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St Edmundsbury Cathedral Magnificent Vaulted Ceiling for Tower is Crowning Glory

St Edmundsbury Cathedral and Cambridge-based Freeland Rees Roberts Architects have announced that on 22nd June 2009 work will start on the construction of a magnificent wooden, gilded fan-vaulted ceiling in the Millennium Tower of Suffolk’s cathedral church, St Edmundsbury Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. It had been hoped that the vault would be installed as part of the Millennium Project, which saw the completion of the Tower in 2005. When this was not possible for a number of reasons, it looked as if the vaulted ceiling would remain on the Cathedral’s wish list. Now, due to careful negotiation between the Cathedral Chapter, the design team and the contractors, Taylor Made Joinery, Hare & Humphreys and FA Valiant & Son, it has been possible to reinstate the plans.

Funding for this project has come from the Dykes Bower Trust and several generous private donors.

Once constructed, the fan-vaulted ceiling, made of oak, gilded and painted in blue, green and red, will weigh about 8 tonnes and will be hoisted in large, rib structure components 45 metres from the crossing floor (1.). When hoisted and in its final position under the tower roof, craftsmen will then climb up onto scaffolding to fix moulded frames and panels into the rib structure to make the finishing touches.

When installed, the vaulted ceiling will provide the opportunity to mount the 42 heraldic coats of arms of the Dioceses of the Church of England, one of which will be blank as the Isle of Man Diocese has no arms. These are already made but it has not been possible to place them into position onto their stone bases which are situated just above the arches of the Tower.

The scaffolding and screening inside the Tower will start to be erected on Monday 22 June. Once in place, the Cathedral will be open as usual throughout 2009 and a special sanctuary at the west end of the Nave will be arranged to enable services to continue.

The work is due for completion in March 2010.

The parish church of St James, Bury St Edmunds became St Edmundsbury Cathedral, the cathedral of the new Suffolk Diocese, in 1914 but it was only due to the extraordinary vision of its architect, Stephen Dykes Bower that, after World War II, the cathedral grew and transformed into a building worthy of its title. When Stephen Dykes Bower died in 1994 his Gothic lantern tower remained unfinished and, despite leaving a legacy of £2.5m himself, it was not until the Millennium Commission adopted the project that the tower could be completed. The scaffolding finally came down in 2005 to reveal the spectacular new landmark structure.

Canon Michael Hampel, Sub-Dean of the Cathedral commented: “We have waited several years for this very exciting news. Local people will be employed in creating something beautiful and inspiring for everyone to enjoy. The Tower is a magnet for visitors and speaks of hope and reassurance in a world of change and anxiety “

Canon Michael Hampel continued: “The appointment of our new Architect, Henry Freeland, in 2007 saw the project enter a new phase. We are delighted with the progress of the project since commissioning Freeland Rees Roberts Architects. They are now architects for the contract that will see the final part of the jigsaw put into place when the fan-vaulted ceiling is hoisted. The practice is also responsible for the other remaining phases of the Millennium Project: floors and joinery in the Chapel of The Transfiguration and flooring and doors to the East Cloisters where a project for landscaping, and possibly enclosing, the cloister garden, the ‘garth’, is now being contemplated.”

Henry Freeland, Cathedral Architect and Director of Freeland Rees Roberts Architects said: “It is an honour for our practice to help put the final touches to Stephen Dykes Bower’s dream and to be working on Britain’s newest gothic cathedral. The vaulted ceiling project is a unique and complex challenge. A laser cloud survey has been used to survey the inside of the tower. It would take years to detail this joinery by hand and a sophisticated computer programme is being used to model the vault. Taylor Made Joinery will send this information to their cutting machines to form the double curved moulded ribs, frames and panels of the ceiling.”

Mr Freeland continued: “The team is currently completing the details of the vaulted ceiling’s large, separate component rib structures. The central circle in the vault as well as each of the four surrounding ‘fans’ will each be made in two halves in the factory workshop. Most of the joinery and some of the painting and gilding will be carried out in the workshop. The oak will be very carefully and comprehensively painted to protect it from changes in moisture content. An environmental monitoring programme has been instigated and this will continue after the ceiling is in place, as research. Painting and gilding will be carried out by Hare and Humphreys, specialist historic painters and decorators. Oil gilding will be used but as this tarnishes with handling, great care will be exercised when finished parts are fixed. The remaining gilding will be finished in situ on the completed ceiling.

On 29th May 2009, a rare, surviving 14th century medieval church screen, altarpiece arrived in the Cathedral from The British Museum. with the images of four very interesting figures. These have been identified as St Edmund (holding an arrow which symbolises his martyrdom), King Edward the Confessor (holding a ring which symbolises his piety), an unidentified bishop and an archbishop, possibly St Thomas á Becket. The 700 year old altarpiece will form the focal point of the new Chapel of the Transfiguration along with a new altar, the mensa, which is a medieval slab of stone, with five inscribed crosses, mounted on a stone base designed by Henry Freeland. On 5th June, the new Chapel of the Transfiguration, along with the altar and altarpiece, were consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury

The ‘Edmund’ altarpiece is on long term loan from The National Trust. It was found at Kingston Lacy, a National Trust property in Dorset, where until recently, its significance was not fully understood as it was originally believed to be a Victorian copy. It has been on loan to The British Museum since 2000.

Canon Michael Hampel, Sub-Dean of the Cathedral, said: “This was an exciting moment when an ancient altarpiece – with our local saint on it – was ‘brought home’ to Suffolk. We are deeply indebted to the National Trust for making this possible. People knelt and prayed in front of this work of art during the Black Death, Henry VIII’s reign, the Great Fire of London and the coronation of Queen Victoria. Now it’s back in use right here in Bury St Edmunds.’

The other furnishings of the new Chapel of the Transfiguration have been designed by Freeland Rees Roberts Architects.

The Archbishop’s visit on 5 June formed part of the 2-week Cathedral Festival: celebrating a moment in time. For full details see www.stedscathedral.co.uk.

Freeland Rees Roberts Architects are responsible for the inspection and repair of well over 100 parish churches across East Anglia and the South East. Henry Freeland is Temple Bar’s historic buildings architect and is architect to the fabric of King’s College Chapel and Guildford and Norwich Cathedrals. Henry and three architects in the practice, Director Jeremy Lander and Associates, Tania Gomez Duran and Iain Frearson, are all Architects Accredited in Building Conservation (AABC).

Project Team

Client: The Chapter of St Edmundsbury Cathedral

Architects: Freeland Rees Roberts Architects, Cambridge

Cathedral Project Manager: Horry Parsons, Lakenheath, Suffolk

Contractors: FA Valiant & Son, Barrow, Suffolk

Joiners: Taylor Made Joinery, Bilderstone, Suffolk

Specialist Painters & Gilders: Hare & Humphreys, Grays Inn Road, London

Quantity Surveyor: Gleeds, Gloucester

CDM Co-ordinator: CDM Contract Services, Norwich

Structural Engineer: The Morton Partnership, Halesworth, Suffolk

Email: carri@carismacommunications.co.uk


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