Peterborough Cathedral Nave Ceiling Conservation Project

Julian Limentani, Gillian Lewis, Richard Lithgow, Cathy Tyers, Tobit Curteis, Paul Bryan, Ian Tyers, Hugh Harrison, 2017

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Primary contact

Dr Jackie Hall
Cathedral Archaeologist
Peterborough Cathedral
Cathedral Office
Minster Precincts
Tel: 01223 890197

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Julian Limentani, Gillian Lewis, Richard Lithgow, Cathy Tyers, Tobit Curteis, Paul Bryan, Ian Tyers, Hugh Harrison (2017) Peterborough Cathedral Nave Ceiling Conservation Project [data-set]. York: Archaeology Data Service [distributor]

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Peterborough Cathedral Nave Ceiling Conservation Project

The nave ceiling of Peterborough Cathedral is of international significance. Canted and constructed of wooden boards, it was erected and painted in the first half of the 13th century; it was subject to major repair and repainting twice, once in the 1740s and once in the 1830s. It had been much written about but had had very little research carried out on its physical structure, prior to this project. Concerns about the condition of the nave ceiling in the early 1990s made its conservation a priority, and in 1994 a major conservation programme was proposed, led by the cathedral architect Julian Limentani. Given the international status of the ceiling, the project was conceived from the first as a collaborative effort and, also from the first, there was an intention that the intellectual results of the project should be published. A team of experts was put together drawing on the expertise of the Cathedral's own staff, English Heritage (now Historic England), the Courtauld Institute of Art and the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England (CFCE). They included paint and wood conservators, art historians and archaeologists, dendrochronologists and environmental specialists.

Emergency works begun in August 1997 by a combined team from The Perry Lithgow Partnership and Hugh Harrison Conservation provided the opportunity to establish the best methods for dealing with the flaking paint, and cleaning and conserving the structure as a whole. Four main phases of work then followed between 1998 and 2001 before a fire in the Cathedral in November 2001 proved a setback to the conservation programme. The final phase of work was postponed until 2003 while the damage caused by the fire was assessed, with cleaning throughout the Cathedral, prompting study and tree-ring dating of the other medieval ceilings in the building.

Throughout the conservation programme, as well as the conservation itself, every effort was made to record the discoveries of the conservators, aided by a programme of photogrammetry and photomontage of the ceiling. Additional to the conservation work, but crucial to a proper understanding of the structures, tree-ring dating was undertaken on both the remnant of medieval roof and on the ceiling itself. The transept ceilings proved to be of particular importance, since they proved to be the chronological and design forerunners to the nave ceiling. Both the pre- and post-fire works generated numerous technical reports, on the structure and its physical history, on the paint of different periods, on the condition and treatment of the roof, ceiling and painted decoration, on the dendrochronology and on the methods of survey and documentation.

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