Blinding Light Ltd Locked in Spectacle - 18/12/2002
Reading-based lighting specialists Blinding Light Ltd were approached by British Waterways to architecturally light the magnificent Caen Hill Flight series of 16 locks on the Kennett & Avon Canal near Devizes, Wiltshire.
The scheme - which runs for a month from mid December 2002 until January 6th 2003 - the twelfth night of Christmas - celebrates the completion of a £29 million Kennett & Avon Canal Heritage Lottery Fund Restoration. This began in 1997. Managed by the Kennett & Avon Canal Partnership, it is the final link in the rejuvenation of the historically significant 87-mile waterway, running from Reading in Berkshire to Bath in Avon.
Blinding Light's Patrick Stacey was pleased to take on this unique lighting opportunity. The company designs, supplies and installs equipment to a myriad of lightshows and spectaculars for a variety of events, parties, conferences, TV and exhibitions. However lighting the Caen Hill Flight was not only a completely different challenge, the project also offered the chance to become a small part of history.
Patrick conducted his first site visit, after which he began the search for compact, controllable, bright and reliable colour changing lighting fixtures. He'd used Studio Due City Colors before, and was impressed with their build quality and performance. This time around, he went to UK distributors Coe-tech in Northampton to look at the Mini City luminaire.
Coe-tech supplied a fixture for a test in situ at the locks - "We were the only company who did this" comments Patrick, who also examined other comparable fixtures before deciding on the Mini City's. The test was a great success, and both Patrick and British Waterways were convinced Mini City was the right luminaire for the job.
The duration and nature of the project meant Blinding Light purchased - as opposed to hired - the 16 Mini City's required, so the versatility and potential future use of the fixtures were also a consideration at the outset. Once the Caen Hill illuminations are over, the Mini Cities will be added to Blinding Light's ever-growing rental stock.
At Caen Hill, the Mini Cities are located at the side of the towpath - one illuminating the front of each lock. They are encased in special steel lighting hides, each with two toughened Perspex windows, and also containing a 400-Watt sodium flood. The sodium casts a subtle, eerie, glow across the lock basins on the opposite side of the Flight. This contrasts sharply with the crisp, vital, colouration of the locks themselves, bathed in Mini City beams.
The steel hides were designed by Blinding Light Ltd and fabricated by M W Metal works in Reading. They are weather and vandal-proof, and are fixed into the ground with metre-long metal stakes. There is no security along the towpath for the duration of the installation, so this element was crucial.
All 16 Mini Cities and sodium floods are controlled from a single DMX line that runs from the bottom of the Locks to the Compulite Sparktop lighting desk, located in the lock-keeper's cottage - at the top of the Flight.
The DMX signal is buffered and amplified as it runs up the locks, and power is sourced from a generator sited at the top of the Flight. The armoured power cable, which feeds all the fixtures, had to be of a certain grade to minimise voltage drop over the half mile run. Blinding Light bought both the DMX and armoured cable from TMB who came up with an excellent deal.
All the site work necessary for the installation, including digging trenches, running cables etc., was undertaken by British Waterways personal, working closely with the Blinding Light install team.
The lightshow runs from 4 - 9 p.m. every day except Christmas Day. The Sparktop was programmed by Andrew Harris and operated by him and other members of the Blinding Light crew, Dave Allen, Ian Grant and Patrick Stacey.