The Chapter House is one of the oldest parts of Exeter Cathedral, standing at the far side of the cloisters. First built between 1225 and 1230, it is widely considered to be the most important example of Early English medieval architecture in Devon. It has a number of exceptional features including a series of molded arches, carvings and a spectacular oak roof.
The conservation works bring a number of benefits for visitors, including level access designed to make the Chapter House a more inclusive event space. The improvements also play a key role in Exeter Cathedral's commitment to reduce its carbon footprint. Newly installed underfloor heating and low energy lighting has improved energy efficiency, while the new glass lobby, funded by Allchurches, helps to reduce heat loss and maintain a stable temperature.
The work has been complex due to the historic significance of the building, involving a team of archaeologists, cathedral architects and heritage conservation specialists. The stone floor was lifted and replaced, in order to remove a defunct heating system installed 50 years ago, and detailed investigation and restoration work was carried out on the ancient ceiling timbers.
Jill Taylor, the Cathedral’s Director of Development, said: “The Chapter House is a beautiful space which can now be used comfortably all year round. We’ll no longer experience the draughts that used to whistle in via the old medieval door! It’s now a warm and cosy space for meetings, events and activities. The glass lobby will also provide a stunning entrance to the Chapter House in the summer months when the medieval doors can be left wide open, encouraging visitors to come in and enjoy the splendour of the Chapter House and its wonderful wooden ceiling.”
Cathedral archaeologist, John Allen, adds: “Lifting the stone floor provided a wonderful opportunity to excavate underneath the Chapter House – which we’d never had the opportunity to do before, although we knew there was a garden there at one point in time. Soils were found to extend from the late Roman period to the time of the construction of the current building (1225–30) and high-quality scientific analysis of these soils has revealed new evidence about the environment of Exeter over this long and poorly understood period.”
Paul Playford, Grants Officer for Benefact Trust, said: “We’re delighted that our funding has been able to bring new life to the cathedral’s Chapter House, with a striking glass entrance. The lobby is a welcoming addition to the beautifully restored building, which is not only historically important, but a valued hub for the local community.”