Case Study

Fit for a King

Leicester Cathedral Reordering

Leicester /


The much publicised design of the tomb for Richard III is just part of a more complex project at Leicester Cathedral. Our objective has always been to reorder the cathedral to enhance the wide range of activities that take place there, from private prayer to large scale ordination services and concerts. Key proposals include moving the sanctuary from the east end, resolving the various changes of level, so that un-stepped access is possible, and providing decent 'back-stage' facilites; offices, kitchen, storage and WCs. 

We envisaged the reordering as a series of changes which could be delivered in phases as funds allowed – much like a master plan. The discovery of Richard III’s remains and our subsequent commission to design a suitable resting place for him, has involved some reconsideration of the detailed proposals yet is accommodated within the master plan. Whilst the tomb of Richard III is the focus of media attention, the works to the chancel and crossing which allow his interment also complete the first major phase of the cathedral’s reordering.

The fundamental objective of this phase is to make the crossing part of the main body of the cathedral, by removing and relocating the twentieth century joinery screens and seats, and to relocate the Sanctuary to the open crossing. The new high altar is now at the heart of worship and everyone’s experience of the cathedral. The reconfiguration of the chancel also forms the Ambulatory, the setting for Richard III’s memorial, and the new Chapel of Christ the King further east.



The Cathedral of St Martin at Leicester, elevated from an ancient parish church to become a new cathedral in 1927, is one of the smaller and less well known cathedrals. Grade II* listed, it retains the character of a historic guild church, yet is a key institution in contemporary civic life of both the city of Leicester and county of Leicestershire. Unlike cathedrals of monastic foundation, the building is relatively small, nevertheless has a very busy daily programme of services and special events.

The church fabric has evolved from Norman foundations. However, the dominant impression of the building is formed by the work of a succession of Victorian architects, particularly Raphael Brandon, who largely rebuilt the church over most of the 19th century.

A key challenge of the interior was the rigid compartmentalising of the interior, with various changes of level and reinforced by Sir Charles Nicholson at the time of the church’s transformation to a cathedral with screens and fixed furnishings. Any reordering needed to start from a radical appraisal of the usefulness of these furnishings, and investigate how these might be altered to allow for a more useful layout for today’s needs. The challenge was to achieve an appropriate balance between the impact of their alteration and the benefits to the cathedral’s mission brought by an improved and more flexible layout. 





How we worked

We were initially appointed in 2008, following an open competitive process, to carry out a feasibility study for the cathedral and its precinct, working with Edward Hutchison Landscape Architects. The study explored how the building and its precinct could be reordered to provide an inspiring and functional place to enhance the cathedral’s mission, and be accessible and welcoming for visitors.

Following the completion of the study we were asked to do further work on the cathedral interior, establishing a master plan for the church’s reordering. In parallel Gillespies was commissioned to develop the landscape works (the Cathedral Gardens project). Our design work was halted in 2011 due to funding issues. However in late 2013 the cathedral approached us to restart, initially to review the master plan to allow for the appropriate reinterral of Richard III.





The design process has used a combination of hand-drawn sketch investigations and study models with digital models and visualisations based on a point-cloud scan survey of the cathedral. Our work has included research commissioned into the development of the cathedral and its furnishings, assisted by Erica Cotton, Hugh Harrison and the Cathedral Archivist.  

As a public building at the heart of a diverse city and county, the proposed changes to the cathedral have been the subject of much debate. Our approach has been to work hand-in-hand with the Dean and Chapter, and the wider cathedral community, to engage the various stakeholders. We have tried to do this at the earliest stage, to explore what their aspirations and concerns are and to develop proposals that address these as far as possible. 

A major factor has been the unprecedented public and media interest in our tomb design for Richard III. We have enjoyed a very close working dialogue with the cathedral and the Fabric Advisory Committee (FAC) in developing the detailed proposals, and these have then benefitted from the scrutiny of the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England (CFCE) and their statutory consultees, as well as the Richard III Society. The two major day-long consultation workshops gathered feedback and debated the proposals; the input from the various parties at these was genuinely valuable. 


Making it happen

This thorough engagement, with a focus on dialogue, analysis, resolving potential conflicts and supporting the client in a proactive way, has allowed us to achieve broad based support and the required consents for the first phase of the works. An important aspect of the submission was the inclusion of the draft master plan for the reordering in its entirety, allowing the CFCE to understand the chancel works – Phase 1 - in the context of the overall plans for reordering.

Following the conditional consent received at the end of March 2014, the Phase 1 reordering works have been detailed, tendered and executed on site, with van Heyningen and Haward Architects acting as Contract Administrators. Despite various obstructions and voids found within the cathedral sub floor, Fairhurst Ward Abbott’s achieved practical completion virtually on programme, in February 2015, transforming the spaces of the chancel and crossing with relocated and altered historic joinery and new floors.

In parallel with the works on site, we progressed with the tomb and high altar designs, working hand-in-hand with specialist artisans and crafts people. A particular pleasure has been working with everybody who has contributed to these two pieces – each a substantial project in its own right - with special thanks to James Elliott and his team, Gary Breeze, Stuart Buckle and Thomas Greenaway who have all brought dedication and their incredible skills to the realisation of our designs. The following short film by Alex J. Wright, commissioned by James Elliott shows some of their activities - thanks to James and Alex for permission to use this.

We also managed the co-ordination of the other furnishings with the cathedral team; the wonderful new cathedra design, won in competition by Francesco Draisci, the loose furniture designed by Luke Hughes and interpretation units by Equal Studio. All of these strands were successfully pulled together in time for the three services marking the reinterment of Richard III at the end of March 2015. 





Dean And Chapter Of Leicester Cathedral







Our Role

Architect And Lead Consultant

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