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Ely Cathedral, Octagon Lantern
Ely, Cambridgeshire
Ely Cathedral, Octagon Lantern
associated engineer
William Hurley
date  1322 - 1334
era  Medieval  |  category  Cathedral  |  reference  TL539802
ICE reference number  HEW 747
photo  PHEW
The timber octagon that sits on the tower of the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity at Ely is one of the greatest engineering feats of the Middle Ages. Completed in 1334, it weighs around 400 tons.
The cathedral was built by the Normans between 1080 and 1189, on the site of an earlier building. In 1322 the original stone tower over the main crossing collapsed. We don't know the reason.
However, this event enabled the sacrist, Alan de Walsingham, to direct the construction of a replacement. The first phase of the work, completed in 1328, included the eight massive stone columns that support tall arches that span the nave and transept, and support the octagonal base for the lantern.
The timber lantern was designed by William Hurley, the King's carpenter. It is framed by eight vertical oak posts 63ft high, each weighing 10 tons. Imagine the difficulty of raising these posts more 100ft in the air to position them on the stone base. The posts are braced by a complex framework of timber struts and curved members with a compression ring at the top, vaulted in timber above.
James Essex undertook major repairs and improved the internal support system for the lantern in the C18th, removing its flying buttresses on the exterior. These were reinstated a century later by Sir George Gilbert Scott.
Scott also restored the original outline shape of the lantern.
reference sources   CEH E&C

Ely Cathedral, Octagon Lantern