Lilian Groves – A National Treasure!

Here at Durham Cathedral we are blessed with the support of over 700 volunteers, who work tirelessly and selflessly to create the best possible experience for those visiting Durham Cathedral. With Open Treasure due to open in summer 2016, our need for volunteers continues to grow!

Every single volunteer at Durham Cathedral is a superstar in their own right but one of our volunteers, Lilian Groves, has recently stepped into the lime light as one of only 11 people short-listed for VisitEngland’s Tourism Superstar Award 2016!

Lilian epitomises the commitment and dedication of all our volunteers and last summer Lilian’s invaluable support was recognized when she was crowned the Durham Tourism Superstar 2015. Now Lilian has been short-listed for the national award and with your help could be crowned the nation’s superstar, an accolade which she thoroughly deserves.

We hope the following facts will convince you to vote for Lilian, an incredible lady who is an asset not only to Durham Cathedral, but to Durham, the North East, and the whole nation. She truly is a national treasure!

  1. Lilian has volunteered at Durham Cathedral for over 25 years, making her one of our longest-serving volunteers.
  2. Despite being 87 years-old, Lilian delivers over 100 tours each year.
  3. Lilian’s tours are in such high demand that they are often booked up to two years in advance!
  4. Lilian is well-loved by everyone she meets and regularly receives thank you letters from admiring visitors and fans from across the globe.
  5. Lilian has given tours to many well-known guests during her time at Durham Cathedral, including Princess Anne, P D James, Sheila Hancock, Jeremy Vine, Sting and Bill Bryson.
  6. When Bill Bryson heard that Lilian had been voted Durham’s Tourism Superstar he sent a card saying that he’d always known she was a superstar.
  7. Lilian was awarded an MBE for services to education amongst other accolades, and for 20 years was honorary Secretary of the Friends of Durham Cathedral.
  8. Lilian is a former Vice-Principal of Hild Bede College, Durham University, and the gym at Hild Bede College is even named after Lilian!
  9. Lilian is a former PE lecturer and a former President of the Physical Education Association of the Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
  10. Lilian holds a Durham MEd for research into PE for children with special needs.

Lilian is one of the most generous, selfless, and inspirational people you could ever meet. In the words of Lilian herself, winning the Tourism Superstar Award will be wonderful, not only for her, but ‘for the Cathedral, for Durham City, and for the North East’.

So what are you waiting for? Please #Vote4Lilian today at www.vote4lilian.com

If you are interested in volunteering for Open Treasure, the new visitor experience opening at Durham Cathedral in summer 2016, please contact our Volunteers Manager at marie.wisson@durhamcathedral.co.uk

For other volunteering opportunities at Durham Cathedral, please visit www.durhamcathedral.co.uk/beinvolved/volunteer

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Leaving no stone unturned…

Most visitors to Durham Cathedral are not aware that stored in the west end of the late-eleventh century undercroft of the old refectory, on the south side of the cloister, are several hundred carved stones.  These represent some 800 years of construction at the cathedral church and priory buildings.

For me, it was a great privilege to be offered the opportunity to photograph nearly 150 carved stones from the eleventh and twelfth centuries.  As a fieldworker and board member of the Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Britain and Ireland, I spent a week in Durham examining the standing architecture, as well as the loose stones at first hand.  Most of the loose fragments had never been photographed before, so there was much to discover!

In October 2014, along with Dr Jane Cunningham (fellow fieldworker) and Jon Turnock (post-graduate student), we spent several long days in the undercroft, where I photographed the individual stones and they measured and took notes. I re-visited the undercroft in 2015 for a few days to complete the photographic survey and have since been uploading the numerous photographs and measurements onto the Corpus site, ready for the descriptions and background information to be written up.  It will still be some months before the completed work for the Corpus is made available to the public at large, but this will result in a permanent and complete record of the carved stones at Durham from this period.

How these stones came to be preserved in the undercroft is a long story, but repairs, excavations, and changes to the buildings over many centuries provide the main explanations. Their preservation is crucial for understanding how certain parts of the cathedral looked at various stages, and how these parts should be correctly repaired and maintained in the future. It is, for example, only through these stones that the east end of the Chapter House was accurately rebuilt in the late nineteenth century.

But the stones also allow a glimpse into what buildings (or parts of buildings) looked like initially.  Durham was one of the most important ecclesiastical sites in medieval northern England and it’s effect on architectural developments elsewhere was enormous. The intricately carved stones affirm a keen interest towards elaborate and high-quality decoration on the part of various bishops and their desire for ever more ornate and refined work.

The carved stones confirm, as well, an awareness of the latest developments taking place elsewhere.  Durham’s bishops were determined to have the best sculptors and architects and have left us a legacy to enjoy and appreciate for centuries to come. Researchers from around the world will also in future be able to carry out fuller and more detailed investigations into the nature and development of architecture and design of this period, and this should help to enhance a better understanding of the past. It is my hope that many more people, as a result, will be able to experience a thrill of the past through these fascinating stones.

James King

Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Britain and Ireland