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The Repair and Restoration of the Cathedral's High Roofs (posted 31 August 2017)

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The Repair and Restoration of the Cathedral's High Roofs...

Evidence of water damage to timbers
Evidence of water damage to timbers

The Cathedral and the Restoration and Development Trust are soon to launch one of our most significant restoration projects yet - the repair of the Cathedral's High Roofs. Urgent repairs to the High Roofs are now necessary to safeguard the Cathedral, as the roof covering is no longer watertight.

The Cathedral's Quinquennial Inspection, and subsequent surveys, have identified the Cathedral's High Roofs (comprising the Quire, Nave, North Transept and South Transept roofs) as a priority project. Despite ongoing repairs, the copper roof covering is failing and rainwater is able to penetrate the roof vault, damaging the medieval timber roof structure, masonry and ceiling plasterwork. Restricted air flow is creating an environment for increased decay and wood boring beetle activity.

Beneath the copper roof, much of the 13th century medieval timber structure survives for the entire length of the Cathedral. This timber structure has been described as 'among the least spoiled and most important roofs in the kingdom' (Cecil A Hewitt, English Historic Carpentry, 1997), making the Cathedral's medieval roofs of exceptional and national importance.

Copper was used to re-cover the roofs after WW2 when the traditional material, lead, was in short supply. Until the late 1940s lead was the material of choice appearing in many historic photographs and engravings of the Cathedral. Unfortunately, the technical limits of copper on very exposed high roofs may not have been appreciated, and the copper was a cause for concern within a decade of its installation. Even in the early 1960s the Surveyor of the Fabric reported that 'in some vulnerable positions, the copper sheeting had torn its fixings and there was a general tendency for a fullness to develop in the panels, which will permit wind-whip and in due time fatigue of the metal'. Holding repairs have now weathered, creating many slow leaks which endanger the historic fabric. Lighter than lead, the copper panels are lifted by coastal winds, causing the copper to crack. These cracks are often impossible to repair, requiring hot work at very high temperatures which presents a fire risk to the underlying historic timber structures.

Visualisation of Cathedral once project complete
Visualisation of Cathedral once project complete

Consequently, this much needed project will reinstate the historically authentic lead roofs (and will also match the High Roofs with the lead roof over the Lady Chapel). Lead has consistently been used on the prestigious royal and religious buildings because of its longevity and appearance. The programme of work will comprise four phases, commencing with the Quire, followed by the South Transept, the Nave and, finally, the North Transept roof. This is the most cost-effective approach and considered the least disruptive to the use of the Cathedral and the city. It is anticipated that the project will be completed within four years of commencing.

The scale of the project is enormous and unprecedented for the Cathedral, which receives no statutory funding, relying wholly on donations and self-generated income for its restoration needs. This major undertaking has been estimated at a cost of £5.8 million, and cannot be delayed without risk of further damage and increasing costs. The Cathedral has been awarded a £250,000 grant from the First World War Cathedrals Repair Fund towards the initial phase of the work. The planning application for this project was approved this week and the work on the Quire roof is expected to start later in the year, with a major fundraising campaign to be embarked on soon. These repairs and restoration will give the best protection to Chichester Cathedral for generations to come.

If you are interested in supporting this significant fundraising challenge, please do contact Ali George, in the Restoration & Development Trust office, on 01243 812480 or email

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