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Let there be light! NEW counterbalance chandelier winch system lights up Manchester Cathedral

Let there be light! NEW counterbalance chandelier winch system lights up Manchester Cathedral


Two leading British manufacturers have united to complete a historical lighting project at Manchester Cathedral. Lighting manufacturer Great British Lighting and lighting winch specialists Penny Hydraulics Ltd partnered to install two bespoke candelabras and an accompanying counterbalance system which enables the luminaires to be lifted and lowered quickly and simply for regular maintenance. The chandelier counterbalance system supplied by Penny Hydraulics Ltd is the first of its kind to be designed and manufactured in the UK.

Great British Lighting has been manufacturing bespoke lighting to order in the UK for over 100 years. Tracing its roots back to the beginning of the last century, the company boasts an unbroken history of design and manufacturing excellence in lighting production. The organisation’s capabilities are limitless - whether it’s design, restoration or reproduction of bespoke lighting, their skilled engineers and craftsmen utilise the latest technology combined with vast experience to manufacture bespoke lighting solutions to meet a customer’s unique specification.

Being one of the most successful lighting companies in the UK, it’s not surprising that Great British Lighting’s impressive portfolio of clients includes some of the most prestigious buildings throughout the UK, including; The British Museum, Hammersmith Apollo, London Palladium, Victoria Palace Theatre, and The University of London. In the religious sector alone, the company is responsible for lighting in places of worship in most major cities. The company even have Cathedral installations under their belt, including; Wakefield, Lancaster, Carlisle, Derby, Gloucester, Guildford, and Chesterfield.

With unrivalled experience in their field, it was no surprise that Great British Lighting were selected as the responsible party for a large-scale lighting project at Manchester Cathedral scheduled for completion in Autumn/Winter, 2017.

No stranger to construction and refurbishment works, the Cathedral which is famous for its fascinating and historically important woodcarvings, has benefitted from significant investment over the years. Extensive refurbishment activities have in fact been carried out to both the interior and exterior of the building. Perhaps most notably during the nineteenth century when the cathedral was given a contemporary look to its interior. From that point on, many people can be forgiven for thinking that from appearances at least, Manchester Cathedral is a relatively modern church. In truth though, there is evidence of an early Saxon church. This evidence comes from the ‘Angel Stone’, which was discovered embedded in the wall of the original South Porch of the Cathedral in the 19th century, and which has been dated to around 700 AD.

During the Manchester Blitz in 1940, a German bomb severely damaged the cathedral demolishing the medieval lady chapel and James Stanley's chantry chapel. Sadly, it took almost 20 years to complete the repairs. A bomb also partially destroyed the central organ which is made up of 4800 pipes ranging from 6 inches to 32 feet high. The organ was temporarily repaired until 2016 when a replacement organ was installed at a cost of £2.6M thanks to generous sponsorship from the Stoller Charitable Trust.

If the damage to the building caused during the war wasn’t enough, the cathedral was again damaged severely in the IRA bombing in June 1996 leading to further construction and refurbishment works. Refurbishment has most certainly been a constant theme in the life of the cathedral.

The 2017 lighting project awarded to Great British Lighting involved the refurbishment of two huge historic candelabras in the ‘quire’ area of the Cathedral in front of the organ. The candelabras were said to be over 100 years old. This work carried was carried out by the company’s skilled craftsmen. Rather unusually in this day and age, the chandeliers were not powered by electricity. Instead, the luminaires supplied light to the congregation the old-fashioned way - via a large number of wax candles which needed to be lit prior to every service and then extinguished afterwards.

Whereas modern LED bulbs can be turned on and off via the flick of a switch and last for around 25,000 hours typically only needing to be changed every 3 years or more, candles need to be manually lit, extinguished and changed for every religious service. The Cathedral therefore needed a quick and simple method of accessing the luminaires every day to enable operatives to carry out these essential tasks to provide light to the building. It was for this particular lifting element of the project that Great British Lighting enlisted the help of lighting winch specialists Penny Hydraulics Ltd.                                    

Penny Hydraulics Ltd are the leading authority in the installation and maintenance of winch and hoist systems for luminaires such as chandeliers. The company design winch systems to make almost anything that operates at a high level more accessible for cleaning and maintenance at ground level or to enhance its functionality. The company manufacture the specialist systems at their newly opened £2M production facility in Derbyshire - manual and electric winches, pulleys and associated hoist and winch components can all be supplied.

The company’s ‘cradle to grave’ philosophy ensures that a complete design package is offered, and a dedicated project manager ensures that the project runs smoothly from start to finish.

“Our qualified engineers work closely with architects and structural Engineers through the commissioning, designmanufacture, installation and maintenance stages of a project and our support follows all the way through to aftersales too,” said Penny Hydraulics Area Sales Manager, Andy Griffiths. “All of our lighting winch systems are supported by our dedicated network of nationwide service and maintenance engineers.”

With over 40 years’ experience in the design, manufacture and installation of lifting equipment, Penny Hydraulics are the chosen lighting winch system provider for the leading museums, hotels, courts, theatres, retail premises and stately and private homes across the globe. This being the case, the company has installed systems in famous locations, including; Windsor Castle, Westminster Abbey, The Royal Academy of Arts, The Royal Courts of Justice and The Victoria & Albert Museum.

At Manchester Cathedral, in order to respect the heritage of the building, it was decided to not introduce a modern lighting winch system, but instead to introduce a more traditional lifting system based on counterbalance to supersede the current and basic access system – a series ladders. The Penny Hydraulics design team put together an entirely unique system design to safely lift and lower the antique chandeliers.

“The system works by counterbalance which means that the weight of each chandelier was used to counterbalance the other, said Andy. “The wire rope used to suspend the chandeliers ran through a series of specially designed pulley blocks that utilised a bespoke brake mechanism to prevent a build-up of inertia in the system. This adjustable dual brake mechanism prevented the chandelier from going into freefall when pulling it down for maintenance. Mechanical stops were installed to prevent the chandeliers from impacting with the floor when being lowered for maintenance.”                            

Being Grade I Listed, the Cathedral is of special interest to the public and is protected by a strict set of rules to protect the building for future generations. This added an additional layer of complexity to the project.

“It was essential that we did not tamper with any original features within the cathedral when carrying out our works, said Andy. “For example, this meant that we were not able to create any new drill holes in the ceiling when installing our components. Instead, we had to work within the constraints of the building which meant only utilising holes that were already present in the ceiling.”                                  

The system was certainly not a typical installation for Penny’s – in part due to the fact that the stunning new organ was being practiced throughout the installation, but mainly due to the bespoke nature of the system. That said, thanks to in-house capabilities unusual jobs are never off limits for the Penny Hydraulics team.

“Problem solving is something that runs deep within the business – we love a challenge,” said Andy. “We designed a bespoke mechanical handling system to install the glass roof on the British Museum and we’ve recently renovated a Victorian portcullis, so we’re not shy of taking on a complex handling project.”

Installed in November 2017, the new counterbalance chandelier lifting and lowering system is now in full operation at the cathedral. The new system provides a practical solution to the cathedral’s lifting problem whilst remaining sensitive to the history of the building. Essential in providing candlelight at height in the facility, the system is now a fundamental component in the day to day running of the Cathedral.

“Accessing the chandeliers using ladders was not safe. With ladders out of the picture for this reason, getting to the chandeliers without the new counterbalance system would be totally unfeasible - complex, time consuming and costly,” said Andy. “Scaffolding or specialist access equipment such as a mobile elevated work platform (MEWP) would be needed to reach the chandeliers every time the candles needed attention. Any work to the chandeliers would then involve an element of potentially dangerous working from height.”                   

In contrast, the new system provides a cost-effective and quick solution to accessing the luminaires on a regular basis. Saving time and money are indeed huge benefits, but it is clear that the most important benefit to the new counterbalance system is improved safety. One man sited at ground level can now easily and quickly lower the chandeliers without the need to lift their feet off the ground. By enabling this, the new system helps the responsible parties at the Cathedral comply with best practice guidelines and fulfil their duty of care to those working in the building by eliminating the requirement to work from height in order to complete their day to days tasks.


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