Wren Library Repairs
Project: Lincoln Cathedral Wren Library Ceiling
Details: Roof trusses and ceiling plasterwork repairs
Estimated Cost: Expected to come in around £450,000
Duration: Spring 2022 to Autumn 2024
About the Wren Library
The 17th century Wren Library was designed by the great Sir Christopher Wren under commission from Dean Michael Honywood, who paid for it to house his extensive collection of early printed books. These now make up approximately half of the Cathedral’s collection. The collection includes 120 “incunabula” or, books printed before 1501. The Wren Library is one of only two libraries designed by Christopher Wren outside of the capital city, the other larger example being at Trinity College, Cambridge. This in itself makes the Wren Library at Lincoln Cathedral incredibly special. It is worth noting that Lincoln Cathedral, including the Chapter House and Libraries, is listed in its entirety on the Historic England Heritage at Risk Register. List entry number: 1388680.
Watch the video to find out more about what is happening in the Wren Library, alternatively, keep scrolling down to read about the project.
What is the issue?
The exquisite library by Christopher Wren at Lincoln Cathedral is currently closed to the public for extensive repairs to the ceiling. In 1982 work was undertaken to reroof the library and at the time, some modifications were undertaken to the roof trusses.
However, these modifications have exacerbated problems in the major structural timbers leading to their partial failure. In turn this caused cracking and failure to the plaster ceiling. As a result of the issue, there was no alternative but for the Works Department to safely remove the plasterwork from the ceiling to safeguard both people as well as the historic books housed in the Lincoln Cathedral Wren Library.
What are we doing?
At Lincoln Cathedral, the conservation plan is always to retain elements of the historic fabric wherever possible. In sympathy with that conservation plan, the wooden roof trusses that have failed will be retained in situ, but the structural load will be transferred to new steel beams that are constructed as a framework around the failed wooden trusses. This steel will both support the ceiling, remove any downward forces from the wooden trusses, but also provide the necessary structural rigidity that the wooden trusses would otherwise have given for the roof. The steelwork has now been made up and delivered to site ready for installation. The cost of this element of the project is calculated at £128,000.00.
In addition to the ceiling, the Cathedral has commissioned surveys of the floor joists, to discover the extent of damp ingress into the wood, as well as an asbestos survey. While the ceiling of the Wren requires that the library be closed, it is sensible to draw forward all the associated works that need undertaking, in order to minimise the disruption, and also reduce the cost of having to move the books out again in the near future to undertake works to the floor. Unfortunately, part of the work undertaken in 1982 was the installation of a plastic membrane between the floor of the Wren Library, and the ceiling of the north cloister over which the Wren Library stands. This was installed in good faith and the best understanding at the time, in order to prevent damp ingress up through the floor, helping to maintain conditions in the Wren Library. With modern knowledge and material developments, we are now looking to remove this membrane as it is trapping moisture in, which is a significant issue. The project will be predominantly delivered by the Cathedral’s in-house Works Department, with specialist plasterers being brought in to complete the work to the ceiling. The Cathedral has a highly skilled team of joiners, conservators and stonemasons, who between them have many decades of experience working on the fragile heritage here at Lincoln Cathedral.
What about the books?
In addition to the delivery of the repairs, we are working with the ReStore Records Management Company to provide secure, climate-controlled storage for the thousands of historic books that have been removed for their protection while the Wren Library is under repair.
Before the work to repair the ceiling could begin, all the historic books needed to be expertly wrapped in protective covers, before they were carefully packed and removed to a secure environmentally controlled facility.
This process of packing and removal as well as the period of time they will be in storage alone cost over £35,000.00. There was no choice though, as it was vital to ensure the protection of these wonderful literary treasures.
Part of the Cathedral’s plan to fund the Wren Library repairs is through an application to a major Trust Fund. We have had positive discussions with the Heritage Fund team who like to project, and are willing to provide match funding for the project, up to a maximum of £250,000.00 – so for every £1 we raise, this may be matched by the Trust Fund to make £2. In order to qualify for a grant from the Trust Fund, we also need to undertake a number of accessibility improvements which are currently being costed, and built into the project. We are able to estimate the costs for this as we have undertaken various aspects of the work in other areas of the Cathedral.
We are currently exploring the options to install audio-visual equipment in the vestibule area at the foot of the staircase up to the Wren Library. This would provide an interactive view of the space using Matterport scans, and hotspots that users can select to zoom in and find out more information. The scanning has already been undertaken as part of a Culture Recovery Fund project to open up hidden parts of the Cathedral. In addition, we would like to add digital copies of manuscripts so that visitors can see the beauty and wonder of the treasures, even though they are not able to access the space. At the opposite end of the north cloister, is the Wren Door. This provides direct access from the Dean’s Green garden into the cloister and it is proposed to install a ramp that makes it possible for visitors and readers, to access the Wren Library and reading room outside of the hours of operation of the visitor centre. In total we anticipate the full cost of this aspect of the project will cost in the region of £50,000.00.
How you can help?
The Wren Library is in itself one of the treasures of Lincoln Cathedral. Every single donation will help in enabling us to meet the unexpected work to the Wren Library ceiling.
By clicking on any of the ‘donate’ buttons on this page, you can make a donation to this important project, helping to repair and reinstate the Wren Library both for the return of the books, but importantly enabling people to once again enjoy visiting this exquisite space.
Thank you for your support!
If you would prefer to donate by cheque, please make payable to ‘Lincoln Cathedral Library Fund’ and post FAO Amber Hardy to: Lincoln Cathedral Chapter Office, FREEPOST, 28 Eastgate, Lincoln, LN2 1BRDonate
The Dean and Chapter of Lincoln Cathedral kindly acknowledge all the generous supporters of this project, which include:
The Worshipful Company of Grocers
The Dean and Chapter are grateful to the Trustees of The Worshipful Company of Grocers’ Charity for their generous grant of £5,000 to the Wren Library repairs.
The Baronial Order of the Magna Charta
The Dean and Chapter are grateful to The Baronial Order of the Magna Charta for their generous grant of $7,000 to the Wren Library repairs.