Category Archives: Conservation

Baldwins blog: Central tower reopens after three-year restoration project

Brian Logan, consultant at Baldwins, a CogitalGroup company, recalls the cathedral’s central tower reopening event.

Continue reading Baldwins blog: Central tower reopens after three-year restoration project

Behind the scenes during an exhibition changeover

As our Open Treasure exhibition space closes for a week, allowing the Tudors exhibition to move out and Miners: Pitmen, Pride and Prayer to move in, we spoke to Exhibitions Officer Marie-Therese Mayne about the process she and her team goes through each time there’s change on the horizon. Continue reading Behind the scenes during an exhibition changeover

Recreating the Past: Molly Crowfoot and Textile Archaeology

This guest blog is part of a series called Shattering Perceptions. Written by Hannah Taylor and Maggie Birnbaum, MA students at Durham University, these blogs delve into the trailblazing female academics celebrated in their upcoming exhibition, Shattering Perceptions: The Women of Archaeology. Their exhibition will be open at Palace Green Library from 14 June.

Continue reading Recreating the Past: Molly Crowfoot and Textile Archaeology

Restoring Durham Cathedral’s collections at a Scottish book bindery – with your help!

Adopt a Book began at Durham Cathedral in the autumn of 2016, inspired by a similar scheme at the British Library. It allows members of the public to donate towards the restoration of a chosen book from the Cathedral’s Refectory Library, where 30,000 early printed books are housed. The Library was refurbished as part of the Open Treasure project, and now has carefully controlled conditions to protect the fragile books. However, many of the books have suffered over the years, and are in need of repair – some of the spines and covers are only kept together on the shelves with cotton tape. Continue reading Restoring Durham Cathedral’s collections at a Scottish book bindery – with your help!

Open Treasure, Open Access

Durham Cathedral’s beautiful architecture has led it to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site which it clearly deserves due to its astounding features and historic past. However, this can actually make it considerably more difficult to upgrade or renovate.

When my team and I at Axess2 were approached to install a lift for the Cathedral’s new Open Treasure exhibition, we knew that preserving the original structural design was one of the most important things to consider. While this presented a challenge, we welcomed it with enthusiasm. The result is a new lift installed at the Cathedral that can be used by anyone and that allows access to certain parts of the building that were previously only accessible by stairs.

Why We Installed a Lift at the Cathedral

While the Cathedral could be easily accessed through a ramp outside, the inside of the building was a different matter. Its original architectural features meant that accessibility was limited, and wheelchair users would be unable to move around freely, so by having a lift installed the Cathedral was able to provide equal access to everyone.

We installed the Traction 400 (Leonardo) lift in front of the entrance, so anyone that walks in can immediately see it and effortlessly access the Monk’s Dormitory. This lift also has tactile markings in the controls, another feature that complies with the specifications of the Disability Discrimination Act.

What We Had to Consider

Because Durham Cathedral is a Grade I listed building, we had several considerations to bear in mind to ensure the preservation of the original Norman architecture. The project couldn’t move forward without the very important decision of choosing the right lift, as it had to be able to meet the restrictions placed upon such a building.

The Leonardo allowed us to make minimal alterations in the original structure of the building, as we didn’t even need to excavate the area thanks to the lift having a very shallow pit – and its glass enclosure meant the Cathedral’s architecture was visible at all times.

Although the Leonardo is a modern lift, we made sure it could also blend into its surroundings – for this, we opted to add bronze stainless steel finishes to all of the lift’s steel work, so that it could match the design of the Cathedral. In the end we accomplished what we set out to achieve, and gave the building a practical and yet aesthetically pleasing and non-intrusive lift.

Our Experience with Durham Cathedral

Not only did we enjoy every challenge associated with the installation of this lift, as they allowed us to be even more creative during our brainstorming process, but we also thoroughly enjoyed working with the fantastic team at Durham Cathedral.

As the marketing manager at Axess 2, my years of knowledge and experience in the lift industry let me say with confidence that it’s vital in a project like this to always remain understanding when confronted with issues like the ones we faced – by doing so, the Cathedral’s team greatly contributed to an incredibly positive and memorable experience.

Upgrading a listed building of historical and architectural significance provided us with a rewarding experience that we enjoyed every step of the way, and being able to make access available to more people is a true pleasure.

By Nathan Massey, Marketing Manager at Axess 2.


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

A spring clean with a difference!

Some people are passionate about people, some people are passionate about places, but I’m immensely passionate about stones. There’s nothing more rewarding than conserving beautiful stones and sculptures that have stood the test of time, and preserving them for future generations.

Over the years, I have been privileged to work on projects at many prestigious institutions from Hampton Court Palace to the National Galleries of Scotland. And now my sculpture conservation company has been employed by Durham Cathedral, to conserve their extraordinary collection of Roman and Anglo-Saxon stones, ready for display in the Cathedral’s new Open Treasure exhibition, opening in spring 2016.

The collection of stones at Durham Cathedral is truly remarkable. There are over 80 ancient stones, including eight Roman pieces, and the majority date from the Anglo-Saxon period, including inscribed stones, cross shafts, and hogbacks. The historic and cultural importance of this collection is outstanding, and being able to work closely with such incredible artefacts is a real honour.

Together with six other conservators, I have been responsible for cleaning and stabilising the stones. The cleaning process is done with great care and sensitivity, leaving in place any past painted archival markings and surface patina that reflect the history of the stones. We have also been consolidating and filling any fine cracks with a special inert fill and removing any cement filler used in years gone by, which can actually damage the stones.

Although we’ll never know who created these beautiful carvings, I can’t help but feel a spiritual connection with those who originally carved the stones many hundreds of years ago. Their tools would have been somewhat similar to those still used today, but without our modern tungsten tipped chisels, and their passion for stone carving is unmistakable. One can see what may be remains of drill holes in some of the carvings. This creates a bond across the centuries between us as conservators and the Anglo-Saxon stone carvers, making the process of conserving stones an incredibly moving and often spiritual journey.

Working in the magnificent Monks’ Dormitory has also been an honour. This stunning fourteenth-century space is one of the most remarkable rooms I’ve worked in, and the height of the stones draws your attention to the medieval oak-beamed ceiling overhead. As the stones are so heavy, they have remained in-situ whilst the Monks’ Dormitory has been restored to its former glory, protected by special coverings. But when the Open Treasure exhibition opens they will finally be unveiled in all their glory to be admired by thousands of visitors each year.

If we’ve done our job properly, then people won’t even be able to notice that the stones have been conserved! But when we see the stones in their rightful place at the heart of the Open Treasure exhibition, we will certainly feel immensely proud of our role in this wonderful project.

Graciela Ainsworth

Graciela Ainsworth Sculpture Conservation, Leith, Edinburgh

The stones will be exhibited at the start of Open Treasure, close to the entrance to the Monks’ Dormitory, providing a breathtaking introduction to the exhibitions. Their re-display and interpretation has been funded by a £130,000 grant from The Monument Trust, one of the Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts.