Lasers and mermaids among the secrets of Canterbury Cathedral restoration

WATCH: Special report from ITV Meridian's Kit Bradshaw on the five-year restoration of a local landmark

A high-tech laser and a stone carving of a mermaid are among the intriguing secrets of a five-year project to restore one of Kent’s most treasured Tudor buildings. 

The repaired facade of Canterbury Cathedral’s Christ Church Gate has been described as “glorious”, “resplendent” and even “gaudy”.

The £1 million restoration involved replacing significant sections of stonework, painstakingly cleaning the original stone, and repainting the heraldic shields and angels. 

The distinctive gatehouse is a key landmark in the city’s Buttermarket, a cobbled square popular with tourists. 

The building serves as the main entrance to Canterbury Cathedral and is thought to date from the 1520s.

Fourteen stonemasons work full time at the cathedral and were involved in intricately carving new pieces. Credit: Canterbury Cathedral

Senior Stonemason John Crump told ITV News Meridian: “The gate had been heavily restored in the 1920s and 30s but some of those repairs had started to fail. 

“Also, the whole gate was very dirty, there was pollution, there was environmental debris from pigeons and just generally five centuries of accumulated grime. 

“So, our first job was to clean everything off the gates. Then we could ascertain exactly which repairs were needed.”

The building had been covered by scaffolding and hoardings during the project, which were finally removed this month. The team used a specialist laser ‘gun’ to slowly clean dirt off the stone facade. 

One of the stonemasons who used the equipment, Kieran Batchelor, explained: “It uses an infrared laser to superheat the bits of dark sulphate deposit that are on the building and then that just pops off from the new energy it’s absorbed.”

The technique was used on the archway above the wooden doors themselves, which Kieran says was “pretty much jet black” and “completely filthy” before the clean-up.

WATCH: The Very Reverend David Monteith, Dean Designate of Canterbury

The large scaffolding needed for the works prevented the lower portion of the building, at street level, from being cleaned. This will be completed in the new year, while a bronze 'Welcoming Christ' statue will also be returned. 

National Lottery funding contributed to the significant cost of the works, which were part of the long-running Canterbury Journey project. 

The Very Reverend David Monteith, Dean Designate of Canterbury, told ITV News Meridian: “We are very aware that we stand on the shoulders of others and we are here to pass it onto the next generation. 

“That’s why we invest so heavily in craft, in training people, and the very offering of arts is like a prayer, it’s what people can do to celebrate the life of faith in the physical world.”

Cleaning the stone revealed a small mermaid carving in the front wall of the building.

The cleaning and repair work has revealed some of the finer details, including a small mermaid figure chiselled into the ornate decorations. 

The mermaid is a favourite for stonemason Jen Jordan, who worked on the project. She described it as “just beautiful to see”.

The newly repainted frontage includes a vibrant colour scheme, which cathedral staff have said is based on “detailed archival research into heraldry and the gate’s earlier decorative schemes”.

This involved examining historic painting and gilding techniques, and comparisons with other contemporary early 16th-century heraldic paint schemes at Winchester Cathedral and St. George's Chapel, Windsor.