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Introducing Hassle Free Chandelier Maintenance at Birmingham Cathedral

Introducing Hassle Free Chandelier Maintenance at Birmingham Cathedral

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Raising & Lowering Systems, a division of award winning lifting equipment manufacturer Penny Hydraulics Ltd, have completed a project at Birmingham Cathedral to mechanically lift and lower eight chandeliers within the historic building.

Birmingham Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral Church of St Philip, was built in response to the rapid growth of the town when the existing parish church of St Martins was no longer large enough to service the congregation. The parish church had a growing and affluent congregation and in 1833 a daughter church called Christchurch was opened. The architect, J A Chatwin added new choir stalls, six large columns, a new space for the organ and large windows specifically for grand stained-glass designs.

St Philip's remained a church until 1905 when the new Diocese of Birmingham was created. Rather than fund a new cathedral building, it was decided that an existing church would be used for the cathedral and seat of the Bishop. During the Second World War, the windows were removed for safe keeping. This foresight was remarkable as the cathedral suffered considerable damage caused by bombing in 1940. By 1948 however, the building had been fully restored. The improvements and alterations continued over the years. Most notably; a new alter, meeting room and song school installed in the 1980’s. More recently, exterior works including; renovation of the churchyard, stone repairs and new lighting were completed in 2015.

The appointed, traditional building company for the cathedral were Midland Conservation Ltd who are experts in the restoration, conservation and repair of traditional and historic buildings. Midland Conservation Ltd contacted Penny Hydraulics lighting winch division in 2015 to design and install a lighting winch system to lift and lower the chandeliers within the building. The systems would allow bulbs to be changed, for the chandeliers to be cleaned and for routine maintenance to be carried out with ease.

Following a site visit, four innovative electric winch systems were specified to raise and lower a total of eight chandeliers in the cathedral. The winch system design allowed one man operation at ground level anywhere in building, via a radio remote control. Penny Hydraulics supplied a complete package for the project providing specification, design, manufacture, installation and maintenance services.

The winching systems incorporate the use of Contact Suspension Units which combine innovative design with robust construction and simple, reliable operation. When the light is in its raised and operating position the Contact Suspension Unit automatically makes the electrical circuits and engages a “mechanical lock”, consequently relieving the winch, pulleys and wire rope from tension.

Unlocking the unit to lower the light for maintenance automatically breaks the electrical circuits therefore no live cables are lowered with the fitting. The system is operated by a motorised winch which is connected to the Contact Suspension Unit by a steel wire rope. Pulleys are supplied to carry the wire rope along the desired rope runs. One person can easily and quickly lower the light for cleaning and maintenance without the need for ladders or scaffolding.

The entire winch system is hidden neatly within the roof void as to not interfere with the aesthetics of the Cathedral interior. Whilst installing the system, the engineers could see charred joists that still remained from the Cathedral’s bombing.

A planned maintenance programme through Penny Hydraulics nationwide network of specialist lifting equipment engineers ensures that maintenance, repairs and refurbishment are kept up to date. The planned maintenance programme includes scheduled annual Statutory Testing giving peace of mind that current UK legislation is adhered to.

The system has now been up and running for almost a year and is proving to be an integral addition to the building, as the Cathedral's Director of Resources, Anna Pitt comments “being a busy cathedral, it was no longer practical for us to close the building in order to maintain the chandeliers. Furthermore, access equipment required to reach the chandeliers is expensive to hire and requires the movement of furniture in the building…for 8 chandeliers this was a very time consuming process. The investment of a new electric system means this process can be done in minutes ensuring minimal disruption to the services and activities we host here.”

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