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Pilgrim, priest and ponderer. European living in North East England. Retired parish priest, theological educator, cathedral precentor and dean.

Friday, 15 June 2012

'Historic Cathedral City': expectation and reality at Durham

When you drive towards Durham on the A1M, you pass brown signs alerting you to Durham: historic cathedral city.  They are so familiar that we scarcely give them a second thought.  Yet we do notice other peoples’ brown signs pointing us to their towns and cities, and I imagine that an audience like this is willing to be enticed by them.  Perhaps those who are not fortunate enough to live in a ‘brown sign’ town or city envy those of us who do.  But it is good to ask ourselves from time to time how our town or city measures up to the allure of its coveted sign.  Do we deliver what the brown sign promises? 

‘Historic cathedral city’ is an evocative epithet.  There is something very English about it.  It conjures up nostalgic images that extend beyond the meaning of the words themselves, associating to mental landscapes of a kind familiar from railway posters of the 1930s and dust-jackets of Batsford Books.  We know, or think we know, what is, and is not, a ‘historic cathedral city’.  We mean places like Wells, Salisbury, Chichester, Winchester, Canterbury, Hereford and Lichfield: modest-sized towns with a medieval Cathedral at their heart.  We expect the Cathedral to be surrounded by a sward of immaculately tended green, a close lined with Georgian houses with (preferably) a wall around it and a gate that is shut at night.  We expect there to be a dense cluster of historic buildings lining networks of narrow streets and lanes along which the evensong bell echoes each day.  We expect urban sprawl to have been contained, and the depredations of industry and commercial development to have been kept out of their historic core.  We expect there to be interesting shops to detain us, independents and not merely the generic high-street brands.   We expect a townscape with an individual, personal texture and a strong sense of place, not a clone of somewhere else but a city that has personality, that is truly, authentically itself.  Those are some of my criteria for a good historic cathedral city.  They may be difficult to state but I think we recognise it when we see it.

There are many cities that are historic in the sense that they have a history.  Most have cathedrals.  But we do not think of them as ‘historic cathedral cities;.  In the case of the so-called large ‘core-cities’ like Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield and Newcastle, the cathedral is not magnet towards which visitors are first drawn.  You do not go to these places solely for the purpose of visiting their cathedrals, and indeed none of them had a cathedral in the middle-ages.  Bristol become a cathedral under Henry VIII while the others have parish churches that acquired cathedral status in the 19th or early 20th centuries.  When I went to Sheffield, some people were surprised to learn that it even had a cathedral.  Meanwhile, some of our largest cities do not have cathedrals at all: Leeds, Hull, Plymouth, Nottingham, Southampton and closer to home, Sunderland.  Liverpool and Coventry (where I was a canon before going to Sheffield) are perhaps the only large urban centres outside London whose cathedrals are destinations in their own right. 

At the other end of the scale, there are towns that do have cathedrals but are not cities: Southwell, Ripon and Bury St Edmunds, latecomers as cathedrals go, for their monastic churches only gained cathedral status in the last 150 years.  Truro, with its fine 19th century cathedral, has successfully emulated the historic cathedral cities in some respects.  Guildford has a 20th century cathedral but is not (yet) a city.  Bath is an interesting case because in the medieval period its Abbey was one of the two cathedrals of its diocese, only becoming a secular parish church at the dissolution. But it is still a city today.  And then there are those cities that have grown considerably beyond their pre-modern city limits but whose centres still retain the character of a cathedral city – some more so like York, Norwich and Chester, some less so, like Exeter, Carlisle and Peterborough, this last city having been treated cruelly by developers ever since the 16th century. 

If I am right to say that we know intuitively what we mean when we talk about ‘historic cathedral cities’, then it may be worth examining how well it applies to Durham.  I should like to do this by taking these three words in turn, ‘historic’, ‘cathedral’ and ‘city’.  We should imagine that they are hyphenated, for they cannot ultimately be separated.  I hope to raise issues that Durham perhaps needs to face if it is to cherish its identity as a ‘historic cathedral city’. 

In 2008 The Princess Royal unveiled Fenwick Lawson’s sculpture ‘The Journey’ in Millennium Square.  I chaired the committee that raised the funds for the piece.  The reason this proved a popular project was not only the beauty of the piece and the distinction of its sculptor.  It was its subject.  At the time we said that we believed it was important to have in the city-centre some visible reminder of how and why Durham came to be.  This means the story of St Cuthbert and the journey made by the monks of his community who arrived on the peninsula of Dunholme and set up his shrine there in 995. From that event the entire history of Durham flows.  There was much discussion about whether the sculpture should be sited on Palace Green or in the city-centre.  I argued for the city, because its title is The Journey, not The Arrival.  Moreover, the city-centre is not over-endowed with public art, nor are the Saxon and Christian origins of our city evident as you walk around it.  And I think that to have the ‘historic’ interpreted in a contemporary townscape makes for a suggestive setting. 

What do we mean when we say that a place is ‘historic’?  It is probably to do with what it evokes by its essential character.  ‘Historic’ in the rhetoric of travel promotion tends to mean ‘pre-industrial’, a notion that colludes with the nostalgic colouring certain places acquire in our minds.  Our nearest city neighbours, Newcastle and Sunderland speak of a more recent history that does not quite qualify for the epithet ‘historic’: a proud industrial past, great urban expansion, a centre of commerce and trade.  Durham, by contrast, has a more or less intact core of pre-modern buildings that effectively define its nature, at least as we remember it in the landscape of the mind.  There is more to Durham than this, of course: its mining history and other local industries, its long lines of Victorian terraces at Langley Moor or Pity Me that are so typical of the north-east; its bland 20th century suburbs and retail parks that are generic England and could be anywhere.  But we do not remember Durham for these things.  We remember it for a compact townscape that wears its history visibly in its ancient street-patterns, its medieval, Tudor and Georgian houses, its river banks, bridges and churches, its castle and cathedral. 

However, this seems to me to be a weak use of the word ‘historic’.  It can so easily be debased into meaning that it exudes an atmosphere of ‘oldness’ or ‘quaintness’.  (The promotional rhetoric of travel literature speaks of a ‘vibrant old town’ whose ‘winding’ narrow streets are ‘studded’ with ‘picturesque’ old houses ‘huddling together’ or ‘nestling’ under the shadow of a ‘stunning’ or ‘iconic’ cathedral ‘perched’ on its hilltop.  This is language inflation and if we care about our heritage, we should take as much care over words we use to describe it as we do over our buildings, monuments and landscapes.  I do believe that Durham Cathedral is an ‘iconic’ and ‘stunning’ building in the sense that few others in the world can claim to be.  But I have resolved that we shall stop using these words in our literature. We do not honour what is distinctive about Durham or its Cathedral by falling into cliché.) 

The word ‘historic’ has to carry a stronger sense than merely looking or feeling ‘old’.  History has to do with the narrative we relate and inhabit.  That story is not simply about the past.  It has to do with self-understanding, how we elicit meanings.  So an historic town or city is one that has a sense of its own origins, a defining myth that explains why it is what it is and not something else, and why it is here and not somewhere else.  Douglas Pocock speaks about the quality of ‘Durhamness’[1].  ‘Durham-ness’ is not only about what constitutes our city’s unique setting and townscapes.  It is to do with how the built heritage relates to its cultural, intellectual and spiritual heritage.  This historic sense alone enables us to read the townscape intelligently.  This brings me back to St Cuthbert and ‘The Journey’.  The image of the monks tramping up the hill with their infinitely precious cargo is an unforgettable image of our city’s origins.  It makes visible an aspect of the history we need to know if we are to grasp what makes this an ‘historic’ cathedral city.

It is this strong sense of the word ‘historic’ that we should do more to promote in Durham.  In what ways is Durham unique or at least distinctive historically?  Here are some suggestions.  Durham is the only Cathedral in England that is almost entirely Romanesque.  It is the best-preserved monastic site in the country that is still in use for its original religious purposes.  It is the oldest continuously inhabited place of learning in England.  It has the best preserved monastic library that is still in situ.  It is the only cathedral to have intact shrines not only of one, or even two, but of three saints.  The Cathedral has held resonances for its region in a way true only in a handful of other places.  The Durham Palatinate with its counts palatine or prince-bishops was a unique political arrangement in England of which the Castle is the symbol.  The Castle is the oldest working university building in the world. Durham is one of the few cities to have preserved its medieval walls.  No doubt you can add to this list.

Going back to St Cuthbert, in 2005 his name, removed by Henry VIII from the Cathedral’s dedication, was reinstated in its legal title as ‘The Cathedral Church of Christ, Blessed Mary the Virgin and St Cuthbert of Durham’.  Cuthbert continues to inform our historic sense.  We are looking forward to receiving into the Cathedral a contemporary replica of the Cuthbert Banner that once hung in the south quire aisle, was carried into battle, and which was summarily destroyed by a reforming dean’s wife (I am sorry to say).  We have a great opportunity to build on this in 2013 when the British Library has agreed in principle to loan the Lindisfarne Gospel Book and St Cuthbert’s Gospel Book (newly acquired for the nation by the Library) to Durham for three months.  They will be exhibited in the University’s new exhibition space on Palace Green.  The Lindisfarne Gospel Book was written at the turn of the 7th and 8th centuries ‘in honour of God and St Cuthbert’ and brought here by his community along with his body; the Cuthbert Gospel was interred with him in the 7th century.  This close connection with Cuthbert is the intellectual and spiritual reason for welcoming them into Cuthbert’s place, the peninsula of Durham and displaying them close to his relics.  In the medieval Cathedral Priory we can assume that this intimate connection would have been regarded as a symbol-system that was unbreakable.  I would discourage us from speaking about this as some romantic homecoming: I would rather that we spoke instead about affirming our own history by bringing together the ancient emblems that lie at the heart of our identity.    

History has its dark side, and recognising this ought to be part of branding a place ‘historic.  This is however often forgotten.  For example, I point out to visitors awed by the beauty of the Cathedral that it would not have been read that way by the native Saxons who had suffered as a result of the Norman Conquest.  To them, its grey towers stood for the harrying of the north and for brutal oppression. It was intended to be a symbol of ruthless power.  This gives the building an ambiguity that is not always recognised: it is at once built for the glory of God but also to establish the hegemony of a foreign invader.  Nor does the shadow stop there. The inhuman treatment of Scottish prisoners of war by Cromwell in the bitter winter of 1650-1651 when they were incarcerated in the cathedral after the Battle of Dunbar is a part of our history that we are only now getting round to commemorating in the building.  The empty niches of the Neville Screen, the levelling of Cuthbert’s shrine, the mutilated Neville tombs are further visible aspects of the destructiveness the Cathedral has seen since the 16th century.

This ‘shadow’ is caught for me by Mark Hudson in a memorable book about the mining village of Horden.  He is speaking of the Miners’ Gala, and how the banners of collieries where men had died in the year’s pit disasters would be processed into the Cathedral lined with black crepe.  He describes the links between the Cathedral and the mining communities: the Haswell banner in the south transept and the Miners’ Memorial in the south aisle.  Here is his introduction to them: ‘Anyone who wants to say that they have seen Durham Cathedral, should see it not only in summer, the three great towers rising hazy and visionlike through the balm of the great cloud of foliage, its interior bathed in golden light, the majestic columns dappled with the reflected hues of its stained glass, but also in the very dead of the year, when the last leaves have departed the elms that cling to the great rock, its gaunt winter face peering down through soot-encrusted eyelets into the black dank water of the Wear, when the light seems hardly to penetrate much of the interior, and the broad blank expanses of stone between the rows of upper and lower arches rising from the submarine dimness towards the feeble light from the upper windows have about them the clammy, irremediable chill of river mud.’[2] 

It matters that we read a building and a place in its totality, not selectively, editing out everything that does not charm or elevate us.  It is like Virgil leading Dante around the circles of hell before Beatrice can lead him into paradise.  There should be integrity about our treatment of historic places.  I felt this especially strongly when my wife and I visited Pompeii a few years ago.  It was magnificent.  But the interpretation lacked a sense that these were disaster scenes where many human lives had been lost when the volcano erupted in 79AD.  At this mass grave, the jokey commentary struck a false note.  There was no recognition of loss nor was there reverence for life.  I found myself wishing that history was not so susceptible of being popularised and thereby trivialised.  But I would be naïve not to recognise that many readings of our historic cathedral city are just as selective and superficial.  This is the inevitable down side of mass tourism.  We need to understand our role as an historic place, and pay attention to the story we tell and how we tell it. 

Why is Durham still named after the topographical feature of Dun-Holme rather than being called St Cuthbert’s like other pilgrim places such as Bury St Edmunds, St Albans, Santiago da Compostela?  The name tells us something important about how, despite its powerful founding myth, an older memory persisted with a longer history even than that of our native saint.  We know how Durham’s topography defined a sacred space for the Cathedral and its precinct, a defensive space for the Castle and its bailey, a civic and commercial space with its market place and town hall, and compact residential spaces spreading out from the centre but always determined by the river and its crossing points. 

The phrase ‘historic cathedral city’ turns out to be about more than it seems.  Our city has developed out of a founding myth that sacralises the physical geography.  By that I mean that the history of the Cathedral is inseparable from the history of the city, not because the city would not exist without St Cuthbert, but because every chapter in the story right up to the present day shows how dependent each is on the other.  The history of the Cathedral has encapsulated, embodied or even controlled the larger history of the city as the interplay of sacred and secular power has changed down the centuries. 

Once upon a time, a coffin was brought on to the peninsula, a shrine was established there, and around it was the first Cathedral was built.  It’s important to state it this way round: our church is not a cathedral that has a shrine in it, but a shrine that has a cathedral round it.  This affects the way we read the building as a succession of spaces that lead up to the sanctuary, the high altar, the Neville Screen and the feretory beyond.  Cuthbert’s shrine is the spiritual and emotional climax of a building that functions as a long processional way that leads up to a great climax.  You cannot see it yet from the west end, nor even from the crossing or quire; but you know it is there.  Like millions of pilgrims before you, it may be the principal reason you have come: to make your own journey between the mighty Romanesque piers like an avenue of trees, while above you, as if to shelter your path, spreads a stone canopy of ribs and pointed arches that constitute the pioneering stone vault.  St Cuthbert tells you what this church is for.  When the Normans colonised the cult of St Cuthbert and rebuilt the Cathedral in 1093, we can plausibly conjecture that whoever designed this masterpiece knew exactly what he was doing in creating architecture with the strongest sense of drama.  The Cathedral is a theatre of the soul because of the remembered power of Cuthbert to draw the eye and the imagination ever eastwards towards the shrine. 

This pattern is reproduced in the development of Durham City.  At the beginning of its story, there was a cathedral.  Around it a community settled: first Cuthbert’s Saxon community who had at last found a home after the years of wandering around the north of England.  Then came the Normans, and with them, the city as we know it began to take shape.  Again we need to tell the story the right way round.  Like the shrine enclosed by a Cathedral, the Cathedral was in turn enclosed by a city, paroikiai, parishes, communities that literally ‘lived around’.  Durham is not a city that has a Cathedral; it is a Cathedral around which a city has grown.  Perhaps this is what we vaguely understand by the phrase ‘historic cathedral city’ because many such cities turn out to have grown out of and been formed around their cathedrals. 

Take Salisbury.  This was a new medieval city established in the water meadows of the Wiltshire Avon when in the 13th century its bishop and chapter abandoned the waterless chalky hill-top of Old Sarum with its Romanesque cathedral, a site which they shared uneasily with a military garrison.  They built another cathedral by the river to house the relics of St Osmund and a large close to house its clergy.  The footprint of the close dictated the grid on which the chequers of the city were laid out. Like Durham, medieval Salisbury is entirely the product of its cathedral. Bishop Richard Poore, who founded the Cathedral of New Sarum and laid out the plan of the city, came here as Bishop in 1228.  Here he built the Chapel of the Nine Altars, so reminiscent of the Early English of Salisbury.  Poore would have recognised the symbiosis between city and cathedral when he came to Durham, how the Cathedral and its college constituted a ‘city within a city’ that shaped the evolution of the medieval town.

My point is that ‘historic cathedral cities’ are mostly those in which the cathedral has decisively shaped the history of its city, and in some has been the very reason for its existence.  And ‘shaping’ is about more than simply the physical development of a city.  It has to do with its ‘character’ and ‘personality’ as a lived community.  That character has many dimensions. In the case of Durham, these are particularly well documented.  For example, we know a great deal about the economic impact of the Cathedral on the city and region in the era just before the convent’s dissolution.[3]  A city with an immensely powerful monastic institution at its heart could not fail to feel the effects of its gravitational pull at all levels of its political, social and economic life. 

In his fine account of Durham Priory in the first half of the 15th century under the long reign of Prior Wessington, Barrie Dobson writes about Durham ‘The English Zion’.  This well-known epithet refers to Cuthbert’s personal choice of this rocky hill surrounded by ‘the sweet and delectable river of Were’ as his resting place.  So it was claimed that God himself had founded the city[4].  As Dobson points out, this is to assume that there was no human settlement on the site prior to Cuthbert’s arrival, whereas even Symeon of Durham knew that this was not the case.  However, the myth expressed a conviction about Durham, that it would not have become what it was without its saint and his shrine.  Durham’s genius loci is inextricably a consequence of a history shaped by the Priory as a place of pilgrimage and prayer.  Its effect was to sacralise it as a holy city, an English Zion.  Dobson writes: ‘if the monks of Durham owed everything to Saint Cuthbert, the lay inhabitants of the city owed nearly everything to the monastery which provided them with employment and reflected glory.  Like the residents of a modern university town, the inmates of fifteenth-century Durham may have sometimes looked askance at the impressive corporate monster in their vicinity; but they were wise enough to realise that it brought them less pain than profit.’[5]

We could trace this theme into the modern era.  In subsequent centuries, despite the weakening of the sacral ties between church and community, the Cathedral nevertheless continued to wield significant power and influence in the city.  This continued into the industrial era when the Cathedral’s extensive coal interests in the neighbourhood were an important factor in shaping its economy.  At the same time it was playing a decisive role in the founding and running of its university. But I want to bring us up to the 21st century to suggest how the same is still true in one aspect of the life of Durham, tourism. 

Bill Bryson famously said in Notes from a Small Island: ‘I got off at Durham and fell in love with it instantly…  It’s wonderful – a perfect little city.  Take my car.’  In the same book he gives us the best marketing strap line any dean and chapter could want: ‘the best Cathedral on planet earth’; though the affirmation that means most to me is that he says: ‘Everything about it was perfect – not just its setting and execution but also… the way it is run today…. no nagging for money, no “voluntary” admission fee… no clutter, … no irksome bulletin boards… nothing… to detract from the unutterable soaring majesty of the interior.’[6]  On the strength of that, one couple enjoyed a city break here and endorsed Bryson’s eulogy in the Guardian.  They rhapsodised about the ‘hushed cloisters’, the ‘vertiginous vaulted ceiling’, the ‘ancient pillars’, this ‘mind-boggling feat of Norman engineering’.  They have evidently dipped deep in the travel-scribe’s armoury of words and phrases but it is well-meant. 

The Cathedral receives more than 600000 visitors each year, which makes it the biggest visitor attraction in the north-east.  ‘Durham’, the city and county,  is one of only fifteen ‘recognised destinations’ in England where the national tourism strategy is now being concentrated as financial cuts curtail tourism promotion by the regions and local authorities.  Clearly, as a ‘destination’, Durham relies heavily on the Cathedral.  Its image appears everywhere: it is Durham’s ‘brand’.  Just as in the middle ages the city benefitted from the benign invasion of pilgrims, so 21st century visitors come here and bring business to the city.  The economic impact of cathedral tourism has been studied and it is possible to put a figure against it in terms of direct and indirect spend.  The Cathedral and the city need each other, even if there are tensions in managing a site that is a working church before it is a heritage site and tourist venue.  I don’t believe that tourism erodes the qualities in city or cathedral that visitors come to see: rather, the human flow adds vitality to our streets, precinct and cathedral. Tourism reinforces the sense of drama that a city like ours possesses because the throng changes the way we experience it – the same can be said of our students.  But beyond its economic benefit to the city, how do you assess ‘value’ in a deeper way?  How does the Cathedral contribute to the city’s cultural, intellectual, social and spiritual capital? What indeed are the city’s values – is it possible to name them?  For if our ‘values’ were merely economic, we would be a poor place.  They are to do with how we understand ourselves, where we have come from, and what we believe about ourselves, our communities, our places.  They are to do with our aspirations for the future: what kind of historic cathedral city we want to become, and why.  These are important questions for Durham because environment, buildings and townscape express our values for good or ill.  So let me finally turn to that third word ‘city’. 

I began by suggesting what the phrase ‘historic cathedral city’ evoked, and I have explored some of its aspects.  In particular, I have drawn attention to what we might call the delicate ecology of this cathedral city: the relationships between the Cathedral and castle, the river banks, the medieval town. The first observation I want to make is that in Bill Bryson’s epithet ‘a perfect little city’, the word ‘little’ is not casually thrown in.  It describes what he valued when he came here.  He found a city in which things appeared to be in scale, where there was a sense of proportion about the way Durham had evolved around its historic core.  I made the point earlier that ‘historic cathedral city’ seems to mean a place where urban life is felt as intimate and benign because a sense of neighbourhood can be felt across it and the bonds that tie a community to its place remain strong and close.  Perhaps this is in deliberate contrast to large cities that can be experienced at least in part as alien and threatening wastelands.

Alain de Botton reflects on the power of architecture to degrade its environment, to be less beautiful or useful than the green field on which it was built.  He is realistic about the processes that lead to inappropriate development.  ‘An investigation of the process by which buildings rise reveals that unfortunate cases can in the end always be attributed not to the hand of God, or to any immovable economic or political necessities, or to the entrenched wishes of purchasers, or to some new depths of human depravity, but to a pedestrian combination of low ambition, ignorance, greed and accident.’[7]  The ‘architecture of happiness’ means buildings that disclose to us who and what we could become; our best aspirations for ourselves and for our communities.  Such architecture can be grand or modest, sacred or secular, a castle or a cathedral or a terraced house under a viaduct.  We recognise its honesty and integrity when we see it, and become more humane and more human by inhabiting it.  Bad architecture is, by contrast, ‘a frozen mistake writ large’.  Unlike a bad book or picture or play, mediocre architecture or town planning cannot be ignored.  I am thinking of developments that are dissonant or out of scale with their surroundings, or ugly in themselves, or merely bland and compromise the strong sense of character and individuality that belongs to cities.[8] 

As a relative newcomer to Durham (I have lived and worked here for 9 years), I have to say that what I now see compared to what I remember from visits in the past is not all improvement.  It is true that the city centre is now a much cleaner, livelier, more attractive place than it was in the 1960s.  I do not share the view of some that the reconfiguration of the market square is a mistake (though however flawed the processes may have been, we need to reserve judgment until the works are finished).  Greater mistakes were made much longer ago when high street names like Woolworths, Marks and Spencers and Boots were allowed to create large shop frontages whose ugly expanses of glass violated the intimate scale of the medieval town-centre, obscured the lines of the medieval burgage plots, straightened out the natural movement of the streets and subverted the role of those buildings that ought to have pride of place in a town square, the parish church and the town hall.  These frontages are not irreversible.  It would be possible to respect the context better by creating more varied, narrower, smaller scale frontages that still allowed the footprint of the shop to extend to its full width behind. 

In a ‘historic cathedral city’, scale and proportion are everything.  They matter because of the delicate interplay between the massing of the Castle and Cathedral on their acropolis and the intimate townscape below that acts as an essential foil to them.  This delicacy is at risk in Durham City.  Inevitably, we all have our own list of developments that we either like as genuine enhancements of an evolving working city, or find incomprehensible, inappropriate or downright bad.  The best developments in Durham are those that do not impinge on the historic core or the irreplaceable views to and from the World Heritage Site, or are courageous and innovative enough to hold their own in that setting.  George Pace’s University library overlooking the river behind Palace Green is one example.  Kingsgate Bridge may be another (though I wish I could like it more).  Perhaps even Dunelm House is another: it certainly has hutzpah.  Millennium Square has its virtues: its striking contemporary forms, and the fact that it is invisible until you get there.  The High Street shopping development is formulaic but is discreetly hidden away so it avoids my hit-list.  Like the rest of Durham, it would be much better if there were more independent shops of the kind people like to find and browse in when they come to cathedral cities.  In Chester or York, the shops are almost as good as the cathedrals.  But not in Durham, as visitors point out with a sense of disappointment. If Durham is to be an overnight destination, this aspect of its ‘visitor offer’ needs hard work. 

So far so satisfactory.  The same cannot be said for the cross-river (left bank) developments downstream of Framwellgate Bridge.  Not only have unsurpassed river-front opportunities been lost here, but the scale of these buildings, including the latest of them, the Radisson Hotel, is too obtrusive when viewed from Prebends’ Bridge.  From here, the modern Milburngate road bridge was cunningly designed to be invisible so that all you would see would be the Cathedral and Castle standing proud above the river gorge and its tree canopy, and closing off the view, a medieval bridge.  Now as you descend the incline from the Cathedral towards Framwellgate Bridge the skyline is spoiled by the elevations of the large buildings that lie beyond.  There is a lack of architectural humility and respectfulness on the west bank of the Wear.  The same offence was committed on the other side of the peninsula with the erection of the Prince Bishops car park and shopping centre.  Here, the beautiful view of Elvet Bridge from Kingsgate is compromised by the ungainly mass of Prince Bishops immediately behind, looking like a monumental barn-conversion with a gratuitous green brick fascia to pick out the stairwell externally.  Try photographing Elvet Bridge looking upstream: you cannot get the Prince Bishops out of the frame.  This is homogenisation writ large with the rhetoric of supermarket vernacular, and given what it is an emblem of, the commoditisation of the towscape. Such things can perhaps be accepted at the Arnison Centre or Dragonville.  On the edge of the medieval city-centre, the grandiose should have no place. 

Questions of scale and proportion extend beyond buildings and heritage to the larger issues of the future of Durham.  Here I shall no doubt be controversial.  Under the County’s development plan, it is proposed to make Durham City the engine of the economic development of the County.  This would entail significant population growth, the construction of more than 5000 new houses, many of them on the Green Belt, with all its consequences for road traffic and infrastructure.  It is difficult to see how Durham would remain a ‘little’ city under the Plan.  It would lose much of its genius loci which is not simply the value of the historic core in itself but the compactness of the city and the sense of arrival as you cross the threshold from ‘country’ to ‘town’.  The risk is that our historic cathedral city could collapse into being simply the medieval heart of a large township whose swathes of housing and out of town developments would spread across and obscure the face of a city set in a bowl and surrounded by low green hills.  Once lost, this double heritage of both a natural and a built environment evolved over many centuries would never be recovered.  20th century developments in cathedral cities like Exeter and Peterborough should worry us in case they portend the future of Durham.  As the Guardian writers so eloquently said, it is precisely the littleness of Durham that is part of its appeal.  To my mind, there is much to be said for policies that would re-populate the city centre, get people living once more above the shops and offices, reinstate the human texture and sense of community that belongs to small cities. 

As guardians of our historic cathedral city, we want to be good stewards of our heritage while also recognising what belongs to its authentic evolution as a living working community.  We do not want a chocolate box city that is merely pleasant to look at.  We want a city in which human beings flourish because its institutions, temple, academy, market- place, seat of government, are in a harmonious relationship with one another and with its citizens.  This is how a community realises its best self and knows its city to be a ‘healthy city’, a good place that fosters happiness.  Citizenship means believing in our city in this way and caring about its future, even if that means defending it against the tyranny of the market and its love affair with the grand projet. 

Let me end by quoting a great artist on the experience of living in another historic cathedral city.  Eric Gill moved from Brighton to Chichester when he was a boy: not very far geographically, but spiritually a world away.  ‘Chichester, the human city, the city of God, the place where life and work … were all in one and all in harmony… a town, a city, a thing planned and ordered – no mere congeries of more or less sordid streets, growing like a fungus… Chichester was what Brighton was not, an end…, a place, the product of reason and love… Here was something as human as home and as lovely as heaven.’  It modelled ‘dignity and loveliness… a civilised life… a way of living beautiful and spacious’.[9]  That is my vision for this historic cathedral city. 

Durham, February 2011 (revised June 2012)

[1] Pocock, Douglas, Durham: essays on a sense of place, Durham 1999, 6.
[2] Hudson, Mark, Coming Back Brockens: a year in a mining village, 1994, 121
[3] Threlfall-Holmes, Miranda, Monks and Markets: Durham Cathedral Priory 1460-1520, 2006
[4] Dobson, R. B., Durham Priory 1400-1450, Cambridge 1973, 33.
[5] Ibid, 50.
[6] Bryson, Bill, Notes from a Small Island, 1995, 294-5.
[7] De Botton, Alain, The Architecture of Happiness, London, 2006, 254. 
[8] Lefebvre, Henri, Writings on Cities, Oxford, 1996, 238. 
[9] Cited by Kenyon, Ruth, ‘The Town in Tomorrow’s Christendom’ in Reckitt, Maurice B., Prospect for Christendom: essays in catholic social reconstruction, London 1945, 127-8. 

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Dean's Annual Report to the Friends of Durham Cathedral

It is always a pleasure to present my annual report to the Friends. I do this, once again thanking you for your wonderful support for the Cathedral and its work.  On behalf of the Chapter, I want to express our deep gratitude for your generosity in funding, fellowship and friendship.  And if I had to underline one of those three words, it would be the last.  As I often say, in a world of complexity and risk, every institution needs friends, allies and champions, and we are fortunate to have so many of them.  Thank you for all that you give this Cathedral in so many tangible and intangible ways. 

Three Personal Highlights
Let me begin with three personal highlights from the past year.  A week ago we were celebrating The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.  There was a magnificent service last Saturday attended by civic leaders and members of the public.  It incorporated words spoken by Her Majesty during her 60 years on the throne, and also an extract from the Golden Speech of Queen Elizabeth I.  In it she spoke about the importance to her of the love of her people, without which monarchy will fail.  I think we were all helped by this service not only to celebrate and thank the Sovereign, but also to reflect on the meaning of wise leadership and good citizenship. 

Last November, we welcomed Bishop Justin Welby to his Diocese and Cathedral. It is a year ago this month that his appointment was announced.  He, the Bishop of Jarrow and I are all alumni of Coventry Cathedral, and it was good to be back there together for the Cathedral’s golden jubilee last month. Bishop Welby’s enthronement was another of those occasions when you feel that there is no place like Durham Cathedral when it comes to rising to a great occasion.  The sense of warmth, welcome and celebration was palpable in that service, and I was not the only one to be surprised by how moved I was. 

The week before, we celebrated the Lumière festival in Durham.  If you were in the city during those four days, I think you will never forget it.  For many, the Cathedral and the College were the centre point of this extraordinarily beautiful carnival of light.  On Palace Green, the Crown of Light presentation on the north face of the Cathedral was an unforgettable interpretation of the Christian history of Durham.  Inside, the array of hundreds of gently illuminated vests suspended throughout the nave made eloquent connections with the mining industry. It is estimated that around 120,000 people passed through the Cathedral during the festival.  We had many plaudits thanking us for our courage in taking part.  There are always things to learn as a result of hosting major events, but I was very proud of the Cathedral’s contribution to Lumière. We look forward to a return visit in due course. 

To crown a good year, The Guardian held an online poll to discover Britain’s favourite building.  Durham won… again.  Who can argue with the judgment of the British public? 

The Big Story: Open Treasure
This year, those of you who have come from a distance will notice that we are in the throes of a major building development around the cloister.  This is Phase 1a of a project whose aspiration is to enlarge and renew the Cathedral’s offering of welcome, hospitality, exhibition and interpretation to our visitors. We welcome more than 600,000 each year, but not nearly enough of them find their way into the cloister to enjoy these marvellous spaces and the treasures they hold. 

Why are we doing all this?  We have called the project Open Treasure because we believe we should open up to our guests, pilgrims, visitors and the wider public the treasures that we are privileged to have inherited here.  But ‘treasure’ means more than heritage buildings and artefacts.  In the New Testament, Jesus speaks about how we must bring out of our treasures things old and new.  He says in the Sermon on the Mount that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. So in a deeper sense, heritage is about the lived Christian community of this place from St Cuthbert’s era to the present and the gospel in whose name we are what we are.  All this belongs to our treasure: it concerns the whole Cathedral’s mission, the six pillars of life together: worship and spirituality; welcome and care; learning, nurture and formation; outreach and engagement; buildings, treasures and environment; and finance and stewardship.  And as we attract people to enjoy the fruits of the project, their admission will help stabilise the finances of the Cathedral, and that in turn will ensure that we do not have to contemplate charging admission to the church itself. 

Phase 1a will see the Cathedral shop installed in the undercroft opposite the restaurant, where a remarkable vista of the crypt vaults has been opened up.  The Friends have contributed generously to this part of the project.  The lobby between the shop and restaurant is being widened to allow summer catering to overflow there, and access from the cloister via a lift will avoid the long journey disabled people have to make to get there from the church.  The choir vestries are being relocated in the undercroft previously occupied by the audio-visual centre.  All this is scheduled to be complete by the end of the summer, not only on time but hopefully below budget.  

Phase 1b will see the development of our exhibition spaces.  The monastic dormitory will continue to be a working library but we want to recover an older Durham tradition that also saw it as a magnificent exhibition space.  From here there we intend to create a new link to the monastic kitchen through a glazed gallery running between the south range of the cloister and the kitchen which will not only provide further exhibition space but will also reveal the architectural relationship between these buildings that has up to now been invisible from the inside.  The great kitchen itself will be the centrepiece of the exhibition where our priceless Cuthbert relics and other treasures will be displayed. 

Working up these plans has entailed a very considerable amount of work on the part of many colleagues. This year’s task is to secure the statutory permissions from the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England, the national planning body for all cathedrals.  We have worked closely not only with them but with English Heritage, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, the University’s library and conservation team, our own Fabric Committee and many others.

Open Treasure is now the major focus of fundraising for the Cathedral’s development programme. The project was awarded a first stage pass by the Heritage Lottery Fund for a grant application of £3.5 million.  This means that HLF supports the project and will welcome a more detailed application for the amount proposed. We are currently working on the Stage 2 application, and hope to submit the final application in October 2012. The development team is working with a number of charitable trusts and is putting together proposals for elements of the project which best meet the funding criteria of each one. Two dinners at the House of Lords will be taking place in October and November to introduce the project to trusts and corporates based in the south of England.

More generally, fundraising for development programme has been under way for four years, and so far over £3 million has been raised. This includes in the past year a grant of £287,500 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to renew the 18th century woodlands and riverbanks which give the Cathedral its unique and beautiful setting.  We were grateful for grants of £50,000 and £25,750 from the Friends and from the Banks Community Fund for this project. A number of generous individual gifts were received during the year.  We continue to welcome new patrons and corporate partners and are grateful for their support. 

Worship and Music
I have mentioned the Bishop’s enthronement and the Diamond Jubilee service already. Among the many special services in the past year I should mention the four diocesan confirmations arranged in order to assist the Bishop of Jarrow during the episcopal vacancy: more than 250 people were confirmed; the BBC’s broadcast of choral evensong on St Paul’s Day; and on St Cuthbert’s Day, the welcome and dedication of the new St Cuthbert Banner created by the Northumbrian Association. 

You may be interested to know that 4,009 people attended worship in the Cathedral on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (compared with 2,842 in 2010 when the weather was cruel); from the first Sunday in Advent to St Stephen’s Day, 24,457 attended events and services in the Cathedral (compared with 21,898 in 2010); and 1520 people attended worship on Easter Day (compared with 1171 in 2010).  These and other statistics which are echoed nationally indicate that the numbers of cathedral worshippers continue to hold up, and even to show modest growth.  

Last June my wife and I were privileged to lead a third visit of the boy choristers and gentlemen to Versailles; this time we eschewed air travel and took the train.  As always, we were made wonderfully welcome, singing services and concerts in Versailles itself and in Chartres Cathedral and other places in and around Paris.  The choir acquitted itself with distinction, the boys producing some of their best singing of the year - including movements from MacMillan's Missa Dunelmi, in whose commissioning the Friends played a generous part. 

In December we celebrated the first anniversary of the Music Endowment Fund, with a fundraising concert Carols of Light, in partnership with the Sunderland AFC Foundation. This put the choristers literally in the spotlight alongside the Countess of Wessex, Sir Thomas Allen, Joe McElderry, Rick Wakeman and many others.  It raised over £70,000 which was split between the Foundation and the Cathedral’s music endowment fund. The annual Christmas concert on 17 December to a packed cathedral starred the entire choir and provided a wonderful opportunity for the cathedral's magnificent new piano, the gift of two devoted and generous donors, to be heard in public for the first time.  Through all of these testing events the team never seemed to blink, crowning the month with wonderful Christmas Carol Services. 

Evensong (sung by the boys and men) was broadcast live from the Cathedral on 25 January 2012; the girls and men made a CD recording with Priory Records in February, including both MacMillan's Missa Dunelmi and Berkeley's Advent Anthem sung at the Bishop’s enthronement: we hope for the release of this recording quite soon.  A CD recording made by James Lancelot of Mendelssohn's Organ Sonatas was released in March.  That month the girls and men visited Scotland, giving concerts in St Machar's Cathedral, Aberdeen; St Salvator's Chapel, St Andrews; and singing Sunday services in St. John's Church, Princes Street, Edinburgh.  Visits have been exchanged with St Mary's Edinburgh (here in Durham) and Ripon and York (in Ripon).  Most recently, the choir shared the platform with the Tallis Scholars last Saturday at a concert of renaissance music recorded for BBC Radio 3’s Early Music Show. 

This year, we received support by the way of a £20,000 endowment grant from the Friends of Cathedral Music.  This gift and others takes the total raised by the Music Endowment Fund to £160,000.  The Cathedral’s Music Outreach Programme received a significant boost from benefactors Chris and Margaret Lendrum, who generously donated £10,000 to support the programme this year and next.
Among concerts arranged externally, we were delighted to welcome to the Cathedral the saxophonist Jan Garbarek, the Durham Brass Festival, The Sixteen on their annual choral pilgrimage, and the Royal British Legion’s festival of remembrance. 

The Cathedral Community
Twice a year, we gather as a Cathedral community in the nave for an evening meeting at which we discuss Cathedral news and developments and focus on an aspect of our work.  ‘Community’ means worshippers, volunteers, staff – anyone who considers that they ‘belong’ to Durham Cathedral.  The meeting is followed by a buffet supper which is, I suspect, most people’s reason for coming.  This year, the first of these concentrated on finance and stewardship, the first time we had presented the realities of our financial position to the community. As a result, several members of the Cathedral community decided to begin to give regularly or increased their giving, many taking out standing orders for the first time. This promises an additional £20,000 a year. We shall be continuing to keep the stewardship message before the Cathedral community because this aspect of Christian discipleship, vital for our Christian mission at the Cathedral, has been neglected in the past.

The Cathedral Sunday School meets in the Education Centre and continues to be a small but lively group. Although the Sunday School itself is for young children, there is a family feel to is with strong support from parents. The children join their families in time to go to the altar and it is lovely to see the children so at home in the vast space of the Cathedral. The older group, which was started last year for chorister age children, is now well established and popular with its members. Meanwhile, the 10.05 group consisting largely of students continues to meet each Sunday to explore biblical themes arising out of the Sunday readings at the eucharist.  We are on the way to becoming an all-age cathedral, and that has to be good news. 

Library and Collections
The Library has been busy.  We welcomed researchers of many nationalities, to answer enquiries on a wide range of topics, and to provide an efficient reprographics service for private use, research needs and publication.  Publications based wholly or partly on Cathedral material include Michelle Brown, The Book and the Transformation of Britain, c.550-1050 (British Library, 2011), Karen Louise Jolly, The Community of St. Cuthbert in the Late Tenth Century: The Chester-le-Street Additions to Durham Cathedral Library A.IV.19 (Ohio State University Press, 2012) and Leslie Webster, Anglo-Saxon Art: A New History (British Museum, 2012).  We have supplied images for exhibition posters and publications at Grimes Graves, the Royal Academy, the Royal Armouries, Durham School and Kilmartin Glen. 

We continue to work with the other Durham libraries collecting theology to rationalise holdings.  A generous anonymous donation to the Library made it possible for us to acquire an early printed book owned by Thomas Swalwell, a monk of the Priory who died shortly before the Priory was dissolved.  Only one other copy is known of the book, Nicholas Denyse, Gemma Predicantium (Paris and Rouen, 1506).  The book is a collection of homilies from the sermons of Denyse, a French friar whose works received several editions during his lifetime and after his death in 1509.  The pre-1501 printed books are currently being catalogued by Sheila Hingley.

Work will also start on a shared project with the University to research and prepare for publication the late Dr Alan Piper’s catalogue of the Cathedral’s medieval manuscripts.  We shall also be lending items from the Cathedral’s collections to the Lindisfarne Gospels exhibition and to other exhibitions in the UK and Germany, raising the profile of the Cathedral in anticipation of the launch of Open Treasure exhibitions.  

I should also mention the acquisition of the Cuthbert Gospel Book by the British Library, since this, like the Lindisfarne Gospel Book, once had an honoured place here in the library of the Cathedral Priory.  The selling price was £9 million, and the Cathedral was pleased, with the University, to be a formal partner in this fundraising project.  The Friends made a generous donation, as did a major anonymous donor who wished his gift to be channelled via the Cathedral.  The agreement with the British Library is that this precious book will be exhibited in Durham every two years for six months; 2013 will see its first visit alongside the Lindisfarne Gospel Book.  Last month I was privileged to give a short lecture on the Cuthbert Gospel at the British Library as part of the celebrations to mark the acquisition. 

Works & Property
Apart from Open Treasure, the year has seen a considerable number of other fabric projects begun, continued and ended.  The removal of the fence across the east elevation opposite St Chad’s College gives me particular pleasure.  I promised the Principal of St Chad’s that if I achieved nothing else during my time in Durham, I would bring down that necessary but ugly fence which, I am told, had been there for no less than 30 years.  I am sure you will agree that it is a real improvement. I am also glad to report that after a difficult year for access to the peninsula, Prebends’ Bridge is now open to light traffic again following its emergency repair, thanks to funding support from the Friends, the County Council and English Heritage.  We have seen several sections of riverbank walls repaired, the repaving of the north side of The College, and the construction of a new roof to the Priors Kitchen.  The Yard have also done all the stripping-out of the old Treasures ready for the Open Treasure contractors to move in during April.

Turning to the property portfolio, with John Holmes as the new Head of Property, perhaps this is the time to remind you that in addition to the Cathedral and The College precinct itself, we have responsibility for over 30 residential and commercial properties in the Durham and Shincliffe area, farm land covering over 2000 acres, investment portfolios in other parts of the country and numerous miscellaneous land and property interests.  John is leading a strategic review of these assets including the way in which we manage our property and facilities.  He is also in discussion with developers and planning authorities on lands that have future development potential and joint venturing, potentially an important source of income to the Cathedral.  All estate matters are now overseen by a new committee of the Chapter, the Property Committee, which is chaired by an independent member of the Council. 

The Head of Property role also includes energy management and exploring the potential for the Cathedral to invest in greener energy sources and more efficient energy purchasing. 

Education and the Chorister School
The Education Department achieved the prestigious honour of being a recipient of one of the national Sandford Awards.  These are given to heritage institutions for the excellence of their interpretation for young people and their activities with children of school age.  It was a delight to welcome Sandford award-winners from all over the country to the ceremony at which they were honoured.  This recognition underlines the first class work undertaken by the department.  The most recent example of this was last week’s re-enactment of the Coronation Service for schools, for which the department not only produced crowns and costumes, but also a horse and carriage for the child-Queen and her consort, and even managed to lay on wet, Coronation weather that famously engulfed London in June 1953.  Another memorable event was another large-scale day of activity and recollection for Holocaust Memorial Day in January, now an annual fixture.  As a 2nd generation Holocaust survivor myself, I believe it is vitally important that children should understand the terrible effects of genocide and be helped to create a kinder, better world for themselves and the generations who will follow. 

Turning to the Chorister School: at the end of the Headmistress’s first year with us, the school is buoyant and pupil numbers higher than they have ever been. Termly Open Days have been very well attended and we were delighted to have over 70 registered for the ‘Be a Chorister’ Open Day held in the Cathedral and the School in late May.

We are delighted that so many of the children in Year 8 will be moving onto their chosen secondary schools with Academic, Music, Drama, Art  and All-rounder awards to several of the top public schools in the country. In March we held a Senior Schools Forum when fifteen public schools visited to present on the many options available to our pupils when they move on at age 13. It is an important part of the work of a good prep school to offer advice in finding the best fit for children who remain with us to Year 8, and to work alongside parents when they make the vital decisions about secondary level schooling.

It is an annual pleasure to judge the school’s public speaking competition, always a hard assignment given the high quality of entries.  Music continues to be at the heart of what we do in the school.  No-one who came to last summer’s performances of The Pirates of Penzance will forget them.  The Michael James Music Competition made for an impressive celebration of the instrumental achievements of so many of the children. We look forward to the pupils’ concert in the Elvet Parish Church and to 7th July, when current pupils and staff will be joined by past pupils, parents, and friends of the school in a choral and brass evening in the Cathedral, featuring the Glorias of Vivaldi and Rutter.

If you have visited the school recently, you will have seen the refurbishment of the entrance hall, with its beautiful oak desk mirroring the cathedral pillars.  We are taking on 8 The College for additional and much needed classroom space for the Middle School.  Adaptations will be made in the boarding house to accommodate the increasing demand for flexi-boarding, and we will be starting work on the school library and archives.

The Cathedral Shop
 The Cathedral shop has firmly re-established itself as the leading theological book stockist in County Durham, if not even further afield. It is also developing an excellent range of gifts drawing on the treasures of the Cathedral. We now have The Manuscript Collection, a range of cards and stationery items using images from our manuscript and printed book collections. We shall shortly see the launch of The Embroidery Collection supporting and celebrating the work of our broderers. More importantly in these difficult financial times the shop is achieving good turnover and making a profit which is gift aided to the cathedral.

Despite the closure of the cloister entrance the restaurant is maintaining turnover and providing an excellent and appetising range of food. The manager, in conjunction with Cathedral colleagues, is further developing our fine dining and out of hours catering service of which, as an occasional client, I am a fervent enthusiast.

Resources & Finance
The new finance team has worked hard to overhaul the workings of the Finance department, with new systems and procedures, a new format to the management accounts and a variety of management information and key performance indicators now being provided to Chapter members and department heads on a regular basis.  This professionalization of the department was overdue and is warmly welcome.  As part of the same process, the post of Human Resources Manager was created last year, and I can assure you that this expertise in staffing and policy matters is making a real difference to the professional way in which all staff matters are now being handled. 

Much of the Finance Department’s work this year has been concerned with funding for Open Treasure.  It has been a challenging, and sometimes frustrating, task to set up loans that will guarantee adequate cash-flows when capital projects require funds to be paid up front.  However, we are indebted (figuratively and literally) to those who have supported us in securing loans to enable the project to begin, among them the Diocesan Board of Finance to whom we are especially grateful. We have many allies in the Diocese and the County who share our vision for the project and are prepared to help us make it succeed.  We are deeply thankful for so much good will and hard work. 

The revenue budget is tightly controlled as far as possible through limitation on costs and attempts to ease income upwards but the underlying deficit that is showing in our annual report and accounts is not sustainable in the long term.  This is why we are investing so heavily in Open Treasure to enable us not to charge for entry to the Cathedral.  We are hopeful and expectant.  But we need to run a tight ship for another three years before we shall begin to see the benefit.

We have appointed new auditors, UNW of Newcastle, who are currently working on the audit of the Cathedral’s accounts.  The finance team is looking forward to collaborating with them and to receiving constructive, strategic advice both during the audit and throughout the year.   

World Heritage Site
We continue to work closely with the University, our partners in the World Heritage Site. Highlights of the past year include the opening of the WHS Gateway at the top of Owengate which has become popular as a place for visitors to call in and collect information before visiting the site.  It also makes an excellent exhibition space.  It was converted from former alms houses and has won two design awards. We celebrated the 25th anniversary of Durham’s inscription as a world heritage site in 1986 with an enjoyable programme of activities and events, including some memorable drama by students in the Galilee Chapel and the Castle. 

We are looking forward to the new floodlighting for the Cathedral, which will enhance the appearance of the building at night while reducing the electricity consumption. It will complement the new floodlighting of the Castle which was switched on this year. A less obvious but nonetheless very important project for the coming year is the revision of the management plan; initial work on the review is a reminder of how much has been achieved in the last few years.

I haven’t spoken in recent years about volunteers, so I should like to do so now.  Every cathedral and church owes so much to the willingness of men, women and children to volunteer.  This country has been good at developing a volunteering culture as part of good citizenship; you only have to visit a French cathedral to realise that we are hugely fortunate to be able to call on so many volunteers who are almost wholly lacking in cathedral life there. Many of you volunteer in the Cathedral, and I want to take this opportunity of saying thank you. 

On top of those who volunteer in the library, in services or in other ways, nearly 500 volunteers give up their time to welcome visitors to the Cathedral.  Each session is 3½ hours and most volunteers give a session every two weeks.  Inevitably some do much more and others less but there are a number who, even though they work full time, are still prepared to give a session per month.  The team of Senior Stewards who look after either a whole day or a session continue to give invaluable service in preparing the six monthly rotas and managing ‘their’ volunteers on a day to day basis.

During last winter, 15 additional guides were trained using a combination of formal sessions and mentoring by experienced guides.  Stewards wishing to be a guide have to apply, undertake an interview and commit to all the training sessions.  This level of commitment allows not only the generation of a welcome amount of income but also gives visitors a special insight into the Cathedral, its history and life today.

We continue to be grateful to the team of people, mostly retired clergy, who serve every day in the Cathedral as voluntary chaplains. We hear stories, sometimes years later, of how their ministry of being available to visitors, volunteers and staff is appreciated. The stories we do hear are no doubt the tip of a benign iceberg and this unheralded ministry, along with that of the Listeners from Durham Christian Partnership who attend each morning, quietly touches and even changes many people’s lives.

Staff Changes

A faithful member of the Foundation died this year, Canon Patrick Kent. We are deeply thankful for his long life and influential ministry in this diocese. 

We thank staff who have left the Cathedral in the past year and wish them well for the future.  These include: Jon Williams (Land Agent), Jean Doloughan (his secretary who has served 43 years in the office), Graham Foster (Head Gardener), Keith Wright (Sub-Organist), The Reverend David Sudron (Sacrist), Oliver Brett (Assistant Organist), Christopher Downs (Consulting Architect), and the Treasures Custodians who have all retired following the closure of the exhibition in preparation for Open Treasure.    

We have welcomed new members to the Foundation: The Reverend Rosemary Nixon (installed as Pastor to the Cathedral Community), and Canons Alan Bartlett, Raymond Dick, David Glover, Alec Harding, Judy Hirst and of course the newly elected Chairman of the Friends, David Hunt. 

We have welcomed staff who have joined us in the past year and hope that they will be happy in their time here.  These include: John Holmes (Head of Property), Jacqui Brown (Head of Finance having previously been in the acting role), Nicky Crombie (Human Resources Manager), Francesca Massey (Sub-Organist), Katharine Saunders (Fundraising Officer), Lindsey Simmonds (Property Team Administrator), Samantha Forster (Group Travel Officer) and Peter Bennett (joinery apprentice, for whose funding we are grateful for the support from Durham City Freemen).  We have also welcomed Peter Tiplady (Restaurant Manager for Avenance UK who hold the franchise).

I want to pay tribute to the retiring Chairman of the Friends, Dr Bill Apedaile.  I have worked alongside him for the whole of his time in this role.  Although you do not need me to tell you this, he has been tireless in the energy and commitment he has put into the Friends, always going the second and third mile to support events and activities, chair meetings, broker key conversations between the Friends and the Chapter, and in countless other ways demonstrate through his kindness and generosity his complete commitment not only to the Friends but to the Cathedral.  I think he was perhaps never prouder than when the Transfiguration Window was dedicated in 2010, a marvellous monument to Cathedral Friends far and near who funded it.  We recently celebrated his 80th birthday, and you would not have known that the night before, his home suffered from a serious fire which has had far-reaching effects on his domestic life.  I want on behalf of the Cathedral Chapter to thank him from our hearts for all that he has given us during his years of office.  We are hugely grateful and wish him a long and happy retirement.

And I want to end by welcoming our new Chairman, Canon David Hunt.  He has already been introduced to the meeting, so I won’t rehearse his credentials, except to say that as a long-time member of the Cathedral Community whose memory goes back to the time of Dean Eric Heaton, he brings not only a wealth of knowledge and experience to the role but, more important, what we have also seen in our retiring Chairman, a deep commitment to this place and all that it stands for.  We thank him for being willing to take on this role, and assure him of our prayers and support. 

9 June 2012