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Recreating lost techniques 

Conservator working on the cathedral model with traditional woodworking tools

Conservator Geoff Liggett using a scratch stock

The model of Lutyens' design for the Liverpool catholic cathedral was built by Thorp, the leading firm of architectural modelmakers. It included miniature sculptures by W King and a figure of Christ over the West entrance by Charles Jagger, famous for his war memorials. During the conservation of the model many of the now ‘lost’ techniques employed by the original modelmakers were recreated.

Specially adapted tools

A difficult problem to solve was how to produce a seemingly never-ending supply of miniature mouldings of differing designs. After testing many techniques including current industrial model making practice we reverted to an ancient hand tool; the ‘scratch stock’. This deceptively simple tool, an ‘L’ shaped wooden holder between which a shaped metal blade is clamped and guided, has a cutting action of a scraper, resulting in a polished and delicate moulding. Using miniature files the shaped steel blades were created by the conservators themselves and were later used in an adapted milling machine although the hand tool was still used for some mouldings.

The replacement columns, arches, domes and vaults are produced on the lathe from laminated blocks of lime wood. A specially adapted woodworking lathe was used fitted with mechanisms for advancing the cutting tool using screw threads. This allows accurate measured cuts to be made and has been of critical importance in making the long cylinders associated with barrel vaults. Another adaptation allows the use of a radius tool to cut the domed vaults and is an improved copy of the type photographed in use at Thorp’s.

Statues cast in tin

The exterior of the model had many miniature statues but sadly only one of these figures has survived. The restoration involved creating new figures for the interior and exterior. These are cast in 99% pure tin in rubber moulds from masters created in wax or plaster. The finished figures are painted to harmonise with the model.

Treatment of painted facades

From 1997 the work on the model was supported by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. This allowed some limited work to the painted surfaces to retouch the most worn areas of the original paint. We decided to make the entirely new sections distinctive by leaving them unpainted. Only where new wood or plaster has been added to originally painted facades have these parts been coloured to harmonise. The dark and light contrasting wood of the interior shows clearly the extent of the work at the close of the project in 1934, the lighter wood being our completion of the work seventy years later.

Further information

See an image gallery of the conservation work.