Thursday, December 03, 2009

Report describes the state of England's Cathedrals

English Heritage has unveiled the results of a major survey into the state of the nation's great cathedrals, whilst also highlighting three East of England cathedrals for undertaking striking projects in a new report.

The English Heritage Cathedrals Fabric Condition Survey 2009 reveals that:
  • Cathedrals have spent more than £250 million on repairs since 1991 and almost all-critical work has been done

  • They have spent nearly £90 million on repairs since 2001 and over the same period have spent nearly £90 million on new works to add to their splendour and make themselves more welcoming to visitors

  • Over the next 10 years cathedrals need to spend some £100 million on repairs

  • Six cathedrals still need to carry out major repair programmes in the next 10 years: Canterbury - £16m; York - £8m; Lincoln - £13m or more; Salisbury - £15m; Chichester - £10m; and Winchester - £4m
Greg Luton, English Heritage Regional Director in the East of England, said "When we carried out our first national fabric survey in 1991 it revealed that many cathedrals were in a dire state. Today, having spent £250 million, they are in much better condition, although it's clear that much remains to be done to ensure they don't slip into decline. Great churches are national treasures, but with a maintenance bill to match. So although we can afford to be far more positive about the outlook, we also need to be vigilant."

Between 1991 and 2009 English Heritage pledged over £50m for cathedral repairs, most recently with the support of the Wolfson Foundation. Total funding allocated to East of England cathedrals was:

  • Chelmsford - £192,500
  • Ely - £3,487,500
  • Norwich - £1,336,737
  • Norwich Roman Catholic Cathedral - £292,000
  • Peterborough - £1,404,000
  • St Alban's - £1,108,500
  • St Edmundsbury - £541,900
English Heritage also unveiled a new publication, Creativity and Care: New Works in English Cathedrals, which shows how 16 cathedrals are facing the future by commissioning exciting new projects.

The Refectory and Hostry at Norwich Cathedral are hailed as two of the most exciting and ambitious construction projects at an English cathedral in recent years. The project transforms the medieval cloister into the main route between the cathedral and the buildings adjacent to it, reflecting the role for which it was constructed. The new Refectory restaurant sits within the ancient walls of the cathedral, with the Hostry, which lies along the west walk of the cloister, transformed into a space dedicated to education and interpretation. It will also include a large area for community use and a new Song School. The underlying vision for this £10m project claims inspiration from Benedictine traditions of education and hospitality, demonstrating that these ancient patterns work equally well for what has become a very outwardly-focussed institution.

At Ely Cathedral, the medieval "Ship of the Fens" is popular both as a tourist attraction and as a venue for concerts and events. However a lack of toilet facilities available when public events are held has caused real inconvenience for visitors. The construction of the new Processional Way, making the fourteenth-century Lady Chapel accessible from the north side of the choir, also provided a discreet opportunity to install new toilet facilities. The Processional Way, costing £750,000 is the first structural addition to the cathedral since the Reformation and uses the original course of the passage which was excavated by the cathedral's archaeologist. The report highlights the enhanced potential of both integrating the great Lady Chapel more fully into the liturgy and providing much needed visitor facilities.

The need to provide disability access and the pastoral desire to welcome all visitors, presented a challenge to St Albans Cathedral where the shrine of St Alban was, until recently, only accessible via a flight of steps. The design of the wheelchair lift, which has created an access into the Saint's Chapel, is praised in the report for its elegance and dignity, providing both spiritual and physical access.

Greg Luton added: "Cathedrals are inspirational places, but they need to be forward thinking and constantly review how they use these wonderful spaces. At Norwich Cathedral the development manages to be emphatically modern while keeping its roots deep in the past. At Ely and St Alban's, two projects have improved access and helped to open up the cathedrals to a wider public. All three richly deserve praise in this fascinating new publication."

The Rt Hon Frank Field MP, Chairman of the Cathedrals Fabric Commission at the Church of England, said: "Roman Catholic and Anglican cathedral authorities alike are not only custodians of past splendours: they can also be wise and willing midwives to future glories. We hope Creativity and Care will encourage cathedral bodies to think in the boldest terms about their building's future, rather than scale down their ambitions to what they think will be approved."