Conserving a Medieval Masterpiece
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 quite exceptional quality. Regarded as the best example of 13th century naturalistic carving in the United Kingdom, and indeed Europe, they are of significant global importance and have recently won the award of the nation's favourite cathedral treasure in a competition run by The Association of English Cathedrals - read more about this accolade here.
The Chapter House and its Leaves needed protection from leaking roofs and lacked appropriate heating and environmental controls. In addition, modern lighting has been installed (there was none at all before) and an imaginative interpretation scheme has been implemented, helping the Leaves of Southwell become much more accessible and widely known to future generations. It is our belief that they represent not only wonderful heritage but also an extraordinary resource today. An incredible cantilever lift has also been installed, making the Chapter House fully accessible for the first time in its 700+ year history!
We are extremely grateful to the National Lottery Heritage Fund who awarded us a grant of £2.2m to help implement these works to deliver the project in a way that will protect, interpret and better present these beautiful and historic medieval carvings for future generations. Many thanks also to The Friends of Southwell Cathedral, and all other donors who have helped make this dream a reality.
The installation of a new cantilever lift now provides full access to this glorious part of the Minster.
More on the project
The Leaves of Southwell project emerged over a number of years. The Cathedral’s fundraiser knew that, once the Archbishop of York’s Palace project was completed in 2018, that the next priority would be renewal of the Cathedral’s high roof, which hadn’t been re-roofed for over 200 years!
Discussions with the East Midland’s National Lottery Heritage Fund led the Cathedral towards an ambitious plan to include the internationally significant Leaves of Southwell in the Chapter House. Thus, the current project was born and the planning process began.
Along with a team of professional consultants, plans were carefully drawn up and, 18 months later, in summer 2019, we received the news that we had been successful in securing a £2.2m grant from the Heritage Fund, enabling the works to go ahead.
The aims of the Leaves of Southwell project are to:
- Undertake conservation and repair works to the Leaves of Southwell carvings in the Chapter House and Slype and stabilise and monitor the micro-climate
- Renew the high roof and illuminate key features of the exterior of the Minster
- Improve accessibility across the site, including installation of a cantilever lift, handrail and lighting to the Chapter House, repair and lighting to external pathways and some new way-finding materials
- Staff and volunteer training and awareness of accessibility needs to provide a welcoming environment
- Provide new interpretive materials and signage across the site to raise awareness and increase understanding of the Leaves of Southwell, other foliage carvings in the Cathedral and the masons who carved them
- Extend and enhance the Palace Gardens, to include the Paddock, for visitors
- Provide a programme of opportunities for volunteering, learning and participation
- Install more efficient internal heating and external lighting systems