By Alex Leggatt
Work to remove the scaffolding and cladding on the central tower of Durham Cathedral has begun, following a three-year restoration project.
A protective cladding sheet, taken down in December, was used to shield the tower whilst repairs to masonry and lead roofing took place. The scaffolding is set to be taken down in the upcoming months.
The scaffolding is set to be taken down in the upcoming months.
Built across the 15th-century, the central tower is built from golden sandstone, meaning the structure is particularly susceptible to weathering and erosion. When the tower was repaired in 1859-60 by the architect George Gilbert Scott, the ironwork used rusted and expanded, causing surrounding stones to crack.
The first phase of repair work was completed in early 2018, where around 200 stone blocks were lowered to ground level. Further repairs are being made to roof-coverings and rainwater systems, as well as the restoration of a rooftop viewing platform for visitors.
Speaking in a video for Durham Cathedral’s YouTube account, Scott Richardson, Clerk of Works at Durham Cathedral estimated that up to “50-60 stones had been replaced across the building in total”.
He also revealed that each piece of stone carving can take up to five and a half weeks for a person to complete.
The Seven-strong team of stonemasons created scale drawings of individual stones from precise measurements, and then hand carved each replacement stone.
Mr. Richardson also commented: “The work has been challenging, dealing with the logistics of working at such a height, at times halting high level work because of bad weather and winter snow.
“Our team of stone masons have relished working on the tower project knowing that the central part of Durham Cathedral and Durham City’s skyline is being conserved for future generations to enjoy.”
““The work has been challenging, dealing with the logistics of working at such a height.”
Scott Richardson, Clerk of Works at Durham Cathedral
Due to the location of the World Heritage Site, work to erect and remove the scaffolding has taken longer than originally expected. Despite some damage to the protective sheeting in November last year, the Cathedral confirmed that no damage was caused, since work under these areas is already completed.
Since the stonemasons are working with lead, the air quality is continually monitored, and regular blood tests are taken to ensure there is no impact on health.
Maya Polenz, Head of Property at Durham Cathedral, previously stated: “It takes quite a bit of work, it’s quite a bit of engineering.”
Speaking in December 2017, Polenz confirmed that “this time next year we hope to have the scaffolding down.” Despite this, there have been delays, caused by the complex nature of the restoration: “We had to remove more stones in phase one than we had anticipated, but we had a contingency plan. That took a while.”
Kate Pawley, Media and PR Officer for Durham Cathedral, told Palatinate that “the scaffold is still in the process of being removed and after this, the tower project will enter the final stages of refurbishment, with repairs to the lead roof and the installation of a new visitor platform scheduled.
“We had to remove more stones in phase one than we had anticipated, but we had a contingency plan.”
Maya Polenz, Head of Property at Durham Cathedral
“The final stage will be the removal of the lift that has been on the exterior of the tower throughout the work. This last effort will be in preparation for the grand reopening of the Central Tower and the reestablishment of public access which is scheduled to recommence later in 2019.”
The Cathedral’s central structure towers 216ft (66m), and building of the Cathedral began in 1093, taking about 40 years to finish. Up until 1539, it existed as a Benedictine Monastery when it became a Cathedral for the Church of England.
Gaye Kirby, Head of Development at Durham Cathedral, said: “We are hugely grateful to all of the organisations who have generously helped us conserve the Cathedral’s iconic tower for years to come.”
The £1.9 million restoration project was made possible by funding from organisations such as First World War Centenary Cathedral Repairs Fund, The Alan Evans Memorial Trust, Allchurches Trust Ltd, Friends of Durham Cathedral, Sir John Priestman Charity Trust, Headley Trust and Surtees Trust.
Photograph by Maddie Flisher.