History of The Friends


The Friends of Durham Cathedral were founded by Dean Alington in 1933. At a time of increasing financial demands on the Dean and Chapter, the association came into being to help with expenditure which ‘though not strictly necessary,’ in Alington’s words, ‘was in every way desirable’: put another way, they were to provide the ‘luxuries’ which Chapter could not otherwise afford. Funding would come primarily from membership subscriptions and donations (and, as time has gone on, from legacies). Among the first fruits of the Friends’ generosity in the 1930s were the restoration of the wooden screen around the Feretory, the renewal of woodwork in the Quire, the repainting of the Hatfield tomb, and the reappearance of Prior Castell’s clock.

Post-war Years

After the Second World War, the Friends’ remit was widened to include ‘any object for the benefit of the Cathedral’. Amid ongoing needs for the repair of roofs, glass and stonework, there was always a special place for the care of the riverbanks, and for financial assistance to the Cathedral Library, including help with occasional purchases of books and manuscripts which had at one time been in the Cathedral’s possession. Among much else, the Friends funded new stained-glass windows: the RAF and Cuthbert windows at the west end of the Nave, and Bede’s thirteenth centenary window in the Galilee.

Recent Projects

In more recent times the Friends have devoted themselves to supporting a series of major projects which have transformed the Cathedral. Beginning in the 1970s with the new exhibition display in the Dormitory Undercroft (and its updating in the 1990s), this has included repairs to the Galilee Chapel, the provision of new lighting and heating in the church, re-roofing the Refectory, and the long-awaited renewal of the sound amplification system. Nor have they neglected Alington’s ‘luxuries’: the magnificent Transfiguration Window in memory of Bishop Michael Ramsey, dedicated in 2010, was solely funded by the Friends; as was the purchase of Fenwick Lawson's much-loved sculpture of the Pieta in the Nine Altars Chapel.

Since 1991, when the Dean ceased to be ex officio Chairman, the Friends have been a self-governing body dedicated to supporting the Cathedral. This has included the promotion of items for sale to supplement income. An annual Christmas card is a long-standing institution, and in recent years a range of other gifts, often hand-crafted by our own members, has been developed.

PLight pouring through the Bishop Hatfield tomb

Above: the Bishop Hatfield tomb, repainted by the Friends in the 1930s (photo: Michael Sadgrove).

The Cuthbert Window

Above: detail of the St Cuthbert Window (photo: Peter Lowis).

The choir and precentor at the Friends' service 2014

Above: The choir and Precentor at the Friends’ service 2014 (photo: Peter Lowis).