‘They can rebuild her’ – York Minster master craftsmen say Notre Dame can be repaired

John David, master mason at York Minster. Photograph: Amy Murphy/PA Wire
16 Apr 2019 @ 2.52 pm
| Environment, News

Two craftsmen who worked on the restoration of York Minster after part of its roof was destroyed in a fire in 1984 have said they have “no doubt” Notre Dame is repairable.

John David, master mason, and Geoff Brayshaw, lead joiner, said Monday night’s fire brought back memories of the night the Minster’s South Transept was struck by lightning.

The men devoted the next four years to carrying out a £4 million restoration of the building and said they hoped those involved in the rebuilding of Notre Dame would consider using craftsmen and traditional materials.

Mr David said:

  • I was really upset for the people of Paris, as I remember people were upset in York.

    I have no doubt that it’s all repairable and I think a lot of the people watching think it won’t be repairable but we know it can be done.

‘Lead pealed away’

Lead joiner at the Minster Geoff Brayshaw
Remembering the night of the 1984 fire at the Minster, he said: “My neighbour came and woke me up at about two in the morning to say the South Transept was on fire.

“We went outside and saw the roof, the lead was beginning to peel away, with the flames coming through.

“I thought I shouldn’t be outside watching the fire so I came round the back and removed all the valuables from the Minster we could carry.”

The stonemason continued: “I was quite upset but, with fellow craftsmen, we were in no doubt that we could repair the building and we just wanted to get on with doing the repairs.”

Mr Brayshaw said:

  • I heard on the radio that the Minster was on fire when I got up the next day so, when I came into work, I had a look over here and there was no roof there, just smouldering smoke coming out the top.

    I was pretty gutted really.

    We’d not long finished restoring that particular section a couple of years beforehand so we had it all to do again.

He added: “It’s just a historic building and you never want to see one of those go up in flames.”

Next steps

Paris firefighters tackle the cathedral blaze
The two men said that firefighters managed to contain the blaze at the Minster due to the building having timber vaults, the self-supporting arches within the roof, which allowed them to collapse the roof before the fire spread further upwards.

They explained that the vaults at Notre Dame are made of stone, meaning it was more difficult to contain the blaze and resulting in greater damage to the roof.

The craftsmen said the next steps at Notre Dame will involve clearing out the damaged building, making it watertight with a temporary roof to avoid further water damage and carrying out a structural inspection.

Mr David said that any stone vaults which have not collapsed will need to be inspected to assess the damage.

Notre Dame before and after the fire. Photographs: Mike Egerton/ Victoria Jones/ PA Wire

Those involved in the restoration will then need to decide what materials they will use.

Mr David said:

  • Hopefully, from my point of view, they will use traditional materials.

    There will be damage to the stone, but that’s always repairable, getting the amount of wood that they might need will be quite difficult, I think.

    And there will be some people who suggest they build a steel roof or a concrete roof.

    We had all this here in 1984 but these buildings deserve to be repaired by craftsmen so hopefully that will happen.

He added: “It’s a huge opportunity to train craftsmen in traditional building repair methods that the whole world needs.”

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