Craftsmen who repaired York Minster confident Notre Dame can return to glory

Two craftsmen who worked on the restoration of York Minster after part of its roof was destroyed in a fire in 1984 have said they have “no doubt” Notre Dame is repairable.

John David, master mason, and Geoff Brayshaw, lead joiner, said Monday night’s fire brought back memories of the night the Minster’s South Transept was struck by lightning.

The men devoted the next four years to carrying out a £4 million restoration of the building and said they hoped those involved in the rebuilding of Notre Dame would consider using craftsmen and traditional materials.

Notre Dame cathedral fire
Notre Dame cathedral fire

Mr David said: “I was really upset for the people of Paris, as I remember people were upset in York.

“I have no doubt that it’s all repairable and I think a lot of the people watching think it won’t be repairable but we know it can be done.”

Remembering the night of the 1984 fire at the Minster, he said: “My neighbour came and woke me up at about two in the morning to say the South Transept was on fire.

“We went outside and saw the roof, the lead was beginning to peel away, with the flames coming through.

“I thought I shouldn’t be outside watching the fire so I came round the back and removed all the valuables from the Minster we could carry.”

The stonemason continued: “I was quite upset but, with fellow craftsmen, we were in no doubt that we could repair the building and we just wanted to get on with doing the repairs.”

Mr Brayshaw said: “I heard on the radio that the Minster was on fire when I got up the next day so, when I came into work, I had a look over here and there was no roof there, just smouldering smoke coming out the top.

“I was pretty gutted really.

“We’d not long finished restoring that particular section a couple of years beforehand so we had it all to do again.”

He added: “It’s just a historic building and you never want to see one of those go up in flames. I’m sure they’re all gutted over there.”

Paris travel stock
Paris travel stock

The two men said that firefighters managed to contain the blaze at the Minster due to the building having timber vaults, the self-supporting arches within the roof, which allowed them to collapse the roof before the fire spread further upwards.

They explained that the vaults at Notre Dame are made of stone, meaning it was more difficult to contain the blaze and resulting in greater damage to the roof.

The craftsmen said the next steps at Notre Dame will involve clearing out the damaged building, making it watertight with a temporary roof to avoid further water damage and carrying out a structural inspection.

Mr David said that any stone vaults which have not collapsed will need to be inspected to assess the damage.

Those involved in the restoration will then need to decide what materials they will use.

York Minster fire 25th anniversary
York Minster fire 25th anniversary

Mr David said: “Hopefully, from my point of view, they will use traditional materials.

“There will be damage to the stone, but that’s always repairable, getting the amount of wood that they might need will be quite difficult, I think.

“And there will be some people who suggest they build a steel roof or a concrete roof.

“We had all this here in 1984 but these buildings deserve to be repaired by craftsmen so hopefully that will happen.

“It’s been there for so many years and hopefully it will be there again.

York Minster
York Minster

“It’s a symbol of the glory of God but it’s also a symbol of the generations of people of France.”

He added: “It’s a huge opportunity to train craftsmen in traditional building repair methods that the whole world needs.”