Conservation, repair, and research projects at Salisbury Cathedral

Since 1989, Salisbury Cathedral has been the subject of a major repair programme targeted for completion in 2015. The Works Department has made substantial progress, particularly in completing a major roofing campaign and in conserving and repairing a large percentage of the cathedral's exterior masonry. Close involvement with the fabric of the building as a result of this campaign has provided splendid opportunities for archaeological recording and scholarly assessment.

The following information was summarized from annual reports written by Michael Drury, Cathedral Architect, and published in Spire, the publication of the Friends of Salisbury Cathedral; from the Salisbury Cathedral Conservation Plan; and from information contributed by Tim Tatton-Brown, Architectural Historian and Consultant Archaeologist to Salisbury Cathedral

Masonry Repair

Masonry repairs, including cleaning, re-pointing, and replacing decayed masonry, have been taking place in stages around the cathedral, beginning with the south side of the nave in 2000, and working around to the south transept in 2002. After years of repairs, the north side of the cathedral is now (2009) completely clear of scaffolding. Three years of conservation on the clerestory on the north side of the nave was completed in 2006. Repairs then began on the lower levels of the north side of the nave, including the north porch, which was completed recently (2009). An outside contractor, St Blaise Ltd, completed the area between the northern transepts. The Works Department scaffolding has now moved eastwards to repair the north, east, and south sides of the eastern end of the cathedral.

The Cloister

Conservation of the cloister, begun in 1999, is ongoing. The south walk was completed first, then the east walk, completed in 2006. Work on the west walk was underway in 2007. In addition to masonry repairs, conservators are cleaning and restoring the large amount of surviving 13th century polychromy.

The West Front

From 1994-2000, the west front of the cathedral received a painstakingly comprehensive repair and conservation treatment. Measured drawings of the entire west front were made in a scale of 1:20 by John Atherton Bowen. The facade was cleaned, and decaying masonry conserved or, if structurally necessary, replaced. Construction details and repairs made to the fabric over the centuries were documented by Jerry Sampson; traces of medieval polychromy were studied by Eddie Sinclair; and the sculptural program, medieval and later, was assessed by Tim Ayers. Many of these findings were published in 2000 in Salisbury Cathedral: The West Front, a History and Study in Conservation, edited by Tim Ayers. For information on conservation philosophy and procedures used, see Michael Drury and Nicholas Durnan, “Salisbury Cathedral: the Conservation and Repair of the West Front”, Ecclesiology Today 24, Jan 2001, pp. 2-9.

The Roofing Campaign

The roofing campaign, begun in 1999 and completed in February 2005, entailed confirming the soundness of the underlying structure and replacing worn and damaged lead. The work provided the opportunity to improve our understanding of the structural systems above the vaults, to document the surviving medieval portions, and to compile a chronology of alterations and repairs over the centuries. Measured drawings of the roof structure were made by Howard Jones, and dendrochronological samples of the timbers were taken and analysed to help confirm dating of the various parts of the cathedral. Dendrochronology, for example, confirmed that the eastern chapels on either side of the Trinity Chapel retain their original timbers, dating to the early 1220s. A dendrochronological study of the chapter house roof was also completed in 1995.

The Tower and Spire

The first stage of the major repair programme involved strengthening and repairing the tower and spire, a part of the church that historically has caused concern among architects and surveyors. The work resulted in several studies of the structural supports of the spire, including a 1992 article in the Archaeological Journal by John Reeves, Gavin Simpson, Peter Spencer, “Iron Reinforcement of the Tower and Spire of Salisbury Cathedral”; a March 1991 article in Antiquity, vol 65, by Tim Tatton-Brown, “Building the Tower and Spire of Salisbury Cathedral”; and a 1996 article by the same author, “The archaeology of the spire of Salisbury Cathedral,” in Medieval Art and Architecture at Salisbury Cathedral.

The Cloisters

Research is continuing during cleaning and conservation, begun in 1999. The south walk was completed first, the east walk completed in 2006, and work on the west walk is nearing completion (2009). In addition to masonry repairs, conservators are cleaning and restoring the large amount of surviving 13th century polychromy. Paint on the vault bosses has been consolidated and conserved by Anne Ballantyne, wall painting conservator, and the painted decoration recorded by Peter Martindale. Conservation of the cloister included re-plastering vaults and conserving the stonework of the open arcade, which had been particularly damaged by weathering. The north walk will be conserved at a future date.

Stained Glass

The stained glass department has been working in concert with the masonry restorers to clean and, where necessary, re-lead the medieval glass. They have treated medieval glass in the west and south walls of the south transept and the medieval grisaille in the south windows of southeast transept. While masonry repairs were being made to the west front, the medieval glass in the three west windows was conserved and given a protective covering.

750th Anniversary Celebration

Among other events, an academic conference was held in March 2008 to mark the 750th anniversary of the consecration of Salisbury Cathedral. Noted scholars gave papers addressing aspects of Salisbury's medieval architecture, archaeology, liturgy, and music. See the Cathedral's website at for more information.

Polychromy in the cathedral

In 2006, the thirteenth-century pulpitum housed in the Morning Chapel was conserved and studied.

In 1999/2000, students of the Wall Paintings Department at the Courtauld Institute studied the decorative painting schemes on the walls and vaults of the cathedral. This resulted in a draft report for the Dean and Chapter. Matthew Reeve has recently published his interpretation of these findings in The Thirteenth-Century Wall Painting of Salisbury Cathedral: Art, Liturgy, and Reform, 2008, and in an article with Olivia Horsfall-Turner, “Mapping Space, Mapping Time”, Antiquaries Journal 85, 2005, pp. 57-102.

The consecration cross on the interior eastern wall of the Trinity Chapel was uncovered and studied in 1999. It is the only cross in the cathedral to retain its original painted decoration, the others having been repainted in the nineteenth century. Tim Tatton-Brown has published a study of the date and context of Salisbury's consecration crosses, “The Salisbury Cathedral Consecration Crosses”, Transactions of the Monumental Brass Society 16:2, 1998, pp. 113-6.

Monument for St Osmund

The two monuments associated with Saint Osmund were relocated from the nave to their pre-1789 positions in the Trinity Chapel. This took place in 1999, in time for the 900th anniversary of St Osmund's death. See Tim Tatton-Brown, "The Burial Places of St Osmund," Spire, 1999, pp. 19-25.

Muniment room/vestry building

Tim Tatton-Brown in 1999 wrote a provisional study of the remarkably preserved but little-known muniment room/vestry building off of the southeast transept. A detailed examination and a photomosaic of the mid-thirteenth century tiled floor was made.

Close wall

Tim Tatton-Brown in 1999 had completed a new study of the Close Wall, its dating and constructional sequence, and of some aspects of the history/topography of the Close houses, including the old bishop's palace.