Wearside Echoes: Architect who preserved Durham Cathedral for the future is remembered

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A WEARSIDE architect who devoted his life to preserving Durham Cathedral for the future has died at the age of 82.

Ian Curry spent more than 20 years as consultant architect at the cathedral – regarded as one of the finest Norman buildings in Europe – before stepping down due to ill health.

“As a boy he fell in love with Durham Cathedral, so his eventual job there must have been a boy’s dream come true,” said Douglas Smith, president of Sunderland Antiquarian Society.

Although born in Newcastle in 1930, Ian was brought up in Penshaw. His father was a butcher in Herrington, with a shop opposite the Board Inn, and his mother a primary teacher.

Educated at Durham School, he went on to study architecture at King’s College, Newcastle, before training under renowned North East architect Professor W.B. Edwards for five years.

“Ian qualified as an architect in 1950, and spent the first years of his career working on educational and university projects in an office run by Prof Edwards,” said Douglas.

“The professor had an interest in churches and historic buildings, so Ian found himself adapting what had been intended as the kitchen wing of Grade I-listed Seaton Delaval Hall.”

Ian went on to join Newcastle-based architectural company Hicks and Charlwood in his late 20s; a move which coincided with the foundation of the Diocese of Newcastle.

The firm specialised in designing new churches, as well as restoring the old – both topics very close to Ian’s heart. He was to remain for 30 years, becoming a partner in 1959.

Just one year later, in 1960, he designed the new St Chad’s Church at Herrington – replacing a crumbling and cramped wooden hut with a bright and airy place of worship.

“Ian became an expert in the care, repair and restoration of historic buildings,” said Douglas. “He was also a member of the first Quinquennial Inspection of Northern Churches.

“This was to be his life for the rest of his career. He became the surveyor for the diocese, as well as a member of the Ecclesiastical Architects and Surveyors Association.”

Other roles embraced by Ian included membership of the Cathedral Commission for England, English Heritage and the first Guide to Church Inspection and Repair of Churches.

Finally, in 1976, he landed his dream job – as consultant architect for Durham Cathedral.

“Ian was involved in re-roofing nine altars, the undercroft and treasury, as well as re-hanging the bells,” said Douglas. “He also took charge of rebuilding the church pinnacles.

“He oversaw work to extend the cathedral buildings too, as well as ploughing through minutes from the Middle Ages and onwards, to extract every mention of the cathedral fabric.

“Much of this was documented in books he wrote about the cathedral, which concentrated on the stained glass, design aspects and architects of the building through the years.”

Ian went on to serve as surveyor for York Minster in the 1990s, being granted a precinct house, as well as undertaking work at Selby Abbey and Heatherslaw Mill in Northumberland.

Only ill health finally slowed him down. In 1997, after 21 years as architect for Durham, he opted to retire after finding it more and more difficult to climb the high towers.

“Ian became increasingly incapacitated and, a year ago, was admitted to Thorncliffe House Care Home – where he died a exactly a year later on October 8,” said Douglas.

“He wrote many papers for Sunderland Antiquarian Society, of which he was a long-time member and president from 1985-87, and will be sadly missed by a great many people.”

The Very Reverend Michael Sadgrove, Dean of Durham said, “Ian made an enormous contribution to the life of the Cathedral as both architect and as a member of the congregation.

“We will miss him greatly. His legacy lives on as a result of his care and conservation of the fabric of the Cathedral.”

** A funeral service for Ian was held at Durham Cathedral on October 18.