St Cuthbert’s

The Parish Church of St. Cuthbert, Edinburgh

Client : The Parish Church of St Cuthbert
Location : Edinburgh
Value : Approx £100k
Completion Date : July 2021 

The Parish Church of St Cuthbert is one of Edinburgh’s most recognisable churches nestling at the west end of Princes Street gardens at the foot of the castle rock. Although the church history possibly dates back as far as the 7th Century, the present building was completed in 1894. Today the church, in addition to services of worship, has ministries among the homeless, the city’s business and school communities and is a venue for a wide range of cultural events, including the Edinburgh International Festival. The building is also the artistic home of the Scottish Sinfonia and the Edinburgh Bach Choir.

The impressive sanctuary with a basilica layout and distinctly byzantine interior, was furnished with pews set within gangways of thin hardwood overlaid on the original pine timber flooring. Removing pews is a sensitive subject, but the church believed that they were no longer appropriate to support the ways the sanctuary was being used and in fact were limiting opportunities. Essentially the pews were deemed inflexible and uncomfortable.

The project was to remove the pews, configure a new unifying floor finish and select loose chairs to replace the pews. Lee Boyd was asked to assist in the presentation of ideas, seeking approvals from Church of Scotland, tackling the technical challenges, coordinating a tender process and then working closely with the flooring contractor during the contract.

With specialist advice, a number of options were considered for how to tackle the floor surface. The eventual solution was to fully bond an engineered timber board (15mm) over a new plywood intermediate layer (9mm) on top of the existing boards. To alleviate issues at the various thresholds around the perimeter of the sanctuary, the plywood was removed and an area of tapered screed formed into the door opening. Elsewhere some of the thresholds could be adjusted with simple threshold bars because of a slight rake across the floor.

In addition to the flooring, a new sound desk was formed using wood from the removed pew fronts and radiators and floor power boxes were relocated.

It was decided by the church to retain 4 rows of pews at the back of the sanctuary. These were re attached to the new flooring and provide a traditional seat for those that wish, hide the sound desk and help frame the processional view from the sanctuary entrance to the chancel, where the initial impression is that all the pews are still there.

As with most of these projects, the church doesn’t look back on the difficult decisions made and since completion and the end of Covid restrictions, has enjoyed a year of diverse use and enjoyment of their sanctuary.