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Women of Stag Hill

The story of Guildford Cathedral is multi-faceted. It begins with the need for a new Cathedral for a new Diocese, the search for a suitable site, a public competition to identify an architect to design the building, and the gift of the land at Stag Hill on which to build. It includes the suspension of construction caused by the Second World War, its consecration in 1961, and the eventual completion of a modernist twentieth century landmark and masterpiece. 

In some ways it is a story which has so far been dominated by the successful architect, Edward Maufe. However, there is so much more to the story than the pinnacle of one man’s work. In particular there is the part played by women from the beginning of the project to the present day, not always recognised, yet constantly in the vanguard of establishing and furthering of the life of the Cathedral.

Working in partnership with her husband, Prudence Maufe, interior design specialist and Board Member of Heal’s of London, lent her expertise to the choice of fabrics and colours. These are so important to the essence of the different worship spaces within the Cathedral and are still in use today. Of particular note was Prudence’s provision of a design template for the Cathedral’s kneelers and her oversight of the work of so many women in their production. Prudence also had the vision to invite (and with her husband, to pay for) Miss Eleonora Iredale to lead the successful ‘buy a brick’ public subscription over a decade to close the funding gap for ‘the People’s Cathedral’.

Since those early days the Cathedral’s pivotal women have included Secretaries to the Deans (in the days when, unlike today, there was no other staff apart from clergy), Residentiary Canons and other clergy, the present Dean, the first female Director of Music in the Cathedrals Sector, and numerous other women without whom the Cathedral simply would not function today. 

The story of the Cathedral mirrors the changing role and perceptions of women in society over the last century. It can be understood as women and men working together both in the image and to the glory of God – something reflected in the bronze panels commissioned by Maufe for the South Doors to the building, albeit with more traditional gender roles than might be envisaged today. This contributes to the continuing formation of a Cathedral ethos currently described as being ‘Open to God – Open to all’, and which sees the Cathedral continuing on a journey of seeking God’s Kingdom by the welcome and increasingly the inclusion of every section of society across the Diocese and County.

Within this area of our website, you will find a fascinating opening presentation by Juliet Dunmur, the Maufes’ granddaughter and the author of Edward Maufe’s biography, in which she evaluates the contributions of the first women involved in the early days of Guildford Cathedral. You will also find an interview with The Very Reverend Dianna Gwilliams, the first woman Dean of Guildford, in which she talks about her time in post, and the role of women and men in partnership together. We intend adding to this living resource in future by adding contributions from other Women of Stag Hill.

Women of Stag Hill is a story of bricks and threads, not just in terms of a building but it is also a story of today’s ‘living stones’, and of the constant weaving work of the Holy Spirit to whom the Cathedral is dedicated.  Do join us as the story continues….

Chris Hollingshurst
Residentiary Canon with Responsibility for Public Engagement and Pastoral Care