As part of a 10 million multiphase HLF development at Durham Cathedral, we were asked to make new handrails as part of the Open Treasures project which aims to create new exhibition spaces and enhanced visitor facilities by opening up previously inaccessible areas such as the monks dormitory and kitchens. The new exhibition spaces will house internationally important historical artefacts and collections.

This unique handrail design by Cathedral Architect, Chris Cotton from Purcell was rolled in steel, in our workshop specifically for this project and reflects the Cathedral’s medieval origins whilst a spiral twist to each vertical baluster evokes the decoration of the stone columns that are such a feature of the Norman cathedral.

The stanchions were twisted cold from 40mm hexagon mild steel stock after first grooving each face using an angle grinder. To do the twisting we took a drive from the end of one of the rolls of the rolling mill, while the other end was fixed down to a two ton cast iron bench. The mill has a hydraulic drive so that we were able to control the twisting operation very precisely. The stanchions were then cut to length and the cast iron ends fixed by tapping and screwing.

The trefoil handrail section proved to be challenging to bend to match the template, which had previously been bent and twisted cold on site to be an accurate fit on the stair nosings. But by hook and by crook, and a few other specially made implements, and lots of heat from the trusty propane torch, we got there in the end. The required finish was self colour, so all the components were heated to create an even oxide surface and given three coats of Danish oil.

Note: Durham Cathedral is one of the finest examples of Norman Architecture in Britain and was one of the first in the UK to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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