Mortuary Chapel

76 Old Karori Road (Main Entrance), Karori, Wellington

  • Mortuary Chapel.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Chris Horwell. Date: 23/07/2015.
  • Mortuary Chapel. Image included in Field Record Form Collection.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand . Taken By: C Cochran. Date: 4/07/1981.
  • Mortuary Chapel.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Chris Horwell. Date: 23/07/2015.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 1362 Date Entered 11th December 2003

Locationopen/close

City/District Council

Wellington City

Region

Wellington Region

Legal description

Part of Lots 30 and 31 DP 9848 [note this is the legal description for the Karori Cemetery]

Summaryopen/close

Karori Cemetery was established in 1891 to replace the severely overcrowded Bolton Street Cemetery. The first burial took place in August that year but it was another six months before regular burials began. In the interim the Wellington City Council, which was responsible for the cemetery, set about developing the necessary infrastructure.

The mortuary chapel was probably the second purpose-built structure at the cemetery; the first being the sexton's cottage, long since replaced. The chapel was originally constructed as a shelter for mourners. The proposal to build a shelter was first debated by the Council's Cemetery Committee in August 1891 but a decision was deferred. The City Surveyor, George Wiltshire (1846-1905), submitted a design for the building, and estimated the cost at £90 to £100. The lower of the two tender prices was £119.19.6, from S. Hemingway, and he was awarded the contract.

Built for the use of all, it was described by the sexton as having a tower with louvres and it came in for heavy criticism for not being able to keep out the weather. In early 1892 the shelter was enclosed with windows and a door. By at least 1904 the building was known as the mortuary chapel.

Initially the chapel was used by most denominations, but by the 1950s most burials took place in the far-flung corners of the cemetery, so the building became almost exclusively used by the Jewish community, which retained its burial section nearby. The building soon became named, informally, the Jewish Chapel. This association with the Jewish community was reinforced during this period when the Jewish community took responsibility for the building's maintenance, in return for a lease on the building. It became known as the Jewish Prayer House. The building narrowly escaped demolition in 1965, and in 1967 the Jewish community paid for it to be upgraded.

In 1977 the Jewish community moved to a new building at Makara cemetery and the building's condition deteriorated. Its restoration was supported by Ian McCutcheon, director of Wellington City Council's Parks and Recreation department, at a cost of $3000. The work undertaken included upgrading the foundations, installing a concrete floor, and the construction of a new roof.

In more recent times the chapel has been subject to further restoration but is largely unused at present. It is planned (2003) to use it as an interpretation centre, as part of an initiative to transform the cemetery into an historical park.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Karori Cemetery Mortuary Chapel is a place of considerable historic and architectural significance, both as the oldest surviving building in Karori Cemetery, Wellington's largest, and as a small but delightful example of Gothic revival architecture.

The building, which started as a shelter, has had a variety of uses over its life but has responded to the changing needs of the cemetery. It was particularly associated with the Jewish community through its location alongside the Jewish section, which was in use for interments for nearly 90 years. However, it was used by all denominations, particularly early on, and remains one of the most recognisable of the cemetery's buildings.

The building's Gothic style on a Greek cross plan gives the building both a formality and an aesthetic appeal. It displays the Victorian delight in the decorative, and is a fitting structure in an established cemetery.

The former Mortuary Chapel, Karori Cemetery should be assigned Category II status for its historical and cultural heritage significance, summarised as follows:

This chapel reflects important and representative aspects of New Zealand's history through its use, from 1892 until the 1970s, as a mortuary chapel in a major city cemetery.

While the building has not been associated with any significant events, the building was very likely to have been used as part of burial ceremonies for many significant people, particularly during the early period of the cemetery's history. However it is not possible to state with certainty which people were buried from that building. It was certainly associated with most members of the Jewish community buried in the cemetery.

There is relatively high public appreciation for this structure, as it is, along with the two crematorium chapels, probably the best known structure in the cemetery. The cemetery is a very well visited place, although this building is not visible from nearby streets.

It is likely that, given the heavily symbolic and commemorative nature of all cemeteries, that this building has considerable significance in this regard, although less so since it stopped being used for burial purposes.

This building is part of a very important historical and cultural landscape - Karori Cemetery. The cemetery has operated since 1891 and is a place where tens of thousands of burials and cremations have taken place. There are 35.5 hectares of graves, memorials, mausolea, columbaria, various buildings, paths and roads, trees, shrubs, gardens, fences, walls and gates. The collection of built structures and the landscape they occupy represents a unique and diverse cultural heritage landscape. The cemetery is a place where, through plot purchase, burial, cremation and genealogical connections, most families in Wellington (and many elsewhere) have some stake in its future.

Linksopen/close

Construction Professionalsopen/close

WCC Engineers Dept.

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Wiltshire, George

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

The former Mortuary Chapel occupies a site several hundred metres along the main drive from the main gate on Old Karori Road. It sits at the junction of several important paths and is a small but prominent structure.

Designed in a Gothic revival style, but Greek cross in plan, the chapel has four steep gables to each arm of the cross and a central turret with a broach spire. The building is timber-framed and clad, with rusticated weatherboards. The roof is clad with corrugated iron. There are double lancet windows over three of the bays and a trefoil arch and cutout over the door. The rest of glazing is simple two and four pane lights. The bargeboard decoration subtly reinforces the Gothic influence. The interior is lined with horizontal tongue and groove timbers, and has an exposed roof framing.

Construction Dates

Other
1891 -
First burial at Karori Cemetery

Original Construction
1891 -
Mortuary Chapel constructed as a shelter

Modification
1892 -
Building enclosed to form chapel space

Other
1950 -
Used almost exclusively by Jewish community

Other
1967 -
Some restoration undertaken by Jewish community

Other
1977 -
New building at Makara Cemetery used by Jewish community; Mortuary Chapel restored by Local Authority

Other
2003 -
Suggestions made for use of building as an interpretation centre

Construction Details

Timber

Completion Date

11th December 2003

Report Written By

Michael Kelly

Information Sources

Alington, 1978

M. Alington, Unquiet Earth; A History of the Bolton Street Cemetery, Wellington, 1978

Cochran, 2001

C. Cochran and Boffa Miskell, Wellington Heritage Building Inventory, non-residential buildings and precincts, Wellington City Council, 2003

Wellington City Council

Wellington City Council

M. Alington, 'Mortuary Chapel, Karori Cemetery', prepared for Wellington City Council, 1991

Conservation Plan

Conservation Plan

Four Decades Conservation, Karori Cemetery Conservation Plan, prepared for Wellington City Council, 2003

Other Information

A fully referenced copy of this report is available from the Central Region of the NZHPT.

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.