Cathedral's stamp of approval

By Neil Sayer, Archdiocesan archivist

Our Cathedral must be the youngest building ever to feature on a British stamp. It had only been opened for two years when it appeared as part of a set on British architecture released on 28 May 1969 by the GPO. (The General Post Office was the predecessor of the Royal Mail.)

It was controversial, as much about the building had been throughout the 1960s. Why should this interloper – Catholic as well as unashamedly modern – figure among such venerable structures as St Paul’s Cathedral, Durham Cathedral and York Minster?

The artist behind the stamps himself seemed a little mystified. Peter Gauld designed the stamps after visiting four of the six cathedrals depicted in the final set. But while he made trips to Canterbury, Durham and York, he worked only from photographs of the Metropolitan Cathedral and St Giles’s Cathedral in Edinburgh, which he had been told by the GPO to include, possibly for a wish to involve at least one cathedral outside of England.

The choice of the newest cathedral in the country may well have been part of a projection of Britain as forward-looking and technologically advanced: other recent British stamp issues had celebrated the engineering marvels of Concorde and the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth II. The fact the Metropolitan Cathedral was the highest-value stamp (1/6d) in the series meant that it was the one most likely to be seen on mail going overseas, selling a vision of Britain that fitted in with the 1960s mood of optimism and progress. (Down at Coventry Cathedral, it must be said, they were a little miffed that their equally modern building, designed by Basil Spence and opened in 1962, did not feature at all.)

The Metropolitan Cathedral made efforts to cash in on its philatelic fame. First-day covers were sold as souvenirs to benefit the Cathedral Fund. These eye-catching designs had a cancellation applied by hand over the commemorative stamp to show that they had been posted in the special posting box in the Cathedral. Some, as in the example shown from the Cathedral’s archives, were signed by the building’s architect, Frederick Gibberd. You may have some of the stamps, or even one of the special covers, at home. If you bought it as an investment, the truth is that you may be disappointed. Some 15 million of the Liverpool stamps were printed, and they aren’t especially rare even today.