Richard III Altar Sub-Frame

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Clockwork Scenery make a weighty contribution to history using 21st century technology

In December Clockwork Scenery received a slightly unusual request from Josh McCosh of Van Heyningen and Haward Architects; to provide, working alongside stone mason James Elliott, a new high altar for Leicester cathedral as part of phase 1 of its reordering, which included moving the sanctuary and providing a resting place and tomb for the late King Richard III.

The company procured Clockwork’s details from well-known suppliers to the theatre industry Flint Hire and Supply, the brief being to design and build a stone clad altar and plinth that would need to be moveable across a two step level change between the crossing and the nave, with sections needing to be carefully transported up/down a ramp between the two, likely 3 or 4 times per year. They wanted to use a Scenery company as they were looking for that unique insight and knowledge of moving heavy and sometimes fragile set pieces.

George Orange Director of Clockwork Scenery said, “We could not resist the challenge. With specific knowledge of moving often heavy items, and an unhealthy passion for metal, Clockwork were a good fit. Working the ideas through with the engineering team at Clockwork, headed up by Frank Schurings, we had an interesting pile of sketches to work from and develop into a working set.

The team at Clockwork utilised 36 low profile triple swivel castors allowing for smooth operation and manoeuvrability whilst maintaining an excellent max load per castor for the height (the central altar section was calculated to weigh close to 750kg). Triple swivels or turtle castors as they can be known were a good solution as they spread the point load over a greater footprint

With a complex stone build up on the frames, Clockwork had to work closely with the stone mason to ensure they were both on the same page in regard to fixings and method. The stone mason was using alabaster (which he had to mine himself) bonded to a marble, with pultruded GRP framework behind that.

After some productive design meetings, multiple drawing versions, 3D printed models, and some good old fashioned sideways thinking, the team produced a working build drawing, enabling them to finally cut some metal.

Being that the framework had to be as square and true as possible they utilised CNC formers to create the main Altar ‘table’.  This was all done in house before construction started so they could get the correct alignment. The use of this technology, and the 3D printer really helped create the necessary jigs and templates to ensure James, the stone mason and Clockwork’s team were working off the same tolerances.

George Orange said, “The use of in-house 21st century technologies such as 3D  printers and CNC routers, really helped James and I to work off the same templates to the same tolerances, it’s amazing how the advance in technology has changed the processes, enabling a better result in a more efficient manner, meaning when we went to fit the steel frames to the hi-tech laminated stone make up, everything went together without a hitch.”

  • Leicester Cathederal
  • VHH

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