Elephants (Part 33)

Martin & Mandy

You know the old joke which goes; 'How do you get 4 elephants into a mini?' To which the obvious answer, as any school boy knows, is; 'Two in the front and two in the back!' Well slightly more complicated is how you do get 3 ton of staircase into a church nave and the answer to this one is; with a great deal of trouble, and through the roof with a rather large crane.

Ages ago we were looking round for a staircase company to build the stairs to get you from the floor of the Nave to the bedrooms up in the roof space, and we visited all sorts of people around quite a bit of the country. We'd set ourselves a reasonably difficult target, in that we wanted something that just hung in space, and basically had no visible supports holding it up. We also wanted something that was wood (to match in with the building) and glass, so that it did not get in the way of sight across the Nave. Anyway to cut a long story short we ended up using a steel fabrication company in Little Hadem just down the road and a structural design company in the same industrial site. This got us a wild design and presented the problem of how to get the whole thing inside the nave - to which the answer is build it in two pieces and go hire a crane. Published VersionSo a few weeks ago an area next to the Chancel was covered in crushed concrete so we could park a crane on it, and we then hired a 40 ton Liebheer crane just like the one in the picture but without the French writing down the side.

After an hour or so of manoevering we managed to get this huge crane down the Causeway and up the avenue of limes without knocking into any of them. A bit more jiggery pokery with the 4 wheel steering and the crane's parked next to the church. Now as it happens we also need to lift the floor of the upper level into place so there are a few bits and pieces that need to be shifted around, and most of them have been laid out in the church yard the day before - they all weigh loads so I figure they are reasonably safe against theft - and they were still there in the morning, so I was right on that count.

With quite a bit of mucking around the crane driver and the banksman managed to get the main part of the stairs lifted out of the graveyard and into the Nave past all the scaffold and prep work that the builders have been doing for the past few weeks. The bits of the stairs only just fit through the hole that Vince and his scaffolders have left and at one point six people are pushing and shoving against this 2 ton piece of stairs that's hanging in the air, but, as planned, in it goes. Once the main part of the stairs are in they try the same trick with the curved part that joins onto it. The photo here shows the upper part next to the tower, so you can see the kind of size we are dealing with.

Published VersionThe rest of the steel work consists of a grid of steels that make up the new floor in the roof space of the Nave, if we are cunning about it we can still maintain the space in the Nave and get a sensible number of rooms upstairs. They all sit on the walls of the Nave on pad stones that have been cut into those walls. A pad stone is basically a lump of concrete with some steel in it and then there are 4 chemical bolts that hold the steel to the pad stones. Chemical bolts are just that, you drill a hole in the pad stone and squeeze some gloopy chemicals down the hole from a cunning applicator that mixes the two part gloop together as you squeeze, then you jam the threaded bar down the hole and wait half an hour and it sets rock hard, next you tighten the nut down with a washer in the way and there's no way it's going to move, ever, not even a little bit!

In the original spec from English Heritage it suggested that we needed a frame work inside the Nave rather than rest anything on the walls but after working out just how much weight we needed and looking closely at the condition of the walls and, more to the point, the foundations, everybody concluded that using the walls would do the trick. This also means that we can hide all the sins of modern man connected with building so from the Nave of the floor looking up none of the steelwork will be visible.Published Version

So for the time being the two parts of the main staircase are sitting on the floor of the Nave waiting for the rest of the structure above to be completed, once this is finished then the steel company plan to winch the stairs into place on chain block and tackle which I suspect is going to be an interesting day, but they are supremely confident that this will be very easy and who am I to argue.

The building has come on in leaps and bounds the past few months and it's really great to see these fundamental parts of the plan coming together, while steel is being hoisted around the place we still have stonemasons chipping away and the plaster people have just finished stripping off the concrete from the tower staircase ready for a coat of lime plaster. The whole building feels like it's progressing and having new life breathed into it and it's smiling back at us through the late summer sunshine.