News

Ryan from Wilmott Dixon standing in Colston Hall surrounded by birdcage scaffolding

New behind-the-scenes tour and unexpected heritage finds

Bristol Music Trust and their redevelopment partners, Willmott Dixon, have released a new video giving a behind-the-scenes tour of the multi-million pound transformation of Colston Hall and revealing for the first time a number of unexpected heritage elements discovered during the works.

Note: this was filmed before the removal of the Colston Hall lettering on Mon 15 Jun 2020.

As one of the most complex construction projects in the UK and the biggest capital arts programme ever in the south west, the current building statistics and new historic finds clearly demonstrate this:

  • The construction site is over 80 tennis courts in size
  • The transformation has so far used enough concrete to fill 1,280 baths
  • Hundreds of tonnes of rubble have been removed – all to be recycled
  • The number of bricks required for the re-build would measure over 21 miles if laid end to end
  • The ‘birdcage’ scaffolding structure in the main hall is the biggest in Europe, with the total construction scaffolding weighing in at over 500 tonnes
  • Unexpected heritage finds include two ten feet deep Elizabethan wells deep in the cellars and a historic Victorian heating system.

Health and safety has been the number one priority for Willmott Dixon. During the lockdown over the past three months, work has been able to continue safely on the site through strict adherence to the Site Operating Procedures produced by the Construction Leadership Council, in collaboration with Public Health England. Following a full risk assessment, they have introduced social distancing measures, one-way systems, additional hygiene stations and daily health checks.

Louise Mitchell, chief executive of Bristol Music Trust, the charity that runs the Hall, says:

“With everyone at home on lockdown for the last three months and unable to come and see our progress, we thought it would be nice to do a virtual behind-the-scenes tour to show the amazing work going on and some of our unexpected finds that are a real reminder of the part the Hall’s long history.

“It is an incredibly ambitious transformation we are delivering which, when complete, will give Bristol a world-class music venue for everyone to enjoy. It will be one of the best arts and learning facilities in the country, fully accessible and highly sustainable. Now, more than ever, we can all appreciate the unity and joy that music can bring, and we want to give everyone something to look forward to with this project. We estimate that when the building is fully open, we will be welcoming around 340,000 people every year.”

Ryan Williams, construction manager with Willmott Dixon, who appears in the new video tour, says:

“This is an extremely complex build that brings us new surprises every day. It’s keeping us on our toes as every new discovery means that we have to adapt our plans and come up with new and creative solutions. But the rewards are absolutely worth it – being able to preserve and restore this superb 150-year old building and create an incredible new venue that will be here for generations to come is pretty special.”

Two weeks ago, Bristol Music Trust reasserted its commitment to a name change for the Hall and removed the ‘Colston Hall’ lettering on the outside of the building. The new name is planned to be announced in Autumn 2020.

Going behind the scenes…

The Main Hall

  • The video tour starts in what was the main hall. The space here is huge and could fill six and a half Olympic sized swimming pools. Willmott Dixon and their supply chain partners have taken it apart piece by piece, removing the stage, the balcony and even the roof.
  • Thousands of litres of concrete have been poured in to shore up the foundations – the amount of concrete would fill 1,280 baths.
  • Scaffolding – known as ‘birdcage’ scaffolding – weighing a whopping 120 tonnes has been erected in the main hall. The project team say this is believed to be the largest birdcage structure in Europe.
  • Hundreds of tonnes of rubble have been removed, all of which are being recycled as part of Colston Hall and Willmott Dixon’s carbon neutrality and sustainability commitments.

The Cellars

  • The cellars, which have historically been used by Colston Hall for storage due to their inaccessibility, will become a fully accessible, multi-purpose area, providing state-of-the-art music education spaces, recording studios and a brand new, intimate performance space.
  • Whilst digging out the new foundations deep in the cellars, the project team discovered two Elizabethan wells that Colston Hall were unaware of. Ten feet deep, they sink below the level of the floating harbour and it is believed that they were created for the Elizabethan Great House that once sat on the site. Elizabeth I famously visited the House in 1574.

The Façade

Outside the front of the Hall and currently hidden behind the six storeys of scaffolding, the building façade consists of stunning late 19th century Byzantine architecture. Highly skilled specialist contractors have been brought in to painstakingly clean and restore it, using the same stone to match the existing façade. They are also salvaging the pieces that aren’t needed, to be reused elsewhere.

The Lantern

  • In what was the Hall’s smaller, more intimate performance space, the Lantern has also been dismantled and cleared, revealing further hidden gems from the past:
    • Previously blocked up windows have been uncovered, which will have soundproof, blackout glass installed to let light in when needed and keep sound from escaping out;
    • A number of historic masonry arches and delicate features previously covered by existing finishes have been uncovered during the plaster removal and repair.
  • World-renowned historic plaster specialists from Bristol – Hayles and Howe – are repairing the damaged plasterwork
  • The Lantern entrance will ultimately be transformed into a stunning atrium with a new restaurant and bar.

Other heritage finds

Underneath the Lantern, whilst the team were excavating in the colonnade, they uncovered Victorian heating ducts and two stoves, which were part of a historic heating system for the original 1867 Hall.

Further information on the transformation of the Hall can be found online at www.colstonhall.org/transform-the-hall or by following #transformthehall on social media channels.