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Restoration work on Canterbury Cathedral 'at its peak'

By Gerry Warren

Visitors to Canterbury Cathedral are perhaps not reaching for their cameras with the same enthusiasm as usual.

Because the iconic building and Precincts currently look more like a building site than one of the most revered and holy locations in the world.

Never before has such huge scale restoration and redevelopment taken place at the site, with up to 80 contractors and craftsmen at work at any one time.

Canterbury Cathedral under going Major refurbishments.Picture: Paul Amos. (2598118)
Canterbury Cathedral under going Major refurbishments.Picture: Paul Amos. (2598118)

The west towers are covered in scaffolding, there are hoardings around the base and noisy re-paving groundworks.

But the end result will be the stunning transformation of the building and entrance with a new welcome centre, complete with viewing gallery and community space.

Already the work completed at the eastern end of the Cathedral has revealed the quality of the stonemasons' painstaking craft, which has involved 11,587 hours of carving.

Work is underway on creating the new Welcome Centre in the Precincts.Picture: Paul Amos. (2598114)
Work is underway on creating the new Welcome Centre in the Precincts.Picture: Paul Amos. (2598114)

The magnificent Great West Window, which contains extremely rare medieval glass, has also undergone a hugely complicated restoration project.

And the covers have just come off the nave roof, where 70 tonnes of leadwork has been removed, restored and replaced.

A huge repaving project is underway in the cathedral Precincts. Picture: Paul Amos. (2598113)
A huge repaving project is underway in the cathedral Precincts. Picture: Paul Amos. (2598113)

It is a project on a vast scale which Cathedral bosses admit does not currently show the historic building in its best light.

But it is vital to secure the integrity of the structure for future generations.

"Without this work, we would have a very leaky building that would deteriorate even further and could have forced us to close the Cathedral," said head of conservation Heather Newton.

"But hopefully, visitors are starting to see the transformation from the work we have completed at the east end."

The east end of Canterbury Cathedral looks magnificent after its restoration.Picture: Paul Amos. (2598010)
The east end of Canterbury Cathedral looks magnificent after its restoration.Picture: Paul Amos. (2598010)

That work is called The Canterbury Journey and is a five-year project started in 2016, not only to restore and protect one of the country's most important buildings but to enhance the visitor experience.

It is costing almost £25 milliocomprised of a £13.8 million Heritage Lottery grant, £10.9 million raised by the Canterbury Cathedral Trust and £250,000 from the Friends of the Cathedral.

Mrs Newton said: "We are now at the peak of the project so there is an awful lot going on.

"But we have actually found that many visitors are fascinated by the work and want to know all about it and love to see that the building is being cared for.

"It is a really exciting time and the contractors working for us, many of whom are local, are passionate about it too."

And yet the throught the upheaval, the Cathedral is managing to maintain its 2,000 services and events held every year.

One of the elements to improve visitors' experience will be a new welcome centre built on the site of the old centre and the former Starbucks cafe which backed onto the Precincts.

It will house a ticket office, shop, community space and a decked viewing gallery and is expected to open early next year.

But Cathedral bosses say visitors will still enter into the Precincts through the iconic 16th century Christ Church Gate.

Head of cathedral conservation Heather Newton. Picture: Paul Amos. (2598006)
Head of cathedral conservation Heather Newton. Picture: Paul Amos. (2598006)

"We wanted to retain the same entrance because it really is the big reveal," said Mrs Newton.

That gateway itself will be the subject of a specialist restoration project starting in the autumn of 2019, which Mrs Newton says will give it even more 'wow' factor, although it will not be completed until 2021, alongside most of the other works.

The project also involves the creation of new spaces in the Cathedral to display its historic collections, including those of the Black Prince.

The existing Cathedral shop in Burgate will close and be re-let to a new tenant or tenants.

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