Since 1997, an indefatigable team of enthusiasts has been creating and maintaining an inventory of the contents of St Davids Cathedral. The result is a database of around two and a half thousand records with over 4000 photographs.
The Inventory is not in the public domain but anyone who is interested in a particular artefact should email firstname.lastname@example.org. It is likely that we will be able to send you a .pdf file of that object's record.
In the next section of this page you will find an article by the oldest member of the group, Doctor George Middleton. This article is scheduled for publication in the Diocesan Magazine <em>Pobl Dewi </em>but the published version will have to be substantially shortened so the complete version is given here for anyone interested.
If you would like to consider joining us in this interesting task, please contact me at the email address above. You do not need to have any great knowledge of History or Archeology but you will require a digital camera and a computer running Windows7 or later. The Inventory runs on Access 2003 or later, part of MS Office but we can provide the software if you do not have it.
When we buy our first house we are advised to take out insurance immediately and list all the contents. This is easy for a new house – we just keep all the receipts from Ikea, M & S and the like and we have a permanent record of all the items, what it was, what it cost and the date of purchase. Most of us have some treasured items which have been handed down in the family, generation by generation. These items vary from grandfather clocks to silver spoons – the sort of material we see on The Antiques Roadshow; some worth very little and some worth thousands of pounds. Apart from cash value these are of great sentimental value. The insurers and police would like us to have photographs of these items.
Cathedrals are a bit different especially if they are more than 800 years old, as is the case of St Davids Cathedral. Over the years there will have been deliberate damage, destruction, alterations and rebuild and it is rare to find details of this in the early days.
So it was, almost 13 years ago, The Church in Wales asked all the cathedrals to update their inventories if they had one or create one if none existed. The Dean called a meeting and volunteers were requested to sign up for the task. The volunteers attended an inaugural gathering and discussed ways and means and it was decided to work in teams of four or five and there were about six teams. A proforma (A4 size) was produced as an aid to the information required and has covered every single thing in the cathedral – the name of the item, where it was, who made it and when, sizes, materials used and measurement. Finally we were asked to draw every item with measurements this was easy for a tablet on the wall but have you ever tried to draw a pulpit? It must be said that most of us were not artists, historians, architects or photographers but we were willing to learn as we went along. We decided to have a trial run in the Lady Chapel and each team adopted a wall, the floor and the roof which conveniently used all six teams.
Somebody pointed out that the A4 forms would form a pile several feet tall and the decision was made that all records should be computerised. About the same time digital photography became more commonplace so drawings were out and photography was in! There was a time when all the existing paper and pencil reports and drawings had to be introduced to the new system but this was done and we were off again! After the trial run at the east end of the cathedral, the teams agreed to move westward adopting various areas as we went. The teams had access to the cathedral library, numerous books on special subjects such as the organ or the quire.
The further back we went the less information was available and the authors didn’t always agree! All sorts of problems surfaced as we worked away, for instance we had to record the tiles in the presbytery. At first this seemed easy but then it was discovered that not all the patterns conformed and the team ended up with over 250 photos instead of just one or two. The quire, its carvings and all the misericords were made easier being the subject of recent books. One such book even photographed sixty carved heads which the casual observer would not have noticed!
Then another problem arose – in Thomas a Becket chapel there were scores of chairs seemingly identical so it was a simple matter to describe one and then record times one hundred – but it wasn’t like that. Each chair had carvings of the initials and schools of boys at Abermad prep school and the chairs were kindly presented to the cathedral when the school closed in 1992. So all the chairs were in fact different, and we couldn’t get away by describing just one!
The big nave windows were another problem. A team volunteer agreed to describe just one window in detail and then just say times ten. Alas, detailed study soon showed that on the south side windows one, three and five had one design and windows two and four had another. Some windows had storm bars inside and some outside, one had a frame of medieval glass and another, a flap window allegedly made by the BBC to get cables in! At the end of the day only two windows seemed the same and no doubt if we had erected scaffolding their measurements would have been different! Yet another problem arose when items such as freestanding candles were moved from one team area into another as required for church festivals.
By now of course, other changes were taking place, the organ was stripped down to floor level and taken to Durham for a major restoration. There was an unexpected benefit in that we could get up into the organ loft and study the roof to the east and west, at close range. Other changes were on-going, the cloisters were completely rebuilt and a refectory and new choir practice room created and quite recently the shrine to St David was completely restored.
Most of us are creatures of habit and when attending services tend to sit in the same seat. When we have to sit elsewhere, for instance for concerts, we have a different viewpoint and sometimes note something we have never noted before. For instance the uppermost windows high up in the nave under the roof line seem the same but if you stand up on the nave altar steps, surprise surprise, the two windows near the organ are totally different in many respects and indeed are different from each other in fenestration and stained glass for a start! Just to complete matters they are part hidden by parts of the organ viewing and photographing from the organ loft wasn’t totally helpful and scaffolding, yellow hats, safety lines and the likes would have cost thousands of pounds. Still we tried!
As I write this I realise it has taken about thirteen years and about twenty people to reach this stage but the teams changed a bit as searching for information took ages. So far I have only mentioned fixed objects but we have also recorded all moveable things: vestments, embroidered kneelers, altar frontals, etc. We have now reached a point where the cathedral and bell tower are finished except for any inadvertent omissions which we have now got to locate, perhaps by checking each other’s work. So we have about 4000 photographs displayed in over 2500 separate records to check.
The complete print-out with indexes, occupies 29 ring-folders, although the electronic version fits comfortably onto a dvd. This electronic version includes a “roll-back” facility allowing the user to view the inventory as it was on a previous date, a feature which excites historians and archaeologist’s and one that will become more and more interesting as time passes.
We believe that our inventory is probably unique and it is considered with awe by all who behold it! There have of course been personal benefits in that we have learned a lot, seen a lot, met lots of people and - dare I say it – probably done a good job.
I finish with one word of Latin: circumspice - look around you.
Doctor George Middleton. Oct 2013.