Restoration of the Cathedral Roofs

A five yearly inspection identified our high roofs - comprising the Quire, Nave, North Transept and South Transept roofs - as a priority project for the Cathedral.

The Cathedral’s medieval timber roof is of historical and architectural significance, representing a key phase of English structural carpentry. The magnificent thirteenth century oak structure survives for the entire length of the Cathedral (with some Victorian interventions in the Transepts following the collapse of the Spire in 1861).

The roofs had been leaking for many years, creating a damp environment and causing the ancient timbers to rot, with water penetrating the interior plasterwork.

The final, and largest, phase of our major roof restoration is now underway – the Cathedral Nave. The Nave roof is of particular importance, as the medieval markings and pegs in this area give evidence as to how these enormous timbers were assembled, and how the craftsmen would have negotiated access without modern scaffolding.

This phase was initially scheduled to commence in July 2020. As the pandemic closed all cathedrals and churches, the Cathedral’s Surveyor of the Fabric advised that the restoration and re-covering of the roof could be delayed for up to two years.

A view of the Cathedral’s medieval timber roofs
A view of the Cathedral’s medieval timber roofs
A view of the Cathedral's green copper Nave roof
A view of the Cathedral's green copper Nave roof
A view of the Cathedral's green copper Nave roof

From green to grey

Covered in copper after World War II when lead was in short supply, this lightweight alternative roof covering created concern within just a decade of installation. The coastal wind was forcing the copper panels to lift, leading to fixing the panels with screws to the timber structure so that they would not become loose.

Over time the screw holes were ‘worked’, effectively creating a sieve for rainwater to penetrate. Despite continual monitoring and repair, the green copper roofs had reached the end of their working lives, and the timber roof structure required restoration and conservation.

The new roof uses grey lead coverings of the thickest type available - each panel weighs around 75kg (12 stone). Unlike the copper coverings, these will give better protection from the coastal weather, and our experts have advised us that they should last for the next 200 years.

The works will be undertaken by Ellis & Co., craftsmen in the conservation of historic building, with clients including the National Trust and Historic England. Works are expected to be completed prior to Advent 2023.

The fundraising appeal to repair the Cathedral roof was launched in 2017, with initial works commencing the following year. Despite the recent turbulent years, through the generosity of our supporters, £5 million has been donated towards this vital project.

Our grateful thanks go to all the individuals, charitable trusts and companies who have donated funds, which will help to preserve this historical wonder for the future. We are proud to have accomplished this momentous feat to protect our precious part of national architectural history.