Salisbury Topping Out Ceremony

08th September 2023

It was an historic day for Salisbury Cathedral yesterday as it celebrated a significant milestone in its restoration and repair.

Canon Kenneth Padley, Canon Treasurer of Salisbury Cathedral climbed to the top of the scaffold on the East End of the Cathedral to bless the cross that sits high above the Trinity Chapel in an act called ‘Topping Out’.

It marked a significant milestone in an extraordinary feat of restoration and repair, which began with a survey by the then Clerk of Works, Roy Spring, in 1986.

In his survey, Spring noted that the stonework was in a dangerous condition and major work was required, and a huge fundraising appeal was made in the mid to late 1980s.

Since that time the stonemasonry, glazing and maintenance team have been working their way around the building, a 37-year marathon that has taken almost as long as it took to build the main Cathedral.

salisbury topping out ceremony marks end of an era of restoration and renewal

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. This latest phase at the East End has seen around 1,100 stones replaced, while the windows have been cleaned, the wooden frames restored, the lead water goods repaired, and other remedial work undertaken.

The scaffold will now be removed, a process that will take around six weeks, and the rooftops and parapets that are currently accessible will fall back into quiet, unvisited tranquility, as will the amazingly delicate carvings done by the Cathedral masons and the ‘secret’ glazing workshop built to facilitate the re-leading of the Cathedral windows and the installation of the Moses window in 1781.

Future masons will now discover quirky stone carvings of, for example, a ferret, a baby dragon, a bird on a nest, and even the figure of a female mason carved by Carol Pike, who has worked for the Cathedral for 17 years just as Salisbury’s current masons discovered evidence of their forebears in the form of oyster shells, eaten for lunch and used to pack spaces between stones.

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 (and completing) the London marathon to raise funds for the Cathedral restoration.

salisbury topping out ceremony marks end of an era of restoration and renewal

Other stones have been carved in memory of loved ones, as part of the Cathedral’s Sponsor a Stone scheme.

Gary Price, Clerk of Works 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 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.”

Kenneth Padley, Canon Treasurer, responsible for the fabric of the building, 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 Cathedral stonemasons have moved on to the North Cloisters (work that will take about 4 years to complete), where they are restoring the elaborately carved tracery and Purbeck columns.