After 5 years of being propped up and surrounded by ugly litter strewn fencing, repairs to the Northgate steps at one of the main entrance points to the city have begun. Following last years renovation of the Eastgate clock and repair of the walls near the Roman gardens, the walls should soon (mostly) be back to their best.
The steps had been propped since 2011 after a series of surveys found the structure was moving and further monitoring was needed. Investigation work discovered that the steps were built over a soft Roman rampart and more solid foundations were needed. This means that the steps will have to be taken a part and rebuilt , under archaeological supervision, on a new piled foundation to allow the existing propping to be removed.
New handrails and lighting will also be added to improve access to the walls, together with waterproofing to protect the wall core. To allow the work to be carried out a section of the city walls from Morgan’s Mount to the Northgate Bridge will be closed.
Wall walkers will be guided off and back onto the walls around the closed section, via stencilled degradable painted footprints.
Councillor Brian Clarke said that :
“It will be difficult to be certain about how long the works will take because of buried archaeology, which will only come to light as the steps are dismantled. However, it is expected that the work will be complete by the end of October.” The repair work may need to be suspended from time to time for consultation with archaeologists and Historic England, and to make any necessary modifications to the design of the new foundations.
The ‘North Gate’ was once the site of a complex structure consisting of towers, a gaol and dungeon. The nearby Bridge of Sighs was built to allow access from the Northgate prison to a chapel in the Bluecoat school, where condemned prisoners to receive the last rites before execution.
It was in use for 700 years and demolished in 1808. The construction of the new classical gate, designed by Thomas Harrison, began the same year. It appears that the steps were a later addition to the design and they were first mentioned in a city guidebook in 1828.
Cllr Clarke again : “Residents and businesses on Water Tower Street and King Street have been advised of these works and I’d like to thank everyone for their patience while the work is carried out.
Repairs to this part of the walls are long overdue with the scaffolding almost becoming as iconic as the walls themselves , and a running joke amongst Cestrians. The last update attached to the scaffolding reported that the steps would be repaired by “spring 2016”, so its great news that this saga is finally coming to a long awaited close. In the words of Themba the preacher: “Oh happy day!”