Kent

Canterbury Cathedral gates removed for repair

  • 12 October 2011
  • From the section Kent
Carved wooden gates at Christ Church Gate
Canterbury Cathedral's wooden gates are nearly 400 years old

The huge intricately carved wooden gates which visitors to Canterbury Cathedral have to pass through to enter the cathedral precincts have been removed for conservation work.

Christ Church Gate, which was built in 1517, is the main entrance for visitors and is often the first glimpse of the 900-year-old cathedral that gets them reaching for their cameras.

Its oak gates, carved with the arms of the Kent landmark, were replaced in 1616 after the original ones were damaged, and although they have survived the test of time the elements have taken their toll.

They were removed and repaired 80 years ago, but have begun to show signs of deterioration.

John Burton, surveyor to the Fabric of Canterbury Cathedral, said: "Fixings have rusted and split the woodwork, and brass plates in the bottom of the gates have collected water, causing the timber to rot. All we can do is slow down the process."

'Rotting timber'

He said it did not look as though the gates had been repaired before 1931.

The gates, which weigh more than a ton each, were removed on Tuesday in a lengthy and delicate operation which began at 16:00 BST and went into the night.

Engineers using a fork-lift truck carefully carried the gates vertically, one by one, round to the north side of the cathedral, where they were hung on specially constructed scaffolding bearing hinge pins to replicate the gateway.

Mr Burton said the timber would be protected by keeping them outside in the same environment.

A craftsman working on one of the replacement panels for the wooden gates
The conservation work will take up to four months

He said: "The men are going to work out there, actually carving new replacement timber, cutting out the rot, carefully splicing it in.

"We hope when it's all finished that we will slow down the deterioration, you'll see the gates how they would have been seen in 1616 - with a little bit of ageing to them - and that most of the new work will have been toned in to suit the gate, so we get a general overall appearance of the architecture."

"We're keeping original material in place, but we're having to add material because some is lost at critical points where it keeps the weather out."

The conservation work is being carried out by master craftsmen Houghtons of York and is expected to take three to four months, with an official ceremony planned for early in the New Year to mark the return of the gates.

Fundraising appeal

In the meantime, they are being replaced with temporary gates of the same size bearing a full scale photographic image of the originals.

The work has been funded by The Friends of Canterbury Cathedral, which donated £250,000 last year towards the gates and other repairs to the Christ Church Gate.

In 2006, a fund-raising appeal was launched to raise £50m to pay for vital repairs to Canterbury Cathedral.

Donations to The Canterbury Gift have so far raised £14.7m, enabling the conservation of the south side of the Corona at the East End of the cathedral, the re-leading of the South Transept Roof and the modernisation of Choir House.

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