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The Minster was founded as a college of secular canons in the tenth century, and had become an important foundation by the twelfth century, though it was not elevated to the status of cathedral until 1884. The body of the church is eleventh-century Norman, with Early English rebuilding at the east end. It is particularly celebrated for the exquisite carving of the capitals of the late thirteenth-century polygonal Chapter House.
Turner seems never to have made a watercolour of this important structure, and no other drawings of Southwell by him have been indentified, except the study of the Western Gate on folio 29 recto (D00238). The present drawing was made with the page turned vertically.