Conserving the Lutyens cathedral model
The Lutyens cathedral model in a conservation studio
An incredible model
The wooden model of Sir Edwin Lutyens' unbuilt design for Liverpool's Catholic Cathedral is one of the most elaborate architectural models ever made in Britain, second only to the ‘Great Model’ of Sir Christopher Wren’s rejected design for St Paul’s. It is an example of a tradition which has now been superseded and whose techniques have largely been lost.
The model was made at the suggestion of Lutyens, in order to demonstrate the design in three dimensions and to assist in fundraising. It was shown to great acclaim at the Royal Academy, London in 1933. However, when the project was abandoned due to spiralling costs, the model was put into storage.
A major conservation project
When the model was gifted to the Walker Art Gallery in 1975 it was in poor condition with considerable damage, caused by years of handling the heavy but delicately detailed parts. Important parts of the exterior had been lost including spires, belfries and the intricate lantern that had surmounted the dome. The model had been cleaned leaving it with its present ‘faded’ appearance.
The conservation of the model took place between 1992 and 2005, supported by contributions from many individuals and a major grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, made in 1997. A small team rarely numbering more than two have consistently worked through this enormous project. When you realise that just the tiny lantern surmounting the dome is made of 900 separate pieces of carefully crafted wood, the lengthy timescale may be understood.
The conserved model was displayed for the first time in the exhibition The cathedral that never was at the Walker Art Gallery in 2007. It is now on display in the Museum of Liverpool, as one of the key exhibits in the People's Republic gallery.
Follow the links below to read more about how the model was conserved and see pictures of the conservation work in progress.