The present appearance of this area has much to do with two men, Thomas of Witney, Master Mason from 1316 to 1342 and George Gilbert Scott, who restored the cathedral between 1870 and 1877.
On being appointed master mason in 1316, Witney changed the plan of the presbytery by inserting a triforium gallery using columns of Corfe marble.
This innovation brought about the apparent unity of design in the walls of the Decorated Gothic presbytery and choir with eastern part of the no-longer Romanesque cathedral. He also designed the high altar and the reredos, the only surviving parts of this complex being the sedilia on the south side of the high altar and Bishop Stapeldon’s tomb on the north side.
Bishop Stapeldon, a very rich man, and Lord High Treasurer to Edward II, funded much of the furnishing of the presbytery and quire. He was assassinated by a London mob in 1326, but his body was recovered and buried in this tomb, which had been built some time earlier. Other presbytery tombs include those of Bishops Marshall (d1206), Berkeley (d1327) and Lacy (d1455).
The brilliantly carved corbels above the great columns of the presbytery are fascinating and are notable for their easily identifiable foliage and vegetation.
Witney designed the bishop’s throne in 1312. It was carved, erected and painted between 1316 and 1322, and is one of the finest surviving specimens of medieval woodwork to be found anywhere.
He also designed the pulpitum, or screen.
During Scott’s restorations of the 1870s, he cleaned and repainted the vault of this area, using the medieval paint-lines, and restored the plaster between the tierceron ribs. He replaced the choir-stalls with a set modelled on those of Winchester Cathedral. The original choir-stalls of the Gothic cathedral had been commissioned by Witney and were replaced at least four times before Scott’s were installed in 1876. The misericords, carved for the Romanesque cathedral, were retained and moved to form part of each new set of stalls.
Scott also stripped the silver paint from the bishop’s throne and completely replaced the flooring of the area – that of the presbytery being covered with specially commissioned tiles.