Santa hats removed at Cambridge

Published: Dec 06, 2009, 10:15 IST | Agencies

Cambridge University had to pay thousands for two professional steeplejacks to remove Santa hats placed on all four spires of the world famous King's College Chapel as a prank

Cambridge University had to pay thousands for two professional steeplejacks to remove Santa hats placed on all four spires of the world famous King's College Chapel as a prank.

Santa hats were placed on all four spires of King's College Chapel as part of a student tradition      
PIC/ Geoffrey Robinson / Rex Features

It took the men two days to recover the red hats from the 150-ft high spires, after students risked their lives to scramble up there without ropes as an end-of-term joke.

It is the first time in the 563-year history of the late Gothic chapel that scholars have defied death to scale all four historic spires and the route to the top involves an amazing 80ft of vertical climbing.

But furious college authorities failed to see the funny side and arranged for Rodell Steeplejacks, based in St Albans, Herts, to retrieve the hats using a series of extra long ladders.

University bosses were keen to get the hats removed before the Chapel's renowned Christmas Eve service, which is broadcast to millions of people around the world.

It is believed the University has had to fork out several thousand pounds to employ the steeplejacks.

They used long ladders to reach the tall turrets, then a long pole to hook the hats off the spires.

"It's a lengthy process as the turrets are about 70ft high so you can't just whip up there," said Richard Sayer, of Rodell Steeplejacks.

"It has taken two men half a day to rescue each hat using specialist ladders.

"We get a lot of odd requests but we've never been asked to retrieve Santa hats before."

The college culprits remain a mystery, but it is thought to be students playing a practical joke.

It is not known how they managed to scale the tall buildings, but one suggestion is they used the famous book, The Night Climbers of Cambridge.

This was originally published in 1937 and offers a guide onto the roofs of the city's ancient buildings.

The Night Climbers are a secretive student group, whose members risk everything to scale the university
buildings after dark.

Although the sport first started 100 years ago, it is still going strong today with as many as 30 members.

Climbers use drainpipes, lightening conductors and stone flutings to get up the buildings.

"Night climbing has become a cult sport at Cambridge University and nothing will stop them doing it," said Jon Gifford, who owns Oleander Press, which has just published The Roof-Climber's Guide to Trinity, written in 1900.

"The recent publication of the original night-climbing book has brought it into the limelight again.

"It's usually a small band of students who do the sport, it's a fairly cloaked clique.

"It's all done anonymously because if you get caught you are sent down.

"It's also hideously dangerous as some of the spires are 150ft above the ground and most of the time they don't use ropes."

Mr Gifford said the book sold well to new students at the start of this term.

"Most of the youngsters today find it amazing that kids did this 100 years ago, often without shoes.

"The book does reveal some of the routes to the top of the colleges but they have changed a lot since then with more spikes added to deter people."

Last year, students fastened a Santa hat to the fire of the Gate of Humility at Gonville and Caius College.

It was removed by three fire engines because college authorities considered it a health and safety risk.

In 1958, a group of Cambridge engineering students hoisted an Austin Seven onto the roof of the Senate House at night and left it balancing there.

Students also dangled a car under the Bridge of Sighs at St John's.

One Night Climber said: "It's not dangerous if you know what you are doing.

"There have been a few broken legs over the years but no one has ever died climbing at Cambridge."

King's College Chapel, which was started in 1446 by Henry VI, is noted for its amazing acoustics and the world famous chapel choir which sings at the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve.

It took over a century to build and has the largest fan vault ceiling in the world and some of the finest medieval stained glass.

It was originally built as a place of daily worship for the College scholars, and today the choir still sing evensong during term time.

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