St Edmundsbury Cathedral Magnificent Vaulted Ceiling Completed

St Edmundsbury Cathedral and Cambridge-based Freeland Rees Roberts Architects have announced that a ceremony at St Edmundsbury Cathedral took place this week 150ft above the ground to mark the completion of the magnificent wooden, gilded fan-vaulted ceiling in the Millennium Tower of the Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. The new vaulted ceiling will be accessible to the public from mid March.

The Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, the Rt Rev Nigel Stock, stood on a temporary platform at the top of the Tower and blessed the ceiling and the completion of the town’s Millennium Project. The ceiling was the final stage of 2 the Cathedral’s building project which included the completion of the Tower in 2005.

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

The fan-vaulted ceiling, made of oak, gilded and painted in blue, green and red, weighs about 6 tonnes and was 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 climbed up onto scaffolding to fix moulded frames and panels into the rib structure to make the finishing touches.

After its installation, the vaulted ceiling provided the opportunity to mount the 42 heraldic coats of arms of the Dioceses of the Church of England, one of which is blank as the Diocese of Sodor and Man has no arms. These are positioned on stone bases which are situated just above the arches of the Tower.

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.

The acting Dean of St Edmundsbury, Michael Hampel, commented: “We have waited several years for this very exciting news. Local people have been 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. “

Michael Hampel continued: “The appointment of our 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 became architects for the contract that saw the final part of the jigsaw put into place when the fan-vaulted ceiling was 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 was a unique and complex challenge. A
laser cloud survey was used to survey the inside of the tower. It would have taken years to detail this joinery by hand and a sophisticated computer programme was used to model the vault. Taylor Made Joinery sent this information to their cutting machines to form the double curved moulded ribs, frames and panels of the ceiling.”

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

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 architect to completion of the millennium project at St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Temple Bar’s historic buildings architect and is architect to the fabric of King’s College Chapel and Guildford and Norwich Cathedrals.  Henry Freeland 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
Design Architects: Gothic Design Practice
Project 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

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