FOR more than three years a highly skilled team of stonemasons have been hand-chiselling the stones which will be part of Durham’s skyline for centuries to come.

Working more than 200 feet in the air, the team at Durham Cathedral have been painstakingly repairing and replacing much of the stonework on its famous tower.

“It’s the best job you can get in stonemasonry,” said Sam Chapman, a stone mason with a decade of experience. “You don’t get to work in another place like it.


Stonemason Sam Chapman

“It’s the history for a start. My work is going to be there for 200 or 300 years.”

Though the cathedral was built in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the tower was not added until 1484 and was restored in 1860s, at which time poor techniques using lead were employed, which resulted in significant damage being caused to the stonework over the next century.

This project, which has cost almost £1.9m, is aimed at repairing that damage and securing the tower for centuries to come.

A feat of engineering, it has seen hundreds of the huge stones, which weigh about 450kg, lowered to the ground for repair work before being put back in place.

Other work has included repairing the intricate stonework around the windows on the tower and doing work on the inside and outside of the belfry.

To allow it to take place, more than 120 tonnes of scaffolding has been in place since the end of 2015 – which a team of workmen is now in the process of removing.

The work has been led by the cathedral’s clerk of works Scott Richardson, and has been carried out by a team of seven stonemasons.


The view from the top of Durham Cathedral

He said: “It’s one of the biggest projects the cathedral has done in a long, long time.

“There’s only so much you can do at one time because everyone and everything has to come up in the hoist. It does take time.

“There has been massive upskilling for the whole team. It’s been incredible - people have really come a long way.”

He added: “The skill level is incredibly high. We are trying to maintain heritage traditions as well so everything is done by hand with a chisel.


Scott Richardson, Durham Cathedral's clerk of works

“That’s how it was done originally so that’s how we do it now.”

They were able to save the majority of the original stones, replacing about 45.

After carrying out geological testing on the originals, which were from Otterburn, in Northumberland, the cathedral sourced new ones from Staindrop, in County Durham.

Mr Chapman, who has been working on the project since March after coming to the cathedral following a six-year spell at York Minster, added: “It’s been fantastic. I’ve loved it.

“We do quality, not quantity. It’s got to be the best it can be.”


Durham Castle, pictured from the top of the Cathedral

The tower, which has been now been under plastic sheeting for more than three years, is now gradually being revealed and will soon look as though nothing happened.

“They’ve only been up a couple of years instead of 150 years so they’ve got a bit of weathering to do before they’re the same colour,” added Mr Scott. “But I don’t think anyone will see the amount of work it took to get it like that.

“It will look pretty much like it did before.”

The tower is scheduled to reopen to the public next year.