Cathedral Week

By Gethin Harvey

The cathedral week provides Scholars with an insight into the organisational structures associated with the running of cathedrals, and philosophies relating to their care, maintenance and repair. It is made possible through partnership with the Cathedral Architects Association and this year was organised by Nick Cox Architects at Winchester Cathedral.

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Winchester Cathedral

With the majority of my practical experience being with parish churches I’ve seen how dwindling congregations can lead to reduced usage of the buildings, shortage of funds for essential repairs and eventual redundancy. It was therefore of particular interest, to visit Winchester Cathedral to see how the balance is struck between liturgical function and financial responsibilities without compromising the sanctity of the place with overwhelming numbers of tourists. To aid our understanding we met with the receiver general, operations manager, enterprise manager, director of learning, head of marketing and communications as well as the head verger to discuss their individual roles and responsibilities.

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Scholars observing the paint conservation work at Winchester Cathedral

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Paint conservation on the bosses at Winchester Cathedral

Famously underpinned by the diver William Walker after the beech log raft foundations rotted causing the south transept to subside, the cathedral and its subsidiary buildings host a diverse range of conservation issues. These range from large scale structural works through to the conservation of rare decorative features such as the medieval encaustic tiles in the retrochoir. The cathedral currently has a £24.5 million conservation deficit on top of the £4 million a year required to keep it open; a vast amount of work, made more complicated by the logistics required to carry out the extensive programme of repairs without the disruption of services and events.

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Winchester Cathedral choir stalls

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Encaustic tiles

We were also able to meet the craftspeople to discuss the multiple repair projects which are progressing simultaneously, including:

– The meticulous work by Ruth McNeilage to remove the cream coloured, 20th century paint from the foliate bosses and conserve the historic paintwork beneath.

– Works to the windows by Steve Clare, to re-lead and replace missing glass where required, as well as introducing conservation glazing to stained glass panels.

Masonry repairs and repointing is being undertaken by the in-house stonemasons. Discussing the works with them highlighted the benefits of having a continuity of craftspeople and accumulated knowledge of the building. This level of knowledge is to be developed through detailed recording and documentation being carried out by Jon Crook and Peter Ferguson to provide a database of information on the cathedral’s construction which will prove invaluable for future projects.

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Stone letter carving by Scholars

Part of the new The Kings and Scribes project is to create new interpretation and exhibitions around the 12th century illuminated Winchester Bible; it will be at the centre of new exhibitions in the south transept. The proposal includes the installation of a lift which will puncture through an existing groin vault to provide access to the triforium. Whilst the impetus to make historical assets accessible to all is a laudable approach, the level of intervention required to make this a reality could result in disproportionate loss of the historic fabric we are trying to conserve and in this scenario we’d have preferred seeing something less intrusive.

We would like to thank all those involved for a great week and the CAA for their generous contributions to make it possible.

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