In the heart of Old Portsmouth sits the oldest building in the city, one that goes all the way back to 1180.
Portsmouth’s Anglican Cathedral saw Admiral Lord Nelson make his way to the Battle of Trafalgar.
It was standing when the city Portsmouth was riddled with the plague and for hundreds of years sailors have used it as a marker for reaching land.
It has stood since 1180. Now in the 21st century, it’s a venue for site of concerts, art exhibitions and family workshops as well as , traditional services.
and family workshops.
To help present a keep up with its modern image, the cathedral has just had its biggest makeover in a century.
The Very Reverend David Brindley, Dean of Portsmouth, lives near the cathedral in Old Portsmouth. He says: ‘The ancient bits, and the medieval parts and the Jacobean bits that were built in 1690 were in a pretty bad way with crumbling plaster. In effect we renovated all of the decoration and we did a complete overhaul.
‘It’s taken four months since Christmas but it’s been worth it to see the changce, especially considering nothing had been done to those areas for the past 100 years.
‘The church is not state funded by any council, so it was done by money donated. It was funded particularly by a legacy and particularly by by the congregation. I think it looks fabulous.’
Glass panels have also been installed in the south entrance featuring sea scenes – boats, fish and shells. It’s the work of artist Tracy Sheppard, who has also done engravings at St Jude’s Church, Southsea
The process, which lasted from Christmas until Easter, meant that traditional cathedral services were held in the nave because of the lack of space. It was only this week that they were able to resume to full service.
Even the Dean got involved with some of the work. He explains: ‘I did a bit of golding on the roofbox. It was great fun, although I was particularly high up, which was a bit scarey.
‘I used the gold leaf “I had the opportunity to go to the very top of the scaffolding when a craftsman was there to re-gild one of the ceiling bosses for the light fittings. The gold leaf is very delicate and it takes great skill, but I was allowed to do two tiny pieces.’
The cathedral is a fully-functioning church, with regular traditional services. But it is also well-known as a performance space, hosting classical concerts, art exhibitions and workshops for children and families.
David explains: ‘We put on more concerts than anywhere else in Portsmouth and we have a lot of school visits. We have morning clubs and activities such as Scouts. There are’s also choirs for young people, singing where they sing pretty much every day.
‘We run regular mum and baby groups too, and we did special summer workshops during the holidays which brought in about 80 to 90 kids.
‘Churches are not just about services. We have a lot of concerts, more so than anywhere else in Portsmouth. We do a lot of children’s workshops and school visits. We can old people’s morning clubs and activities for younger children such as Scouts. Although people think it’s just about church, but it’s actually a vibrant hub in the community.’
Annually, the cathedral has around 100,000 visitors – 50,000 for church services, 25,000 for concerts and events and 25,000 tourists. Also providing a lot of volunteers for charity shops and other services in the city, David believes the cathedral truly is at the heart of the city.
He says: ‘It’s right in the middle of Old Portsmouth and it’s a major community asset. It’s provides a lot of volunteers for charity shops and lunches in the city, and it’s important to the community on a wider scale, not just Old Portsmouth. We also have guides that regularly show people around the church when they come to visit and explore it.
‘The cathedral is right in the heart of the community and much of what happens there is based on the history. It’s a record of Portsmouth’s history.’
Recently the cathedral concerts have included Fauré Requiem with the City of London Sinfonia and last monthin April one of resident choirs performed at Westminster Abbey to more thanover 800 people.
Portsmouth Cathedral has three choirs – the Portsmouth Cathedral Choir made up of men and boys, the Cantate which is mixed youths and the Cathedral Consort made up of older women and girls.
David Price, 42, is the organist and master of the choristers at the cathedral.
He says: ‘We promote our own choirs and host a variety of local groups. and it involves fundraising and ways to show people about what it can offer. Now the changes have been made I’ve already noticed there is a much fresher atmosphere and people are excited because it’s all looking so good.
It’s important to be involved with cathedral choirs. Last month we performed the Handel’s Messiah and that’s one of the most famous pieces of music ever written for choirs and orchestras.
‘We also host a number of local groups like the Portsmouth Festival Choir, and we’ve got a number of events going on with the Portsmouth Festivities at the end of June.’
For David, it’s important that the churches are venues that can be used by the local community.
He explains: ‘Practically all the music written for choirs or orchestras was written for the church, or it was paid for by the church in history. We want to make sure it is they are played in the kind of venue it wasthey are intended for.’
The renovation of the cathedral is a way of refreshing it for future generations, and David hopes it will help the building carry on being used the city.
He says: ‘When you brighten something up that has been hidden for years, it’s always exciting for people. There are details in the building that you couldn’t see very well before, such as the stained glass windows.
‘It’s all part of an ongoing plan for us to make sure the building is well looked after. We are going to have an interactive way of telling the stories of some of the windows too. It’s important that people see them and we want to make that more obvious and more approachable.’
David adds: ‘We are going to get better and better at telling the history of the building and how it fits into modern- day Portsmouth.’
For more information go to portsmouthcathedral.org.uk.