Wrexham Tower’s finials standing tall
October 22, 2021
Four new, decorative machine and hand-carved limestone finials sit securely atop Wrexham Tower. The years-long project to replace an aging set of finials with fresh reproductions wrapped up successfully in August. Part of Saybrook College, Wrexham Tower is loosely modeled on St. Giles’ Parish Church in Wrexham, Wales, where the University’s early benefactor Elihu Yale is buried.
The tower has many large and small finials, which are decorative architectural elements used to emphasize the apex of a dome, spire, roof, or tower. A typical finial is carved in stone, and often, the very top includes a floral element called a bouquet. Unfortunately, since these carvings are hard to access and maintain, the removal and subsequent replacement of the four largest examples took several years to complete.
When Saybrook College was renovated as part of an earlier project in 2016, these four finials were deemed unsafe, removed, and the roof area was temporarily capped. Several pieces of the original carvings, also made of limestone, were saved as a reference.
The Yale Facilities team worked with Quarra Stone Company, LLC in Madison, Wisconsin, to replicate the original carvings. This collaboration started in 2019, just before the COVID-19 pandemic altered the project’s production schedule. Each new finial produced by this company’s artisans is approximately 10-feet tall by 3-feet square and weighs more than a thousand pounds.
“All of the meetings that we had to discuss the carvings were done via Zoom. Quarra’s stone mason would share their construction modeling drawings, and the project team would comment or critique. It was a miracle Zoom didn’t crash because it took a lot of internet bandwidth to display the 3D drawings,” said Maggie McInnis, Senior Architect and Planner, Office of Facilities. “Even though we were all in lockdown during this timeframe, including Quarra, this project kept going. Members of their team worked on some of the carving out of their garages to get this done safely.”
Quarra used axis robots, computer numerical control (CNC) machines, lathes, block saws, photogrammetry, and digital modeling to form shapes in stone. These machines, guided by a computer, completed the initial fabrication, and then stone masons hand carved and chiseled the more refined details. Each finial was delivered to the project site in five pieces, then hoisted by a crane to the top of the tower, then pinned and mortared together by a team of masons on a scaffold nearly 125 feet up.
Replacing the finials was part of a larger overall masonry project that involved additional repointing on the tower and the exterior of Saybrook College, including the moats. “It would be a long time before we would be able to get access again and so we took advantage of having the scaffolding surrounding the tower, and repointed the stone, repaired and painted several of the tower’s metal windows. The new finials will last another 100 years,” said Maggie.
Wrexham Tower and its new finials can be best viewed from Saybrook and Branford Colleges’ courtyards or by walking on York Street.
Special thanks to those individuals who worked on this project:
- Dan Disco, Construction Project Manager, Office of Facilities
- Michael Douyard, Associate Director of Planning and Construction, Office of Facilities
- Maggie McInnis, Senior Architect and Planner, Office of Facilities
- Dimeo Construction Company
- Newman Architects
- Quarra Stone Company, LLC
- Summit Masonry & Building Restoration LLC