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Westgate Towers set for summer opening after being rescued by donor

By This is Kent  |  Posted: February 11, 2011

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IT'S a project of towering proportions. But history-lover Charles Lambie is determined Canterbury's Westgate Towers Museum will be open for summer.

The museum was in danger of closing after the city council put it on its hit list to save £3 million.

But Mr Lambie, chairman of the trustees of Canterbury Archaeological Trust, donated £250,000 to rescue the medieval marvel.

He already owned the city's former Victorian jail and police station next to the towers and plans to combine them into one big attraction. He is hoping work will be competed in June.

A 60-seat glass-roofed cafe with under-floor heating will cover the jail's former exercise yard.

Mr Lambie said: "The Westgate has always struggled to attract visitors. Ninety-five per cent of people who live in Canterbury say they have never been inside.

"But I am hoping visitors will notice the tower, the glass cafe and prominent main entrance and will want to go inside.

"We want people to feel the raw authenticity of the place."

The 60ft high towers are the largest surviving medieval city gateway in the UK and will remain owned by the city as an ancient monument. But the council is allowing Mr Lambie to lease the building.

The old jail is currently let to Christ Church University's music department.

Mr Lambie said: "When they move out they have promised to provide a fanfare of trumpets every Friday at 11am to capture peoples' attention. Music is a really important part of Canterbury's history."

Mr Lambie, who studied historical geography at the University of Kent and still lives in the city centre, said: "Canterbury is a wonderful little time capsule. Anyone studying 19th-century history can see the whole story right in front of them."

He declined to reveal the actual cost of the project but admitted it was approaching £1 million – significantly more than his initial £250,000 offer.

But he added: "This is Canterbury's second most iconic building after the cathedral. You can't rush working on an old stone building. You have to get it right."

During the restoration, workers found the original 1830 door to the outside yard and the turn key of the jailor, which will be on display in the museum.

Mr Lambie said: "We haven't had any reports of ghosts but there have been some terribly tragic tales with people being burned at the stake and a real Robin Hood story where a prisoner escaped by jumping onto a bale of hay."

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