6:00pm Thursday 3rd May 2012
By Fran Bardsley
A GILDED cockerel is shining high above the streets of Oxford once more.
The return of the re-gilded weathervane, which dates to the 19th century, at the top of the spire of St Mary the Virgin Church in High Street, marks the fact that the church is now nearly halfway through a £5m restoration project.
Work on the spire’s stonework has been completed, the woodwork on the ceilings in the chancel, chapel and coffee shop have been cleaned and repainted and the tower stonework will be the next part to be tackled.
Restoration work at the University church, which is first recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086 and boasts the tallestest spire in the city, started in November.
This week, the Rev Canon Brian Mountford braved high winds to see the weathervane reinstalled.
He said: “It is a nice symbol and hopefully it will sparkle when the sun catches it across the city.
“The whole project is working from the top down so by the end of this week, people walking around Oxford will be able to see half the spire unscaffolded again because that bit is finished.”
The installation of the weathervane had to be postponed for nearly two weeks due to bad weather.
Mr Mountford said: “It had to be hauled up in a rig and in a wind, anything being hauled up like that would bang against the scaffolding and could be damaged.”
It is planned for the chancel to reopen at the end of June with the whole project due to finish by Christmas.
The improvements include a new lift, toilet and kitchen as well as substantial repair work.
Mr Mountford said: “The most difficult thing is for the parishioners because all they see is the curtained-off spaces, they don’t know what’s going on and have to wait for it all to be revealed.
“They have done all the rather boring preparatory works so not a lot has been visible so far, but we are nearly halfway through.”
The Grade 1 listed church is among the most visited in the UK, with 300,000 visitors each year.
The revamp was made possible thanks to a £3.4m Heritage Lottery grant, and will include displaying the history of the church more effectively and offering local people the chance to train as guides.
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