One of the monuments of high Victorian art, the choir screen – built as the focal point of Sir George Gilbert Scott’s renovation of Hereford Cathedral – is a masterpiece in the Gothic Revival style. Before its installation in the Cathedral it was a star exhibit at the 1862 International Exhibition in London where it received much praise and admiration. The Illustrated London News declared, ‘the Hereford Screen stands before us as the grandest and most triumphant achievement of modern architectural art’
Although the Screen was celebrated in the 19th century, attitudes changed in the 20th century and it was perceived to be old-fashioned and obtrusive. It finally succumbed to anti-Victorian prejudices and was removed from the Cathedral in 1967 to a national outcry and protests from John Betjeman and Nikolause Pevsner. Initially it was to be installed at the Herbert Museum and Art Gallery in Coventry, home town of Francis Skidmore and his metalworking firm, but the funding proved inadequate and the Screen was placed into storage. Finally the screen was passed on to the Victoria and Albert Museum, where it remained unnassembled in store. In the late 1990s the decision was taken to restore the screen and reassemble it in the Ironwork Gallery of the V&A.
In 1999 Plowden & Smith were awarded the contract who then appointed freelance conservators Brian Hall and Astrid Sarcher to run the project as senior conservator/restorer and project manager. The restoration of the Screen was the Museums largest ever conservation project to date, in both scale and cost. With a team of 38 conservators and at a cost of over £800,000, the screen was carefully dismantled into more than 14,000 individual parts that had to be recorded and catalogued, then cleaned, repaired where necessary, painted, reassembled and installed over a period of only 13 months to meet the deadline for the landmark exhibition, ‘Inventing Britain: The Victorian Vision’.