Covers Come Off Restored Cardiff Castle Clock Tower

by Roz Tappenden | 27 January 2006
Colour photo of a stone built tower decorated with a row of coloured statues near the top

The 132ft clock tower was the first Burges building to be constructed at Cardiff Castle. © Cardiff Council, 2006

The restoration of Cardiff Castle clock tower entered the final phase this week (January 25).

Its 19th century statues basked in the sunlight for the first time in nearly two years as the covers were peeled off and scaffolding was removed.

Three colour photographs showing a man working on a statue, a gilded window and a gilded relief sculpture of an oak tree

Restoration in progress (top). Windows are gold leaf gilded (left). The restored Oak Tree on the north elevation is difficult to see from the ground (right). © Cardiff Council, 2006

Seven nine-foot high statues have guarded the tower since it was built, between 1869 and 1873, but over the last century attempts to repaint and decorate the figures have altered their original appearance.

Two colour photos showing the same statue of a man wearing a red tunic and carrying a shield. One of the statues is dull while the other is bright and colourful.

Mars, the Roman god of war, before and after restoration. © Cardiff Council, 2006

Historical research and scientific analysis revealed that the statues were originally decorated in gold leaf.

They were designed William Burges, the renowned Victorian architect who was also responsible for the castle’s Gothic Revival interiors, and carved by London sculptor, Thomas Nicholls.

Four photographs showing a statue before and after restoration and a clock before and after being gilded.

Jupiter and Sol after restoration and one of the clock faces before and after restoration. © Cardiff Council, 2006

The characters personify the planets – Mercury, Luna, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Venus and Sol.

Experts have studied Burges’s original designs and master craftsmen have just finished restoring the gold leaf along with the gilding on the windows and other parts of the tower in accordance with his original drawings.

Colour photo of a woman taking samples from a gilded statue

Work to decorative features begins with research and analysis. © Cardiff Council, 2006

Project manager John Edwards, said: “The clock tower will now look as it was originally intended with a gilded coronet and colourful ornate statuary and heraldry dripping in gold. There is nothing like this anywhere else in the UK.”

The four clock faces have also been gilded and repaired with the backgrounds restored to their original light blue colour, making it look as it would have done in the 1870s.

Two colour photographs of statues. One is of a woman carrying the moon and the other is of an old man carrying a scythe and stroking his beard

Luna and Saturn after the restoration. © Cardiff Council, 2006

The project suffered a brief setback recently when thieves stole two of the clock hands, damaging a third. Now the hands have been replaced and the restoration project was able to continue virtually unhindered.

Councillor Nigel Howells said: “The work undertaken on the clock tower has been of the highest quality and the end product is simply breathtaking.”

Two colour photographs of the same statue of an old man with a beard and hat before and after being restored.

Mercury, the messenger of the Roman Gods and patron of merchants, travellers, rogues and thieves, before and after restoration. © Cardiff Council, 2006

“The people of Cardiff and visitors to the city will really notice how striking the statues now are and this is yet another asset for the Welsh capital,” he added.

Two colour photographs of the same statue of a woman wearing a striped dress

Venus, Roman Goddess of love and beauty, before and after restoration. © Cardiff Council, 2006

The clock tower restoration is part of a wider conservation project being undertaken by Cardiff Council to conserve and restore the entirety of Cardiff Castle’s exterior.

The project began two years ago and is split into two phases. The last of the scaffolding is due to be removed from the tower over the next two weeks.

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