St John's Presbyterian Church (Former)
24 Inniscort Street And Sligo Street, Cromwell
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 2
Private/No Public Access
28th February 2013
Extent of List Entry
Extent includes the land described as Secs 35-36 Blk III Town of Cromwell (CT OT43/204 and OT5/92), Otago Land District, and the building known as St John's Presbyterian Church (Former) thereon. The registration excludes the modern manse on Section 36. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).
Central Otago District
Secs 35-36 Blk III Town of Cromwell (CT OT43/204 and OT5/92), Otago Land District
St John’s Presbyterian Church (Former) designed by prominent architect F.W. Burwell, served its congregation from 1881 until its closure in 2004. The Church is a prominent Cromwell landmark overlooking Lake Dunstan / Te Wairere.
The former St John’s Presbyterian Church has architectural significance as a design by F.W. Burwell built from local stone. Burwell designed buildings in Otago and Southland before making his name in Western Australia. St John’s history reminds us of the importance of the Presbyterian Church in Otago and represents the establishment of a settled community in the wake of the 1860s gold rushes. The Church represents the importance of religion to the Presbyterian community in Cromwell, and recalls the spiritual importance of the Church building in worship.
Though Presbyterian services were held in Cromwell in the 1860s, it was not until the mid-1870s that fundraising got underway for a permanent place of worship. Burwell’s church opened in 1881 to general acclamation. Demands for more space led to the addition of a hall/Sunday School in 1913 and several other additions mid-century. In 2003 the congregation decided to move to larger premises and St John’s was closed and sold.
The former St John’s Presbyterian Church is located on a prominent site on the corner of Inniscort and Sligo Streets in the old part of Cromwell. The Church sits in a mature garden setting, amidst lawns and trees. Nearby on Sligo Street is the Catholic Church of the Irish Martyrs (1909). These churches stand as landmarks overlooking Lake Dunstan / Te Wairere and are visible from across the lake.
St John’s is built of schist in simple Gothic style by contractors Grant and Mackellar. Its notable features include the three-light grouped Lancet window with limestone tracery, the Lancet windows, the double entry doors with ornamental strapping, and the belfry mounted on the gable. The Church Hall, added in 1913 uses the basic form and Gothic style of the church but with a move towards Tudor Revival style. Later additions are more modern in style.
In 2012 the church is in private ownership.
Historical Significance or Value
St John’s Presbyterian Church (Former) has historic significance as a reminder of early settler and church history in Cromwell. The church has historic significance, representing the over 120 year history of Presbyterian worship in the town. The building, constructed in 1881, illustrates the community putting down roots in the aftermath of the gold rushes and the establishment of a Presbyterian identity. The Church is also a physical representation of the importance of religion to the Presbyterian community in Cromwell, and recalls the spiritual importance of the Church building in worship.
Aesthetic Significance or Value
This church, constructed from the schist that many Cromwell and other Central Otago buildings were built from, demonstrates a Gothic design using a local material, giving it a vernacular aspect. Its setting on a rise overlooking Lake Dunstan / Te Wairere gives it a strong visual presence.
Architectural Significance or Value
The former St John’s Presbyterian Church has architectural significance as a design by prominent architect F.W. Burwell. Conservation architect Jackie Gillies describes Burwell’s use of the Gothic idiom as confident with some unusual detailing. The use of schist construction is an important local architectural type.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
The St John’s Presbyterian Church (Former) represents the history of Presbyterianism in small rural Otago townships. The history of the Church in Cromwell tells the story of the importance of Christianity during late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and represents the efforts of the Presbyterian community. More than fulfilling the religious needs of the local community, the Church also represents the religious requirements of the Presbyterian congregation in the 1880s.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history
The building’s architect, Frederick William Burwell, is a significant architect. The pivotal nature of his work was recognised in Britain with Burwell becoming a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1880, at the age of just 34. Although better known for his commercial buildings, St John’s Presbyterian Church (Former) is important because it is among the buildings he designed in the Central Otago area, early in his career.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape
St John’s Presbyterian Church (Former) occupies a prominent site overlooking Lake Dunstan and forms part of a group of buildings which define the old part of Cromwell. Other buildings within this historical landscape include the Catholic Church of the Irish Martyrs (1909), the Cromwell Kilwinning Lodge No 98 on Melmore Terrace (Register No. 3343, Category 2), the Cromwell Courthouse (Former) on Inniscourt Street (Register No. 3342, Category 2) and St Andrew's Anglican Church on the corner of Blyth and Donegal Streets (Register No. 3345, Category 2).
Burwell, F. W.
F.W. Burwell (1846-1915) is noted for designing many buildings in Invercargill, transforming the centre of the town between 1874 and the mid-1880s. Born in Scotland, Burwell served his articles with the architect John Matthews and immigrated to New Zealand in the late 1860s. By 1873, he had established his practice in Queenstown. He moved to Invercargill the following year. Once established there, he began designing elegant two and three-storey buildings in the Renaissance style. He designed almost all the buildings in Dee Street, including the hospital. 'The Crescent' was another notable Invercargill streetscape created by Burwell. In recognition of his work, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1880. The depression in the 1880s saw his commissions decline and he moved to Australia in 1887 where he practised in Melbourne, Perth and then Fremantle. He was particularly successful in the last, as Western Australia was in the middle of a building boom, and a number of his commercial buildings in central Fremantle are now classified by the Australian Heritage Commission. Burwell returned to Melbourne in 1910, and died there five years later. (Jonathan Mane-Wheoki, 'Burwell, Frederick William (1846-1915)' in Jane Thomson (ed.), Southern People: a dictionary of Otago Southland biography, Dunedin, 1998, p. 74.)
Grant & McKellar
William Grant (d.1884) and Duncan MacKellar (d.1890) were building contractors working in Cromwell in the 1870s and 1880s. The two men were previously timber merchants together in the 1860s.
Duncan MacKellar (variant spelling McKellar) followed gold to Cromwell in 1862. He followed various occupations including dredging, timber rafting, carpentry, bridge building, and journalism and was head master of Cromwell School. He also represented the Kawarau electorate in the Provincial Council, and was at one time Secretary for Goldfields.
William Grant was active as a builder in Cromwell in the 1860s, winning the contract for the Bank of New South Wales there in 1867. Grant died at age 49 in January 1884.
Source: Registration Report for St John's Presbyterian Church (Former), Register No. 2131, Dec 2012.
Kai Tahu whanui were familiar with the Upper Clutha area. The Mataau/Clutha River was one of the major river systems which enabled exploration and discovery. Many trails were established by tipuna who followed the natural valley systems of the Waitaki, Waihemo, Taieri and the Mataau to the plains and valleys of Central Otago for seasonal food gathering. Along the trails the takata whenua established kaika nohoaka (semi-permanent campsites). These sites were carefully placed to allow maximum use of local resources. The high country mountains, valleys and plains were places of spiritual significance. The site where modern day Cromwell is was known as Wairere.
It was other resources, first pastoralism and then gold that drew European settlers to the Upper Clutha. The history of the town of Cromwell is linked with the history of the discovery and mining of gold in Central Otago. Gold mining began in Central Otago with Gabriel Read’s discovery of gold in Gabriel’s Gully, near present-day Lawrence, in 1861. The following year Hartley and Reilly left this gully and travelled further into Central Otago. They spent the winter prospecting in the now-flooded Cromwell Gorge between present day Clyde and Cromwell, finding enough gold in the area to travel back to Dunedin and lodge 87 pounds with the Gold Receiver.
The 1862 discovery precipitated a rush to the area. Cromwell, at the northern end of the gorge and only a mile or so from Hartley’s claim, was first known as The Junction, for its location on the junction of the Kawarau and Clutha Rivers. The town was surveyed and given its official name in 1863. Cromwell was declared a municipality in 1866.
Cromwell’s first Presbyterian clergyman was the Reverend Benjamin Drake. From the time of Drake’s ministry, Cromwell clergymen also ministered to the Bannockburn congregation. Drake was appointed to the Cromwell Presbyterian Church in 1868 and ordained as a minister in 1875. From 1865 until the church was completed in 1881, services were held in the first school building and then in the stone schoolroom in Sligo Street. Cromwell, then, became a formal charge in 1874. A Session was not formally appointed until 1892 and a management committee in 1898.
A lack of timber meant that most of the town structures were built from stone, as was the case with St John’s Presbyterian Church. A building fund was begun in 1874. Various events including a bazaar at Cromwell, a soiree at Bannockburn as well as a synod grant show the community support for the project. In 1878, the year that Benjamin Drake retired, the first steps towards building a Presbyterian Church were taken with the purchase of a section of land bordering Sligo and Inniscourt streets in the name of the Otago Presbyterian Church Board of Property.
Local historian J.C. Parcell records in July 1879 that tenders were called for the construction of a stone church 50ft by 30ft (15 by 9m) with a bell tower 54ft (16m) high. The bell tower does not seem to have been built. Prominent Invercargill architect F.W. Burwell designed the building. The Church was built by local contractors Grant and MacKellar.
F.W. Burwell (1846-1915) is noted for designing many buildings in Invercargill, which transformed the centre of the town between 1874 and the mid-1880s. By 1873 he was established in practice in Queenstown and moved to Invercargill the following year. In recognition of his work he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1880. The depression in the 1880s saw his commissions decline and he moved to Australia in 1887 where he practised in Melbourne, Perth and then Fremantle. His other churches include St Paul’s Presbyterian Church (Category 2, Register No. 2517) in Invercargill and St John’s Presbyterian Church (Category 2, Register No. 2119) in Arrowtown.
The Church, bell and furniture cost £1,095. The roof trusses are constructed in the queen-post style, and the ceiling is lined with tongue and groove. The main entrance and lancets on either side are hooded (the opening is recessed into the hood). The first service was held in the church on April 1 1881. The Otago Daily Times wrote ‘the plucky little town has shown in its church building operations a wisdom worthy of all commendation.’ The church occupied a ‘commanding position, and is the first object to strike the tourist.’
In 1905-1910 a minister burning accumulated papers burnt down the church’s stable and sheds. The ladies of the parish funded the rebuilding of the sheds, and the construction of a Sunday School. The Sunday School opened debt free in May 1913. The Sunday school cost £399. In 1934 a kitchen was added to the Sunday School.
In the 1970s the government developed a plan to flood the Clutha Valley in a scheme for power generation. While many of Cromwell’s residents were dismayed by these plans that involved submerging a large part of their town, in 1992 the flooding finally took place. Much of the original town in Melmore Terrace, built close to the banks of the Clutha, disappeared under Lake Dunstan/ Te Wairere, with a new township being constructed on a higher terrace closer to State Highway 8B. St John’s Church, built on a higher terrace above the site of the original town, was not affected by the development of Lake Dunstan, and remains a significant landmark.
In 2003 Cromwell’s Presbyterian community made the decision to build a larger church on a new site and to sell St John’s and the neighbouring manse. St John’s was sold in March 2004.
In 2012 St John’s remains in private ownership.
The former St John’s Presbyterian Church is located on a prominent site on the corner of Inniscort and Sligo Streets in the old part of Cromwell. The Church sits in a mature garden setting, amidst lawns and trees. Nearby on Sligo Street is the Catholic Church of the Irish Martyrs (1909). These churches stand as landmarks overlooking Lake Dunstan/ Te Wairere and are visible from across the lake.
St John’s is built in simple Gothic style. It is a single-gabled church constructed of schist rubble masonry laid to course. The front elevation has a central three-light grouped Lancet window. It has limestone tracery and a shouldered surround on the upper part of the window. Single Lancet windows, also with shouldered surrounds, flank a central arched double door. All three window openings contain leaded glass. The double door is made from tongue and groove timber with elaborate strap hinges.
The side elevations are divided into four equal bays. They are lit by single Lancet window openings. The roof is corrugated iron. There is a belfry mounted on the gable above the main door. There are cast iron ventilation grills at the base of the walls.
The Church Hall, added in 1913, uses the basic form and Gothic style of the church but with a move towards Tudor Revival style. Conservation architect Jackie Gillies writes that this style progression is shown in the overhanging eaves, the projecting timber porch, the window proportions and tracery. The construction is schist rubble brought to course. The openings are pointed arches throughout, with the exception of the round-headed southwest window.
A kitchen was added in 1934. In the 1950s the former Crown Terrace Schoolhouse was moved onto the site to house a Sunday School. It was removed back to Cardrona in the 1990s.
The interior of the church is divided into two spaces – an entrance lobby and the body of the church itself. These are divided by a timber screen, topped by a choir balcony at mezzanine level reached by a modern spiral staircase.
In the nave of the church the timber truss roof is a combination of hammer beam and tie beam forms, with curved braces. The roof planes between the trusses are clad in tongue and groove timber.
The Church Hall is a single open space with a half-pitched ceiling divided into three bays by arched brackets. Walls are rendered and painted. There is a timber dado rail and skirting. The original timber doors and windows remain.
The later additions are plain and functional. Walls are plastered and painted and the fittings are modern throughout.
Tenders called for construction of church
Rear extension for Sunday school classes constructed
Kitchen added to the Sunday school extension, used also as a vestry
1950 - 1959
Former Crown Terrace Schoolhouse moved onto site as Sunday School
1990 - 1999
Schoolhouse removed back to Cardrona
Stone, timber, corrugated iron
5th December 2013
Report Written By
R. Gilkison, Early Days in Central Otago Whitcoulls, Christchurch, 1978
N. Kennedy and R. Murray, Early Pioneers in the Cromwell Area 1863-1880, Cromwell & District Historical Society with the assistance of the Cromwell Community Board, Cromwell, 1999
James C. Parcell, 'Heart of the Desert: A History of the Cromwell and Bannockburn Districts of Central Otago', Christchurch, 1951
R.M. Paterson, 100 Years: The Centennial of the Establishment of the Parish of St. John's, Cromwell. [Cromwell]
A fully referenced registration report is available from the Otago/Southland Office 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.