Cloister project at Salisbury Cathedral nearly complete

16th September 2013

The single largest re-plastering works of any cathedral cloisters in the country is currently being carried out at Salisbury Cathedral. Its entire north cloister is the current primary focus of the Cathedral’s Major Repair Programme, with work started in mid-July and due for completion mid-November.
Clerk of Works, Gary Price, said “This is the last of the four cloister sides to be restored. The west, east and south cloisters have been worked three bays at a time at different times since the mid-1990s but we decided on the ambitious task of working the entire north cloister of thirteen bays in one job as part of the Cathedral’s continuing preparations for the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta 1215 in 2015. Two of the masons have worked on all the bays and one of them, Gerry Wilson, was due to retire in August. I’m so pleased that he agreed to defer his retirement date so we can benefit from his huge experience to complete this, the final part of the cloister project, seventeen years after it began.”
The job to repair, conserve and re-plaster the entire vaulted ceiling to the North Cloister range began in mid-July with the Works team removing the defective plaster working at night, completing the work quicker than expected and minimizing disruption to visitors. The vault masonry was found to be in sound condition and areas of previous repair carried out in the 19th century, using brick to replace the random stone, have been recorded.
The team are now re-plastering, a difficult exercise working overhead and involving the constant mixing of plaster which is wheel-barrowed in and hoisted up to the scaffold level. A traditional lime plaster is being used and several layers are required to cover the rough surfaces of the vault masonry which were never intended to be left exposed.
The stone ribs and bosses have been protected to avoid marking the stone or damaging the trace of medieval painted decoration, of which there is just a little left visible today. Traces of red can still be seen on the bosses and some ribs which are lined to mimic mortar joints, and these traces are being carefully conserved.  Finally six layers of lime wash are being added to cover and protect the new plastering.
Gary added, “I would also like to take this opportunity to say a special thank you to all the Works Department team of artisans for their continued effort and support in conserving this great building for future generations to come. They are truly the unsung heroes.”
Salisbury Cathedral’s Major Repair Programme is currently centred on the north cloister in preparation for the 800th anniversary celebrations of 1215 Magna Carta in 2015. There is also work on the north east transept area of the Cathedral. With 85% of the Major Repair Programme done, a further £5 million is needed to ensure its final completion, for which the Cathedral is dependent upon successful fundraising by its Development Department.