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Welsh slate on way to Cathedral

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Church roofing expert James Henry is hoping his Christmas wish this year will come true, with the safe arrival of more than 25,000 tonnes of slate which is currently on its way from Wales.

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The 11,000 pieces of slate, which have all been specially hand cut and hand worked, will be stockpiled in readiness for the replacement of the eastern and western side of the roof of St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral.

Mr Henry’s company was responsible for replacing the front section of the Cathedral roof about five years ago and this will complete the project.

The shipment of the slate, which comes from a quarry in Penrhyn, is due to arrive early next year.

“Welsh slate is the best in the world and this is the same slate that was used on the original roof,” Mr Henry said.

“Not only is the slate being imported but the battens are coming from Europe, the nails to fix the slate are from Belgium and the insulation and lead is from England.”

In what he described as a “massive exercise”, Mr Henry said the slate could only be cut when the quarry went into its Christmas shutdown and was able to change its machines from metric to imperial.

At this stage no date has been set to start the work on the Cathedral roof, however it is expected the project will take up to six months to complete.

Originally from Jersey in the Channel Islands, Mr Henry spent his apprenticeship working on the roofs of historic buildings, stately homes and medieval castles in Europe.

After backpacking around Australia he settled in Adelaide in 1999 and since then has restored roofs throughout the city. Some of the historic buildings he has worked on include the SA Museum, Mortlock Library, Government House, the Railway Station, Ayers House, Freemasons Hall, Old Adelaide Gaol, Marble Hill ruins, as well as St Peter’s Cathedral and other churches.

“I love working with the old buildings – it’s amazing what you can find up in the roof. Some of these roofs are 100 to 150 years old and we find old tools, old newspapers, graffiti where tradesmen have left their names, even drink bottles,” he said.

“It is hard work but it’s interesting work and I am still very passionate about it.”

Mr Henry said one of his favourite examples of his work was the recently restored lead and iron roof on the Smyth Chapel in West Terrace Cemetery.

“If people ask me to look at some of my work I usually suggest that one because it is easy to see from ground level…a lot of my other jobs are so steep and high so you really can’t see what we’ve done!”

While there are other church and cathedral roofing experts in the eastern states, Mr Henry is the person usually called on to work on heritage buildings in SA. He is delighted his technical skills will now be passed on to the next generation, with son Ky starting an apprenticeship with him next year.

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