Architect leaves a Gothic pile £2m to cement a Gothic dream

Click to follow
The last practitioner of Gothic church architecture in England left £2m in his will to complete the transformation of a medieval parish church into a modern Gothic cathedral, a project he had been struggling to complete since 1956, writes Andrew Brown.

Stephen Dykes Bower, who died last autumn aged 91, had been surveyor of the fabric of Westminster Abbey from 1951 to 1973, and designed the high altar of St Paul's Cathedral. But his most ambitious project was the extension of the cathedral at St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, which he started in 1956.

His plans were at first controversial and modified under the pressure of local opposition. However, the first phase, doubling the size of the cathedral, was carried out in 1970, with a further extension in 1990.

St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, which covers almost the whole of Suffolk, is a relatively new diocese, formed in 1913 out of the neighbouring dioceses of Norwich and Ely. The new diocese needed a cathedral, and Bury St Edmunds, where a medieval abbey was established over the tomb and shrine of a martyred Anglo-Saxon king, was chosen.

The abbey was destroyed in the reformation and a neighbouring medieval church was chosen as the cathedral in 1913: the Dykes Bower bequest is to complete this. The architect's plans call for a central tower to be added to the church; for the organ to be encased, and for a side-chapel to be built between the old church and its extension.

Dykes Bower, who never married, left his fortune to trustees, who will meet the cathedral authorities today to discuss his plans. The meeting is not a formality. Cathedrals, which used to be exempt from planning legislation, have accepted integration on to the planning system as the price of some state aid.