Salisbury Cathedral Close Preservation Society

Supporting Excellence in Heritage Estate Management

Looking to The Future to Care for The Past

Autumn Lecture 2023,
20th September 2023 by Alex McCallion

Introduction by Nick Bacon

Torrential rain notwithstanding, some 100 people made their way to the Guildhall on 20 September for the Salisbury Cathedral Close Preservation Society’s autumn lecture and reception. The speaker was Alex McCallion, Director of Works and Precinct at York Minster. His presentation was both inspiring and focused on reality.

We were delighted to welcome a number of guests including Cllr Atiquil Hogue, Mayor of Salisbury, Canon Kenneth Padley, Canon Tim Daykin as well as Mrs. Stephanie Siddons-Deighton and Mr. Richard Deane, chair and vice-chair of Salisbury Civic Society.

SCCPS Intro slide

The deteriorating condition of many of our heritage properties and landscapes

– The Silent Crisis –


Everything is now described as a CRISIS !

We have the Climate Crisis.  Last month we had the RACC Concrete Crisis.  Like buses there will be another one along in a moment.

I would like to shout out about a Silent Crisis.  The slow deterioration in the condition of many of our mediaeval buildings and conservation areas.

The problem is that a Grade I listed building doesn’t really have a voice.  It just sits there patiently and slowly deteriorating for lack of care and maintenance.

When the rainwater gutters and hopper heads aren’t emptied they fill up with leaves.  Then given the chance they overflow and the rainwater runs down the walls slowly eating into the un-pointed stonework, softening the lime mortar and patiently waiting for winter to come to freeze the joints and crack the stonework.

The challenge for us, for this generation NOW, is that we face a Double Whammy as the Silent Crisis starts to accelerate and make itself heard.

Firstly we face a massive skills gap as the old boys who understand the historic fabric retire and die.  Todays school leavers do not generally want to train to work with lime mortar or ornate plasterwork. 

Secondly the cost of many of the conservation and restoration skills and materials has grown by more than 100% over the last five years along with the cost of the professional advisors and all the planning and compliance procedures.

Finally, even as we talk, the rate of deterioration is accelerating and precious fabric is lost forever. A beautifully crafted wrought iron gate gives up the ghost and falls off its hinge.  A Georgian window frame rots through and is quietly replaced with UPVC. BT Openreach drill through another medieval stone window cill to bring us the joys of superfast broadband.

Against this depressing backdrop there is the additional challenge of finding ways to ensure sustainable financial performance for these heritage assets.

But I am delighted to say all is not lost.  There is hope !

We need Fresh Thinking. New ideas. Renewed Energy. A Vision and an example of how these many challenges can be confronted and heritage estates transformed.

Come the hour. Come the man.  I introduce Alex McCallion Director of Estates and Precinct at York Minster.