First World War Centenary Cathedrals Repair Fund

Choir re-roofing and masonry repairs project

Last month we completed our external repair project which focused on high-level repairs to the Choir of the Cathedral.  The coppper roof coverings have been replaced and improvements made for rainwater disposal as well as repairs to masonry and selected windows.

Principal contractor Warren & Neale Roofing and Conservation Ltd, worked together with specialist masonry sub-contractor St White’s Stone. Works commenced on site throughout the time works were taking place and we are grateful to their professionalism and expertise.

There were a number of particularly positive outcomes achieved by this project:

  • The copper roof coverings and lead-lined gutters are now water-tight and the sumps have been deepened and new overflows introduced.

  • The east window to the choir roof void has been repair, preventing access by pigeons and other insects.

  • A permanent walkway has been constructed within the roof void to provide safe access for maintenance of the Choir roof for the first time.

  • The eroded sandstone dating to the 1822 restoration by George Gwilt, and failed render repairs from the twentieth century have been replaced with new Woodkirk Buff sandstone. This included two pinnacles which were in very poor condition, with the risk of spalling masonry causing a health and safety risk to the public in the churchyard below. The North-East and South-West pinnacles have been rebuilt, with beautiful carved detail to crockets and arises.

  • To guide the selection of stone for this work, a Stone Policy has been prepared for the East end of the Cathedral.  And a comprehensive archaeological record of the various building phases and types of stone used for both the Choir and Retrochoir, has been prepared by Dr Jackie Hall, the Cathedral Archaeologist. Its is the first time such an invaluable record has been prepared for the Cathedral using orthophotographs as a base.

  • Missing flints have been reinstated, and open joints repointed to prevent the passage of water into the rubblestone core behind the thin flintwork facing work.

  • A regime of structural monitoring has been put in place to determine whether the lean to the South-East pinnacle is progressive.

  • There has been an extremely successful collaboration with the students of the Historic Carving Course from the City & Guilds of London Art School. The students and their tutors carved 43 new bosses for the stringcourse to the Choir over the summer, working in the South Churchyard in a temporary mason’s lodge in the medieval tradition.  This presented a great opportunity for the students to experience working on a major church building, learning to carve in a distinctive and quintessentially English 13th century style of medieval foliage, known as ‘Stiff-Leaf’. 

  • Another benefit of the collaboration was that members of the public were able to watch the work going forward, talk to the carvers, and learn a little about the ancient craft of stone carving. The event reached a wide audience when BBC London featured the project and filmed the students carving in the Cathedral Churchyard.

  • The students returned to site in January 2018 once the scaffold was up and St White’s Stone had fixed the new bosses in place on the Cathedral.  For two days they worked to ‘trim in’ the form of the bosses to better align with the profile of the stringcourse moulding – an invaluable and ‘very hard to come by’ educational experience working on the building site.

  • The Conservation students from the City and Guilds of London Art School have repaired and consolidated the two original bosses which were deemed to be in the best condition on the stringcourse to the North side of the Cathedral.  They have also conserved one of the 1820s stiff leaf bosses which was removed from the building relatively intact, but in pieces, so it can be kept as a record in the Cathedral’s stone store.

  • In late January 2018 representatives from the Cathedral Fabric Commission for England, Church House and members of the Expert Panel who determined awards under the WWI grant scheme, toured the scaffold to see the work in progress.

In March 2015, Southwark Cathedral secured funding through the Government's First World War Centenary Cathedral Repairs Fund, a partnership between ChurchCare, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Catholic Church.

The scheme was established in recognition of the central role Cathedrals would play through services and events to commemorate the centenary of the First World War and the need to ensure they are wind-proof, weather-tight, safe and open to the public during this time of reflection.

The Government made available £20m of funding for Cathedrals to undertake vital repairs ranging from renewing heating and lighting systems to roofing, stonework, turrets and even work on stained glass windows to ensure the buildings are showcased at their best.