Outside Beverley’s Gothic Minster, a modern masterpiece takes shape

It had been long acclaimed as one of the finest Gothic buildings in Northern Europe, but on the outside of Beverley Minster, a more modern masterpiece has taken shape.

The scaffolding pipes that now climb to the roof of England’s biggest parish church would if laid end to end stretch all the way to Market Weighton, some 10 miles west.

“It’s quite a work of art in its own right,” said Canon Jonathan Baker, the Minster’s vicar. “A wonderful piece of engineering.”

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Its presence, however, is more prosaic. The church’s stone floor has for some time been pockmarked with buckets to catch rainwater that the old and decaying lead roof has failed to keep out.

Crucial work is underway at Beverley Minster’s Lesser South Transept. Picture: James Hardisty

In the next few years it will all need replacing, at a cost of some £10m. But progress on the first phase, which has seen a temporary roof thrown over the Lesser South Transept, was a promising start Canon Baker said.

With no need to access the Minster’s interior, the work, involving some 3,300 socially distanced man-hours, went on while life around it remained on hold.

But its completion exposed the state to which the lead had decayed.

“It’s 100 or so years old and it is leaking,” Canon Baker said. “And one of the difficulties, is that because the roof is made up of interlocking panels of lead, supported by a forest of timber underneath, when the water comes through it often doesn’t drip through cleanly – it runs down one of the joints or up against the timber.

Crucial work is underway at Beverley Minster’s Lesser South Transept. Picture: James Hardisty

“So you’re not never quite sure where the hole is, and it’s not until you start taking up the lead that you can see the problem.”

The transept, which accounts for about a tenth of the Minster’s roof, had been the worst for leaks, and its successful repair would, he hoped, convince the National Lottery Heritage Fund and two independent funding trusts – one of them set up Queen Elizabeth I and still going strong – to finance the remainder.

“While the scaffolding looks impressive, it’s really only the first step. But hopefully it demonstrates our credibility for when we go back again. In the meantime we will still need do massive fundraising from other sources,” said Canon Baker.

He was optimistic that others in the town would show their practical support. “The Minster is an icon, a place that local people identify with and are fond of, even if they’ve never set foot inside,” he said. “Every other business in town uses the Minster as its logo or somewhere in his branding.”

Crucial work is underway at Beverley Minster’s Lesser South Transept. Picture: James Hardisty

But the issue is clouded by the fact that Beverley has not one but two medieval places of worship in need of costly work.

St Mary’s , the 13th century, Grade I listed Anglican church on Ladygate, is seeking around £10m to replace its crumbling medieval stonework and has also secured an initial lottery grant.

“We have set up a joint charitable company to seek joint fundraising, recognising that Beverley as a town, will benefit if we can do this in cooperation with one another,” Canon Baker said.

The programme at the Minster is the first large-scale work there for around 30 years, when the interior stonework was restored to its natural honey colour.

Crucial work is underway at Beverley Minster’s Lesser South Transept. Picture: James Hardisty

Besides rescuing the roof, the current project will seek to highlight the Minster’s history as a place of sanctuary, in which for 600 years those accused of a crime that carried the death penalty could save themselves temporarily by seeking shelter.

A register still exists in the British Library of butchers, goldsmiths, shoemakers and others who made a beeline to Beverley at a rate of around eight a year. The right to sanctuary was finally abolished by Henry VIII in 1539.

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