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Jonathan Castleman - Doctor of Science - Group Managing Director of Norman and Underwood Ltd

Oration by Dr S J Gurman

Jonathan Castleman is the Managing Director of Norman and Underwood, a Leicester company with an international reputation in high quality roofing and glazing. It is noted for its expertise in the ancient art of lead casting and its craftsmen are employed in the restoration and recasting of the roofs of cathedrals, churches and other historic buildings throughout the United Kingdom and abroad.

The company now known as the Norman and Underwood Group Limited began in 1825, when Thomas Norman and Thomas Underwood set up as plumbers and glaziers in Leicester. Thomas Underwood’s son John (who was to be Mayor of Leicester in 1892) became a partner in the 1860s and by the 1880s the firm employed fifty men and boys: at that time it had diversified into building and brickmaking. The descendants of Thomas Underwood continued to direct and expand the business and Jonathan Castleman (the grandson of Lillian Underwood) is the seventh generation of his family to control it. The company was based in Freeschool Lane (where Thomas Norman had his house) for over 180 years. In 2005, it moved to Scudamore Road, Leicester, a massive undertaking. The Freeschool Lane site is now a part of the Highcross shopping centre. It is involved in both domestic and commercial roofing and glazing, winning many major contracts in throughout the country. They will also turn out to make emergency repairs to your broken windows.

By trade, Jonathan Castleman is a time-served plumber. He joined the company as an apprentice at the age of sixteen in 1982. After serving his apprenticeship he worked as an Advanced Plumber and Supervisor in the Roofing Department and is now widely known as a highly-skilled craftsman with great expertise in lead, copper, stainless steel and zinc roofing for major heritage projects. He is greatly interested and concerned with the work of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings and English Heritage. Jonathan Castleman joined the main Board of the company in 2002 and became Managing Director in 2006.

Roofing is hard work and Jonathan Castleman is still a fit man. At least, I hope he is a fit man for this summer, to mark 185 years of his company’s existence, he is undertaking a 185 kilometre walk in support of ProstAid and LOROS, our local hospice. This five day walk will be between five cathedrals. I do not know if he intends to inspect the lead and glasswork of these buildings when he reaches them but I suspect that, after twenty or twenty five miles walking this is possibly “A Roof Too Far” even for Jonathan Castleman!

Norman and Underwood have long been involved in heritage projects, re-roofing both of Leicester’s oldest churches, the Saxon St Nicholas and the Norman St Mary de Castro. In 1953 their great expertise resulted in their being called upon to replace the lead roof of Westminster Abbey in London and in 1966 (the year in which Jonathan Castleman was born) replaced the lead on the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. This involved the recasting and relaying of some one hundred and eleven tonnes of lead. Such work has long been a major part of Jonathan Castleman’s life. He has worked on Salisbury Cathedral, Windsor Castle, Hampton Court Palace and Lincoln Cathedral amongst many others. He has also re-roofed the Prime Minister’s official residence at Chequers. A more distant project was the work on Stanley House in the Falkland Islands in 2008. He also works on new buildings, such as the British Embassies in Moscow and Seoul. In March of this year, Norman and Underwood won contracts for restoration work on Canterbury Cathedral and Arundel Castle.

Perhaps the most prestigious contract won by Norman and Underwood in the past twenty years has been the restoration of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. This project was funded by the late King Hussein of Jordan and the contract was signed in 1992. Jonathan Castleman ran it as Project Manager, living in Jerusalem for over two years. Seven of his craftsmen were employed on the project. The work involved the roofs of the Lower Ambulatory, which were covered with one hundred and forty tonnes of lead sheet, and the re-roofing of the dome itself. The dome was re-roofed with eighteen tonnes of brass, which was required to be gold-plated. This involved a three-stage process, the brass being successively electroplated with copper, nickel and, finally, gold. The purpose of the intermediate stages was to prevent any corrosion products from the brass coming through and this lengthened the life of the roof. All the work was done on site. So, when you see an image of that most iconic of the buildings of Jerusalem, its great dome gleaming in the Near Eastern sun, remember that it is the work of Leicester craftsmen, Norman and Underwood’s craftsmen, led by Jonathan Castleman.

Jonathan Castleman has long believed in the importance of training. Norman and Underwood have trained many, if not most, of the highly-skilled lead, glass and stained glass craftsmen of the East Midlands and beyond and most of their senior management have progressed through the company from a craft background. He has written passionately about the difficulties of recruiting apprentices, which arise from common misconceptions about craft work in industry, and the need to change attitudes. Jonathan has recently joined The Prince of Wales Foundation for the Built Environment where he will encourage and support up-and coming craftsmen, giving them the opportunity to enhance their knowledge and experience of traditionaland sustainable building crafts.

Jonathan Castleman’s expertise was further recognized in 2008 when he became a Freeman of the City of London on admission to the Worshipful Company of Plumbers, a Livery Company some 600 years old. In this, as in so much else, he is following in the footsteps of his great, great grandfather, John Underwood. Today we are proud to honour a Leicester craftsman of international reputation.

Mr Chancellor, on the recommendation of the Senate and of the Council, I present Jonathan Mark Castleman that you may confer on him the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science.

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