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Restored North Porch is Revealed

Exeter Cathedral’s stonemasons, conservators and gilders have completed their work on the building’s North Porch conservation and repair project, after nearly a year of painstaking work.

Gilder Anna Ricketts has applied the finishing touches and the scaffolding has been dismantled to reveal a glorious result. The project was made possible by support from the Associated Companies Joint Venture Charity, the Masons Company Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Exeter Cathedral.

Previously undiscovered traces of medieval polychrome were revealed during the restoration, so the project has required careful recording and analysis of the tiny coloured fragments, as well as cleaning and repairing the stone, re-gilding the porch gates and installing safety glass.

The coloured fragments suggest that the North Porch was once decorated in bright colours, in the same way that statues on the Cathedral’s main West Front entrance are known to have been.

Photo: Detail showing red medieval polychrome fragments on the stonework of the North Porch

The gates of the North Porch were installed in the 1960s. The original gates, including the emblem of the Cathedral which features crossed keys and a sword, had been covered up with different paints. These were stripped back and black paint was applied to the wrought iron, whilst the gilded areas were given a preparatory undercoat and gilding was carefully applied over the top. A painstaking but effective process.

Exeter Cathedral’s Clerk of Works, Chris Sampson, believes all the hard work has paid off, making a significant improvement to the porch’s appearance:

“There were only fragments of the medieval paint scheme on the stone, so they are not clearly visible. But the cleaned exterior greatly improves the view of the Cathedral as you approach it from the North. This beautiful entrance can once again play a more prominent role in the life of the Cathedral.”

The work recently completed was the third of three seasons of masonry conservation and associated works, following damage in 2018 when someone climbing up the front detached one of its sculptures. The North Porch, which was built in the Decorated style in the 14th century, was designed by the gifted master mason Thomas Witney for Bishop John Grandisson – the most famous of Exeter’s bishops.

In the Middle Ages it was the principal entrance into the Cathedral, but by late Victorian times had become heavily blackened by soot. The current sculptures around the entrance were added in 1920 and show the patron saints of the victorious allies of World War I, with St George at their centre.

Photo of the North Porch in late 19th/early 20th century, before current sculptures were added.