Gargoyles bulk up in bid to keep the elements at bay


A set of 150-year-old gargoyles have had their girth broadened to ward off the effects of ageing.

The waistlines of the landmark Cambridge statues have been expanded to help protect them against the impact of weathering.

In the past, parts of the flock of gryphons and beasts at Gonville and Caius College have occasionally become too skinny and fallen from their perches.

So the college has introduced the bigger-bodied replacements in the hope they will be better able to withstand the elements.

Stone-carver Michelle Brown said: "The decision was taken to make them a little bit chunkier. They've been fleshed out: there's more meat on the wings.

"The ones that have been there for over 100 years are a bit 'Weight Watchers' because they've corroded and worn away.

"The new ones are reinstating what was there originally, with a little bit more to help with strength."

She added she had grown close to the new fatter gargoyles, giving them names like Colin and Sue.

"There's a moment they come to life. For me, it's to do with when I carve the face and feet - I love carving claws and toes," she said.

The creatures originally acted as waterspouts to channel rainwater away from the walls of the college's 1870s Waterhouse building.

Standing some 40 feet above the ground, they stand guard over the college's famous Gate of Humility.

But the years have not been kind, and in the 1970s one became so spindly it crashed to the pavement, narrowly missing a Caius law fellow.

After the incident, the remaining crumbling gargoyles were removed, others were secured with internal rods, and gaps remained in the line-up until the current restoration programme began.

The last two snarling beasts have just been hoisted into place, completing a programme to replace nine missing gargoyles and repair and secure the remaining 28.

The project - run by Cambridge restoration firm Brown & Ralph - has seen the lost gargoyles restored as authentically as possible using old photographs from the College archives.

The new beasts, each different and with elements of dragons, lions and gryphons, are made of Clipsham limestone. Each weighs 550lb.

Andy Brown, director of contractors Brown & Ralph, said: "This is an important restoration programme - the Waterhouse Building is nearly 150 years old and this will ensure its integrity for another hundred.

"This is an important and interesting project because of the streetscape of overhanging gargoyles, which is unique in Cambridge.

"We decided to bulk them up to make them more robust. It doesn't affect the look of them at all from below.

"But up close the new ones are bulkier and stronger - there's about 10-15% extra volume."