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.


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.


Scholars observing the paint conservation work at Winchester Cathedral


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.


Winchester Cathedral choir stalls


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.


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.


Hands-on Learning

The first block is racing by and the Fellows and Scholars have gone their separate ways. The Fellows travelled to central Scotland for a fortnight, where they visited Stirling Castle, Glasgow Cathedral, and the Kelvingrove Gallery amongst many others. From conversion to new use (Stirling Engine Shed) to petrography (with Bill Revie at Construction Materials Consultants) there were many different insights into the work currently going on in Scottish building conservation.

With stained glass conservator, Lizzy Hippisley-Cox, on the Fellowship this year, there has been the opportunity to visit several stained glass studios, including Mark Bambrough’s Scottish Glass Studios in Glasgow, Rainbow Glass in Prestwick, and the glazing team at Lincoln Cathedral works department. Lizzy was also able to attend the Society of Glass Technology and Association for Historic Glass conference at the Wallace Collection in London. This was an opportunity to learn more about post medieval glass production methods and to talk with glass scientists about current glass analysis techniques.

Bulmers Brick and Tile_Fellow Heather Griffith

Fellow Heather Griffith with Peter Minter, owner of Bulmer Brick and Tile Company

Bulmer Brick and Tile Company

Bulmer Brick and Tile Company

The Fellows were also delighted to get some hands-on experience of crafts such as blacksmithing (at Ratho Byres Forge), brick throwing (at Bulmer Brick and Tile Company), and thatching (with Kit Davis in Blewbury, Oxfordshire). The Fellows are currently in Lincoln, having had a fantastic few days with the works department staff at the Cathedral, exploring the turrets, triforia and roofspaces.

Lincoln Cathedral

Lincoln Cathedral

Meanwhile, the Scholars have been travelling around Oxfordshire and Leicestershire, learning about woodlands, timber framing and the dating of timber structures. They have also spent time learning about roofing with different types of stone, and how a roof is traditionally set out. They visited Norman and Underwood and saw lead being sand cast. They spent some time with SPAB Guardian, Nicholas Hobbs, a furniture designer and maker, to find out more about the work and care that goes into producing bespoke timber furniture. They’re currently enjoying exploring the vernacular buildings of north Wales and looking forward to seeing many more beautiful buildings in the weeks ahead.


SPAB Scholars Triona Byrne and Gethin Harvey trying wattle and daub with Owlsworth IJP, a conservation construction company

Church (and cathedral) crawling

by Niall Bird

So far on the Scholarship, we have visited an array of different historic buildings. Many of these have been of the secular type – a cottage, a mill perhaps or a large country house. But as 45% of all England’s Grade I Listed buildings are cathedrals and churches, a considerable number of visits have involved a Church of England or Catholic place of worship. These have ranged from the more modestly sized (the early 17th century Sexey’s Hospital chapel in Bruton for example, where we were grateful to the Warden for a very informative tour) to cathedrals of great scale such as Durham Cathedral, where we spent a week in May getting to grips with the various departments that contribute to the running of a cathedral foundation.

Whether large or small each ecclesiastical establishment requires a considerable amount of dedicated effort from clergy, lay members of staff and congregation to maintain, not just the building fabric, but also everything that takes place within, from church services to community events and charitable outreach. Church of England churches receive no direct funding from the state for their general upkeep and so rely on the generosity of the congregation and wider community as well as one-off grants to fund capital projects. A consistent theme emerged during our various visits about how churches remain engaged and relevant with society and crucially how this needs to be balanced with the often significant and historic fabric of the building.

As an introduction, we were grateful for the opportunity to shadow Catherine Cullis (the SPAB’s churches officer) on a series of visits to historic churches in north Kent in early April. Many of the churches were seeking to update their facilities in order to accommodate a more diverse range of uses. All were in the early stages of discussion about what additional amenities were needed to expand what the church offered, whether this required a physical addition to, or removal from, the existing fabric and finally in what form any new addition might take.


The interior of All Saints', Boughton Aluph in Kent, during a visit with Catherine Cullis

The interior of All Saints’, Boughton Aluph in Kent, during a visit with Catherine Cullis

After visits and discussions at three churches it rapidly became clear that even a modest addition (whether internal or external) could have a potentially sizeable impact on the existing character of a historic church building and so requires careful consideration to ensure a compatible, sensitive and ultimately positive solution.

Scholars with Andrew Townsend (architect and SPAB Scholar) discussing works to the roof at St. Mary's Barnsley, Gloucestershire

Scholars with Andrew Townsend (architect and SPAB Scholar) discussing works to the roof at St. Mary’s Barnsley, Gloucestershire

Maintenance and repair of what already exists was the theme of several instructive visits. One major area requiring regular maintenance and repair can often be the roof and a visit in late March with Andrew Townsend (Architect and SPAB Scholar) to St Mary’s in Barnsley, Gloucestershire presented an opportunity to view and discuss a re-roofing project in Cotswold stone slate. Existing slates were reused where possible and supplemented with new tiles from a local quarry all of which were secured with new aluminium nails. The new roof, carefully laid in diminishing courses, was fixed to oak batons, whilst oak counter batons provided a ventilation void above a breather membrane, with the original sarking boards retained below.

 Scaffold to the tower of St. Mary's Yarlington Somerset during repointing and stone repairs

Scaffold to the tower of St. Mary’s Yarlington Somerset during repointing and stone repairs

A more hands-on experience with Andrew Ziminski (SPAB Fellow) at Yarlington church in Somerset involved the removal of cementitious pointing from a 11th-century church tower (with later 14th-century additions) and replacement pointing in a carefully chosen lime mortar. Stone repair and replacement was also being carried out to the parapet.

Each year the Scholars are sent to a cathedral in the UK, either Church of England or Catholic. We spent time at Durham Cathedral, which is under the care of Chris Cotton (cathedral architect) whom kindly co-ordinated our visit in collaboration with Tom Billington (cathedral property and facilities manager). Over five days we benefitted from presentations from the various departments working behind the scenes to keep the Cathedral running smoothly. The role of the Chapter Clerk, finance, development, marketing, archaeology, architectural services and maintenance were all covered, providing a valuable insight into the complexities and challenges of co-ordinating a spiritual and commercial organisation of considerable size.

Durham Cathedral; the central tower from the cloisters

Durham Cathedral; the central tower from the cloisters

Continuing our introduction to the function of cathedrals, an afternoon of discussion about liturgical function with the Precentor of Hereford Cathedral Reverend Canon Andrew Piper provided a fascinating insight into the current workings of liturgy within the cathedral and how the building layout and detail all symbolically and practically contribute to specific rituals and process. This followed an earlier visit to Well’s Cathedral with former SPAB Scholar John Bucknall, who shed light on how the building was historically set-out in order to facilitate and provide a fitting setting for the liturgy; a ‘medieval powerhouse of mission’ as John described it.


Scholars with Chris Cotton (Durham Cathedral architect) at the base of the Galilee Chapel during a condition study

Scholars with Chris Cotton (Durham Cathedral architect) at the base of the Galilee Chapel during a condition study

Whilst many visits have focused on active churches it is invariably the case that, for various practical and financial reasons, churches sometimes fall out of use. The most significant and historically valuable (regardless of age) are often ‘vested’ or taken-on by the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT). A day spent in Surrey and Sussex with Nicola Westbury (architect and SPAB Scholar) provided a valuable overview of the vesting process as well as visits to churches in the care of the Trust, all of which remain consecrated. One church, St Botolph’s, had only recently been vested and repaired under the direction of Nicola. The Horsham stone roof had been sensitively renewed, removal of plant growth and repair of exterior flint and pointing undertaken, interior decoration in limewash and repair to interior joinery carried out, all to bring the church into the best possible condition prior to its new life under the care of the CCT. The project was deservedly awarded a RIBA South East Regional Conservation Award.


St Botolph's Church, Sussex during a visit with Nicola Westbury (architect and SPAB Scholar) after repairs which were awarded a RIBA South East Award

St Botolph’s Church, Sussex during a visit with Nicola Westbury (architect and SPAB Scholar) after repairs which were awarded a RIBA South East Award

Overall, with all of the above experiences combined, the Scholarship so far has provided a rounded and invaluable in-sight to the function and care of churches and cathedrals large and small. We are all looking forward to further experiences and insights that we can ultimately apply during our future careers.