Camera shy Verger Eddie is caught on camera with Dave Nash! Eddie came to ask about access to the library to remove some contents and how possible it was to get the cherry-picker over the protective covering on the Kent Steps as it is needed to replace some lightbulbs. Maintenance work within the Cathedral goes on as usual! Dave was keen that this blog recorded the excellent working partnership that the Verger team have built with the contracting agents who are constantly having to refer to the Vergers’ knowledge of the workings of the existing infrastructure and of course Cathedral events and routine services.
Embedded in the crypt floor in the North West corner is a wooden trapdoor . This reveals previous alterations to the floor level as the frame for the trapdoor sits on a course of bricks to which the concrete infill has been levelled. The hole revealed under the trapdoor remains a mystery even to Graham Keville the Cathedral Architect. It is the shape of an inverted bell. What was its purpose? Did it contain a vessel of some kind or was it a socket for a structure? Clearly it was thought important to preserve it by constructing the trapdoor and brick surround, so when was this done and why was it important? Answers on a postcard please to Mark Beach.
Conservation and reuse
Dave is pleased to be working in Rochester as he comes from Beckenham and is usually sent to Plymouth by his firm! Here he is wrapping the pillars of the crypt in plywood to protect them when work starts on breaking and digging up the floor. Stone from the demolition of the infill has been carefully saved (visible here under the windows) to be reused. Reusing building material in both public and domestic buildings has been common practice, through the centuries. Many Roman buildings were plundered by those that followed, to provide material for new Anglo Saxon buildings . Much later here in Rochester, the Gundulfian crypt was remodelled in Medieval times and it is possible that the ornaments shown here in the photographs of the “cleaners store” in the walls were embedded in this early recycling initiative.
Old vestries cleared
What a different space! The panel dividing walls for the choir vestry and stores has been removed to reveal the original room. Issues with damp are evident, revealed here in the photograph of bitumen found under a layer of plywood under a layer of marmoleum. Yet another mystery: why does the floor slope? A door frame (pictured) shows how the floor slopes considerably from East to West. When you are aware of this, it really does feel as it you are awaking up hill as you move towards the windows! Honestly!The space is to be transformed into vestry and education spaces.
Many door openings are not wide enough to allow access for wheelchairs and, where possible, modern infill will be removed or remodelled. Two examples are shown here. You can also see the precautions the contractors have taken to protect ancient stones, here in the photograph we are looking at the exit from the crypt towards the south door. What a contrast with the practice of previous builders: in the last photograph there is one of many examples of adaptations to the building. Only fragments of previous architectural elements remain in this corner, the rest removed when new walls were constructed.
Secret stairway revealed
Work in the the cleaners store (on the right at the foot of the stairs as you enter the crypt) has cleared away alterations which had blocked up this entrance (jpg 1804 insert here). What was it for and where does it go? Through the opening a staircase is revealed which ascends to the South Choir. The top of the stairway has been bricked up but it is believed to connect to a doorway in the wall at the top of the Kent steps. John McALeer records in this in his book Rochester Cathedral, 604-1540: An Architectural History (1999, University Toronto Press) (insert tiff file here) .Dave, the Site manager tells me that it is called the Temptation Stair and was a passage down from the choir into a locked room – did you notice the hinges indicating a door at the foot of the stairs. He thought that it was
a punishment room, but for whom and why? Is anyone able to shed light on this and able to blog about it?