Over the coming week, to mark the Feast of Consecration, members of our community will be sharing their favourite part of the cathedral as a special thanksgiving for our building. Today Eastern Cloisters Project Activity Officer, Sarah Hollingdale, shares her favourite space. The Eastern Cloisters Project is supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund 

The Cloisters of Hereford Cathedral are a hidden gem. They’re tucked away behind the cathedral, and that’s part of their charm; as a child I loved The Secret Garden, and now it feels as though I’m working in it. The entrance to the Cloisters is quite modest, as if you’re just walking along the path to another corner of the cathedral, but then all of a sudden the walkway opens up on to a garden in the middle of a beautiful cloistered space. One of my favourite parts of my job is bringing people in to the Cloisters for the first time and seeing the look of genuine awe on their face, and because the focus of the Eastern Cloisters Project is making the Cloisters more accessible, there are a lot of those wonderful first-view moments! It’s like we’re getting a sneak peek in to a magical little haven, hidden from the real world.

That sense of it being a haven is one of the reasons that it’s my favourite place; no matter what’s happening in the main cathedral building, the Cloisters are always peaceful. Equally, no matter how stressful your day is, the Cloisters are always calm. I moved to Hereford to take on caring responsibilities, so I’ve often arrived at work a little frazzled – but then you walk around that corner in to the Cloisters, and it is like a different world.

In a lot of ways, it is a different world – the buildings of the Cloisters have barely changed since they were built in the 15th century. Aside from the odd extensive here and there, the men who moved in in 1475 would still recognise it as their Cloisters. There were originally 27 Vicars Choral living here; they each had their own dwelling, but shared a library and dining hall. Essentially, the Cloisters were a lot like university halls! Much like university halls, the men got up to plenty of mischief, and I love telling visitors stories about the scandals over the years. Visitors are usually surprised – they see the peaceful space, and picture vicars living in silent contemplation... That certainly wasn’t the case! The Cloisters were peaceful, yes, but they weren’t boring.

These stories are the other reason that the Cloisters are my favourite space – although I’ve only been in Hereford for a few years, I feel very at home in the Cloisters, because I feel like I already know all of the residents! I often confuse my colleagues by referring to Vicars Choral of yesteryear in the present tense. I could tell you Rev Alfred Robinson’s whole life story (and often do!) I see the layers of wallpaper being revealed as the Choir House is renovated and think ‘The Duncombes must have picked that wallpaper!’ Thanks to the work of the Research Volunteers and Research Intern (and my own bits of research along the way), we now know so much about the men that lived here that they do feel like neighbours! Today, the Cloisters are still home to our Dean and several other members of staff, and the sense of community is extended to those of us who don’t live here too.

I will admit, however, that the more I feel at home in the Cloisters, the more I take it for granted. A few months ago I had a visitor from a local charity and I took them up to my office for a meeting. About ten minutes in to the meeting, the visitor paused and said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m just really distracted by this room that we’re in, it’s amazing! Can you tell me about it?’ I then told her why the Cloisters were built, and explained that my office was originally a dwelling for one of the Vicars Choral. I’m so used to working there that sometimes I forget how amazing it is! Being away from the Cloisters during lockdown has been sad, but when we are able to return it will be like visiting for the first time, and I’ll pause for that moment and just take in how beautiful the Cloisters are.

The Eastern Cloisters Project is supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund 

We would like to thank our community for their support during this time as we, like so many other organisations, face a very challenging period. We have been truly touched by the kind messages from those who have been in touch to ask how they can support us. If you would like to find out more about supporting the cathedral please click here.