St Peter’s Church

St Peter’s Church Te Aro

211 Willis Street, Te Aro, Wellington
Map
  • Constructed

    1879

  • Architect(s)

    Thomas Turnbull

  • Builder(s)

  • St Peter’s Church is one of the great timber buildings of Wellington, the work of the foremost local architect of the time, Thomas Turnbull, and a significant example nationally of the Gothic style executed in timber. It has high aesthetic value for its architectural design, the assurance of its main interior space with plain white walls and rich timber finishes, its stained glass windows, and for its landmark/townscape qualities.

    The building, when seen as part of a group of fine 19th C Thomas Turnbull timber Gothic churches in Wellington’s CBD, is of national significance. 

    An Anglican church has occupied this site since 1847, seven years after regular European settlement began, giving St Peter’s an association with the land of over 150 years. The present building has stood since 1879 and has strong historical value for the city, and strong spiritual and commemorative associations for the generations of parishioners who have worshipped in it.  

  • close History
    • This timber Gothic Revival church is the second church on this site. It was designed in 1879 by the prominent Wellington architect, Thomas Turnbull. The land was originally purchased by Bishop Selwyn and the first church, designed by H.J.Cridland, was built in 1847-48. The church was used almost immediately after its construction as temporary accommodation for those who had lost their dwellings in the 1848 earthquake.

      St Peter’s was originally an extension of St Paul’s in Thorndon, and the first clergyman, Rev. R. Cole, led Sunday services at St Peter’s “Te Aro” at 10am and St Paul’s in Thorndon at 11:30am. The Wellington Anglican Diocese was so vast, and clergy were so few, that Rev. Cole was also responsible for the “church in Porirua”, a further evening service in Te Aro, and a church in the Hutt that was “fast advancing towards completion”. St Peter’s congregation grew quickly and was made a separate parish in 1859. The church was subject to so many alterations and additions over the next 20 years that it was later described as … ‘a large, straggling, disproportionate, shapeless, hideous deformity’, and a replacement church was planned.

      The first architect retained to design the new church was Mr. August E. Grosholz (aka M.A.E Grosholtz) who won the commission in an architectural design competition that included entries from Auckland, Napier, Christchurch and Dunedin. Grosholz was an architect from Manchester in England who had worked as an assistant to Thomas Turnbull, before operating his own architectural practice from an office in Grey Street in 1877. Grosholtz died before the drawings were completed and Thomas Turnbull completed the plans, but construction costs were so great that he was asked for a completely new design. His new plan provided for a congregation of 1000 parishioners but the seating was reduced to 800 before construction commenced.

      The site was cleared in 1879 when the original church was moved 45 metres for use as a temporary place of worship while the new church was under construction. The 1848 church was moved with all its fixtures and fittings to its new site in a single day, and was said to have been the largest building to have been moved in Wellington at the time. It survived undamaged, without a window broken or a “lamp-glass cracked” and even the church organ remained in tune.

      The foundation stone was laid on 7 May 1879 and the new church was consecrated on 21 December 1879 by the Bishop of Wellington, Frederick Wallis. The contractors were Murdoch and Rose, and the final cost of the building and furnishings was £7,213. The building was notable as the first in Wellington to be fitted with a peal of bells and these were said to be “by far the largest in New Zealand.” Only the smallest bell was rung at the church’s consecration, as it was decided to wait to sound a full peal until donations to cover the full £700 cost of the bells was raised. When the bells were finally rung it was found that the tower vibrated so badly that this threatened to damage the building. The bells have never been pealed “full-circle”.

      At the time of consecration there were no stained glass windows in St Peter’s. Frosted glass and, later, cathedral glass were used as a temporary expedient before stained glass memorial windows were gifted. An organ was ordered in 1886, and an entry porch was built in 1891 to the design of Frederick de Jersey Clere, who also designed the chancel screen and ornamental railing and gates.

      The church has undergone a number of minor alterations over the years, the most extensive being undertaken in 1969 to the design of architect Bill Alington, who brought the altar forward into the body of the church. The original sanctuary was turned into a chapel about this time, and a space was dug out below the east end to create a meeting room. St Peter’s was refurbished in c.1997 and works included alterations to the entrance, the construction of a new meditation room, and a new “vicar’s study” and much of the work was designed by architect Hugh Tennant. The building was re-roofed in 2004 in colour-coated corrugated mild steel, and works to upgrade the entrance lobby were completed in 2005.

    • Modifications close
      • 1847
      • First St Peter’s Church (Te Aro) constructed on the Willis Street site
      • 1878
      • Thomas Turnbull prepared plans for a new church.
      • 1879
      • The original St Peter’s Church was moved to make way for the new church.
      • 1879
      • The new church was consecrated
      • 1886
      • New organ ordered
      • 1891
      • F de J Clere designed the entry porch, chancel screen and ornamental gates and railing.
      • 1969
      • Altar alterations by Bill Alington
      • 1995
      • SR86 BUILDING HERITAGE ITEM Details migrated from RHS #886, (Restrictions and Hazards System RHS System 1991-2006 on 28 06 2006.
      • 1995
      • SR 9201379 EARTHQUAKE RISK BUILDINGS: Details migrated from RHS #1379, (Restrictions and Hazards System - RHS System 1991-2006) on 28-06-2006
      • c.1997
      • Alterations by Hugh Tennant
      • 2004
      • New roof
      • 2005
      • Alterations to main entrance
      • 2012
      • SR 169963 Bdg StrengthInv
    • Occupation History close

      Not assessed

  • close Architectural Information
    • Building Classification(s) close

      Not assessed

    • Architecture close

      St Peter’s Church is a handsome Gothic Revival structure, plainly styled, with a fine steeple. The church is constructed of heart kauri and clad in rusticated weatherboards. The Gothic theme has been freely interpreted and is signalled on the exterior by the lancet windows, slender wooden buttresses capped with pinnacles and, of course, the spire. The pitch of the main gable roof is not steep and this tends to neutralise the vertical element on the Willis Street facade to some extent.

      The interior of the church shows correct Gothic detailing although its scale and form have been freely interpreted. The nave is essentially a large meeting hall, of plain rectangular plan without transepts, with a handsome ceiling panelled in kauri. The Gothic carved masks at the base of the arches were a favourite feature of the architect.

      St Peter’s church is a distinct and valued landmark on the Ghuznee Street and Willis Street intersection. It is also highly visible along Willis Street, and is within one block of St John’s Church, a contemporary timber church designed by the same architect.



    • Materials close

      Timber with weatherboard cladding

    • Setting close

      Although once a residential / medical precinct the immediate area surrounding the Willis and Ghuznee Street intersection has become more relentlessly commercial and industrialised over the years. Diagonally across from the church, on the Ghuznee / Willis intersection is the William Turnbull designed half-timbered former Red Cross building (1907-08), and further along Ghuznee Street is the inter-war styled stripped Classical former Nestle building (1931-32) at 103 Ghuznee Street.

      Ghuznee Street was once one of the busiest streets in Wellington’s CBD but the area has benefitted significantly from the extension of the motorway off-ramp to Vivian Street, and the vestigial remains of the earlier off-ramp can be seen as an asphalted “road-to-nowhere” near entrance to the pedestrian pathway to McDonald Terrace.

      St Peter’s Church is set within the wider context of the Wellington CBD and forms part of a remarkable group of nearby timber Gothic churches designed by Thomas Turnbull in the years from 1879-85. The other two churches are the Wesley Methodist Church on Taranaki Street (1879-80) & Wesley Church Hall (1882) and St John’s Willis Street (1885). The churches are all remarkable individually for their aesthetic, historic and social value, but, when seen as a group, attain national significance as one of the finest collections of large Victorian Gothic Churches, designed by one of the most prominent Victorian architects, set within easy walking distance in the city’s.  The three churches represent three of the largest Protestant denominations – Anglican, Presbyterian & Methodist, and have national significance for their close proximity, timeframe, materials, style and architect.  


  • close Cultural Value

    St Peter’s Church is one of the great timber buildings of Wellington, the work of the foremost local architect of the time, Thomas Turnbull, and a significant example nationally of the Gothic style executed in timber. It has high aesthetic value for its architectural design, the assurance of its main interior space with plain white walls and rich timber finishes, its stained glass windows, and for its landmark/townscape qualities.

    The building, when seen as part of a group of fine 19th C Thomas Turnbull timber Gothic churches in Wellington’s CBD, is of national significance.

    An Anglican church has occupied this site since 1847, seven years after regular European settlement began, giving St Peter’s an association with the land of over 150 years. The present building has stood since 1879 and has strong historical value for the city, and strong spiritual and commemorative associations for the generations of parishioners who have worshipped in it.

    • Aesthetic Value close
      • Architectural

        Does the item have architectural or artistic value for characteristics that may include its design, style, era, form, scale, materials, colour, texture, patina of age, quality of space, craftsmanship, smells, and sounds?

        St Peter’s Church is one of the great timber buildings of Wellington, the work of the foremost local architect of the time, Thomas Turnbull, and a significant example nationally of the Gothic style executed in timber. It has high aesthetic value for its architectural design, the assurance of its main interior space with plain white walls and rich timber finishes, its stained glass windows, and for its landmark/townscape qualities.


      • Group

        Is the item part of a group of buildings, structures, or sites that taken together have coherence because of their age, history, style, scale, materials, or use?

        St Peter’s has group value as one of three great timber Gothic churches designed in the same style by the same architect, in the same time period and set within Wellington’s CBD. These buildings include St John’s Willis Street and The Wesley Methodist Church on Taranaki Street, and although each building has great aesthetic, historic and social value, when seen as a group they attain national significance. 

      • Townscape

        Does the item have townscape value for the part it plays in defining a space or street; providing visual interest; its role as a landmark; or the contribution it makes to the character and sense of place of Wellington?

        The church occupies a prominent corner site and has townscape value for the massing of its component parts, particularly the tower in the south west corner of the site. 

    • Historic Value close
      • Association

        Is the item associated with an important person, group, or organisation?

        An Anglican church has occupied this site since 1847, seven years after regular European settlement began, giving St Peter’s an association with the land of over 150 years.  The present building has stood since 1879. This period of use gives the building and the site it occupies great historical value.

    • Scientific Value close
      • Archaeological

        Does the item have archaeological value for its ability to provide scientific information about past human activity?

        As a site occupied by only two buildings over a period of 150 years it offers considerable potential for archaeology to be present. 

      • Technological

        Does the item have technological value for its innovative or important construction methods or use of materials?

        The technical value of this building resides in the structure and finishes which are relatively unaltered from their original form.

    • Social Value close
      • Identity sense of place Continuity

        Is the item a focus of community, regional, or national identity? Does the item contribute to sense of place or continuity?

        St Peter’s Church has been part of the streetscape since 1879 and has had few intrusive modern alterations.  It makes a crucial contribution to the sense of place and continuity of upper Willis Street


      • Sentiment Connection

        Sentiment/Connection: Is the item a focus of community sentiment and connection?

        The building has been a place of worship since 1879 and continues to be associated with the key events in the life of members of the congregation including births, marriages and deaths. 

      • Symbolic commemorative traditional spiritual

        Does the item have symbolic, commemorative, traditional, spiritual or other cultural value for the community who has used and continues to use it?

        The building has strong spiritual and commemorative associations for the generations of parishioners who have worshipped in it. It continues in regular use today, serving a wider community than the original one that grew up in this part of Te Aro flat.

    • Level of Cultural Heritage Significance close
      • Authentic

        Does the item have authenticity or integrity because it retains significant fabric from the time of its construction or from later periods when important additions or modifications were carried out?

        St Peter’s Church has had few intrusive modern alterations and additions and retains most of its early original building fabric.

      • Local Regional National International

        Is the item important for any of the above characteristics at a local, regional, national, or international level?

        The building, when seen as part of a group of fine 19th C Thomas Turnbull timber Gothic churches in Wellington’s CBD, is of national significance.

      • Rare

        Is the item rare, unique, unusual, seminal, influential, or outstanding?

        St Peter’s Church is a relatively rare surviving example of a fine, large timber gothic church. 

      • Representative

        Is the item a good example of the class it represents?

        St Peter’s Church is a very good example of a large timber Gothic church.

    • Local / Regional / National / International Importance close

      Not assessed

  • close Site Detail
    • District Plan Number

      16/ 352

    • Legal Description

      Lot 1 DP 53040

    • Heritage New Zealand Listed

      1/Historic Place 229

    • Archaeological Site

      Pre 1900 building Central City NZAA R27/270

    • Current Uses

      unknown

    • Former Uses

      unknown

    • Has building been funded

      No

    • Funding Amount

      Not applicable

    • Earthquake Prone Status

      SR Completed

  • close Additional Information
    • Sources close
      • WCC Heritage Building Inventory 2001 ref Will 9
      • Fearnley, C. 1977, Early Wellington Churches, Millwood Press, Wellington p.85
      • Francis, S, [n.d.]. ‘Research Report on St Peter’s Church, Willis Street, Wellington’, NZHPT Wellington
      • Cochran C. 1991, ‘Turnbull House Conservation Plan’, Department of Conservation, Wellington
      • Consecration of St. Peter's Church. Evening Post, 22 December 1879
      • Evening Post, 15 August 1877
      • Evening Post, 27 August 1878
      • Evening Post, 9 October 1878
      • Evening Post, 21 December 1878
      • Evening Post, 6 February 1879, Page 2
      • New Zealand Spectator and Cook's Strait Guardian, 2 September 1848
      • New Zealand Spectator and Cook's Strait Guardian, 2 September 1848
      • Otago Daily Times , 16 August 1879, Page 1
      • St. Peter's Church, Te Aro. Evening Post, 7 April 1879
      • The New St. Peter's Church. Evening Post, 4 March 1878
      • WELLINGTON. Thames Star, 6 March 1878
      • NZHPT professional biographies, NZHPT website accessed August 2012
    • Technical Documentation close

      Not available

    • Footnotes close

      Not available

Last updated: 28/11/2017 3:40:34 a.m.