Leicester Cathedral Reordering

A Tomb Fit for a King

The much publicised design of the tomb for Richard III was part of a far more complex project at Leicester Cathedral. Our objective was always 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 included 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’ facilities; offices, kitchen, storage and WCs.

The fundamental objective of that phase was 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.

“Leicester Cathedral set out to reinter King Richard III in March 2015 with dignity and honour, on behalf of a nation. Since then our greatly increased number of visitors, from all parts of the nation and globe, all tell us how greatly impressed they are by the work, both of design and construction, that has created a magnificent tomb in a newly created ambulatory, appropriately adjacent to the Chapel of Christ the King.

We are truly fortunate to have such a creative design team to work with us to such powerful effect.”Pete Hobson – Project director, Leicester Cathedral

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“Getting things through big heritage bodies like this doesn’t come easy. We’re really aware of needing to get it right, because we can’t create the space for the King unless we can amend the existing fabric.

A good relationship between client and architect seems absolutely vital in any conservation project, as complicated as the one we’ve just been through. A project lived in the public glare; at every stage of the process we were not only looking at the technical details, the architectural details, the conservation details, but we were always having in mind how is this going to engage people, how is this going to help people understand more about the whole life of this community, and also how that becomes really alive for people as they engage with it themselves.

None of this would have been possible of course, without raising the money to make it happen, and vHH were absolutely key partners in enabling us to tell the story, and convince trusts and funders and individuals to be generous, because they could see we were professional, we were serious about this, and that we were determined to make it happen within a very timely fashion.

The quality of the workmanship and design really speaks for itself, the building now is a great testament to vHH, their work, and we look forward to working with them in the future.”Very Rev’d David Monteith

  • Project Details

    • Location: Leicester
      Client: Dean And Chapter Of Leicester Cathedral
      Area: 1369 m2
  • Project Awards

    • Shortlisted - RICS Awards - Tourism & Leisure
    • Shortlisted - RICS Awards - Design through Innovation
    • Winner - RIBA East Midlands Awards, Project Architect of the Year
    • Winner - RIBA East Midlands Awards, Building of the Year
    • Winner - RIBA East Midlands Awards
    • Winner - RIBA National Award

Whilst the tomb of Richard III is the focus of media attention, the works to the chancel and crossing which allow his interment also completed the first major phase of the cathedral’s reordering.  We envisaged the reordering as a series of changes which could be delivered in phases as funds allowed – much like a master plan.

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 and to develop proposals that address their concerns and aspirations.

This thorough engagement, with a focus on dialogue, analysis, resolving potential conflicts and supporting the client in a proactive way, allowed us to achieve broad based support and the required consents for the first phase of the works.

A key challenge was to achieve an appropriate balance between the impact of altering the existing compartmentalisation of the interior, including the screens and fixed furnishings added by Sir Charles Nicholson, and the benefits to the cathedral’s mission that would be brought by an improved and more flexible layout.

The design process used a combination of hand-drawn sketch investigations and study models, alongside innovative digital modelling techniques and visualisations based on a point-cloud scan survey of the cathedral.

A particular pleasure has been working with specialist artisans and crafts people, including 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.

Project Timeline