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Workmen inspect the top of the spire of the Cathedral Church of St Marie, Sheffield

Work on the spire of the Cathedral Church of St Marie passed a key milestone when the re-gilded weathervane was put back in its rightful place, 200 feet above the streets of Sheffield.

The vane and 11 courses of stone blocks had to be removed as part of the work needed to ensure the spire, which is not quite straight, could be made safe for the future.

That allowed the top levels of scaffolding to be removed, after which work was due to continue further down the spire and tower.

Bill Hall, contracts manager for Oldham-based church conservation specialist, Lloyd and Smith, who are restoring the spire, said, “This is definitely one of the most prestigious jobs we have done, because it is a Cathedral and the spire is so high.

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Lloyd and Smith’s foreman, Chris Hewitt, and contracts manager, Bill Hall, pictured on top of the spire of the Cathedral Church of St Marie after the restored weathervane had been reinstalled

“The spire is 197 feet in all and it has been all the more challenging because of the surrounding buildings and public thoroughfares. We have had 29 levels of scaffolding, which had to be designed specially for the spire and took longer to erect than anticipated.

“However, the project is going well, considering we had to start in winter, and we expect to be finished in May or June.”

Removing the top 11 courses of the spire meant Lloyd and Smith’s highly skilled stone masons had to remove 35 large blocks of stone, number them to ensure they would go back in the right place and then clean and replace them accurately to reduce the angle at which the spire leans.

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Looking down at the nave of the Cathedral Church of St Marie

Completely straightening the spire would have meant rebuilding it from the bottom, but experts said that was not necessary as it could be made perfectly safe, but left with a slight lean.

“No one knows why the spire wasn’t straight,” says Bill Hall. “The architect feels some of it is due to the way it was originally built.”

About 75 per cent of the work is being carried out inside the spire and includes replacing cast iron ‘Dog Cramps’ – large staples that hold the stone blocks in place – with new cramps made from stainless steel, which will have a far longer life span.

“Iron was the best they had at the time the spire was built, but stone is porous, so water gets in over time, the iron corrodes and expands, which exacerbates the problem,” explains Bill Hall.

“The cramps we have removed have been corroded, but not fully affected, however we have replaced them with stainless steel.”

Photographs courtesy of Bob Rae