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Restoration work begins on Norwich Cathedral spire for first time in decades

PUBLISHED: 06:30 04 August 2020

Chris Milford and his son Sam of WallWalkers, rope access conservation workers, prepare to climb up Norwich Cathedral Spire to check how to remove the weather vane and cockerel from the top for renovation. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Chris Milford and his son Sam of WallWalkers, rope access conservation workers, prepare to climb up Norwich Cathedral Spire to check how to remove the weather vane and cockerel from the top for renovation. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2020

Work to restore the upper parts of Norwich Cathedral’s famous spire begins today, four decades after the last repair project.

Chris Milford, 72, of WallWalkers, rope access conservation workers, prepares to climb up Norwich Cathedral Spire to check how to remove the weather vane and cockerel from the top for renovation. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYChris Milford, 72, of WallWalkers, rope access conservation workers, prepares to climb up Norwich Cathedral Spire to check how to remove the weather vane and cockerel from the top for renovation. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Maintenance work will include replacing damaged stonework and filling in failed mortar between stones of the Grade I listed building which has stood in the city for almost 900 years.

The gold cockerel weather vane, at the very tip of the spire, will also be removed and regilded in gold paint.

The Rev Dr Peter Doll, Canon librarian and Vice Dean of the cathedral, said it marks the first time such work has been undertaken on the upper part of the spire “for about 40 years”.

Dr Doll said: “Restoration work will be taking place on Norwich Cathedral’s spire throughout the summer. The work need to be done gradually.

Chris Milford, 72, of WallWalkers, rope access conservation workers, prepares to climb up Norwich Cathedral Spire to check how to remove the weather vane and cockerel from the top for renovation. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYChris Milford, 72, of WallWalkers, rope access conservation workers, prepares to climb up Norwich Cathedral Spire to check how to remove the weather vane and cockerel from the top for renovation. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

“The materials used last time sadly haven’t stood the test of time. It’s not just about how it looks, but also about the structure.

“The cathedral is a vital part of the city and we want to make sure it is preserved for future generations.”

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The restoration work is being carried out by Bristol-based rope access company WallWalkers, which specialise in working at height to conserve historic buildings and listed architecture.

Canon Peter Doll, vice Dean of Norwich Cathedral. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYCanon Peter Doll, vice Dean of Norwich Cathedral. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

In order to ensure the cathedral remains attractive on the eye while work is carried out, WallWalkers set up a specialist rope system yesterday which will be used throughout the project to access the spire instead of scaffolding.

This was carried out by 72-year-old Chris Milford, who scaled the outside of the 315ft spire – only Salisbury Cathedral’s spire is taller – using only ropes and mountaineering techniques.

Mr Milford, who fell in love with climbing at age 14 and established WallWalkers in 1988, has 35 years of experience working on famous landmarks like cathedrals in Salisbury and Gloucester, as well as Blenheim Palace.

He often leaves the physical work to his son Sam and their other colleagues, but even at 72 he still loves working at height.

“It’s really physical work,” he said. “It’s not just being up there, but there’s a lot of engineering work at height as well.”

His 35 years of experience means he is rarely fazed by working at such heights.

“There are safety systems in place, and then there are backups in case the first one fails,” he added. “When you’re up there it’s all about the job at hand.

“Maybe I’ll keep doing this until I’m 75 – you never know, it might even be 80.”


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