Notre Dame and the Rise of The Experts

NB.As a disclaimer, I can only talk about the masonry side – the ‘forest’ of oak beams, plaster work, art works etc I have no clue about.

On the evening of the fire I got a call from a journalist at BBC News asking for my expert opinion on what to do next. I had to admit that I didn’t know, but I had a friend who worked at Canterbury who may be able to help. I mean, what is the contingency plan in the event of a major fire at an ancient cathedral? Is there even such a thing?

I’m not very good at being put on the spot and after the phone call I thought about it and I guess the first thing would be to assess the damage to the stonework and its structural integrity (which could take months and months), I guess you could use drone technology and then a rope-access team. Get it safe enough for the next team to enter and having assessed each individual stone, make the appropriate templates for the masons and let the carvers and sculptors do their thing, then have the fixers put it all into place.

The Armada

The following morning on BBC Breakfast News there was a Lecturer in Architecture from Liverpool University. I’ve no idea if he’d ever been involved in restoration projects before – those architects tend to be specialists and even many older architects have never been near these types of projects – but he was vocal and spoke with great confidence.

“Well of course, there are no Gothic stonemasons anymore…the stone will probably have to be cut by robots.”

Yes, he actually said that. The interviewer seemed to have assumed the whole was made from wood anyway. I would never go on live TV to pontificate about something I wasn’t wholly cogniscent of. Would you?

President Trump did his usual, questioning the professionalism of the brave Parisian firefighters, suggested tons of water could be dropped from planes (causing untold damage to the church) and then said “Renovation: what even is that?”

President Macron said they would rebuild it all within 5 years. Since then the conservation world has been tearing its collective hair out at such a seemingly thoughtless remark. Maybe Macron whose poll rating is not so favourable, saw his opportunity to do a JFK promise to put men on the moon?

Restoration – that’s a good market

So a billion Euros was raised in the blink of an eye. Architectural renders of potential replacements to the spire appeared what seemed like moments later. Lifeless gargoyles from new 3D printer technology appeared looking like they’d come from jelly moulds, as more and more organisations and technologies clambered for the hoard of gold.

Now the dust has literally settled, what next? A post on the Stonemasons’ Guild Facebook Page by Sculptor Barry Baldwin brilliantly sums up the situation:

Getting the right people who can ‘walk the talk’ shouldn’t take all that long. Throughout history the teams that have worked on building and restoring Europe’s Cathedrals were a modest and international crowd. We all used to meet up with each other on Church, Cathedral, and Historic building projects far and wide. 
That’s a fact, Architects, Engineers, Masons, Carvers, Stone Fixers, Sculptors, builders, all ancillary trades. Those who understood the vastness and complexity of The Cathedral, its wants and needs.

It just takes an initial wise and few individuals (not a silly committee infatuated with democracy!) who take on the task of putting together the right people. The funds that are being raised then, and only then, stand more of a chance of being spent in the right way, and really for the Cathedral of Notre Dame itself. 

Check these words in five years. By then you will be able to see how wisely funds have been allocated, or not, as the case might be!

To sum up, in my own words; at times like these we don’t need ‘Experts’, we need expertise.

Date Plaque

Letter Carving

A small commission to carve lettering into a blank plaque – left blank since the house was built. The trouble was that the person commissioning it was an old-school graphic designer. I studied graphics and was massively into typography and calligraphy. Back then computers were coming in but were dreadfully slow, so it was right on the cusp of the old analogue world and a new digital one. Typesetters whose job it was to put the type and images together from vinyl print outs and paste onto a board using Cow Gum, and then sent of to the printers. We used to hand render type too, using ultra-fine Rotring pens, and while this may all seem a little mad in the 21st century, you really got to know the difference between Helvetica and Univers, Caslon and Baskerville.

Altering type

Bearing this in mind, I also had to alter the type to make the thinner parts of the numbers thicker in order to catch the light – so they didn’t disappear on a dull day. I was very aware the client knew the typeface inside out, and was rather nervous that the negative shapes of the letterforms had to be spot on.

The Plaque

The rest of the house had been renovated and the painted pebble-dash removed from the exterior. The plaque was still covered in many layers of paint which I removed, then I applied the template and altered the numbers in-situ and carved.

Thankfully the client was overjoyed with the results saying it was everything he could have hoped for!


Sundial Restoration


A lorry delivering to some of the homes in Richmond Park had backed into a 17th century sundial podium and knocked it over. On doing so it revealed that the sundial had been repaired more than once during its lifetime and one at least one occasion not that sympathetically.

The stem had been knocked off and the decorative head bashed off with some damage to the egg and dart and acanthus leaf embellishments.

The capital smashed and in a poor state.

The base. Oddly there was no glue or mortar in the hole for the pin.


I actually really like jobs like this. I like the accuracy of the indents and the carving. So I indented new stone into the cap and carved the patterns to follow the original.

Indented cap ready to be refixed

Using a lifting apparatus and a block and tackle we lowered the stem part of the stone into the new hole using chemfix to get the strongest fix possible for the pin and used epoxy resin for the base, leaving the edges for lime mortar.

The finished article


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