Newcastle Cathedral

Sensitive sustainable solutions for sacred and civic spaces

Yorkshire & North East
The Dean & Chapter of Newcastle Cathedral
  • RIBA North East Award 2023
  • AJ Retrofit: Cultural and Religious Buildings 2023
  • Construction Excellence North East: Conservation/Regeneration 2021

Purcell led the landmark restoration and renewal of Newcastle Cathedral, delivering both a civic and sacred space fit for the 21st Century and beyond, underpinned by sustainable interventions and an expert understanding of the historical and social significance of the Grade I-listed place of worship.

Once a guiding light for ships sailing up the River Tyne, this hill-top, this metropolitan Cathedral represents, in stone and glass, over seven centuries of Newcastle’s development.

Today, the completed “Common Ground in Sacred Space” project continues Newcastle Cathedral’s place at the heart of modern city life, with renewed purpose to that iconic lantern tower’s ancient role as a beckoning welcome for the city and its people.

The project took over ten years to plan, develop and execute — almost a generation of dreaming and hard work by so many folks. But we shared a broad and inspiring vision, and the result, we hope you agree, honours this ancient house of worship.

— Jane Kennedy, Cathedral Architect

Completing in August 2021, the latter stages of this project played out during months considered challenging by most; the impact of Covid-19 exaggerating the need for collaboration within the multidisciplinary team during the closing stages of this monumental project.

Levelling the nave floor, installing improved lighting, lifts and similarly fundamental changes have created a sacred space that is equally accessible and adaptable, changes which better enhances the historical significance today and will make the building relevant for many decades to come.

Craft activities in the nave of the cathedral
Craft activities in the nave of the cathedral

Purcell has been involved in the largest refurbishment since the works that took place here in 1882, when St Nicholas’ became a cathedral.

At its heart, the project has been about creating a sustainable future for our magnificent Cathedral, celebrating its elegance, but also energising its mission to welcome visitors of all faiths and none into our story.

— The Very Revd Geoff Miller, Dean of Newcastle

Over 100 ancient stone ledgers, each weighing over a tonne, have been lifted, restored and re-laid in the Cathedral’s nave aisles. This painstaking reconfiguration moved the most ancient and historically significant away from the main thoroughfare, levelling the uneven floor and minimising trip hazards as well as ensuring each can be better displayed and protected.

Stone ledgers visible on the cathedral floor

Sustainably sourced, underfloor heating was also installed beneath the reconfigured nave floor, removing the costly and inefficient need to heat the entire, echoing space within the Cathedral for visitors. This gentle ‘heat sink’ is powered in part by air sourced heat pumps hidden atop the new Lobby.

New facilities, including a lift, have been introduced with as little impact to the Cathedral fabric and exterior as possible. A converted basement frames modern new amenities, forestalling the need to extend the Cathedral’s footprint, while the new Lobby expands access and sustainable design.

The pulpit at Newcastle Cathedral
The pulpit at Newcastle Cathedral

It is this combination of contemporary intervention and conservation of the historic fabric of the Cathedral that makes this such an exciting project.

— Matthew Northover, Architect

Fundamental to this project was the deep understanding of the history and significance of the Cathedral and its fabric. Purcell’s Cathedral Architects and Heritage Consultants outlined this in a Conservation Management Plan which set out those historic elements most in need of care, helping pinpoint opportunities for considered change.

This underpinned the delivery of monumental works needed to future-proof the sacred space with the minimum impact to the Cathedral’s historic fabric, introducing innovative new designs while championing elements key to its historic character.

The surrounding landscape has also been reordered to welcome more visitors and create shared spaces; developing a new, more easily accessible main entrance that accommodates new lifts and ramps. These works have dramatically improved Newcastle Cathedral’s offer; it has created a cultural, civic and religious building that is fit-for-service and accessible, forging for the sacred space a protected, flexible and sustainable future set at the very heart of city life. This is common ground, in sacred space.