It’s a precarious position to be in, but the view from the top of the Cathedral Church of St Marie has got to be one of the best in Sheffield.
From the Wicker Arches in the north to Bramall Lane and beyond in the south, most of the city’s major landmarks are visible.
And it’s a view those working to restore the 19th century spire on the Catholic Cathedral have been enjoying since November, when the £270,000 Government-funded project began.
Specialist heritage restoration firm Lloyd and Smith was brought in for the complicated project, which involves replacing 500 iron ‘dog cramps’ inside the cathedral spire.
And after weeks of painstaking work, a significant point has now been reached. The weather vane at the top of the spire has been reinstalled, meaning the bespoke scaffolding will soon start to come down.
“The weather vane signifies to all of Sheffield that we have rebuilt the tower, and for us that’s when the scaffolding starts to come down so you can see the tower,” said Bill Hall, contracts manager for Lloyd and Smith.
The restoration work was funded through a £270,000 government grant. People will not be able to see much difference from the outside, but the changes on the inside are important.
Bill said: “The spire was seen to be ‘not straight’. That was the initial inspection. No-one knew quite why.
“Now we have taken it down it would appear that some of it was down to the way it was built. It was built with a slight bend.
“Something that could exacerbate this is the iron dog cramps in the walls. Stone is porous. Water gets in, they go rusty and they expand.”
The dog cramps are essentially large staples that hold the bricks together at the joints. Skilled stonemasons have spent hundreds of hours over winter working each cramp out of its berth to be replaced by a new stainless steel one.
There are 500 cramps in the spire, and each takes about two hours to remove – but work is progressing well and should be finished by the start of summer.
“It’s very important to restore these buildings because we are losing a huge amount of churches every year,” said Bill.
“This is our heritage and they need constant attention. It’s expensive but it’s worth doing.”
Site manager Chris Hewitt is part of the restoration team that climbs the 29 ladders to the top of the spire up to three times a day.
“The spire is definitely going to last. But it isn’t completely straight,” he said.
“It would cost so much money to take out the bend. You would basically have to build the whole thing as new.
“It’s still got a bent spire, so Sheffield can compete with Chesterfield. But nothing is going to fall off.”
The cathedral dates from 1850 and underwent substantial renovations between September 2011 and November 2012. It is hoped this latest work will be the last for generations.
The money came from the government’s First World War Centenary Cathedral Repair Fund, which handed out more than £8 million to 31 cathedrals in the funding round St Marie’s qualified for.
Cathedral dean Father Christopher Posluszny said the spire was a key landmark in the city.
“In a place like Sheffield, which has relatively few historic buildings – especially in the city centre, when compared to places like York or even Nottingham – this is really priceless and should be safeguarded for the future.”