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Durham Castle’s Norman Chapel reopens to the public as major restoration project continues

Durham Castle’s Norman Chapel has reopened to the public for the summer, offering visitors the chance to see how a major restoration project is progressing.

Contractors have been on site at the oldest standing building in Durham City since last November.

The 951-year-old Norman Chapel is a Grade I-listed building, central to the Durham Castle and Cathedral UNESCO World Heritage Site and part of Durham University’s University College.

The University is seeking to understand why the condition of the building has deteriorated and wants to arrest the decay while restoring the Chapel’s stonework.

The current phase of work includes excavating a ventilation trench outside the Chapel and conserving stonework, including unique 11th century sculptures.

In January, ground boring activity to construct piles for the trench retaining wall was completed.

This meant work could begin on digging a five-metre-deep trench around the Chapel’s outside wall.

This excavation work has already revealed the original exterior wall of the Chapel, which had been buried for centuries.

Durham University’s Archaeological Services team is now investigating the history and purpose of the newly revealed wall and briefing Durham County Council Conservation Planners and Historic England on the discovery.

Tobit Curteis Associates, leaders in environmental survey and monitoring techniques for studying historic building performance, are closely involved with the restoration project.

They are experts in analysing the environment to diagnose and make recommendations to control deterioration in buildings and collections.

Meanwhile, specialist stone conservators from Hirst Conservation have been busy inside the Chapel, carrying out essential work to allow the stone to dry out safely.

This involves carefully removing old mortar used to repair the external walls over the centuries.

The first drying out phase is expected to take around five years.

Once the walls are completely dry, the damage will be assessed, and the next phase of the restoration work will begin on the long-term conservation of the Chapel.

Professor Wendy Powers, Principal of University College, Durham University, which is based in Durham Castle said: “It is an honour and privilege to be involved with this important project to conserve the Norman Chapel here at Durham Castle.

“The project team is working well together and I’m impressed by not only the various partners’ skills, but also their passion for this particular heritage site.”

All work on the Norman Chapel and around the Castle is progressing under a strict archaeological watching brief to identify and assess any archaeological finds.

Durham University is also working with Factum Arte, a team of artists, technicians and conservators dedicated to digital mediation, to document the Chapel as a cultural heritage site and develop new digital preservation and restoration techniques.

They have carried out a series of 3D recordings to provide further insight into the materials used in the 11th century Chapel.

This information will be used to make recommendations on the best way to preserve the historic stonework.

Work on the stone was paused during the University’s exam period from early May to mid-June, so students living and studying in the Castle were not disturbed.

The Chapel has now re-opened for the summer as part of the Castle Guided Tour, until the next phase of work begins.

Visitors will be able to see the work to date and learn more about the future plans for the building.

Brims Construction is working alongside Turner & Townsend who have been responsible for the project management, cost management and principal designer role to date.

Other core members of the project team include Howarth Litchfield (architects), Colour Urban Design (landscape architects) and Adelphi (conservation engineers).

The first phase of the project will cost £2.6 million, with £80k provided by the Wolfson Foundation towards the cost of restoration and interpretation of the Norman Chapel.


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