WORK to re-hang the Great Gates of Hay Castle, believed to be the oldest working defensive gates in the UK, will be completed this week.

The castle’s Great Gates were removed in 2018 and have been restored under the supervision of John Nethercott at his workshop in Presteigne. Once reinstated, they will be the oldest working defensive gates in the UK. The two gates are both remarkable in having had no previous repairs to the timber and it is possible that the medieval East Gate has never previously been taken down.

The gates are hugely significant historically, one dating back to around 1640 and the other from the 14th century. They have remained in place since they were originally built.

The process of removal involved padding and wrapping the gates in a protective layer, before lifting each one slowly from its hinges using a small crane. They were then strapped onto a truck and transported to the workshops of John Nethercott & Co in Discoed, near Presteigne, where they spent 18 months undergoing painstaking restoration work.

John and his team are renowned for their work with ancient wooden pieces and are held in high esteem nationally for their expertise and experience. They have worked on the great oak doors at Chester Cathedral, the Royal Apartments in Edinburgh as well as panelled rooms, churches, doors and furniture across Britain and Europe.

The bottom of the East Gate had rotted away almost entirely up to a ragged line just above a redundant lower hinge, and the introduction of new oak here was a particularly demanding part of the restoration.

The team retained every inch of sound oak to which new oak extensions could be successfully jointed. As a result, the extensions to the 2.5-inch thick vertical planks are very complex in shape. Cut from air-dried oak boards with compatible grain, these were sourced from neighbouring Whitney Sawmills. Once perfectly fitted they were further secured with stainless steel threaded rods which penetrated along the grain by about 16” into the historic fabric and were then anchored within it by epoxy resin. Several of these rods are over 30” in length overall. They are tightened by concealed recessed nuts within the new oak.

After close examination of the original wrought iron nails, blacksmith Pete Crownshaw was able to make more than 150 good copies, re-using medieval charcoal-smelted wrought-iron that had formerly been used at Tewkesbury Abbey. All four of the main strap hinges needed careful attention and the lower East Gate hinge was beyond repair and has been replaced. As with the nails, Peter reused ancient charcoal-smelted iron to great effect.

The gates are completely free of any historic graffiti or wilful damage. They are, however, peppered with lead shot, especially on both sides of the West Gate; the outer face of the East Gate has nine dents caused by musket balls. The trajectory of fire can be seen and lead still remains in one hollow.

Once reinstated, the gates will remain in the open position, thus opening the entrance up and welcoming visitors into Hay Castle via the steps from the town’s market square. This thoroughfare will be accessible once the rest of the restoration work to the castle is complete later this year.

The work will continue for several weeks, under the supervision of Cadw, the Welsh Government's historic environment service working for an accessible and well-protected historic environment for Wales.

Hay Castle is operated by Hay Castle Trust Ltd, which was formed in 2011 to purchase Hay Castle and bring it back to life as a major centre for culture, arts and education.