuilding was overseen by Sir George Gilbert Scott took over five years before both were repaired and the cathedral was able to fully reopen for worship in 1866, with the design almost an exact replica of what had gone before.

The West Sussex Gazette reported the collapse at the time: “The spire did not topple over, as might have been supposed, especially from the boisterous south-westerly winds which were raging at the time, but sank out of sight, with a rushing sound. We say sank out of sight, because, strangely enough, the spire appears to have slipped through the transept, as if it had been let through a trap door,and the transepts on each side are almost uninjured, but apparently a portion of a bay on each side of the tower was carried away. The organ, which is in the immediate locality was not damaged at all.”

Chichester Cathedral's collapsed spire and rubble on the green
Chichester Cathedral's spire under scaffolding during the rebuild