THE dust may be a little on the thick side – no duster has swept its surfaces since the 19th century when Queen Victoria was on the throne – but now Winchester Cathedral is set to carry out the first clean of the landmark’s Great Screen for around 120 years.

Thanks to funding from the Friends of Winchester Cathedral, the project will see conservationists carefully spruce up the stonework which is more than 540 years old.

It follow a programme of urgent repairs to the Cathedral’s presbytery which has been carried out over the last three years, including re-leading the roof, restoring the windows, and conserving the vault.

Already under way, the operation will see McNeilage Conservation clean the Great Screen with soft brushes and a vacuum cleaner. During the cleaning process, loose dirt and dust will be removed from the stonework which currently gives a “negative” appearance, with dark areas lighter than those that should be pale.

According to Cathedral records, this will be the first time that the Great Screen has been cleaned since the 1890s.

Built between 1450 and 1476, the Great Screen is one of the most iconic features of Winchester Cathedral. The original stone statues on the screen were destroyed in 1550, following Edward VI’s decree that all religious statuary should be destroyed.

However, the bodies of the statues were used to provide stone for new walls in the Cathedral Close, while the heads were buried in infill behind the screen, and were only rediscovered in 1820.

The Great Screen’s current appearance dates from the late 19th-century, when the screen was restored in 1891, with the exception of the central figure of Christ Crucified, which was added in 1897.

A cathedral spokesman said: “The cleaning of the Great Screen is the one of the first landmark moments for the Cathedral in 2018, a year which will see Winchester Cathedral transformed by a number of developments funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

“The newly restored presbytery vault and windows will be revealed in April/ May.”