The St Paul’s Cathedral programme of cleaning and repair has taken 15 years and numerous highly skilled contractors, who have comprehensively restored the building, inside and out, for the first time in its history. The project was led by Martin Stancliffe Architects and Purcell Miller Tritton.
Since the project of cleaning and repair commenced, the exterior and interior of the cathedral have been beautifully restored. Once blackened and damaged, the west front now rises majestically at the top of Ludgate Hill. The interior of the cathedral has been transformed by state of the art conservation techniques and the light that now floods the space highlights the Portland stone used in the cathedral’s construction – bringing mosaics, carvings and sculpture to life. More than 150,000 blocks of the cathedral’s white Portland stone were cleaned on the outside alone.
Other work included repair of the interior, redesign and landscaping of the south churchyard gardens, restoration of the grand organ and adding wheelchair access to the crypt. The American Memorial Chapel, built in the 1950s to commemorate US forces who died in the second world war, has also been cleaned and restored.
“One of the main elements was the comprehensive treatment of all the external stonework to make sure that it was clean and watertight. Another major element was the extensive cleaning programme throughout the interior of the cathedral, which was a six year project in its own right,” said Mr Martin Stancliffe, of Martin Stancliffe Architects.
“A whole sequence of projects stretching over around 15 years have been carried out in the crypt – all geared to making the space more useable and including the creation of a conference facility, a refectory, shop, and education and choir practice facilities. Improving accessibility was also key to the project,” he added.
Martin Stancliffe, Surveyor to the Fabric, who has overseen the restoration project, said:
“It has been a privilege – and an extraordinary experience – to have led the team of professionals, craftsmen and conservators who have contributed so much to this transforming project.
“This great building is now in a sound state and probably looks better than at any time since its completion in 1711,” said Mr Stancliffe.
St Paul’s Cathedral from the perspective of most specialists in the restoration sector must be the most iconic of buildings. The lead dome of St Paul’s is known both nationally and internationally and the building that it proudly stands above possesses equal notability. To have been involved in the project of restoring the external fabric of St Paul’s has been both an honour and a pleasure.
Working over so many years with a group of such skilled tradesmen and in such a honoured environment has been both a pleasure and an education which has been at the heart of C.E.L Ltd and the ethics of repair they have fostered ever since they commenced work alongside the cathedral works team in 1996.
Although the works of C.E.L. Ltd have never been as prominent as those of the stonemasons, the company have always endeavored to ensure that their works which cap the stone, have matched, if not complemented, this exceptional work that has been completed, and C.E.L. Ltd will always feel that they have been honoured to be allowed to be a part of the team.
Geometric Staircase Doors
Dulled by an accumulation of dirt and successive layers of old varnish, Wren’s impressive glazed oak screen and door case at the head of the geometric staircase in the south west tower had lost much of their original impact and were in need of conservation cleaning and repair. Commissioned to carry out the work, Hugh Harrison engaged Richard Lithgow in providing initial treatment tests to determine the cleaning procedure to be adopted before repairs and re-waxing.
The tests established that the earliest layers of varnish had been clear, but were unable to confirm whether these were original, suggesting that the doors were at first left plain.
The cleaning process exposed many interesting details concerning the original construction, damage repair and colouring. For example, the meticulous matching of grain and medullary rays in adjoining pieces of oak was indicative of the high quality of joinery and finish, as was the selective colour varnishing of parts of the woodwork to achieve a balanced overall wood colour.
An interesting 19th century repair was found to have been the result of damage sustained by falling bell weights from above.
Cleaning also revealed several examples of apotropaic daisy wheels often seen on vernacular buildings of an earlier age, but more rarely on woodwork of this date or in such an important metropolitan building like St. Paul’s. Another form of graffiti was noticed etched onto the glass panels above the doors, recording the cleaning of the glass in 1789 and again in 1841 together with the operatives’ names.
Selective retouching and replacement was carried out following cleaning and before waxing, thus restoring the doors to an appearance very close to the original.
Sussex firm add quality seal to St Paul’s
Asphalt and felt-roofing specialists Sussex Asphalte undertook the task of restoring the north elevation, mid and upper cornice of St Paul’s Cathedral.
This was a vital part of the restoration process, which the company carried out using Permaphalt recreational duty mastic asphalt. Matthew Coulter spoke for the company, saying: “It was a very interesting job, requiring lots of intricate detailed asphalt work. It was something different and there were roofing features that you rarely see.”
Sussex Asphalte is a family business established by the grandfather of Matthew and Julian Coulter, who now run the business. The firm operates throughout London and the South East, taking in work on a whole range of scales, from residential extensions to top prestigious landmarks such as the Brighton Bandstand; The Metropole Hotel, Brighton; and Canterbury Cathedral. The firm is also dedicated to bringing youngsters through on apprentice schemes in connection with the CITB and Hackney College in all aspects of Flat roofing, including single ply and green roofs.
Matthew said, “Our company has been trading continuously for 63 years and it’s great to work on a premier building like St Paul’s.”
Speirs + Major sheds light on St Paul’s
Lighting designers Speirs + Major were appointed to the project in 2002, and although installation of new lighting came at the end of the clean-up operation, it was a key part of the overall success of the project.
Mark Major explained the importance of light in the cathedral: “It’s a building that has always been connected with light. Wren’s concept was all about the way that light enters the building.”
One challenge was how to illuminate a space which was never designed to be seen under electric light. Mark described his approach: “You have to realise that what you’re doing is essentially placing an interpretation on the building.”
But Speirs + Major were conscious that aesthetics were only one aspect of the project. “It’s important that the lighting grows out of the use of the building,” Mark said, and this shows in the approach the designers took in creating ‘layers of light’.
“First, we thought about how light would be used to reinforce worship. The primary task was to create means of highlighting areas of the cathedral when they were the focus of worship. Taking into account that many different spaces are used for worship over the course of the week, a central control system allows lights to be turned on and off as appropriate, so that, for instance, the altar is not the focus when services take place in side chapels.”
Mark explained how the cathedral required light for a range of different activities: “When it’s packed out with thousands of people for a state occasion you need a lot of light so people in every corner can see. But at smaller services, creating a sense of intimacy is important.”
Low-energy maintenance lighting was installed so that cleaning and repairs could be carried out in the night.
Speirs + Major also restored several chandeliers to the cathedral in conjunction with Martin Stancliffe, including in the nave. “It was very obvious to us that the source of the light was missing,” commented Mark.
So the team had a traditional craftsman make replicas of the original chandeliers which had been removed over time. Mark called them ‘the important missing part’, fitting naturally in the setting and holding the spaces together.
Architectural lighting was minimal: “All the decoration is already there,” said Mark, “All you need to do is make sure that people see it under the right conditions.”
Finally, theatrical lighting was installed for use in events and performances.
Throughout the project both Speirs + Major and the Dean and Chapter at St Paul’s made low energy-consumption a priority.
Mark Major said, “Obviously it’s a very special building, so when we first won the contract we were very proud. St Paul’s held a lot interesting challenges with which we enjoyed working.
“The architectural and iconic value of the building, its long and remarkable history and the complex mix of worship, tourism and spectacle combined to make it a monumental task.”
Speirs + Major work globally on a wide array of different projects. Currently they are redesigning the lighting for Canterbury Cathedral and are working on a range of public and commercial projects in China, India and Australia. They are also the Lighting Design Advisors for the London 2012 Olympic Park.
Roebuck & Holmes Ltd
Roebuck & Holmes Ltd were responsible for carrying out a number of projects within the cathedral – including the construction of the cathedral’s reserve collection store for archiving artifacts. The works included the formation of a new storage area, which comprised offices, storage areas and toilets within the triphorium area of the cathedral and included the construction of walls, internal partitions, doorways and floors.
Other projects carried out by the company include the construction of the library room screen, the OBE Chapel screens, the dome dais, the Light of the World dais and fitments, the choir school improvements and alterations, the cathedral shop, alterations and improvements to doors, installing new oak treads to over 200 steps leading to the Whispering Gallery and installing temporary steps and a ramp at the north entrance for the Battle of Britain Commemorative service last September.
Britannia Cutting & Drilling
Taking on a truly mammoth task involving works to every single one of the thousands of steps within St Paul’s in order to satisfy health and safety requirements, were Britannia Cutting Services Ltd of Dartford
Mr Patrick Southin of Britannia Cutting Services said: “Health and safety requirements specified a need to identify very clearly the edge of each step. White lines on the edges of the steps were not practicable for some areas such as Nelson’s tomb for example, which is surrounded by black polished granite. So our architects came up with the idea of drilling small diameter holes 50mm from the edge of each step and 100mm at centre, and grouting a cylindrical brass slug into the hole. Accuracy in drilling was paramount as every hole had to absolutely precise – so the work could not be rushed. The idea is that when polished, the brass will shine, delineating the edge of each step for partially sighted people.”
The whole process had to be carried out with the cathedral fully open and operational, which presented quite a challenge to the contractors. However the entire task was accomplished without any disruption to the smooth operation of the cathedral. “We were proud to be part of such a prestigious project,” said Mr Southin.