A little divine inspiration
Dating to the 13th century, St Mary’s Witnesham appointed Stowmarket Glass to install new frameless glazing between the original stone arches of the church.
Grade One Listing gives a certain edge to any building refurbishment project, even more so when it’s a church within yards of your parents’ home and the one you got married in.
This, however, didn’t affect Stowmarket Glass’s Luke Browes, who by his own admission jumped at the chance of installing glass partitioning to St Mary’s Church Witnesham, Suffolk, with religious zeal.
“We were approached completely independently of any family connections or ties to St Mary’s by the main contractor and architect, who couldn’t find anyone to do the work,” Luke said.
“It was pure coincidence that it was the church that we got married in and it was just down the road from where I grew up.
“Regardless of the personal connection, it was such an exciting project, which we jumped at the opportunity to be a part of.”
Working throughout East Anglia, London and the south east, Stowmarket Glass was set up in the mid-1980s, developing specialism in high-end residential and commercial architectural glass installations.
Having stood on the same site since 1208 with additions made in the 14th and 16th century, St Marys has been undergoing a series of renovations to create new and more flexible spaces within the church.
The brief to Stowmarket Glass was to install a frameless glass partition, separating one of the aisles from the nave to create a new community space. This was to be used as a meeting room, chapel and crèche and installed with lighting, audio visual equipment and improved heating.
“As a Grade One listed building, a key element of the brief was not to interrupt the sightlines of the spaces within the church and, as far as possible, without impacting on the original architecture,” Luke said. “This meant that the architect had specified that the partitioning shouldn’t use a framework.
“The proposal was to set the partitioning between four 6m-high arches. Given that each of these was a slightly different dimension, created a series of distinct challenges, both in planning and manufacture.”
In order to overcome the challenge of matching the shape of four distinct arches, Stowmarket Glass completed a ‘dry-run’, templating each arch in MDF. Once signed-off, the outline was then transferred to low iron 12mm toughened glass and cut out.
“You’re dealing with not only irregular shapes but the undulations in the stonework, so it was a very challenging job and something that could only really be cut out by hand,” Luke said.
“This also meant that the arches couldn’t be machined polished. To get around this we used a hand-held polisher from Bohle, which gave us the flexibility to follow the very detailed outlines.”
Installation also presented its own set of challenges. This included protection of the original fabric of the building to working at height.
“We used scaffolding and a Bohle suction-lifters and the LiftMaster B1 to help position the glass, taking care all of the time not to damage it or the building itself,” Luke said. “Working at up to 6m high was challenging.”
This included use of Bohel’s Veribor pump-action Seaming Tool to accurately align, join, and set a defined gap between the individual panels making up the ecclesiastical installation.
With a maximum horizontal clamping force of up to 1,200N, the system combines a high level of safety, with the capacity to join heavy sheet materials with millimetre accuracy, eliminating any requirement to turn your eyes upwards for help.
These same defining principles have been applied by Bohle to the development of the LiftMaster B1 manual lifting device. With a compact design and handling weights of up to 180kg, the LiftMaster B1 has been developed to combine the safe and secure movement of glass units, with maximum flexibility.
Designed to be used with or without an electric pump, it is versatile while a dual circuit vacuum system, reserve tanks, vacuum display and secondary vacuum indicator, ensure that it guarantees the highest levels of safety.
The partitioning itself was assembled using Bohle Patch Fittings, connecting each 12mm sheet at each corner, combined with dry glazing jointing strips.
“If we’d been wet glazing it using silicone, it would have been far more complex and far messier,” Luke said. “You just lay the glazing strips along the edge of the glass to create the joint and fix with the patch fittings at the corner. It’s mega clean.
“This also helped us in meeting one of the key elements of the brief. With the low iron glass, this was to create an ultra-clear installation, which would allow visitors to look up from the ground at the arches and architecture above without interruption.”
The installation also used the Self-closing Corner Fitting from Bohle, to provide access between the newly created room and the nave.
This replacesd the conventional floor springs used in traditional internal swing-door self-closing systems with a cutting-edge hydraulic option. It also simplifies installation as it doesn’t need to be recessed and can be fitted in as little as 45 minutes, using just four screws to achieve a fixing to the floor, as part of a simple two-stage process.
This delivers a significant on-site time saving compared to traditional installation techniques, including time lost for cement to cure. Also featuring simple and easy zero positioning of cover plates, the double action ‘push/pull’ system opens to 90° and features fully adjustable closing speeds.
The installation also used Bohle’s range of clamps to secure the installation to stonework.
“This is very much where we see ourselves as a business,” Luke said. “We’re undertaking more and more specialist work.
“This includes commercial work but also high-end domestic installations, from balustrading, stair cases, shower screens – projects where the off-the-shelf solution simply doesn’t exist and where the end user is motivated by design and quality.
“We use Bohle hardware as part of that offer because it gives us the flexibility we need in design but also the adjustability to deliver that very high-end finish that our clients are looking for.”