SALISBURY Cathedral hosted an unusual blessing this week – on the top of scaffolding!
At around 2pm on Thursday (September 7), Canon Kenneth Padley, the Canon Treasurer of the cathedral, climbed to the top of the structure on the East End of the building, to bless the cross that sits high above the Trinity Chapel.
Called ‘Topping Out’, Canon Kenneth’s blessing marked a significant milestone in a restoration and repair project which began with a survey by the then Clerk of Works, Roy Spring, in 1986.
In his survey, Spring noted the stonework was in a dangerous condition and major work was required.
Restoration work eventually got underway after a huge fundraising appeal in the mid to late 1980s, with the stonemasonry, glazing and maintenance team working their way round the building ever since – a 37-year marathon that has taken almost as long as it took to build the main cathedral.
Topping Out is an age-old tradition in the building trade and has been adopted by the cathedral as a way of marking the end of each phase of restoration.
The latest phase has seen around 1,100 stones replaced, while the windows have been cleaned, wooden frames restored, lead water goods repaired and any other remedial work undertaken.
Cannon Kenneth said: “I feel incredibly privileged to have been asked to carry out the blessing at the East End.
“As well as marking the contribution that our stone sponsors have made, and the work done by the team, it is an opportunity to reaffirm the purpose of this building.
“A grand and glorious tribute to our Lord and a symbol of hope and resilience for the city.”
The Topping Out proved a red-letter day for Gary Price, clerk of works, too.
He started work on the spire as a stone sawyer and completes the circuit of restoration and repair as the head of the Works Yard.
Likewise, his colleague Sam Kelly, glazing manager, has seen the whole process unfold.
Between them, they have clocked up more than 80 years’ experience, while the rest of the team of 20 have collectively amassed more than two centuries of experience.
Now, the scaffold will be painstakingly removed, taking around six weeks.
Rooftops and parapets currently accessible will fall back into quiet, unvisited tranquility, as will the delicate carvings done by the cathedral masons and the ‘secret’ glazing workshop built to facilitate the re-leading of the windows and the installation of the Moses window in 1781.
Also, there are some hidden treasures for stonemasons and workers of the future to find.
During their work, current masons uncovered evidence of their forebears, in the form of oyster shells, eaten for lunch and used to pack spaces between stones.
And masons carrying out restoration work centuries from now will discover quirky stone carvings of, for example, a ferret (a dedication by lead mason, Lee Andrews to a beloved pet), a baby dragon, a bird on a nest, a gecko, a sunflower and even the figure of a female mason carved by Carol Pike, who has worked for the Cathedral for 17 years and was married in the Cathedral Quire.
Among the new stones fixed on the East End there are also commemorative stones recalling historic events or people – King Charles’ stone, unveiled when he was the Prince of Wales to mark the 800th anniversary of the cathedral’s foundation, the Spitfire Stone that recalls the wartime work of the so-called ‘secret spitfire’ builders, and a stone celebrating the then Dean’s daughter running the London marathon to raise funds for the cathedral restoration.
Other stones have been carved in memory of loved ones, as part of the Cathedral’s Sponsor a Stone scheme. They are now all waiting to be found in future.
Gary said: “It has been a great honour and a privilege to have been able to work on this incredible building since the start of our modern repair programme, and by mid-November all traces of the scaffolding that has made its way around the building for the last 37 years will be gone and the Cathedral will stand in glory as it did in the 14th century after the spire was added.
“I feel a bit sad about not being able to look at the amazing carvings done by our team but incredibly proud of and humbled by what they have achieved.”
The stonemasons have now moved on to the North Cloisters, where they are restoring the elaborately carved tracery and Purbeck columns.
The work that will take around four years to complete.