Cork-based Don Rothwell Set Design & Construction has just completed renovation and repairs to the exhibits at Cork City Gaol. Part of the project was a commission to replicate a Victorian weighing Chair which was used on Spike Island during the mid 1800’s onward. The chair was used to weigh prisoners when they were admitted into the gaol on the island, and again prior to their deportation. It was also used to check whether any prisoners were stealing another inmate’s food, if they were showing signs of weight-gain during their internment.
The original weighing chair is now on display on Spike Island. However, thanks to the co-operation of the management team on the island, the gaol are now the proud owners of a faithful copy of the chair, right down to the cast iron work and the signs of daily wear and tear. The reproduction is constructed from identical materials to the original, and is in fully working order. A couple of visits to Spike Island allowed the construction team to take photographs and measurements of the chair, in order to make accurate drawings.
Don brought Kilworth-based carpenter and joiner Tom O’Brien and welder Martin Towey onto the project. The replica chair was constructed from scratch, including the ornate iron work brackets which were cast from patterns based on the originals. The framework, seat, and weighing platform are made from locally-sourced elm and beech. In fact, the wheels are the only ‘found’ part of the reconstruction, taken from a set of Victorian weighing scales.
Tom and Martin spent several days fitting, adjusting and balancing the weighing mechanism, after all the intricate pieces had been made up. The end result is an intriguing piece of utilitarian furniture, which takes on the haunting qualities of the original. The chair can now be seen as part of the display at Cork City Gaol in Convent Avenue. Visitors to the gaol can try the chair for size and also see all the restoration work to the figures and exhibits carried out by Don and the team.
00 353 (0)86 3747641