In 1820, work was underway to renovate the Great West Window under the architect Lewis Nockall Cottingham. A number of sculptural decorations were removed from the spandrels; the areas either side of the top of the window. Leaving the partially-weathered fragments in place would have resulted in their continued decay and jeopardise the structural integrity of the mid fifteenth-century window below. So Cottingham decided to sketch and record the locations of the Romanesque pieces as they were removed (right).
Other fragments were discovered over the course of Cottingham’s renovations to the cathedral in the 1820s. In 1825, the tomb of Bishop John de Sheppey was discovered blocked up with rubble (above). This material included several late-medieval stone fragments that are thought to originate from Sheppey’s chantry chapel (see Hope 1898, 121 for further details).
Various other elements of the west façade were restored in the later nineteenth century, many under the architect J. L. Pearson from 1888 to 1894. During underpinning of the west front in 1888/1889 three further pieces of fine sculpture were discovered – one Anglo-Saxon and two Romanesque (West, 1996, 31). The fragments from the various west façade restorations and those discovered over Sheppey’s tomb are in the fragments collection today, and several can be seen in the Fragments of History exhibition.
By 1898, William St John Hope noted ‘In the vault beneath the chapter-room are deposited a large number of carved and moulded architectural fragments, some of considerable beauty and interest, that have been found from time to time at successive “restorations”. Until quite lately these were scattered about the crypt, but have now been reduced to some kind of order by the care of Mr George Payne, F.S.A. They have yet to be sorted and labelled, before all record of them is forgotten’ (Hope 1898, 135).
Jeffrey West (1996) has provided an overview of restorations to the west façade, and an analysis of a particularly intriguing Romanesque capital, available here.