…and never has that saying been more relevant than it is now. January saw the temporary closure of the Archives to the public for the next seven months as essential roof repairs are carried out and it also marks the end of an era as it coincided with Kent County Council’s decision of last year to end the long-standing partnership arrangement. On the upside, restoration work on the Corona has just finished after four years which is cause for celebration. As you would expect in such an ancient building, conservation and restoration are very much ongoing themes; come with us on a tour of current projects.
The work on the Archives roof has been planned for some time and in many ways the temporary closure was a fitting way to mark the occasion of the ending of the 20 year partnership with Kent County Council as it decided to move the records for which it is responsible to the new Kent History & Library Centre in Maidstone. All staff working in the Archives were employed by KCC and have either accepted redundancy, applied for new posts or been transferred to the new centre. It is a time of upheaval and change and our colleagues in the Archives will be greatly missed but we wish them all the very best in their new surroundings. Cathedral and City Archivist Cressida Williams remains with us and will act as Project Manager throughout the period of re-roofing which will give a sense of continuity when the Archives re-open to the public in the Autumn.
The Cathedral’s archive dates back to the late 8th century but we also own some 30 charters dating from before the Norman Conquest. These, the Cathedral’s earliest possessions, are older than any of the Cathedral buildings.
Shown here is a charter of King Ethelred the Unready dating from the 990s relating to Bocking in Essex and written in Anglo-Saxon. It is witnessed by Alphege when he was Bishop of Winchester and his name is written four lines up from the bottom as ‘Aelfheh’. This type of document is known as a ‘chirograph’, written in this case in triplicate, with the word ‘CYROGRAPHUM’ written between the three sections, and the document then cut in three through the word. The 1,000th anniversary of Alphege’s murder in Greenwich is commemorated in April of this year.
Needless to say all documents will be safely and securely stored while work on the roof takes place.
Work continues on the conservation and repair to the Christ Church Gates with master craftsmen Houghton’s of York beautifully recreating the oak panels that were severely damaged. The Wicket Gate is being worked on in the workshop in York but made a return trip to Canterbury in February for Surveyor of the Fabric at Canterbury Cathedral, John Burton, to monitor the progress. The main gates are being worked on in situ on the exterior wall at the north side of the Cathedral and all is going according to plan. We will let you know when the date for rehanging the gates is announced, in the meantime our previous article has been updated with some images of the progress.
Life in the Cathedral Press Office is never dull and always full of surprises, not least when we are asked to take photos of some of the projects. At the end of January I found myself suitably suited and booted (for that read high vis jacket, hard hat and sensible shoes…) for a trip up the scaffolding staircase to have a look at the spirelet on which work had just commenced. I followed the Senior Stonemason up – a long way up and stopped to draw breath when we reached the top platform. I thought we were there but no, four sets of ladders later (yes, four) we had finally reached our destination and what a sight to behold. The Norman Tower on the SE Transept had been stripped back to its timber battens and raised eight inches off the ground.
Historic timber frame reconstruction specialists McCurdy & Co have been commissioned to carry out essential repairs and insert a new base to support the tower. Two of the oak timbers have been age tested and date to around 1100 which is interesting in itself as the tower wasn’t constructed until later so we could have evidence of early recycling! These timbers are some of the oldest in the Cathedral as this part has never been damaged by fire but not surprisingly, time and the elements have now taken their toll.
The specialists work hand-in-glove with our Stonemasons to ensure that the new timber base sits snugly and securely in the surrounding stonework. A plywood board is inserted while the tower is raised so an accurate template can be created and the new base produced in the workshop in Reading will be an exact fit. Much can be learned from the old timbers; construction methods, dates etc, and an Archaeologist, is on hand to record the findings. The extreme cold weather has temporarily put a halt to the external work but it will resume immediately the temperature rises.
It is a special moment when a large conservation project is finally completed and can be deemed necessary to have its own ceremony to mark the occasion – and we have just had such an occasion! A ‘topping out’ ceremony was held on the Corona on Thursday, 16th February in celebration of the completion of the work on ‘Becket’s Crown’ – the pinnacles at the top of the tower – which was started in 2006. A total of eighty people gathered to take part in the celebration. This included stonemasons, archaeologists, scaffolders, electricians, roofers, architects and donors who provided funding for the work.
Forty people gathered at the top of the Corona tower to see The Very Revd Robert Willis, Dean of Canterbury say a few words then open a bottle of Canterbury Cathedral beer and ceremonially pour it over the new masonry amid cheers and whistles. Afterwards, everyone made their way to the Lodge for refreshments and a chance to discuss not only the day’s event but the previous six years’ toil.
It was initially thought that work on the Corona would be one of cleaning and conservation but further investigation revealed the true extent of the deterioration and the project became one of restoration. As it was such a big project, the work was divided into two halves; North and South. Weather fronts and the prevailing wind generally hit the south side of the cathedral so it was deemed necessary to start on the south side first and immediately after, the work on the north side started. The rest of the work to the north elevation will be completed by the end of this summer.
Once the remaining scaffolding is taken down, the splendour of the Corona with the new Caen stone blending seamlessly with the old will be seen in its entirety.