Job well done

04 October 2013

BY THIS weekend, it should all be finished. The replastering and lime-washing of the largest cloisters in England, those at Salisbury Cathedral, will be finished. It completes yet another phase of the cathedral's Major Repair Programme, which began with repairs to the spire in 1986. Since then, 85 per cent of the work has been done. If the fund-raising department can raise just another £5 million, the whole project will be completed in 2018.

Two stonemasons - Gerry Wilson and Dave Vanstone, from the Cathedral Works Department - started work on the cloisters 17 years ago, and have been working on them ever since. The two of them have done all the final replastering, and Mr Wilson delayed his retirement, due earlier this year, so that he could finish.

The restoration of the cloisters has been done mostly three bays at a time. But they decided to replaster the whole of the north cloister as one job, as part of the cathedral's continuing preparations for the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, in 2015.

Work on the entire vaulted ceiling started in mid-July. The works team removed the defective plaster at night to minimise the disruption to visitors. Fortunately, the masonry was found to be in a sound condition, and areas of 19th-century repair were recorded. Then the two plasterers moved in, and began the difficult task of working above their heads.

Several layers were needed, and the traditional lime plaster had to be mixed constantly, wheeled in on a barrow by Mr Mellon, and hoisted up to the scaffolding. The ribs and bosses had to be protected from being marked with the plaster, and the trace of medieval painted decoration which can still be seen had to be preserved. Finally, no fewer than six layers of lime wash were needed to cover the plaster. Mr Wilson can now retire, satisfied that a good job has been done.

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