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Drawing - First sketches for Liverpool Cathedral
  • First sketches for Liverpool Cathedral
    Lethaby, W. R., born 1857 - died 1931
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First sketches for Liverpool Cathedral

  • Object:


  • Date:

    1902 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Lethaby, W. R., born 1857 - died 1931 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Pen and red ink and pencil on paper

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F, case EDUC, shelf 10B

This is a drawing from 1902 by the British architect William Richard Lethaby, made soon after the announcement of an architectural competition for Liverpool Cathedral. The drawing reveals an intensely creative moment at the very beginning of the design process. As if fearful of losing his inspiration, Lethaby has grabbed the nearest sheet of paper - which happens to be a used envelope - and covered it, front and back, with designs for the cathedral. The ‘back of the envelope’ sketch is a term often used to describe the designer’s first ideas, and this drawing shows exactly where the expression originates. Such drawings are greatly valued because they show the creative vision in its purest form, before the design becomes compromised by budgets, clients and manufacturing methods. Indeed, Lethaby’s final designs for the cathedral incorporate the same Byzantine features and reinforced-concrete structure suggested in these first sketches. Lethaby failed to win the competition.

Lethaby was a founder of the London County Council Central School of Arts and Crafts, and professor of design at the Royal College of Art, London. He was also an influential writer on architectural subjects.

Physical description

Drawings of a cathedral on two sides of a sheet of stationery printed for the New Church, Brockhampton. The sheet has been folded and used as an envelope and is addressed to W. R. Lethaby. It bears a one penny stamp and is franked. The drawings on the front of the sheet include a pen and ink plan; a pencil sketch of the exterior(?); a pen and ink sketch of the vaulting; a pen and ink section through the nave and aisle; a pen and ink elevation of the exterior; a pen and ink elevation of the bays, with the sculpture drawn in red ink. On the reverse there are two pencil sketches, a plan and an elevation (?).


1902 (made)


Lethaby, W. R., born 1857 - died 1931 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Pen and red ink and pencil on paper

Marks and inscriptions

Will try/ come/ this is old ['old' underlined]
Front, top left corner; Handwriting; Pen and ink; Lethaby

Altar/ Light
On the front, within the pen and ink plan; Handwriting; Pen and ink; Lethaby

good/ Sculpt/ New/ Test/ Old Test
On the front, by the elevation of the bays; Handwriting; Red ink; Lethaby

W. R. Lethaby Esq./ 111 Inverness Terrace/ Bayswater/ London/ W.
On the front, bottom right, upside down; Handwriting; Pen and ink

On the front, on top of the stamp; Stamping; Printing ink

NEW CHURCH, BROCKHAMPTON Account of Expenses for week ending [and further printed column headings etc.]
On the reverse, along the top; Printed; Printing ink


Height: 41.3 cm, Width: 26.4 cm

Descriptive line

Design drawing for Liverpool Cathedral by William Richard Lethaby, 1902


Pen and ink; Pencil; Ink; Paper; Printing ink


Handwriting; Drawing; Printing

Subjects depicted

Cathedrals; Architecture; Designs; Worship


Architecture; Drawings; Designs; Religion


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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