The historic town of Lewes in East Sussex celebrated its first Festival of Light during October 2015, as part of UNESCO’s Year of Light celebrations. Led by Graham Festenstein, a small group of enthusiastic designers and organisations connected to the area, were invited to collaborate and develop a concept that celebrated light and lighting through the culture, history and environment in Lewes. Through the creation of twelve exciting and dramatic lighting installations and projections at key historic and cultural sites, the public were given the opportunity to experience the town in an entirely new way. Local historians conducted walking tours that visited each of the illuminated sites and an exhibition and series of talks complemented the event.
We were responsible for creating lighting installations for two sites: the Barbican gateway and St John sub Castro church. Working with Phil Rose and the students from South Downs College plus the generous support and loan of equipment from lighting manufacturers, we succeeded in creating two very unique and successful lighting installations.
Lewes Castle, occupying the highest point in Lewes, was built in 1069 and was one of the first fortresses to be built in England, directly following the Norman conquest of 1066. The Barbican or Outer Gatehouse was added approximately 150 years later by The Earl of Surrey, John de Warenne, to improve the castle's defences. Our concept for lighting the Barbican was to make 'the dark ages come to light', to imbue the ancient structure with the liveliness and vitality that would have existed in times gone by. We used powerful linear LED luminaires to graze both the inside walls of the arched gateway and the imposing outer facades and chose to use a warm, saturated golden coloured light. This resulted in a unified and dramatic scheme that brought out the rich texture and details of the stone. We also used very narrow beam luminaires to create a linear frame of cool white light around the entrance arches. We backlit the distinctive windows and arrowslits with icy blue light to contrast with the warm glow on the stone structure and positioned rows of flickering paper lanterns along the sweeping approach to the Barbican to lead the eye upwards.
St John sub Castro was built in 1839 to replace an earlier Saxon church dating from the 11th century. It was designed by George Cheesman in a neo-Gothic style, of flint with red brick detailing and has tall lancet windows with intricate stained glass. The churchyard, a wonderful hidden space, is semi-derelict, surprisingly large and heavily wooded and it is this area that captured our imagination. Our lighting concept was to create a meditative and uplifting ambience within the churchyard, a hidden space for quiet contemplation. We achieved this by backlighting the stained glass windows in the eastern facade and south facing apse so that they radiated a sense of glowing spirituality from within structure, emanating outwards. Using cool white light we uplit the grove of large trees to the east and the dense clumps of trees in the centre of the site to reinforce the visual boundaries and make the space feel more intimate and contained. We placed hundreds of flickering golden candles within glass jars on and around the ancient gravestones, to impart again this sense of life within and not forgotten. We lit the very dark pathway to the churchyard with glowing golden paper lanterns to give visitors the chance to visually acclimatise and appreciate the subtlety of the installation.
Photography. James McCauley & Claire Hamill