Following a grant of £1.4m from Cheshire West and Chester Council, Chester Cathedral set about an ambitious project to enable guided public tours of the cathedral tower, tower roof, bell-ringing chamber, bell-frame chamber and upper parts of the nave, via the narrow spiral tower stairs and clerestory galleries. The project, completed within budget and on programme, enables the public to gain fantastic views of the interior and exterior of the cathedral, the surrounding city and countryside. The tower, at 125 feet, is now the highest accessible point in the city.
Discrete and minimal intervention to deliver an amazing perspective.
Ramboll worked closely with architects Donald Insall Associates to ensure safety and comfort for the thousands of visitors that would make the route. Work included the transformation of the bell-ringing chamber within the Cathedral into a modern exhibition space, featuring a new simple galvanised steel spiral and timber staircase, designed to be completely removable. The bell-frame chamber was also converted into a multi-sensory visitor area, which includes a new walkway from which the old bell frame can be seen. Work to the tower spiral staircase, including repairs, handrails and new lighting enhances access to the tower roof, where a new walkway was installed 0.5m above the existing roof level to enable visitor’s views over the existing high stone parapet. The completely independent design of the new tower roof enables its removal should it ever be required.
Ramboll's conservation engineers and the architect sensitively designed new metal structures within and around the existing stonework with minimal intervention to the historic fabric. New barriers were introduced to the elevated galleries in the north transept, east clerestory, north crossing and the south end of the nave. These were designed to be concealed behind the existing stone parapets.
Before the work could begin at height, the difficult access to site had to be overcome to avoid disturbance to the cathedral’s soft grounds, archaeology and burials at shallow depths, making any form of access for cranes virtually impossible. Ramboll worked with the contractor, to ensure the scaffolding did not cause damage to the roof, opting for a tower scaffold supported by a lattice structure that spanned the roof, taking the load to the external walls.
Success all round
Chester Cathedral was delighted with the delivery and outcome of the project that was crowned winner of both a Cheshire West and Chester Civic award for Design and Conservation and a RICS award for the Best North West Tourism and Leisure Project.
Visitors also hail the new attraction as a success, with visitor reviews including:
“Cathedral at height - highlight of Chester!”
“It is very much a humbling experience climbing up the tower and seeing the cathedral from this amazing perspective”.
More about our heritage, conservation and restoration work
Ramboll’s conservation engineers have worked on some of the UK’s most prized historic assets, including the Temperate House at Kew Gardens, Iron Bridge and the Palace of Westminster. Our engineers include people who are Conservation Accredited, IHBC registered and active in recognised national and international heritage bodies such as ICOMOS and the Association for Studies in the Conservation of Historic Buildings. The team take enormous pride in the preservation, restoration and conservation work carried out. To find out more click here.