Pitt Street Church (Methodist)

78 Pitt Street, Newton, Auckland

  • Pitt Street Church.
    Copyright: Wikimedia Commons.
  • .
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Martin Jones. Date: 11/06/2004.
  • .
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Martin Jones. Date: 11/06/2004.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 626 Date Entered 24th June 2005 Date of Effect 24th June 2005


Extent of List Entry

The registration includes part of the land in RT NA597/52 (as shown on Map C in Appendix 4) and the church, its fittings and fixtures thereon. The area of registration extends one metre beyond the outer edge of the external wall of the structure.

City/District Council

Auckland Council


Auckland Council

Legal description

Part of Pt Allot 34 and Allot 33 Sec 29 Town of Auckland (RT NA597/52)


Erected in 1865-1866 to accommodate an expanding Methodist ministry in Auckland, the Pitt Street church has been referred to as 'the Cathedral of Auckland Methodism'. The first Methodist gatherings in Auckland were held in 1841, soon after the establishment of the settlement as colonial capital of New Zealand. Early services were conducted in temporary accommodation such as the Supreme Court House in Queen Street and a carpenter's shop in Chancery Street, while a purpose-built timber chapel was erected in High Street in 1843. This place of worship was replaced by a brick structure five years later, and by 1859 expansion had included the construction of another brick chapel on Hobson Street. The New Zealand Wesleyan mission was administered from Auckland from 1843 until 1854, the year the British Methodists created the new Conference of Australasia, which included two New Zealand mission areas. By 1866 the Northern Wesleyan District, of which Auckland was head, included the entire North Island, while the Southern District was administered from Christchurch. Methodism is said to have flourished among early colonists because it had a tradition of using understandable language, and was unpretentious and democratic. From the 1840s until 1900, about ten percent of New Zealand's population were Methodist. The faith remains the country's fourth largest religious denomination.

In 1864, a one-acre site was purchased in Pitt Street for the express purpose of building a "large chapel". While the traditional centre of Auckland Methodism in High Street lay in the commercial heart of the settlement, the new site overlooked the town from a prominent position on the skyline. The structure was planned as an impressive and ornate building, contrasting with the plainer appearance of earlier nonconformist chapels. There are indications that its use of Gothic Revival, an architectural style more closely associated with the Anglican Church, may have been controversial.

The foundation stone for the church was laid in November 1865 by Thomas Russell (1830-1904), a member of the High Street congregation and acknowledged leader of Auckland's business community, who was instrumental in the foundation of the New Zealand Insurance Company and the Bank of New Zealand. Estimated to have involved an outlay of about £11,000, the cost of the church exceeded initial expectations and its design was modified accordingly. The church was claimed in 1865 as being second only in New Zealand to Christchurch's Durham Street Wesleyan Church, which was also under construction. The Pitt Street Church's striking brick and stone exterior incorporated numerous stone heads, believed to have been executed by the renowned carver and engraver Anton Teutenberg (1840-1933). The church was designed by Philip Herapath (1822-1892), who was subsequently responsible for a number of other nonconformist buildings in the Auckland area, including Wesleyan chapels at Onehunga (1877), Pukekohe (1878) and Pokeno (1878), and the Beresford Street Congregational Church (1874-1876), a pioneer in concrete design.

The church opened for use on 14 October 1866, with room for 650 individuals. It incorporated a large schoolroom in its basement, while the main church interior followed the 'preaching hall' tradition of nonconformist worship, containing a large gallery for the choir and Sunday School children who required supervision during the service. The church's first minister was James Buller (1812-1884), who had earlier been a missionary at Mangungu Mission Station in the Hokianga and who had carried out the earliest official Methodist services in Auckland in September 1841. The leader of the Hokianga Mission, John Hobbs (1800-1883), became a member of the Pitt Street congregation while living at nearby Beresford Street, and his funeral was held at the church after his death in 1883. Other missionaries to follow Buller in his role as minister included Alexander Reid and William Kirk.

After the closure of the High Street chapel in 1874, the Pitt Street structure effectively became the leading church in the Northern District. Plaques honouring other notable Methodist missionary pioneers, such as John Bumby (1808-1840) and John Skevington (?-1845), were transferred from the High Street site. Rents for use of the pews helped to reduce the large debt that the church had incurred during construction work. With a growing local population during the boom years of the 1870s and early 1880s, the Auckland Circuit headed by the Pitt Street church provided the initiatives, money and workforce for the expansion of chapels into developing areas. Influenced by the work of Wesleyans in Great Britain, laymen in the Pitt Street church also fostered the Helping Hand Mission, which met in halls in the poorer areas of the parish as part of an evangelical revival.

With the enhanced role of the church, plans to construct internal side galleries in accordance with the original design were completed in 1877. A large hall was also opened directly next to the church for adult Sunday School classes, while a new parsonage was built on the site of an earlier brick structure fronting Karangahape Road. Children's classes continued to be held in the basement of the chapel. For some time the Pitt Street establishment was regarded as a model school. Further expansion of the Pitt Street church occurred in 1887, with a two-storeyed addition at its eastern end. Possibly modelled on Herapath's initial design, it contained a lecture hall and classrooms in its basement area, and a 'church parlour', choir vestry and classrooms above. Each Annual New Zealand Wesleyan Conference that met in Auckland was held at Pitt Street, and in 1897 the church hosted the General Conference of Australasia.

The nineteenth-century congregation included prominent local businessmen, such as the Wilson brothers (proprietors of the New Zealand Herald) and William and George Winstone (general carriers and quarriers), as well as members who were active in new initiatives for women, such as Eliza White and Annie Schnackenberg. Joseph Liston Wilson headed one of the earliest petitions to Parliament on the issue of women's suffrage, while Eliza White started the Ladies' Christian Association in 1875, which was later converted in the Auckland Branch of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA). Schnackenberg was national president of the Women's Christian Temperance Movement (WCTU) in 1893, when New Zealand women were granted the vote. Prominent visitors included Sir William Fox, who gave an address on the responsibility of the Christian church in relation to the liquor trade in 1887, Herbert Booth of the Salvation Army, and the chaplains of the British and American Fleets in 1924 and 1925 respectively. The Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) also attended service there in 1920, while Queen Salote of Tonga is said to have attended the church regularly while in the city. The radio celebrity 'Uncle Tom' - Tom Garland (1877-1964) - a founder of the innovative 'Friendly Road' radio church in Auckland in the 1930s, was in charge of Sunday School music at the church and later became a trustee.

Internal alterations to the church during the twentieth century have included modifications to the position of the organ and pulpit, and the addition of a number of memorial windows. In 1962 more significant changes were carried out to the front of the building, when a single-storey vestibule was added and the internal side galleries were removed. Changes to the surrounding site, owned by the church trustees, have included the construction of a row of shops on the Karangahape Road corner in 1904, and the replacement of the earlier timber hall by the three-storeyed Bicentennial Wesleyan Hall in 1939. The church continues to serve as an important place of worship in the inner city, with ongoing Sunday School programmes and Youth Groups. Over the past few decades, the church has had significant links to several of Auckland's ethnic groups, including the Samoan, Tongan and Korean communities.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The church has substantial historical value for its tangible links with several of New Zealand's Wesleyan missionary pioneers, prominent early businessmen, and notable individuals involved in wider Christian organisations and movements for social reform. Its historical significance extends to its role in the development of Methodism in Auckland and the wider Wesleyan community through its position as a 'Mother Church' and as a centre for national and international gatherings, as well through being a notable early Sunday School.

The Pitt Street Church (Methodist) has aesthetic value for its visual appearance and for the contribution it makes to the streetscape in the Karangahape Road/Pitt Street precinct. It is one of only two surviving buildings in Auckland believed to incorporate decorative carvings sculpted by Anton Teutenberg. The church is architecturally significant as an early example of Methodist Gothic Revival design, created by the architect Philip Herapath.

The building is both spiritually and socially significant as a place of worship and gathering, which has been in continuous use for nearly 140 years.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history

The Pitt Street Church (Methodist) reflects important and representative aspects of New Zealand's history, including the development of Methodism in Auckland and the role of religion in the spiritual, social, educational and cultural life of the local community.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history

The church is associated with people of importance to New Zealand history including early Wesleyan missionaries such as John Hobbs and James Buller, prominent local businessmen, and a number of individuals involved in social reform including Annie Schnackenberg and 'Uncle Tom' (Garland), co-founder of the 'Friendly Road Church', a non-denominational radio church in Auckland.

(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history

The well-preserved historic fabric of the place - including its gallery, pews and other internal elements - has potential to provide knowledge of past attitudes to worship, religious education and other aspects of New Zealand history.

(f) The potential of the place for public education

Located beside a major thoroughfare in a busy part of Auckland city centre, the place has potential for public education about the importance of religion in general and Wesleyanism/Methodism in particular, in both colonial and more recent times.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place

The building can be considered significant for certain aspects of its design, notably its fusion of traditional nonconformist and newer Gothic Revival architecture within a Wesleyan context. It also has design significance for its internal stone corbels, which are an early example of the rendition of New Zealand's indigenous foliage for decorative effect.

(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place

The church's symbolic or commemorative value is apparent from the memorial plaques in the main body of the church (some of which were relocated from the earlier Wesleyan chapel in High Street, Auckland), from the windows commemorating committed individuals, and the memorial plaques honouring young men of the congregation who gave their lives in the First and Second World Wars.

(i) The importance of the identifying historic places known to date from early periods of New Zealand settlement

The church was erected just 25 years after the foundation of Auckland as a colonial settlement. The Pitt Street Church is one of Auckland's major early places of worship.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape

The church is a significant part of a wider historical and cultural complex in the Pitt Street and Karangahape Road area, which incorporates a number of significant historic structures, including the adjacent, Methodist-owned Pitt Street Buildings on the corner of Pitt Street and Karangahape Road (NZHPT Registration # 625, Category II historic place).


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Herapath, Philip

Herapath became a member of the Auckland Institute of Architects in 1885. His designs included institutional and ecclesiastical buildings, such as the main block of Auckland Hospital (1875, demolished 1964) and Wesleyan churches in Pitt St (1865), Onehunga (1877), Pukekohe and Pokeno (1878). The most important remaining example of his work is the Beresford Street Congregational Church (1875), now St James's Presbyterian Church. This was a pioneer design in concrete.

Teutenberg, Anton

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Annabel, Milton

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

White, Henry

Brick and stonework - Register number 626

Kaye, Robert

Scoria work - register number 626

Froude, Robert

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Heron, James

1886-87 addition - register number 626.

Shop and Office Specialties Ltd

1962 additions/ alterations - register number 626

West, Robert

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

The church lies in the southern part of Auckland's Central Business District, on the upper slopes of a ridge overlooking the city centre. It occupies a site on the eastern side of Pitt Street, adjoining its intersection with Karangahape Road. The building lies within the Auckland City Council's Karangahape Road precinct, whose distinctive character is derived from a number of factors including its ridge-top location, orientation and aspect, building form and architecture. There are a number of heritage buildings in the immediate vicinity of the church, including the former Fire Station in Pitt Street (NZHPT Registration # 117, Category I historic place), the Pitt Street Buildings on the corner of Pitt Street and Karangahape Road (NZHPT Registration # 625, Category II historic place), the former George Courts Department Store (NZHPT Registration # 580, Category II historic place) and the Hallenstein Brothers Building (NZHPT Registration # 586, Category II historic place), both in Karangahape Road.

The church occupies a sloping site, which descends from southwest to northeast. Other structures within the same legal title include a two-storeyed block of ten shops, built by the Church trustees in 1904 on the Karangahape Road intersection, and the Wesley Bicentennial Hall, a three-storeyed building constructed in 1939-40 between the shops and church. The church is linked to the hall by a short air-bridge.

The church is a large building, fusing nonconformist chapel design with Gothic Revival style. It comprises an original structure five bays in length (1865-1866), a rear addition of three bays (1886-1887) and a smaller front vestibule (1962). The walls of the original structure are of red brick with white stone dressings, concealed beneath plaster and paint, and are underpinned by basalt lower walls. This part of the building contains a basement storey, originally used as a classroom. Two buttresses run the full height of the Pitt Street façade and are surmounted by ornamental masonry towers. Further buttresses set diagonally at the four corners of the original building. The main facade incorporates a large traceried window and a number of carved stone details, including two heads believed to represent John and Charles Wesley, founders of the Methodist faith. The interior includes a large room in its basement, used for services by the Korean Methodist community, while the main body of the church contains a large gallery, original pews and a barrel-vaulted timber ceiling, whose principals rest upon stone corbels carved with representations of New Zealand foliage. The walls bear nineteenth-century memorial plaques (to a number of early missionaries), memorial windows and other tablets of historical value, including details of pew rents.

The two-storeyed rear addition is of a similar style, constructed on a lower part of the site. Its roofline steps down slightly from the main structure, and its main walls have been externally plastered. This contains a number of rooms currently reserved for Sunday School and committee use. The later single-storey vestibule extending across the front of the original structure is of a plainer Gothic appearance, incorporating broad lancet windows and two doorways in extended porches, which protrude at an angle at either end of the façade. The roofing material for the main buildings is slate.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1865 - 1866
Construction of original church

1870 -
Internal modifications: small side galleries erected

1877 - 1879
Internal modifications, including fuller side galleries and a new rostrum

1886 - 1887
Two-storeyed addition at east end

1911 -
Internal modifications, including seating for choir behind pulpit and a new organ at east end

Exterior plastered and painted

1929 - 1934
Main timber trusses replaced with steel, tie rods added and rear wall tied in to the rest of the building

Internal modifications, including relocation of organ console and choir with higher 'quarterdeck' pulpit behind

1962 -
Addition of a single-storeyed vestibule at west end. Also internal modifications, including incorporation of old vestibule into nave, removal of side galleries, rebuilding of organ

1962 -
Lowering of central pulpit, and provision of a small side chapel

Construction Details

Plastered brick with stone dressings, scoria masonry basement walls, concrete foundations and slate roof.

Information Sources

Chappell, 1941

Albert Chappell, Across a Hundred Years 1841-1941: A Brief History of Methodism in Auckland, Auckland, 1941

Daily Southern Cross

Daily Southern Cross

13 October 1866, p.5 (2-3)

Hames, 1970

Eric Hames, 100 Years in Pitt Street: A Brief History of the Pitt Street Methodist Church, Auckland, 1970

Hames, 1972

Eric Hames, Out of the Common Way: The European Church in the Colonial Era 1840-1913, Auckland, 1972

Hames, 1974

Eric Hames, Coming of Age 1913-1972, Auckland, 1974

Morley, 1900

Rev. William Morley, The History of Methodism in New Zealand, Wellington, 1900

New Zealand Herald

New Zealand Herald, 12 July 1932, p. 6; 28 September 1933, p. 6.

16 November 1865, p.5 (2-6)

Other Information

A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Northern Region Office.

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.