Great golden ship returns to Portsmouth Anglican Cathedral - as conservation experts reveal tower was ‘close to collapse’ before work

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SHINING in the sun an impressive golden ship has returned to pride of place atop a historic city cathedral.

The Golden Barque was this morning installed on top of the tower at Portsmouth Anglican Cathedral, in Old Portsmouth, marking a major milestone in the church’s restoration project.

Workers delicately eased the ship, gilt in 23.5 carat gold leaf, on to a 2m bronze and steel spike rising from the 17th century tower.

Now in place, the scaffolding that has for months covered the cathedral will slowly come down – revealing the major restoration effort in about four weeks.

And people who worked on the project say the tower had come close to collapse after timbers had rotted.

Site manager David Collier said the work had been complicated after discovering restoration on the bell tower 100 years ago needed improving.

He said: ‘The structures to support the bell frame over the 100 years had failed. It was at the point of collapse.’

Some ancient timbers had rotted inside steel or concrete casings.

Canon Nick Ralph was on top of the tower to watch the hotly-anticipated moment as the ship, which acts as a weather vane, was installed.

He said: ‘It’s great that we’ve now got the ship, the Golden Barque, back in place.

‘That now marks the great finishing of this huge project after a year’s work sorting out the roof.

‘This has been re-gilded and ready now to indicate the direction of the wind for everyone all around.’

The Golden Barque was installed in 1969 after the 1710 original was badly damaged in 1954.

It was taken down last autumn and returned in December, where it has been on display in the nave.

The ship has been lovingly restored by conservator Emma Norris, who spent weeks gilding the orb, directional points and the impressive barque itself.

She said: ‘I allowed a couple of weeks and I certainly took longer than that.

‘I would be working quite often in the small hours in the morning.

‘I live in the south west but I have family not far and it’s lovely to have this nearby.

‘I can’t wait to get a ferry from Portsmouth to France and take a glance back at it.’