The Story

Designed by William Henry Playfair, one of Scotland's most admired architects, Saint
Stephen's Stockbridge has been an integral part of Edinburgh life since it was built in 1828.

The Vision

Set amidst the UNESCO world heritage site, Saint Stephen’s Stockbridge was created with a radical vision of city living which had a notable influence on urban planning across Europe. This fresh outlook was embraced by the new congregation; it was the first Church of Scotland to set up a mission in India, and offered education to all ages within its community.

In hope of keeping this vision alive, the Benzies Foundation purchased Saint Stephen’s Stockbridge from the Church of Scotland on 27th June 2014, with plans to ensure long term community use and viability of the property. Saint Stephen’s Stockbridge and the Benzies Foundation would like to welcome neighbouring communities of Stockbridge, the New Town, Edinburgh and beyond to engage with this iconic, loved, historic venue.

Take A Tour

History

1992

Church of Scotland closed Saint Stephen’s Stockbridge as a place of worship and moved their parish to Stockbridge Church, Saxe Coburg Street. The community continued to use the venue for clubs and festival shows.

1977

The church reopened on 26th June after its most recent refurbishment.

1956
SUBDIVISION

After World War II the congregation diminished. As attendance continued to fall, Rev. J. B. Logan came up with the idea of a fundraiser to develop Saint Stephen’s Stockbridge. Logan organised ‘talents’, a money making scheme suggested by Mr Campbell White. 1,050 families were each given £1 by the church, with the idea of investing in their talents, such as knitting, baking, event organisation and design. Six months later, 836 envelopes containing £1,700 were received by the church.

All of the ‘talents’ money was put towards the new development. Initial proposals were too expensive at around £27,000, however a more cost effective conversion was created by Gilbert Jenkins, with Sir James Miller as the building contractor. The Cellars were transformed into meeting rooms and the main church hall was split into two rooms: The Great Room and The Muir Hall, one of the first major subdivisions in Edinburgh. The addition of a gym and kitchen allowed Saint Stephen’s Stockbridge to bloom into a fully functioning community venue.

On 23rd September, 1956, the church was rededicated, opening its doors again in October.

1939

The Cellars were used as bomb shelters during the Second World War.

1880

The organ was installed.

1828

Lord Provost opened the church for worship on 21st December in the presence of the Magistrates.
A bell weighing 18 hundredweight was installed and gas illuminated the clock face.

The total cost was £21,000.

1827

An Act of Parliament sanctioned the new church.

Messrs Young and Trench’s fabric estimate of £18,975 was accepted on 24th January. This was the lowest estimate received and did not include interior fittings. Craigleith stone was used for the construction, each brick a work of art. The quality of this stone was so high that it was shipped to London to build the Tower Bridge.

1826

William Henry Playfair’s plans were approved on 29th July.

To accommodate the rapidly increasing community of Edinburgh’s ‘New Town’, the council arranged for four new churches to be built: St. Andrew’s, George Street (1784); St. George’s, Charlotte Square (1814); St. Mary’s, Bellevue Crescent (1824); and St Vincent Street Church, later named St. Stephen’s.

THE ARCHITECT

William Henry Playfair is one of Scotland’s most admired architects. His career took off at the age of 28 after winning a competition to complete the University of Edinburgh buildings on South Bridge.

Playfair went on to design the National Gallery, Donaldson’s Hospital, the Advocates’ Library, the Surgeons’ Hall, and an eery, incomplete National Monument up on Calton Hill, along with several other public and private buildings in the city of Edinburgh.

Saint Stephen’s Stockbridge was a considerable challenge for Playfair, as the building was placed at the end of a steep slope up towards Edinburgh’s New Town. His artful solution was to create an unusually tall clock tower, allowing it to reach up towards the clouds and dominate the skyline.

Special Features

Clock Tower

Playfair wanted Saint Stephen’s Stockbridge to stand tall above the long slope up to the New Town, so he designed a 162ft (50m) high clock tower. In initial plans, the clock had a stone face, however local residents thought this might be difficult to read so illuminated white glass dial plates were used instead. Inside the tower is the longest pendulum in Europe at 65ft (20m) long, made by James Ritchie and Son in 1857.

Bell

An eighteen hundredweight bell hangs roughly 30ft above the clock and was cast by Mears & Co. of London in 1852. In 2014, the bell was stopped – for the first time since Saint Stephen’s Stockbridge was built over 180 years ago – after a number of local residents complained about the noise. The situation is currently under investigation.

Organ

Built by Father Henry Willis in 1880, the organ in Saint Stephen’s Stockbridge is one of only a few left in Britain. Many musicians have admired its unique tone and beautiful structure. The organ was first placed at the pulpit of the church and moved up to The Great Hall after the subdivision in 1956. We are always willing to hear from traditional and contemporary organists who are keen to practise their talents.

PRISONERS’ FLOOR

The church worked together with prisoners on positive projects. In 2000, one of these projects became a permanent part of the building, as prisoners laid the wooden floor in The Muir Hall.

RAILINGS

The railings were put up in late 1829 at a cost of £270, a significant amount of money at the time.

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