Open Treasure: A Labour of Love

Open Treasure is one of the biggest things to happen to Durham Cathedral in hundreds of years! From the Monks’ Dormitory to the Great Kitchen, days and months of labour and planning have gone into transforming the Cathedral’s historic Claustral buildings into world-class exhibition spaces.

As Project and Facilities manager here at Durham Cathedral, I am heavily involved with the planning and building of Open Treasure. From Holograms and electronic glass doors to the stone arches and original 14th-century bookcases, Open Treasure will be the perfect balance of old and modern working together to provide a functional and working exhibition space.

Every room within Open Treasure has its merits. The fourteenth-century Monks’ Dormitory is the second best example of a medieval oak-beamed roof in the country, second only to Westminster Hall, whilst the Great Kitchen is one of only two surviving monastic kitchens in the UK.

The state-of-the-art Collections Gallery will also play a central role in Open Treasure, allowing us to present a dynamic rolling exhibition programme of exhibits loaned from different institutions alongside our own treasures from stunning textiles to exquisite metalwork. So each time you visit Open Treasure you’ll be able to see something new!

We have been challenged by many things throughout the completion of Open Treasure. However the most difficult thing has been coordinating the mechanical and electrical components to work in such a historic building.

But it makes everything worthwhile when you see the progress we have made so far, especially when we uncover hidden gems. A small set of stairs, which were only recently discovered, have been dated back to the 11th century! It is quite exciting trying to figure out who will have last climbed these steps and why they were covered in the first place.

In the section under the Refectory Library, visitors will see the combination of new stone alongside old stone, showing the whole purpose of Open Treasure in this one section where the new and old are working together to support the building above.

It has been a privilege to work on this fantastic project for the last four years with some highly talented companies, and in some ways it will be sad to see the project come to an end. We have been pushed to the limits of imagination, but it has been highly rewarding and we can’t wait to see the finished result!

Open Treasure will open in summer 2016 with over 120,000 visitors expected each year.

As Open Treasure develops, there will be many opportunities to get involved. Keep up-to-date with our progress at

Tom Billington, Property and Facilities Manager, Durham Cathedral.

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