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Having been absent for seven months for extensive renovation, the historic solid oak entrance gates to the precincts of the Cathedral were returned to the iconic Christ Church gatehouse on 24th May 2012. This was never going to be a simple job but the lengthy and delicate operation went with scarcely a hitch.
The intricately carved, solid oak gates are often the first image of the Cathedral that greets visitors and pilgrims. They were created in 1660 after the original ones were destroyed by Puritans during the English Civil War. The gates have undergone minor repairs at various times. However, the years have taken their toll, and they were showing signs of deterioration; the iron fixings were rusting and the timbers had split in places; additionally, water had been trapped in the metal shoes, causing rot.
A detailed survey was undertaken using the latest technology of laser surveying, permitting the production of 3D drawings to aid carving. The gates were removed in the autumn of 2011 and Artful Logistics, a local specialist fine art removals team, designed and manufactured a special frame to support the gates, which were removed using a fork lift truck. Taken to the north side of the Cathedral, they were hung on specially constructed scaffolding frame in the shadow of the north west tower. Keeping them outside, rather than taking them to a workshop off site, helped preserve the timber because their environment did not change. As a temporary replacement, the Cathedral Works Department made softwood gates, covered with photographic images of the originals; at first glance the untrained eye would not have noticed the difference.
Work to renovate and conserve started on the coldest day of the year in December 2011 and was carried out by master craftsmen Houghton’s of York, a specialist firm which has worked for the National Trust. The work included the removal and replacement of the iron shoes with bottom rails; the attachment and finishing of carved details, including a cherub’s new foot and repairs to the swags; new iron fixings; and re-oiling of the doors to rejuvenate and protect the woodwork.
Reinstating the doors took approximately five hours on the day and many hours of preparation beforehand. The two main gates are 15 feet tall and weigh roughly a ton each; they were carried carefully through the Precincts on a fork lift truck. A video of the operation can be seen here.
Having been successfully put back to their rightful place, they will be re-assessed by Houghtons after being exposed to the elements for a year.
Originally made to look grand and impressive to welcome pilgrims to the Cathedral, the work carried out over the past seven months has restored the gates to their splendid glory.
We are delighted to have our wonderful wooden gates returned to their rightful place, and are very grateful to all the skilled carpenters, blacksmiths, and removal men who made this possible. As a first impression of the Cathedral, I hope these fine gates will give pilgrims and visitors an example of the skill and dedication of the Cathedral’s community, and be a symbol of the warm welcome which we offer
The Dean of Canterbury, the Very Revd Dr Robert Willis
Funding for the restoration has come from generous donors via the Friends of Canterbury Cathedral, who last year gave £250,000 towards these and other repairs to the Christ Church Gate.