Worshipful Company of Carmen

St Dunstan's Heritage Trust



A heads-up on Carmen’s Hall

A floor without access! Did you know the second floor couldn’t be reached inside the building?

When it was built, the main cantilevered stone staircase ended only one flight up.

The second floor was the schoolroom, and that was reached direct from the Headmaster’s house – now the vicarage in Hen and Chicken Court.

The current lightweight domestic stair was added post-World War II, when DC Thomson used our building as offices.

To use the building with a special lift, we had to fit a new stair befitting its age and quality, matching the one beneath. To do that meant a concrete structure – but that was unsympathetic and much too heavy for the newly discovered crypt below.

We suggested a softwood replacement, but the powers that be said ‘No’ to that.
And it had to match its complex sister below – with winders and centre stairwell.

So we searched for a lighter, better, more appealing option and talked to specialists. Then our architect remembered a Belgian firm who could produce something similar, lightweight, prefabricated and in light oak, to match the lower one.

The new stair is a patented construction in laminated structural timber, with specially designed joints, needing minimal support from the walls. It’s simple and elegant, because it is based on sound engineering principles.

Our new balustrade will reflect the original cast iron one beneath it, but in steel, the handrail turning and rising round the corners in traditional form, made possible by modern CAD CAM technology.

And there’s more to the job than just changing the stairs. The new design means new support, using a steel H-shaped RSJ, with the landing reinforced the same way.

That landing is 200 years old, a stone slab, which we can’t guarantee would support the new stair and lots of Carmen! That means holes in the wall, which has to be reinforced with 200mm of strong engineering bricks. The stair-wide joists have to be hoisted up three floors into position too.

Then the old stair goes, a temporary scaffold will enable access and wall works, and the prefabricated new stair will simply slot into place.

Sadly, the virus has stopped work for us and our Belgian friends. When we start again, they will come over, survey everything, our valiant building team will return, steel and timber will arrive, and we will step up on our new stairs to the future.