By: John Bailey, Surveyor to the Fabric
Date: 20 September 2014
Guildford Cathedral could be forced to shut because its asbestos-laced plaster is reaching the end of its life. The cathedral has launched a £7 million fundraising campaign and needs to raise £1.3 million before the end of August in order to secure a significant Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant.
It has almost hit the £1 million-mark and cathedral staff say they are “quietly confident” they will close the gap in time. Without the HLF money it would face a major fundraising headache.
A condition of lottery funding is that bidders demonstrate they can raise support from other sources – hence the £1.3 million target.
Edward Maufe won a design competition for a new cathedral at Guildford and work began in the mid-1930s. But construction was halted by the outbreak of war and did not start again until 1954, by which time costs had quadrupled.
Between 1952 and 1961 some 200,000 people donated the equivalent of 12p each to “buy a brick”. It was consecrated in 1961 in the presence of the Queen and is now grade II* listed. It is one of only three Church of England cathedrals built in the 20th century. Artistically it bridges the gap between Giles Gilbert Scott’s Liverpool Cathedral and Basil Spence’s Coventry Cathedral.
But after it opened remedial work had to be carried out to improve the acoustics and the 1,000sq m ceiling, 22m up, was coated with plaster mixed with asbestos.
Now cathedral staff say they need to remove this acoustic plaster before it starts crumbling on to worshippers.
“It’s 50 years old and will start to deteriorate,” said a spokeswoman. “We want to remove it rather than wait for something to happen.
“We are well ahead of the game but ultimately if we don’t raise the money we would have to close. But we are some way away from that.”