SEE US IN A NEW LIGHT
Well what a month it’s been…
Lindy Gilliland, Project Manager, writes…
I didn’t expect January to be as busy as the Cathedral’s Christmas season but we haven’t stopped for a moment! On 7 January, City Council workers could be seen in the churchyards felling self-sown saplings and trimming back tree branches in readiness for our newly appointed contractor, Historic Property Restoration (HPR), to take over management of the site.
Staff, joiners, removal companies and organ builders spent an exhausting few days emptying the west end of the Cathedral of ladders, organ speakers, ancient furniture, prayer kneelers, noticeboards, candlesticks and much hidden rubbish surfacing for the first time in years and destined for a year of offsite storage or for the skip! The small organ has been repaired and protected with polythene; some furniture turned out to be just too heavy to move without dismantling.
We’ve had a continuous stream of visitors to see the 1880s oak pews with a view to purchasing a small part of Cathedral history. We’re thrilled that the majority of pews are going to North East homes and a number of public buildings in Newcastle. See if you can spot them in town! Our pew publicity hit the national press just before Christmas and folk have also travelled from afar to make a purchase. We welcome Northumbria University six month placement student, James, who is now assisting with the logistics and helping customers make arrangements for pew transport to Reading, Manchester and even to Cornwall. If you’ve missed the opportunity so far, it’s not too late to make an offer and become the proud owner of a fabulous piece of furniture.
The mighty west doors closed for the capital works to begin on 13 January and we remain open! Our transition to providing a warm visitor welcome through the courtyard entrance into the east chapels and quire has been substantially aided by a large number of wonderful volunteers who meet and greet, provide hospitality at our refreshment point and assist visitors in a multitude of ways. It’s been a pleasure to get to know them better as our welcomers are so visible in the new entrance way. We were pleased to welcome a delegation of visitor services staff from Durham Cathedral who came to find out about how we do things here and share best practice. The Dean and I also welcomed the City Council’s Historic Environment Advisory Panel for a tour of the site and to discuss a new location for the Mayoral pew in light of our pending new seating arrangements. We agreed that a fitting and dignified spot might be against the wall behind the reredos where hangs the incredible Flemish brass of the first Mayor of Newcastle, Roger Thornton and his lady.
The contractor’s site cabins were delivered very early one Sunday morning and are now situated on St. Nicholas Square. A road closure notice and several other permits were necessary for them to move in and to erect perimeter hoardings around the old carpark, through the churchyards and across the Cathedral’s south entrance. We’re not sure what Queen Victoria would make of the graffiti that immediately appeared under her nose – we’re hoping that pending signage will put off miscreants and also drivers who will insist on parking illegally in the contractor’s site compound.
As the contractors gradually remove all the pews in the nave from their wooden platform, we’ve had our first glimpse of what might lie beneath. We couldn’t wait to roll back the carpet in the central aisle to reveal a deeply incised ledger stone with an ancient coat of arms. Old cardboard protecting the monument had disintegrated with the acid leaching out into the stone. Identification of the person commemorated in the floor will have to wait until our stone conservator has been on site to clean off the crumbled debris. This excitement was followed by the joiners moving a pew to find a Victorian penny dated 1885. This accords perfectly with our understanding that the pews were put in place around the time when St. Nicholas Church became the Cathedral on the founding of the city in 1882.
As mentioned, it’s business as usual. We’ve arranged for the bell ringers to continue to have access to the bell tower for practice on Tuesday evenings, for services and for special ringing days. They now walk along a protected walk-way through the nave to get to the tower when the contractors are not on site. In fact, we now know that the Lantern Tower will remain accessible for much of this year so project staff and volunteers are making preparations for regular guided tours to start in springtime.
Our Learning and Activities Officer, Rachael, has been busy coordinating a schools’ art project with the help of artist Josie Brookes. Look out in the coming weeks on the site fencing for school children’s artistic responses to Jane Hancock, Lady Jane Clavering, Joseph Barber and a number of other individuals buried in the Cathedral over the centuries. We’ve also been busy exploring new links with both Newcastle University and Northumbria University through their volunteering and study programmes. We welcome several new volunteers including Sam, Ellie and Chloe on placements to help with our marketing, social media presence and visitor surveys.
In the midst of all this activity, the Cathedral staff went out to celebrate Christmas on 23 January. How crazy is that? So many services and events take place in December under the Christmas tree that the Cathedral doesn’t have time to pause for its own celebration. We took advantage of Restaurant Week and enjoyed a tremendous Japanese meal at Aveika.
The Design Team, led by Purcell Architects, is still much involved in directing the work of HPR with recent meetings held to discuss risk, wayfinding, safeguarding, programme and budget. Yesterday, a small party of us drove out to Dunhouse Quarry near Darlington. We went to assess the quality of the stone coming out of the ground and intended for the new nave floor. It turns out that the clean Dunhouse Buff we thought we were getting is full of random flecks or bugs; neither can the quarry produce large enough slabs of Dunhouse Blue for our needs, so we’ll be returning to the national Cathedrals’ planning permission body (the CFCE) to request a change of specification. This week, we’re also on tenterhooks awaiting permission from the CFCE for our concept design for digital interpretation and light sculpture which has been proposed by our interpretation consultant, Creative Core. If there’s not too much happening next week, I’ll let you know how we get on…