Heritage Skills - Chester Cathedral

Heritage Skills

Leading heritage skills training and investment in the north west

Chester Cathedral Works Department is responsible for the conservation and maintenance of our Cathedral’s Grade I listed buildings.

The team bring together a wealth of experience in skills including buildings conservation, stonemasonry, and woodwork to care for Chester’s most iconic building. The Works Department also supports the training of young professionals in the industry.

Partners

The Works Department work with a range of partners across Cheshire and the United Kingdom. It is core tenet of the departmental mission to increase the opportunities for young people to engage with heritage and skills training and to increase the opportunities for those starting out in their career. In the delivery of those aims the Works Department is fortunate to work with organisations across the country.

Cathedrals’ Workshop Fellowship (CWF): an association of twelve Anglican cathedrals established in 2006 to provide education and training for the craftsmen and women who maintain our cathedrals and other historic buildings. You can find out more about the work of CWF across the country by visiting their website.

The Historic England Heritage Building Skills programme, which aims to:

  • Reduce shortages in heritage construction skills;
  • Improve the condition of Heritage at Risk (HAR) sites; and
  • Create viable career opportunities for young people from less advantaged backgrounds

Grosvenor Estate: We are proud to partner regularly with the Grosvenor Estate and have enjoyed reciprocal training opportunities across our diverse historic building portfolios.

Cheshire West and Chester Council/Colas Ltd: We work with Cheshire West and Chester Council and Colas Ltd on the essential maintenance of the city’s SAM Roman Walls

The department is also delighted to work closely with various departments at the University of Chester and other Higher education institutions, offering practical opportunities for students to experience work in a real heritage environment and offering support with projects.


Projects

Scroll through our completed and active projects below.

Chapter House 2023

The Chapter House is one of our most used spaces in the Cathedral as we host lots of exhibitions, events, and community activities in here, as well as welcoming thousands of visitors each week.

The delicate floors in this space – the central part made of Jacobean oak and the outer parts of stone – experience a significant amount of wear and damage and require careful conservation to ensure they can remain in place for years to come.

Our Works Department carried out the following conservation work.

  • Carefully Lifting each wooden board to assess the extent of damage
  • Identify areas of stone which require replacement or other work
  • Removal of detritus from beneath the floor to allow for proper airflow
  • Consolidating the timber substructure
  • Removing harmful chemical varnish from the floorboards
  • Piecing in new oak repairs to damaged boards
  • Creation and application of our own beeswax and carnauba wax mix to protect the floor

Abbey Gateway 2021

These works, completed as part of the Cultural Recovery Fund, Major Works, grant scheme included the full conservation of the external envelope of the Grade 1 listed medieval Abbey Gateway. The Cathedral’s internal Works Team acted as subcontractor as part of the overall project. Donald Insall Associates acted as Principal Designer and Grosvenor Construction the Principal Contractor.

The overall job entailed the complete repointing and refacing of the West face elevation. The recreation of the weathering courses and a fresh leadwork and roofing.

The Works Team, in their section of the programme, raked out and pointed the undercarriage of the gate. Carved and fixed minor, judicious, stone replacements and the conservation limewashing of the groins of the vaulting. The Works Team carpentry team also completely overhauled the sash windows.


Baptistry 2019-23

The Baptistry floor is a highly significant mosaic designed by Dean Howson and installed in 1885. Due to salt damage and historic abuses the floor had been covered with a carpet to offer protection and prevent further loss. This had, unfortunately, exacerbated the decay.

In 2019 a project to remove a harmful chemical varnish layer and allow the floor to breath was undertaken. At this point the Cathedral Conservation Team also fully recorded the design of the floor, drawing the design out by hand, in tesserae-by-tesserae detail. In the following years the condition of the floor was monitored whilst a plan for its future maintenance was agreed.

In the last quarter of 2023, the team returned to the project to grout any areas of the floor which had lifted because of water damage; to replace any sections of loss, using the original tesserae where available; and to clean the floor ready to be reopened.

There are still issues with the substructure of the mosaic which does not allow moisture to be properly managed and, as such, salts and other issues will continue. It is likely a larger project is still needed at some point in the future to secure the mosaic.

Training opportunities

The Works Department regularly has vacancies for those looking to develop heritage skills in buildings conservation, conservation more broadly, stonemasonry, carving, and other at-risk skills. Visit our vacancies page or get in touch to find out what we have available.

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It costs £6,000 a day to care for our historic building and to maintain our worship and music tradition. We rely on the kindness and generosity of people like you to power our work.