Home Events Gibbons’ legacy at the heart of St Paul’s Cathedral

Gibbons’ legacy at the heart of St Paul’s Cathedral

Fragments of Gibbons carvings at St Paul's CathedralThe quire of St Paul’s cathedral is its beating heart. Wren knew this when he was building his cathedral after the Great Fire and focussed all of his attention on getting this section of his baroque cathedral completed first so that worship could recommence on this sacred site once more.

Completed in December, 1697 Wren’s quire was the first cathedral quire to be purpose built (rather than adapted from a medieval predecessor) following The Reformation of the Church in England. His challenge was to create a space fit for the new protestant liturgy, in a new cathedral rising from the ashes of the old medieval city of London.

Display boards about Grinling Gibbons carvings at St Paul's Cathedral

All images © Jonathan Hellyer/St Paul’s Cathedral

Wren, raised as a high church Royalist in the court of Charles I, a conservative MP and a ground breaking experimental philosopher of his day, combined his expertise as a scientist, engineer and architect to create an inclusive and intimate space more suited to protestant taste of restoration England. He looked to Paris and his visit in 1665 for inspiration. Adapting the designs of Bernini and Mansart, Wren, together with leading craftsmen of the day created the new, more restrained English Baroque style of order and light which we see in the quire today.

This talk provides a unique opportunity for discussion between custodians past and present to deliberate the importance of the quire designed by Sir Christopher Wren and brought to life by the unique talents of master carver Grinling Gibbons. The speakers will discuss the aesthetic appearance of the quire we see today and the radical changes made by subsequent surveyors to Wren.

The current Surveyor and Conservator will discuss the unique challenges they face in caring for and maintaining Gibbons’ legacy in a working cathedral environment; and how their approach accommodates the inevitable changes in conservation ethics which have and will occur over time.

About the Speakers

Oliver CaroeOliver Caroe BA(Hons) Dipl Arch Cantab RIBA AABC

Director and co-owner, Caroe Architecture Ltd and Surveyor to the Fabric, St Paul’s Cathedral

Oliver’s work and experience spans many sectors. Ecclesiastical work has come to the fore, but education, residential projects, pure conservation and major commercial refurbishments are part of his repertoire, with particular emphasis on the sustainability of existing and historic buildings. Architecture runs in Oliver’s veins: his great-grandfather was W. D. Caröe and his grandfather and father were both also renowned conservation architects.

As an AABC-accredited specialist in conservation, Oliver has particular expertise in conserving, repairing and improving historic buildings for 21st century needs and uses. He was appointed as architect to Ripon Cathedral in 2010, where he has led several significant projects. Other award-winning projects include the creation of an Archives Centre for St John’s College, Cambridge and a major conservation programme for G.E.Street’s St Mary Magdalene, Paddington. More recently, Oliver has been appointed as Surveyor to the Chapels of King’s College, Cambridge and New College, Oxford for whom he has designed a competition-winning new song school. In 2020 Oliver was selected as the next Surveyor of the Fabric to York Minster, taking up that role in January 2021.

Since 2011 Oliver has been the Surveyor to the Fabric of St Paul’s Cathedral, stepping into Martin Stancliffe’s shoes and continuing to deliver projects Martin had initiated. In addition to the constant process of conservation, repair and renewal, he has overseen projects ranging from the re-tanking of the galleries around the Dome, further reordering Crypt facilities, and working with the Collections team to conserve the extensive collections, archives and the magnificent Wren Library.

Currently Oliver and his team are delivering equal access for the Cathedral in the form of an external access ramp – the first significant alteration to the exterior of the Cathedral in 300 years – and a new inner portico which will become a national memorial for those who lost their lives to Covid-19. In addition to major programmes of fabric care and repair, including a re-roofing programme for St Paul’s, Oliver has led the introduction of new artworks into the Cathedral setting, notably the Bill Viola video artworks.

Jonathan Hellyer

Conservator, St Paul’s Cathedral

Conservation is a second career for Jonathan who initially trained as a scientist, specialising in gels and gelatin, which introduced him to the furniture conservation programme at the National School of Furniture in High Wycombe. In 2008 Jonathan took the plunge and joined the MA conservation and restoration programme at the National School, alongside studying for a City in Guilds Level 3 in hand crafted furniture. During this period Jonathan was able to intern for over two years at the Royal Workshops at Windsor Castle, an experience which he is convinced helped him graduate with distinction from his studies.

In 2017, Jonathan returned to Windsor Castle as Historic Interiors Conservator uniting his practical and management skills. The opportunities and support gained within a large organisation made Jonathan the ideal candidate for the post of conservator at St Paul’s cathedral. In 2019, he joined the small collections team at St Paul’s rapidly applying his skills and experience in all things wood related. Working closely with the Surveyor Jonathan is preparing to conserve and implement a conservation care plan for the historic joinery of the cathedral, much of it from the workshops of Grinling Gibbons.



11 May 2021


7:00 pm - 8:00 pm


Online (Zoom)

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