Briercliffe firm provide staircase at St Paul’s Cathedral, London

DOME: St Paul's Catherdral (S)
DOME: St Paul's Catherdral (S)

A STAIRWAY to heaven in one of the largest cathedral domes in the world was designed and made in Burnley.

Engineering contractors called in the expertise of AIM Applications managing director Andrew Mackrell and his team when they needed a specialised helical staircase in the Golden Gallery, at St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

The Golden Gallery is the smallest of the cathedral’s galleries and runs around the highest point of the outer dome, 280ft. above the ground, and is the highest point the public is allowed.

Visitors who climb the 528 steps to get there little realise the engineering feat that has made their panoramic views of London possible.

The firm in Burnley Road, Briercliffe, had a very specific brief for the staircase.

It had to be constructed like a corkscrew, rather than a normal spiral staircase around a central pillar – and there was nowhere to fix it, as no one is allowed to drill holes into the fabric of the building.

Mr Mackrell said: “The main contractor called us in to see if we would take it on. It was quite tricky.

“We made the helical staircase here in Harle Syke. It is not elaborate by our standards, as we do far more ornate work, but it had to be functional, and there was no leeway on the dimensions.”

Mr Mackrell and his small team had to work through the night to install the staircase, as the cathedral was in use during the day. They rigged a hoist from the central dome and, 85m up, had to manoeuvre the structure up through a small hatch no bigger than the size of half a door.

Mr Mackrell said: “When the door to the hatch was open, it was just like being in a wind tunnel. We were all roped on with lanyards and slings, but it was tricky trying to look over the edge and manoeuvre pieces of steel and turn it very slowly in position, in the middle of the night. You can’t make a mistake in St Paul’s.

“As it turned out, it was a first-time fit. It was quite a difficult task, so we were really happy it was.”

The work took 12 weeks from initial design and manufacture to final installation, and the staircase is now in regular use.

Mr Mackrell added: “We’ve had other projects since then, and, it is only when you look back, you realise your work in St Paul’s dome has become part of the skyline known all around the world.”