St David's Church (Presbyterian)

4 Britannia Street, Petone, Lower Hutt

  • St David's Church (Presbyterian).
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Helen McCracken. Date: 18/10/2001.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 2887 Date Entered 11th December 2003


Extent of List Entry

Registration covers the building in its entirety and the land on which it rests.

City/District Council

Hutt City


Wellington Region

Legal description

Pt Sec 5 Hutt District (CTs WN236/5 and 48/1690), Wellington Land District


The first Presbyterian Church service held in New Zealand was conducted on Petone Beach on 23 February 1840. Services for the Petone parish were then held in private houses. St David's Church was constructed in 1889. It is a simple timber Gothic church that, when built, featured a large steeple and four smaller pinnacles that flanked the sides of the west fa├žade. These were later removed.

In 1893 a manse was built alongside the church. In 1905 the Cook family donated the large stained window, depicting St David, in memory of Thomas Cook. In 1926 electric lighting was installed. Sometime after the 1940s screen walls on either side of the organ were erected, forming two memorial rooms. One room commemorated the safe return of those parishioners who had served in World War II; the other, the life of a past parishioner, Graham Thomas Aitken. Since an amalgamation of churches in the 1970s, the local Samoan community has used the church for services. In 1993 a restoration project restored steeple and pinnacles, and a porte cochere was added at the same time.

St David's Church, Petone, forms a significant historical link with the origins of Presbyterian worship in New Zealand, first started with the 1840 service on the nearby beach for the newly-arrived settlers. It was the first Presbyterian church built in the township. It has been in constant use since its construction, and survives largely intact to the present time. Hence its spiritual values are maintained and there is a long community association with the place. The esteem in which it is held by the local community is demonstrated by the desire of local people to restore and use it. The memorials in the church testify to social and commemorative values. The deceptively simple design of the interior shows considerable technical accomplishment in the barrel vaulting and linked support brackets.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

St David's Church is historically significant. It is constructed near the Petone beach, where the first Presbyterian church service in New Zealand was held on 23 February 1840. From that time onward, Presbyterians worshipped in people's homes, but St David's Church, the first church constructed in the area, has social, spiritual and traditional values for the local community. The importance of the church to the community is both reinforced and reflected in the memorials contained in the interior of the structure and the continuance of worship in it.

St David's Church is closely associated with the beginnings of the Presbyterian Church in New Zealand through continuance of worship in Petone since 1840. The first landings of Scottish settlers were on the Petone beach and the first Presbyterian service was held nearby on 23 February, 1840, a significant occasion in New Zealand history.

St David's has been in continuous use as a church since it was built in 1889. Hence there is a very strong community association with the place and esteem for it amongst the Presbyterian and Island congregations.

There are also both symbolic and commemorative values exemplified by the prominent stained glass window and other internal memorials.

Although the architect is unknown, the design of the church, both inside and out, shows considerable technical accomplishment through the use of effective barrel vaulting and buttressed timber construction.

Britannia Street, where this church is sited, contains several other church and associated buildings, as well as prominent old houses. The manse, built in 1893 alongside the church, forms the nearest part of the historical and cultural complex.


Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

St David's Church, at 4 Britannia Street, Petone, was built in 1889. It represents a major step towards consolidation of the Presbyterian church in Petone, which had come close to being abandoned in 1887. In that year, the Wellington Presbytery offered its support and the members of the Petone congregation were persuaded to continue. The construction of a church building gave them a focus for their endeavours. The site chosen for St David's was located just 500 metres inland from the beach where the very first Presbyterian service in New Zealand was held on 23 February 1840.

A noted early minister of the church was the Reverend Alexander Thomson, ordained in August 1889, who spent his entire ministry at this church until his retirement 25 years later. He was involved in the establishment of the Petone West School and also had a strong association with the Petone Technical College. The nearby manse was erected in his time, in 1893.

Despite the dramatic origins of St David's, few of its original records have survived. Hence the identities of its architect and builder are not known. However the construction and appearance of the church indicates that they were highly accomplished. The Church is Colonial Gothic in style, as shown by the lancet windows, bell tower, pinnacles and buttresses, which are all executed in timber. The steep-pitched roof is another indicator. Internally, the Church has a finely-built barrel-vaulted ceiling which extends the full length of the building, constructed from tongue and groove timber. It is supported by pairs of ornately-carved timber brackets. The walls are simple tongue and groove and there is little other ornament. Some of the windows contain coloured glass; there is a single stained glass window donated to the memory of Thomas Cook by the Cook family in 1905. Scattered memorial plaques are located around the walls, some of which were obtained from the memorial rooms that were erected at the east end in the late 1940s and subsequently dismantled. One of these rooms was a Second World War memorial, while the other was in memory of an Elder, Graham Thoms Aitken, who died in September 1946. Other memorials include one to those killed in the First World War.

Since 1970, as a result of church amalgamations, the local Samoan community has used the church for worship and some of the more recent changes date from this time. Storm damage and wood rot were responsible for eventual loss of pinnacles at the west end of the church, but these were replaced in 1993, together with some of the weatherboard cladding, buttresses and piles. The west end entrance porch was extended outwards and opened up in 1994 to form a carriage porch so cars could unload their occupants under shelter. Other changes include linkages to the modern hall at the east end of the building via passageways cut through the east wall (in 1987) - these are partly screened by the organ pipes and the seats for Church Elders in front of the congregation.

Physical Description

This rectangular church is approximately 30m long and 11m wide. The west end is the most ornate; a triangular gable framed by a pair of simple columns each capped with a pinnacle. In the centre there is a large tripartite lancet window with hood mould. Above the apex of the gable is a small bell tower with a pyramidal roof. The former entrance porch has been extended outwards as a carriage porch, but with the previous decoration largely maintained. The only additions to the sides of the church are the multiple buttresses between the lancet windows.

Internally, the church forms an undivided rectangle, and is relatively plain. The most significant feature is the shallow-arched, barrel-vaulted roof, with ornately-decorated, massive timber brackets (hammerbeams), each pair being linked by bracing rods across the church. Some of the lancet windows contain panes of coloured glass; there is a single very ornate memorial stained glass window on the northern side. The decorated pipe organ is free-standing out from the eastern end behind where an altar would be in a Catholic or Anglican church. The extreme eastern end wall of the church has been pierced in recent years by a number of openings which lead to services and the modern hall behind the building. High at the eastern end are a joined pair of relatively small lancet windows. The roof of the church is covered with brown Decramastic tiles.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1889 -
Church erected

1893 -
Manse built along side

1900 -
Gas lighting installed

1905 -
Stained glass window depicting St David installed

1926 -
Electric lighting installed

1940 -
Memorial rooms erected at east end (removed at unknown date)

1987 -
New church hall built with linkage to church east end - openings cut

1993 - 1994
Repairs, carriage porch added, steeple/flanking pinnacles reinstated, church repiled.

Construction Details

A single-gabled, rectangular timber-framed building clad in rusticated weatherboard and lined with tongue and groove boards. The ceiling, also of tongue and groove boards, is barrel-vaulted, supported on prominent carved large timber brackets. Lancet windows pierce the walls on both sides, with a paired, linked window high at the eastern end. Triple lancet windows at the western end and a fanlight over the original door have been somewhat altered by the creation of a carriage porch, added in 1994. Paired wooden pinnacles form small towers at the lower ends of the western gable; the latter is surmounted by a small timber bell tower with pointed cap. Both sides of the church are braced by timber buttresses. The roof has been covered with Decramastic tiles.

Completion Date

11th December 2003

Report Written By

Helen McCracken and Geoff Mew.

Information Sources

Butterworth, 1988

Susan Butterworth, 'Petone, A history', Auckland, 1988

Fearnley, 1977

Charles Fearnley, Early Wellington Churches, Wellington, 1977

St David's Presbyterian Church, 1936

St David's Presbyterian Church, Souvenir Booklet, Jubliee 1886-1936, Petone, 1936

St David's Presbyterian Church, 1949

St David's Presbyterian Church, Souvenir Booklet, Sixtieth Anniversary, Petone, 1949

Other Information

A fully referenced version 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.