An overview of my work placement at William Anelay Ltd.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Expect the unexpected

Site visit to Sheffield Cathderal (The Cathedral Church of St Peter and St Paul, Sheffield, located in the city centre on Church Street) 

“Fingers crossed there are not too many more surprises in store.” 
~ John Hutton, Site Manager 

Originally a parish church, it was elevated to cathedral status when the diocese was created in 1914. Sheffield Cathedral is one of five Grade I listed buildings in the city. The east end of the current church is the oldest. In the east wall of the sanctuary there are stones from the 13th-century church. Dating from the 15th century are the sanctuary and chancel. The chancel roof likely dates to the 16th century and is a hammerbeam roof with gilded angels. In the 1880s further reconstruction and rebuilding removed the galleries, moved the organ to the north transept to clear the chancel, and changed the pews to the current oak pews. The north and south transepts and west end were extended: 
  1. Sir Charles Nicholson's design in the 1900s called for a radical realignment of the church axis by 90 degrees. However, funds and World Wars forced the designs to change. Those changes were implemented throughout the 20th century. The bulk of the changes have affected the northern part of the cathedral, which was extensively expanded. The main entrance of the church is at the expanded west end, added in 1966 when the church was rededicated. 
  2. The lantern tower was an earlier addition to improve light but its glass was replaced by an abstract design designed by Amber Hiscott in 1998–99.

Start date: February 2013
Completion date: April 2014
Duration: 55 weeks


In September 2010 it was announced that the cathedral would be applying for a £980,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant to fund a £1.25 million scheme to make the building more attractive to visitors. The Gateway Project will renew the interior of the Cathedral. It has two main elements:
The Centenary Project: new heating, flooring and seating in the main body of the Cathedral (the nave) and levelling of the floor to make the building more accessible to wheelchair users that includes refurbishment of the Cathedral interior
The Place for All People Project: a new accessible and welcoming main entrance, with gathering and display spaces; new lighting; new signage and interpretation resources; training for staff and volunteers; learning activities for children and adults.
Site visit
I arrived on the site on a Friday morning on the 4th of April and met up with the site manager John Hutton and the project manager. We walked around on the site which looked 95% ready, but when I started asking about the different phases of the project it came out that there were a lot of hidden and unexpected surprises during the last 52 weeks. But working with old and historic buildings constructed in different phases and rebuilt several times surprises are part of the equation. One of Murphy’s Laws’ says: You can't expect the unexpected, otherwise there would be no need for the word unexpected. “ However, I think that for people working in the heritage sector and with historic buildings, predicting the unexpected is pretty much part of the day- to- day job. And Sheffield Cathedral was no exception to that. By that I do not mean the obvious issues of working within a busy city center where accessibility can be an issue but challenges that can put such an experienced heritage construction company as William Anelay to a test:

Unexpectancy no. 1
Part of the works included digging up the floor of the nave and instating a new heating system. However, it came out during the works that the 1960s slabs (300mm) were at some parts placed on the 1930s floor. However, the tests carried out before the actual works begun hit some of the rare areas where there was no earlier slab. This meant the removal of the floor took 3 weeks longer than expected.

Unexpectancy no. 2
It became apparent that roof- supporting columns in the nave of the cathedral had very little foundation below them. With loose soil and stone below the column and machinery working in the area, there was a risk of roof collapse. Machinery movements were stopped for a week as a precautionary measure and eventually the floor received a layer of concrete.

These two surprises meant that the all the floating time for the schedule of works had been used up and left the project on a very tight schedule. Despite these surprises, the refurbishment project was completed on time much to the happiness of the local community who had now the opportunity to carry out Easter events in a freshly refurbished Cathedral.

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