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Bryan Sandford  'The Fires of York Minster'.


Bryan is uniquely  well qualified to speak on this topic.  He is both a graduate engineer, who was employed for many years by ICI as Safety Manager & is also a lay canon of York Minster, whose service to the Church of England has been recognised with a CBE. His interesting & informative talk was well illustrated with photographs & diagrams.


The first church built in stone on the Minster site was built around 640 but was destroyed by fire in714, no records remain of this incident. The church was rebuilt but was destroyed by fire set by  raiding Vikings in 867. After rebuilding it was damaged by fire by the Norman’s in 1069 during their ‘Harrying of the North’ campaign to suppress revolt in Northern England.    The damage was rapidly repaired by the Norman’s but the Vikings burned it again in 1075. The church that was built from 1080 was in the layout we see today & was modelled on Bayeux cathedral, although without gothic embellishments. Damage caused by another accidental fire in 1137 was rapidly repaired. From 1137 to 1155 there was a period of enlargement followed by rebuilding in the gothic style from 1220 to 1472.  In 1753 the Minster suffered its 6th fire when coals being used to heat lead for a roof repair set fire to the South Transept.


The seventh fire in 1829 was an arson attack by Jonathan Martin a non-conformist, who was declared insane at his trial to avoid him being labelled as a martyr.  This fire destroyed the organ but the Minster, although damaged, was soon repaired but an accidental fire in 1840 caused more extensive damage.    This fire started in the base of the belfry & is believed to have been ignited by a candle left by a bell ringer.  In the ensuing fire the bells fell to the ground & the nave roof was extensively damaged. Fortunately, this fire resulted in many drawings being made so that if further fires occurred the building might be exactly restored.


The 9th and latest fire occurred on the night of the 8th July 1984 & an extensive enquiry established that a lightning strike was the most likely cause of ignition. Regrettably, there was an hour delay between the lightning strike & the raising of the alarm.  Happily, the insurance paid for all repairs, which cost about £2.5 million, & the drawings made after the fire of 1840 allowed York Minster to be restored to its former glory.