St Mary Redcliffe Tower Tours Feasibility Study

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St Mary Redcliffe Tower Tours Feasibility Study

Dan asked me to look into the feasibility of offering tours to

Generate a profit

Offer socially beneficial employment

The tour envisaged would follow a one way route around the hard to reach parts of the Church. This

would encompass parts both beneath our feet and those above our heads. This report is divided into

sec@ons. The first will look at the experience at St. Elsewhere. The second will review some of our

experience with tower tours at SMR to date. The third will look at our op@ons.

Reference will be made to a table of results from Bath Abbey, Wells Cathedral, Lincoln Cathedral, Ely

Cathedral and Beverley Minster. I shall also refer to the SMR instruc@ons which have been handed to

visitors before they embark on the nave roof tour. Please see separate pages (aNached).


Dan suggested Bath Abbey as a major reference. Bath is the region's top tourist venue (Bath City Council

Tourist Office). The Roman Baths aNracted 975,000 visitors (2011). The Baths, the Abbey, and the bus,

coach and rail sta@ons are all within a radius of 225 metres.

Bath Abbey is ideally configured as a tourist venue. The visitor enters free of charge through the shop

(£2.50 dona@on suggested.) He pays for the tour with a credit card and buys a plas@c @cket. The guides

direct him to the west end to deposit items best not taken alo[, where the boNom of a staircase serves

as a cloakroom. He will leave the roof tour this way. On the hour a pair of guides gathers a tour party

(14 maximum) at the north east corner of the building. These guides are in radio communica@on with

each other and the floor-level personnel. The rules and safety precau@ons of the tour are explained.

The party takes a staircase as far as a pla_orm just beneath the roof. There is ample headroom and

space for the whole party to stand at the balustrade to view the fan vault over the choir.

The spiral staircase con@nues up to the roof of the choir where the visitor can take in the view. The

parapet is lined with a chicken wire fence mounted on a wooden frame. The party walks west to a

staircase in the corner of the tower and climbs to the ringing room. One half of the party views the

clocks and the bell ropes; the guide demonstrates the chime ropes. The second guide takes the rest of

the party to the clock face. Through the glazed facets one can see the Guildhall and the south end of the

High Street down below.

A staircase climbs to the bell chamber where the visitors assemble on a pla_orm at eye level with the

bells. I was able to reach out and tap a couple of bells. The guide explains the benefactor’s inscrip@on

on one or two bells.


The next climb leads to the top of the tower. Here the visitors are free to roam the sixteen square metre

flat roof and peer over the balustrade which is lined with the safety fence, just like the roof of the rest of

the building. From this high point, in the very centre of the old city of Bath, the visitor views the

landmarks close by: the Roman Baths and Pump Room, the Guildhall, Parade Gardens and a tantalising

glimpse of the bathers at the steaming roo[op spa pool. Further afield, he can see the Georgian

terraces towards Lansdown and Widcombe. The hills surrounding the city form the backdrop.

Descending the tower by a staircase in the opposite turret, the guide leads down to the main roof. The

party walks the length of the nave and enters a turret at the south west end, whence it descends to a

gallery across the west window. At the other end of the gallery a staircase leads to ground level, past the

coat hooks where the visitors collect their coats and exit through the shop where they hand in their

plas@c @ckets.

Factors contribu

Lincoln Cathedral

Lincoln’s experience of tower tours is an instruc@ve comparison. Of the 114,000 annual foo_all, 5% take

the roof tour - a similar propor@on to Bath Abbey. The Cathedral is at the centre of historic

Lincoln.Visitor interest poten@al is high. There is an incomparable view from the towers over the city

and the Fens. The visitor has extensive access to the roof of choir and nave from a gantry which runs the

whole length of the vault. A tour party walks this gantry with full headroom. Each visitor can poke his

head through an aperture over the crossing, for a spectacular view down the nave. The Cathedral offers

a regular schedule of once or twice per day tours of roof and tower tours. The tour lasts an hour and

costs £6. The tour follows a one way path. It enters and exits the building past the recep@on desk.

Other Examples

Wells Cathedral, Ely Cathedral, Beverley Minster, Brecon Cathedral and Southwell Minster all offer tours

to high parts.

Beverley is a popular tourist des@na@on. The minster gets 60,000 visitors each year. 3% take the roof

and tower tour, which is offered once a day on a regular schedule. It costs £5 and lasts an hour.

Brecon Cathedral and Southwell Minster offer tours. The visitor applies direct to the nominated staff

member and the tour is arranged ad hoc and needs a minimum of 4 visitors before proceeding.

Bristol Cathedral gets a tourist foo_all of 150,000 per year. There is no regular schedule of tower tours,

but visitors can apply direct to Cathedral staff.

St Mary Redcliffe Roof Tours to Date

A staff of volunteers have conducted tours. These have mainly been to the roof of the nave. They have

been offered on special occasions such as Church fêtes and Doors Open Day. They have also been

offered on one Saturday each month over the summer. Doors Open Day has been especially popular:

three groups of twelve per hour at its busiest. The party assembles at the west end; laminated cards of

safety instruc@ons are handed out and the guides explain the tour. These three guides can call each

other on walkie talkie radios. One leads the party, the other follows up the stair (Stairway A) at the

south west corner of the nave. The schedule allows for five minutes to climb to the roof and five to

come back down. The ascent is interrupted by having to exit the spiral staircase to assemble on the

walkway above the west door. This lets the guide deal with the door which opens inwards to bar further

ascent. On busy days, that door has some@mes been removed. Further up, the party halts to allow each

visitor to peer through a doorway a few inches above the vault, which stretches away into the gloom of

the roof space. Climbing on, the guide leads to the turret at the South West corner of the nave roof,

where the party is allowed about ten minutes to enjoy the view. This roof has a shallow pitch. It is

surrounded by a gully and then encircled by a parapet. The gully is out of bounds because the parapet is

unsafe: leaning against the stone work could dislodge masonry which would endanger people below.

Furthermore, the parapet is pierced with tracery apertures larger than the maximum specified in the


guidelines. But the visitors are allowed to walk as far as the fire wall at the crossing and to look over the

parapet at the west end.

To a lesser extent, visits to the Belfry have been organised. The party takes the stairs (stairway B)

through a door off the walkway over the west door, up to the ringing room. The clock mechanism is well

displayed in its cabinet through a glazed window. The bell ropes hang in a circle in the middle of the

room. There is a model bell mounted on the wall, to demonstrate ringing. The handbells are in a glass

fronted cabinet.

The ascent to the bell chamber is limited to six people at once. The staircase leads to a ladder of seven

steel rungs, thence on to a landing next to the eleventh bell, which is the second largest bell. When this

bell is rung, it sweeps an arc encompassing most of this landing. There is no barrier between the floor of

the landing and the sheer drop to the roof of the ringing room. The visitor proceeds on to the gantry

above the rest of the bells (except for the extra treble bell, which is now at eye level.) A[er the eleventh

bell landing, the gantry has a balustrade and kick board all round, except for an opening on to the ladder

leading down to the bells. The opening is closed with a chain shackled to the handrail. The electric

ligh@ng is ample and all six visitors can occupy the gantry at once. The route back down follows the

same two staircases and west gallery walkway.

Very occasionally, small par@es (maximum of six) have been escorted up beyond the belfry to the base of

the spire. I will men@on this again later.

Dan’s Proposal

Dan proposes a one way tour of those hard to reach parts of the Church, both above and below floor

level. As discussed above, a one way route helps with Health and Safety (H and S) and makes the tour

more efficient. However in SMR's case, each high part is isolated from the others: to progress from one

to the next requires first a return to a lower level level. What is more, each high part has only one

stairway. The only excep@on to this is the roof of the Lady Chapel.

Thus, the nave roof has just one stairway (A) from ground level. The door to the stairway is at the west

end of the south aisle.

The belfry and tower has just one stairway (B), which does not actually reach ground level. Instead , it

ends at a doorway onto the walkway over the great west door. The route of descent then runs south

along this walkway to a door opening onto stairway (A).

The Strongroom

A doorway in the north wall of the Lady Chapel opens onto a newel stair which leads up to the Lady

Chapel roof and down to a small lobby. The threshold of this doorway is on the wall bench round the

chapel, which amounts to a 45cm step up from the floor. A massive fire door on s@ff hinges opens from

the lobby into the strongroom. This small windowless rectangular chamber of plain stone walls is mostly

lined with bookshelves. The shelves are stacked with old ledgers, minutes and accounts. A door in the

east wall of the lobby opens onto the processional way under the Lady Chapel.


The Lady Chapel Roof

The staircase in the north wall of the Lady Chapel, which leads down to the strongroom also leads up to

the roof. The space above the vault is not visible from the stairs, but there is a hatch in the low pitched

roof which lets the visitor see the vault including the capstone.

A visitor interested in visi@ng the roof of an historic Mediaeval Church might be delighted with the

experience of the Lady Chapel roof. A tourist wan@ng a view of Bristol from a high vantage point, might

likewise be pleased. But I think that a visit to the roof of the Nave will beNer meet those needs. The

strongroom beneath the Lady Chapel is of no interest to the general visitor.

The North Porch

A door in the east side of the inner north porch leads to the upper levels. It passes a passage to the wall

walk in the outer north porch. This walkway has no parapet and is out of bounds to all visitors. The

stairway climbs to a chamber called the Easter Vestry over the inner north porch. This contains a quaint

garderobe and a traceried opening giving a view across the west end of the nave. Above this level, the

visitor can climb to the ChaNerton Room. This is a spacious chamber, well lit by its mul@ aspect

windows. Further ascent leads to the roof of the North Porch. This roof has a shallow pitch up from a

transverse guNer which bisects the roof east to west.

The Tower

The tower roof forms a square, but unlike Bath Abbey and the other tower tours men@oned earlier, SMR

has a spire, which arises from the tower. The base of the spire occupies most of the roof. A narrow

walkway runs in a gully on the four sides of the roof perimeter. This gully is two feet wide; it is flanked

by the spire on the inside and a parapet with trefoil openings on the outside. At each corner a turret

blocks the way and prevents simple progress around the roof perimeter, but these turrets do have

doorways connec@ng adjacent walkways. The turrets each contain a spiral staircase, all but one of which

is blocked further down before it reaches the ringing room below. Only the one in the south east corner

allows ascent from the ringing room to the turret above, where opposite doorways open on to the

walkways. But the stair rises in a spiral as it passes these doors, so the level of each pair of doorways is

unequal and does not correspond to the walkway beyond. A short flight of steps up from the walkway

to the turret door nego@ates this disparity. The parapet is only 60cms high where the turret door opens

onto the east walkway. The parapet flanking the door to the south walkway is ample, however. Any

aNempt to walk all round the spire, following the perimeter gully, meets the same problem at each

turret. Either the door into the turret or that out to the next walkway will be flanked by a very low

parapet - at some places, only 30cms high. A grab rail has been mounted opposite the parapet of the

east gully where steps climb to the south east turret door. This is in fact a stainless steel cable which is

on the side away from the sheer drop. The east walkway is obstructed by a raised threshold to a

doorway into the spire. This again diminishes the rela@ve height of the parapet so a metal rail has been

screwed to the parapet to compensate.


These findings rule out any tour including the east gully, on H and S grounds. Proceeding all round the

base of the spire, from one side of the tower to the next, cannot be countenanced for the same reason.

This leaves the tour party taking the le[ hand door from the south east turret stair. They can step down

on to the south walkway which could accommodate six people and the lead guide. The far end of this

walkway, where the steps lead up to the south west turret door, must be out of bounds to visitors: as

before, the parapet here is way too low. The party would have to return to the ringing room in reverse

forma@on because there is no room for people to pass each other

Future Tours at SMR

H & S considera@ons make the exis@ng nave roof tour route the main contender for a roof tour. There

are reserva@ons however. The stairs above the West Gallery are badly worn. Seven of them are in

par@cular need of aNen@on. Emergency ligh@ng, in place below the West door walkway, is absent above.

This would need to be installed. The parapet around the nave roof has a tracery of interlocking trefoil

openings. These measure from 180 mm to 400 mm across. The guidelines (www.ecclesias@cal.com/

churchmaNers/churchguidance/churchhealthandsafety/index.aspx) lay down a maximum dimension for

any gap piercing the parapet to be 150 mm. Bath Abbey has addressed this maNer with the fixing of a

chicken wire fence to the parapet of all the high parts of the tour. I am told that this solu@on would not

be allowed at SMR.

Schedule and Booking

Salisbury Cathedral has a web based booking system for its roof tours. By this means an applicant can

easily see if it is fully booked (or indeed if it be under-booked - many venues have a minimum tour

compliment). A web based booking system, part of the SMR website, seems the best way forward.

SMR's previous experience and current foo_all suggests that the schedule should resume at the former

frequency: once a month on Saturdays in the summer. This @metable might be adjusted in response to

changes in demand, availability of staff, and an@cipated changes to our foo_all.

Once a month Nave roof tours could run from April to September. Open doors day and the Church fête

could occasion a day-long a schedule of tours.

Is this an opportunity for us to offer socially beneficial employment? The Department for Work and

Pensions, through Job Centre Plus, promotes eight week placements of young people on enhanced work

experience. Training these interns to be tour guides would of course make demands on SMR staff or

volunteers. Were this to be offered to young people on eight week placements, the @me spent in

training and induc@on would exceed that spent in conduc@ng the tours in earnest.

The alterna@ve is for volunteers to staff tours on the same basis as in recent years. With web-based

booking, and an increased tourist foo_all, the schedule might then expand to such an extent as to jus@fy

employing guides as per Dan's proposal.

William Barwell




Appendix 1:


Visitors /


Roof V / yr


percent Schedule T/T/V/B/O

Bath Abbey 420k 25k 6pc

8 a day

6 days a week R T V B O Clocks

Wells Cathedral 300k 1k 0.3pc Ad hoc T V O Astronomical clock

Lincoln Cathedral 114k 5.7k 5pc 2/day x6 days T V+ O Crossing*

Ely Cathedral 70k 3k 4pc Ad hoc R T O Octagon

Beverley Minster 60k 1.8K 3pc 1/day x1 day R T

*West front extensive access to vault













Appendix 2

St Mary Redcliffe


A visit to the roof is an exci@ng adventure and the view over Bristol from the church roof is excep@onal.

In order to ensure your safety all visits are supervised.

Visitors are asked to read the following advice prior to their visit:

1 Visits will only be conducted in fine weather

(not in heavy rain, wind, ice or snow!).

2 Visits are restricted to fit Adults & Children of at least 8 years. Under 16s must

be accompanied by a parent or adult carer.

3 The climb to the roof is up a narrow spiral staircase of over 100 steps. There is a

hand rope on the outside wall on lower flight and around central pillar on

upper flight. Keep to outer, wider part of steps, with one hand on rope. No

items are to be held in hands.

4 There is to be no passing on the stairs – only one party of up to 10 visitors will

be allowed at any @me. 2 guides will accompany the party – one leading and

one following the group up and down.

5 All available lights will be switched on and the top door will be opened to let in

daylight prior to the group star@ng up the stairs.

6 When on the roof do not lean on, over or through the parapet. Nothing is to

be dropped from the roof. Bags, cameras etc. must be aNached to the person

(e.g. by shoulder, wrist or neck straps).

7 All Visitors must wear suitable flat rubber soled shoes – no high heels or studs.

Visitors are not to run on the roof (or on the stairs).

Beware of joints and steps on the roof.

8 Visitors must remain close to the guides. The guides will ensure that the party

remains together and in permiNed areas.

9 The party is to descend as a group when and only when instructed by the

guides – one guide will lead the party back down.

10 Guides will carry mobile phones and will deal with any emergencies that may


The roof is not open for normal public access.

Visitors must read the above rules prior to their visit, accept that the visit is at

their own risk and follow all direc

Please Note

Smoking is prohibited anywhere in or on the church.


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