Thursday, January 27, 2011

The church on Beresford Square

When the Auckland Congregational Church members wanted a new home in which to worship, they went all out to make as much an impression on the neighbourhood as they did to show the strength and durability of their faith in God. The pillars design wasn't the first seen in a Congregational church in New Zealand -- the first one, in Wellington, dated from 1849. The first Auckland congregation dated from 1851, in Pitt Street, then at Shamrock Cottage, corner of  Albert and Victoria Streets, former home of architect Walter Robertson. By 1875, they needed a new home.

We have received from the pastor of this Congregation a circular stating what has been done by the Congregation in the matter of providing a new church to worship in. After occupying the Albert-street church they found it necessary, in consequence of the dilapidated state of the old buildings, and the insufficiency of the accommodation provided therein, to undertake the erection of a new church. After considerable delay and difficulty, a site has been found (in Beresford-street) which is central, commanding, and ample, having a frontage of 100 feet to Union-street, of 236 feet to Beresford-street, and having an approach of 30 feet from Pitt-street.

A portion of the ground, measuring 100 feet square, has been reserved for a Minister's house, to be erected at some future time. East of this a permanent building measuring 57 feet by 25 feet has been erected, for school and other purposes, which is at present used as their place of worship. Next to this the church is being built. The material used is concrete. The dimensions of the building are 87 feet by 45 feet, outside measurement; accommodation is provided for 420 persons on the ground floor; with a front gallery for 100 more; and provision has been made for seating ultimately 700. It is expected that the church will be completed within a few months.

The total cost of the site, hall, and church will be, as per last estimate, £4,200. Of this large amount £3,250, or more than three fourths, have been already provided by the congregation, leaving £950 still to be raised in order to open the building without any encumbrance; and of this amount £300 has been already promised by members of the Building Committee. To enable them to open their new building free from debt, they have made an appeal to the citizens of Auckland for help. The new building will be of a permanent character, and will be an ornament to the city. The congregation have done what they could to open the building free from debt, which may be surmised when it is stated that eleven gentlemen have contributed a sum of £1,128 6s. Captain Daldy, treasurer, has been appointed to receive contributions for the above purpose.
Southern Cross, 2 June 1875

The new church, in 1876, was described in almost loving detail by the Southern Cross reporter.

The inaugural services on the completion of the new Congregational Church, Beresford-street, will be held to-morrow, the officiating clergyman being the Rev T. W. Davies. Hitherto the services have been held in a brick building adjacent to the new church [Beresford Hall], but the attendance had long ago outgrown the accommodation which that building was capable of affording, and now that the larger church has been completed, the building formerly occupied will be available as a schoolhouse.

The new church is one of the most suitable and handsome of its kind in the city. The movement for its erection commenced some fifteen months ago, when, upon the recommendation of Mr J C Firth it was decided to use concrete as the material, as was used in building the dwelling-house of Dr. J L Campbell, and that of Mr Firth. The material is formed of six parts of scoria ash and one of Portland cement, mixed to a proper degree of consistency. This material is easily moulded, and, when hardened by exposure to the air becomes as hard as stone, and of great strength and durability. Its surface may be rendered smoother than chiselled stone, and its appearance is superior to any of the ordinary kinds of building stone.

The church was designed by Mr. P. A. Herapath, who adopted a pure Grecian Doric style, which gives an appearance of massive grandeur and solemnity to the structure, keeping with the purposes for which it was designed. Work was commenced about 14 months ago, Messrs Rose Bros being the contractors for the entire building. The foundations are of solid masonry, and the work of erecting the walls has been carefully super intended at every stage, so as to render the experiment as successful as possible. The thickness of the walls— from the foundation to the top of the floor joists — is 2ft , and thence upwards, 16in. The exterior appearance of the facade of the building which faces Beresford-street is striking in the extreme, the six massive fluted columns in front giving a very impressive and classic aspect to the structure.

The site is eminently suitable for devotional purposes, being removed from the noise and bustle of the main thoroughfare while, at the same time, the Church is easily accessible from the more populated parts of the city. The southern end or front of the building consists of a large portico, the floor of which is 21ft. 9in. by 14ft. 10in , flanked by two lobbies, each 14ft. 5in by 9ft , from which access is gained direct to the aisles. The two main entrances are thus completely sheltered from the wind. The interior floor measures 72ft. in length by 42ft. in width, the height of the walls being 25ft. 6in. The appearance of the interior is handsome and effective, without being showy. The architect has succeeded in producing a simple chaste style of ornamentation, exactly in keeping with the classic style of the architecture, and in strict accordance with its devotional purposes. The ceiling is composed of coffered panelling, the moulding being ornamented with gilding. The walls are relieved by ten blue pilasters running half-way up the walls, and set off by white vases; these pilasters being utilised as air shafts, to prevent draughts and assist the ventilation. The ceiling is further ornamented by three large ventilators, from which depend handsome gilded star-chandaliers. The interior is also well lighted in the day time by six large windows on each side.

The minister's platform is at the north end of the building, which is slightly indented, a design which favours the acoustic properties of this part of the Church, and renders the minister easily audible to the congregation at the furthest end of the building. The platform is tastefully ornamented with railings and red hangings, the short flight of steps on each side being carpeted. At the north-west interior corner, close to the platform is the entrance to the minster’s vestry, and on the other side another entrance to the deacon’s vestry. The sittings for the choir are at the south end of the building. The church affords comfortable accommodation for between 400 and 500 persons, the sittings being roomy, and convenient of access. The floor of the aisles is covered with matting, and the folding-doors, opening from the lobby, are covered with red baize. The seats arc arranged in a semi-circular form, the arc diminishing fron the front to the back.

The entire cost of the building is about £3,000, but the cost of the site and other etceteras will bring the total outlay up to about £5,000. As we have already stated, Mr Herapath was the architect, and the building is so admirably designed and finished, and so excellently adapted for the requirements, that it reflects the greatest possible credit upon his professional skill and superintendence. Messrs Rose Brothers have executed their contract in a very faithful and painstaking manner. The painting and varnishing, being done by Mr. LeRoche, is very artistic, and the plastering (by Mr Kelly) and gas fitting and plumbing (by Mr. Parker) are likewise creditably executed. We understand that there will be a debt of £1,100 on the building. Of this, Captain Daldy and J C Firth, Esq , have generously promised to contribute £550, and it only remains for the congregation and friends to exert themselves in freeing the building from all encumbrances.

Southern Cross 19 February 1876

The galleries were constructed in 1881, and in 1884 came a further enlargement for the organ loft, vestries for the pastor and deacons, and classrooms. As at 1902 (year of the Auckland volume of the Cyclopedia of New Zealand), the church seated 850 people, and was described as "one of the prettiest places of worship in the Colony." The organist at the time, W J Hookey, served as a draughtsman for the Auckland Gas Company.

Things were not going so well just two decades further on. In August 1922, a meeting of the congregation presided over by Rev Frederic Warner, voted to close the church and sell the property, in the light of declining attendances. The motion had been put by George Fowlds. Rev Warner resigned soon after, whether because of the decision or not, I don't know. He was found dead the following year.

AUCKLAND, 8th February.
A tragic discovery was made in one of the rooms beneath the Beresford Street Congregational Church this evening, when the body of the Rev. Frederick Warner, formerly pastor of the church, was found after a search had been in progress since the previous day. Deceased retired at about 11 p.m. on Tuesday, there being nothing to indicate an unusual state of health. On Wednesday morning he was missed. The Rev. Mr. Warner was about 60 years of age, and at one time was in Sydney, and then at Newton, Auckland, for six years, returning to Australia in 1900 and serving in Melbourne and South Australia. He accepted the charge at Beresford Street seven or eight years ago, resigning about six months ago. At the time of his death he was chairman of the New Zealand Congregational Union, and vice-president of the Congregational Union of Australia and New Zealand. He leaves a widow, son, and two daughters.

Evening Post 9 February 1923

Around this time, though, the church began to pick up again.

(By Telegraph.) (Special to "The Evening Post.") AUCKLAND, This Day. The decision to accept a permanent pastorate of the Beresford Street Congregational Church was announced by the Rev. Lionel B. Fletcher at the morning service yesterday. The announcement was made in response to a unanimous, call by the. congregation for him to remain indefinitely as pastor. As the result of his three years' work the church has been crowded out, and it had been necessary to use the Majestic Theatre for the time being. Under the supervision of Mrs. Fletcher, a great deal of social work was being done among the poorer classes, and during the past three years the attendance at the Sunday School had trebled. The roll now numbered 750. 

Mr. Fletcher said that he therefore felt it would be a serious mistake for him to leave at the present stage. He had never enjoyed three years in a pastorate better than those spent in Auckland. Both lie and Mrs. Fletcher loved the people and the city of Auckland, and felt that they should remain until they had reason to depart.

Evening Post 22 November 1926

From that point, the church went from strength to strength, until the motorway developments of the 1960s, cutting off this part of Beresford Street (now a Square). The congregation dwindled once more, and it was purchased in 1994. Today, it is a facility for hire called Hopetoun Alpha (for more information, see the K'Road heritage site.)

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