If you’ve visited the Cathedral recently, or are planning on making a visit very soon, you will see white hoardings covering both the inside and outside of the North and South doors. For the last few years, I’ve been working closely with a team of people from across the Cathedral on a project to replace the lobbies on the North and South doors, with help from the Heritage Lottery Fund. It’s all part of the Open Treasure project; we embarked on a mission to open up the treasures of the Cathedral to our visitors, and I don’t just mean artefacts and manuscripts.
The existing lobbies on the north and south doors are low wooden structures, with glass panels. Working in stages across this autumn and winter, we’ll be working to replace these with tall glass porches, offering visitors new and old a stunning view of the Cathedral’s architecture from the moment they step inside. We’re hoping for more than a few ‘wow’ reactions from visitors! At the moment, as you step into the Cathedral, you should be seeing a fantastic architectural space, but instead all you see is wood and glass. It feels confining and dark, which is what we aim to change.
The new glass lobbies will also help during the big services of the year, such as the Miner’s Gala, Advent, and various carol services for Christmas. These services always draw in huge numbers of congregation members, and the new glass porches will allow for much better and freer movement in and out of the church.
Another reason the new lobbies are needed is to improve accessibility for all our visitors. Altering the lobbies will improve the experience of our visitors in wheelchairs, with gentler slopes down to the floor of the Cathedral. At the south door, only one side of the medieval door actually opens, meaning that it becomes a pinch-point in the flow of visitors and staff members between the Nave and the Cloisters. Also, the South door is a wonderful piece of architecture, currently obscured by the wooden porch. The hope is that, when the new glass porch is in place, visitors will be able to see the fantastic dogtooth carving on the archway surrounding the door, bringing it to life with the help of new up-lighting too.
At the moment, the hoarding is up around the Cathedral because we need to do a lot of preparation work before we can get started on installing the new lobbies. For this current period of work between July and September 2018, we are dismantling the existing porches, and lifting up the flagstones of the floor beneath to check there are no surprises underneath. We’ve also got to be careful to not hit any central heating pipes or plumbing whilst construction is underway, so lifting the flagstones will allow us to see what’s below. The installation of the lobbies is planned to begin in January next year, and will take a few months.
I am very much looking forward to seeing the new glass lobbies completed! They’ve taken a lot of planning time, and as you can tell, it’s a time consuming process to carefully install. But the end result will be striking: you will be able to see the intricate stonework surrounding the Cathedral doors, and the doors themselves will be lighter and more accessible for every visitor who passes through them in the future.
Vanessa Ward is Head of Visitor Services at Durham Cathedral