Exeter Cathedral hosted a new generation of some of England’s most talented stonemasons this week, as part of an ornamental carving workshop designed to preserve heritage building crafts.
Under the guidance of renowned carver, Alan Micklethwaite, students from cathedrals across the country gathered in Exeter’s iconic nave to hone their skills in the ancient craft. Each was tasked with transforming an eight-inch cube of French limestone into a ‘stiff leaf’ foliage – a classic feature of medieval church architecture.
The workshop was run by the Cathedrals’ Workshop Fellowship and funded by the Hamish Ogston Foundation, and is part of a post-apprentice qualification which aims to preserve traditional craft skills for the conservation of cathedrals and other historic buildings.
Exeter Cathedral is one of 11 partner cathedrals in the Fellowship and employs six specialist masons. Clerk of Works, Chris Sampson, said this week’s workshop was a valuable opportunity for the students:
“We have always been a close and enthusiastic member of the Cathedrals’ Workshop Fellowship, so it was fantastic to see students from cathedrals across England gathering here under our spectacular medieval stone vault ceiling at Exeter Cathedral.
We are so grateful for everyone who has helped to organise this opportunity, and especially for the support of the Hamish Ogston Foundation in helping to preserve our country’s rich architectural heritage.”
While at Exeter Cathedral, the students also visited the site of its new Cloister Gallery development. Built on the foundations of the cathedral’s original medieval cloisters which were destroyed in 1657, the new Cloister Gallery will connect the cathedral with its Chapter House and Pearson buildings. The work is being funded by Exeter Cathedral’s 2020s Development Appeal which aims to raise £10 million. The appeal has already received a £4.3 million grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, and a further £1.9 million from a range of other grant-giving trusts, foundations, corporate and private donors.
Further phases of the project will see approximately half of the Grade I listed heritage site conserved and refurbished. Works include conservation of the cathedral’s 50 medieval misericords (or ‘mercy seats’), a more sustainable heating zoning system, and new visitor interpretation to explain the history of the cathedral. Alongside the improvements, Exeter Cathedral has also launched a new programme of activities, designed to engage more of the local community with their heritage.
Following an intense week of learning in Exeter, the Cathedrals’ Workshop Fellowship students returned to their home cathedrals to finish their foliage carvings, and will reconvene at Winchester Cathedral next month for a final presentation and assessment of their work.