St. Paul’s Cathedral was started in 1675 by Sir Christopher Wren as part of restorative work to the Capital, after the Great Fire of London and was finally completed in 1710. It is the fifth incarnation of a Cathedral dedicated to St. Paul to be built on the same site since the 7th century and it sits at the highest point in the city. Today it is celebrated as one of London’s most famous landmarks, visited by thousands of tourists every year and still used as a house of worship as well as for national events such as royal weddings.
To relocate over 500 linear metres of books, totalling 11,500 items from the Cathedral’s Library to our heritage storage facility in Upper Heyford while the Library undergoes monitoring and remodelling over the course of two years.
The project involves renovating the room, so that it is fit to house the collection of rare religious books, some dating back to the 12th century, for decades to come, and will also make it more accessible to the public. As the Library is located at triforium level, the biggest part of the challenge was how to lower the packed books to the west gallery from where they could be loaded onto the vehicles.
The triforium or upper level is accessible through a small lift, housed in an original light shaft, but this was not designed for the transit of large quantities of boxes and was therefore ruled out as a method of lowering the books. Another option was to use the geometrical staircase, which was used the last time the books were removed during WWII, but it too was ruled out. The stairwell is over 88 steps long and the spiral shape can be disconcerting, particularly when moving heavy objects. In addition to that, the height of the hand rail only conforms to 18th century health and safety standards.
The only solution was to use a winch and platform system just above the gallery, which is conveniently located near the exit. Our teams loaded the boxes onto the winch used by the cathedral works department and lowered them to ground level. This part required careful planning as the books needed to be well secured for the ride down. They were then collected in a cordoned off area before being moved out through the Great West Doors, which are only ever opened for royalty!
The move was conducted over five weekly phases organised so that we collect the boxes as they are filled by the Library’s team of volunteers who clean, pack, and label the books. Each phase includes the collection and relocation of approximately 240 boxes which are taken to our storage facility at Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire.
The UH site was originally a US air force airbase and benefits from remarkable security features ideal for the heritage sector. The shelters were constructed to a scientific formulation of concrete mixed with granite so that the strong outer shells could withstand munitions and to provide fire resistance from jet take off. Each shelter is a self-contained, sealed unit, with a limited number of doors to minimise air flow, which can aid fire or provide access to pests. Pest management is an additional feature of the site which is regularly inspected and regulated by a professional pest control company.
The site is approved and recommended by the National Conservation Service because it meets the strict criteria set by them as well as being monitored for quality on a regular basis. It is the ideal space for the heritage sector as it also provides customers access to their collections in situ whenever they need it, or virtually through our web based asset management software.
The books from the St. Paul Cathedral Library will be in storage until summer 2020 when they will be moved back and returned to the shelves of the restored and updated Library.
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“[The move] went well. It was very efficient and we look forward to the second part. ”
Head of Collections
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