The island of Great Britain has 2,000 miles of canals and navigable rivers. These waterways were once the arteries of the Industrial Revolution, and a distinctive culture arose around the development and use of canals. Many of these traditions can still be seen along the towpaths and waterways of Britain.
To celebrate the completion of the £29 million Kennet & Avon Canal Heritage Lottery Fund Restoration, begun in 1997, Reading, UK-based lighting specialist Blinding Light Ltd was approached by British Waterways to architecturally light the magnificent Caen Hill flight of 16 stepped locks, which first opened in December 1810. Caen Hill is the final link in the rejuvenation of the historically significant 87-mile waterway, running from Reading to Bath.
Blinding Light's Patrick Stacey was pleased to take on this unique lighting opportunity. The company designs, supplies, and installs equipment for light shows and spectaculars for a variety of events, parties, conferences, TV shows, and exhibitions. Lighting the Caen Hill Flight was more than a different challenge; the project also offered the chance to become a part of history.
After an initial site visit, Stacey began the search for compact, controllable, bright, and reliable color-changing lighting fixtures. Having used Studio Due CityColors before, he was impressed with their quality and performance. For this project, he went to UK distributor Coe-tech to look at the MiniCity luminaire.
Coe-tech supplied a fixture for a site test at the locks. “We were the only company who did this,” comments Stacey, who also examined other comparable fixtures before deciding on the MiniCitys.
The duration and nature of the project meant Blinding Light purchased the 16 MiniCitys required, so the versatility and potential future use of the fixtures were also considerations at the outset. After the Caen Hill project, the MiniCitys will be added to Blinding Light's rental stock.
At Caen Hill, the MiniCitys were located at the side of the towpath, one illuminating the front of each lock. They were encased in special steel lighting “hides,” each with two Perspex windows, and also containing a 400W 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, vibrant coloration of the locks bathed by the MiniCitys.
The steel hides were designed by Blinding Light Ltd and fabricated by MW Metal works in Reading. Weather- and vandal-proof, they were fixed into the ground with 1m-long metal stakes.
All 16 MiniCitys and sodium floods were controlled from a single DMX line that ran from the bottom of the locks to a Compulite Sparktop lighting desk located in the lock-keeper's cottage at the top of the Flight.
The DMX signal was buffered and amplified as it ran up the locks, and power was sourced from a generator situated at the top of the Flight. The armored power cable that fed all the fixtures had to be of a certain grade to minimize voltage drop over the half-mile run. Blinding Light bought both the DMX and armored cable from TMB.
The light show ran from mid-December 2002 until January 6, 2003. 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.