BCD SPECIAL REPORT ON
RD ANNUAL EDITION
Ripon Cathedral’s new gargoyles
Oliver Caroe and Liz Humble
N 2015 Ripon Cathedral carried out
a programme of stonework repairs
funded through a grant from the
Cathedrals Fabric Commission for
England’s (CFCE) First World War
Centenary Cathedral Repairs Fund.
A modest but compelling component of
the programme was the replacement of
three gargoyles on the north elevation of
the presbytery aisle, in bays which survive
from the late 12th century.
Initially, two gargoyles were identified
by inspection from the ground as being
eroded beyond conservation or repair
and these relict stones were the focus of
a competition to select carvers to design
and carve replacements. A third gargoyle
was later added when, on close inspection,
it too was discovered to be beyond repair.
This article focusses on the
competition and aims to provide a case
study for commissioning works of this type
to identify and nurture carving talent.
There has been a church on the site of
Ripon Cathedral since 672AD. Archbishop
Roger de Pont-l’Évêque started rebuilding
in the late 12th century. The Early English
west front was commenced in the early
13th century, while the north presbytery
was partly rebuilt in the late 13th century.
Major repairs were required when the
central tower partially collapsed c1450,
and in 1660 the central spire collapsed,
prompting major rebuilding of the
presbytery and south transepts and the
removal of the west spires.
Restoration and re-ordering work was
carried out in the Victorian period, most
extensively by George Gilbert Scott, and
further conservation and repair continued
in the 20th century. Some of this
Victorian and later work is of the highest
quality and invention, defining aspects of
the current character of the cathedral. It
includes some very strong, wonderfully
grotesque gargoyle replacements.
The surviving 12th-century fabric
was of particular importance for its
ground-breaking use of architectural
forms. It was contemporary with the new
work of the Canterbury Cathedral choir
following the 1174 fire and exemplifies
the development of early Gothic in
the north of England. This north east
portion of the cathedral is therefore
of the highest national significance.
Gargoyles (the name comes from
, meaning throat) were
introduced to medieval cathedrals from
around 1200. As well as their practical
purpose – to throw rainwater clear of
the masonry walls – they may have been
intended both as a visual reminder of the
presence of evil and to scare evil spirits
away. At Ripon, gargoyles continue to be
important functional components of the
cathedral’s rainwater disposal system, in
some cases incorporating lead pipes that
discharge overflow water from the gutters.
In preparation for this project,
cathedral archaeologist Liz Humble
provided an invaluable gazetteer of
the cathedral’s gargoyles. Her report
revealed that our three gargoyles
probably dated from the late 13th or
early 14th century. As work progressed
on site, further archaeological evidence
helped us settle on a more confident
dating of early-mid 14th century for
the parapet above, so the gargoyles
are therefore of or around this period.
Being among the few remaining pre-19th
century examples on the cathedral, their
remnants were of such significance that
very careful thought and preparation
was clearly warranted for this project.
It was during the development of a
stonework conservation policy for the
cathedral in late 2014 that it became
clear that the remnants of two of the
gargoyles were illegible and beyond
repair. In consultation with the fabric
advisory committee (FAC) and the
CFCE an application was made to create
two new works of art which would be
sympathetic to the history and style of
the building and which would convey
the spirit and intent of the original
stone carvers’ work, allowing our new
artists some freedom of expression.
More of the detail of an adjacent
gargoyle had survived and many of its
root decorative details – the claws and
belly feathers – could be clearly read.
Dean of Ripon Cathedral the Very Revd John
Dobson blesses one of the new gargoyles. The original
gargoyle retained much more legible stonework than
the other two which were replaced, making this a
particularly demanding commission for stone carver
Martin Coward. He was tasked with producing a
design that would reproduce the original gargoyle
and inventively extrapolate the missing features.