Southwell Minster

A site of pilgrimage for more than 900 years. 

Buttress has managed conservation and repairs to 12th century, grade I listed Southwell Minster including the leaves of Southwell NLHF project.

As Cathedral Architects for fourteen years, we were involved in a number of projects to conserve the cathedral for the future. This has included the renewal of north and south choir aisle roofs, high-level stone repairs and a major lottery-funded project to conserve the Cathedral’s internationally renowned carvings, the Leaves of Southwell.  

The Leaves of Southwell

The fluid carvings of plants, animals and green men found within the Chapter House – known collectively as ‘The Leaves of Southwell’ – are of exceptional quality. Regarded as the best example of 13th century naturalistic carving in the United Kingdom, and indeed Europe, they are considered to be of significant global importance.

Successive quinquennial inspections had highlighted increasing problems with a 200-year-old choir roof. The slate had deteriorated with many slipped slates resulting in water ingress. Rising damp in the Chapter House which, in addition to a lack of appropriate heating and environmental controls, was putting the carvings at risk of deterioration

Photo of stone carvings
Photo of stone carvings

We worked with the Cathedral to develop a successful application to the National Lottery Heritage Fund to bring forward a project to conserve and protect the Leaves and make them more accessible and widely known to future generations.

The wide-ranging scheme involved careful and considered conservation and repair work to the Leaves of Southwell carvings in the Chapter House and Slype, as well as the stabilisation of the Chapter House’s micro-climate.

The Chapter House and Slype floors were carefully taken up to introduce underfloor heating to improve the internal environment for the building and visitors alike. Lighting has been introduced into the Chapter House to highlight the carvings and allow the space to be used for the first time after dark. The slate roof to the choir was also replaced with a new lead roofing, reinstating the traditional appearance of this area of the minster.

Man in a wheelchair using an accessibility platform

Another integral element of the project was to provide full access to the Chapter House for visitors with mobility difficulties and who had previously found it difficult to negotiate the steep steps into the Slype which provides access to this part of the Cathedral. Prior to the project, visitors who were completely wheelchair bound had been unable to visit the Leaves. Created in collaboration with an access consultant, a new cantilevered lift has been added within the space. The lift has been designed to be virtually invisible when not in use, minimising any visual impact on the Chapter House.

These improvements have allowed the whole church community, both now and in the future, to access, appreciate and learn from the Leaves. The project has also created an opportunity for the Cathedral to contribute and build on a growing number of tourists to Southwell and draw in more and different types of visitors who are attracted to the new interpretation and physical interventions which have made the Cathedral more intellectually and physically accessible. This investment, in turn, is helping support and safeguard the Cathedral for future generations.

Image credits

Andy Marshall

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