A view backstage at Beverley Minster

From pages to pixels

 Neil Pickford has begun a long journey of discovery – and he’s asking himself why he bothered. 
I’ve started writing a book – to which, as Frank Muir pointed out many years ago, the correct reply is: “Neither have I.”
But it’s true in my case. I’ve begun work on what I’m calling: “Tanfield 2” although, strictly speaking, it should be “Tanfield 3.” Let me explain.
The original Tanfield was a limited edition book (very limited, only 5 or 6 copies), published privately by Thomas Tanfield in 1980. In this he brought together some 30 years of detailed research and scholarship on the fabric and history of Beverley Minster.
One of these rare copies was presented to the virgers at the Minster and it has been our constant guide and support every since. Whenever a visitor asked us a tricky question such as: ‘Oy you, what’s that statue of?’ or ‘how old’s that window, mister?’ we could retire to our cosy virgers’ office, thumb through the increasingly fragile tome and find the answer.
If we were in a good mood (which we always are) we’d come out again and divulge this information to our inquisitor, then possibly have a good chat with them about other parts of the building that might interest them.
It’s a nice part of the job, makes the virgers feel appreciated and, more importantly, stops us doing anything more strenuous such as polishing the brasses, trimming the candles or moving kneelers around (see previous blogs to find out how much I enjoy that particular task).
It was very rare that Tanfield was stumped and I increasingly began to think that this information was too good to keep among a select few – it’s not the da Vinci code for crying out loud but there was a real danger that this secret knowledge might be lost.
The book’s paper was deteriorating and, once it started falling apart, who would dare to consult it in future?
The answer was to make a copy and so, back in 2007, I started doing just that.
Every single one of the 120,000 words in the book, and every detailed table was painstakingly touch-typed by my own exquisite little fingers onto a Word document. Carried away by my actions I also copied all 9775 names from our war cenotaph and every inscription on our memorials and tablets.
I added a few articles from other sources and wrote one or two of my own to augment the existing material and then, after about a year, I’d finished.
The data then sat, staring blackly back at me as if to say, ‘now what?’
And that was the question – so what now?
Producing it as a printed book was out of the question – the costs would be astounding – but reproducing it in electronic form on a CD was nice and cheap. So I did that.
Actually there was a lot more to it than that. For a start there’s no point in giving detailed information about a decoration if you don’t show it but Tanfield’s reproduced illustrations were unusable.
It took time and a lot of help from other people to get enough photographs for the text, and then I had to work out how to transform my efforts into a format that would work on computers – and that was not easy.
In fact it took me three months of frustration and wasted effort before I eventually nailed that problem, then another month to go through every single page and paste the contents into a new template.
I put hyperlinks in the text and at the end of each page to help readers easily move from one section to another then, with crossed fingers, transferred everything onto a CD for the first time and pressed a button.
It didn’t work.
After 20 minutes of screaming and looking for a puppy to kick I quietened down and started to think through the problem. I won’t bore you with the details but, after another week of painstaking work doing what I should have done in the first place, I finally had an electronic updated record of a 1980 book that could be easily read by everyone with access to a computer. I poured myself a stiff drink to celebrate.
It’s gone rather well since then – we sell ‘Beverley Minster by Tanfield – a CD book’ – a snip at £9.99 at the Minster shop or via the Beverley Minster website ( and a fair number were popped into happy little Christmas stockings this year.
All profits go to the Minster and I’ve covered my start-up and material costs so, being a glutton for punishment, I’ve started on the next phase.
The electronic Tanfield only took up half a CD so I started wondering what I could fit on a proper DVD and, well, let’s just say it’s snowballed from there.
At some time in the (not too distant – ha, ha) future you will be able to buy Tanfield 2 – the definitive up-to-date visual guide to Beverley Minster with a few thousand photos, audio recordings and even video clips – all at a ridiculously low price. All I’ve got to do is do it.
After all – how hard can it be?

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