First Church Invercargill  
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August 2018
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History

THE PRESENT CHURCH

The architect of the present church was John T Mair (1876-1959), an Invercargill-born architect who later became the Government Architect.

J T Mair, who had previously worked in the New Zealand Railways, had travelled to the United States of America in 1906, where he studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. It is thought that the Romanesque and Byzantine-influenced church he designed for the Presbyterian congregation in Invercargill was influenced both by buildings he saw in America and churches he saw on his travels through Italy and France on his way back to New Zealand.

Internally Mair's design conformed to the Presbyterian way of worship by providing a central space and a gallery so that all could see and hear the preacher. It is said that Mair made a special study of acoustics and in that respect First Church was 'nearly as perfect as possible'. At the rear of the church Mair provided rooms for prayer meetings and for Sunday School.

Mair's design was accepted by the Deacon's Court in 1910, although not all approved of the design. The design, which included a dome, had to be modified to reduce costs. The tender was not let until December 1911, and then only on the proviso that the Deacons' Court could revert to the original design if they found further funds. The successful tenderers were McKinnon and Hamilton, and, as the Deacons' Court did find more money, the church was eventually built to Mair's original design.

Built in brick, First Church officially opened in 1915. At the time of its opening the Southland Times said: 'The building has been referred to by visiting architects from Dunedin and elsewhere, as one of the finest examples of brickwork in New Zealand. Being quite different from the customary style of Gothic architecture, the amateur mind has some difficulty in convincing himself that the design is just exactly to his or her liking, but as time goes on, and one becomes more familiar with the outlines of the structure, the objections will vanish
From the NZHPT website

On 24 February 1910 a congregational meeting resolved to accept the plans of Mr John T Mair for the building of the new Church. This was a courageous decision, as the Italian Romanesque architecture in which the building was designed was almost unknown in this country, and it naturally aroused some controversy. However, time has justified the decision and the Church has proved to have a nobility and enduring quality frequently absent from its Victorian Gothic and Edwardian contemporaries. A contract was let to Messrs McKinnon and Hamilton for the erection of both church and Stobo Hall at a cost of £15,193.
From "First Church of Southland: a descriptive guide" by Russell E Cowley, 1957

When the last brick of the new church was in place, The Deacons' Court realised that interior furnishing had to be in keeping with the building. This made further demands on the generosity of the congregation, but, once again, it rose to the occasion. Seating for the church and hall cost #452 and the partitioning of the hall cost £295.. By June 1915 the financial cost of the whole undertaking had risen to £18,181. As they beheld what they had achieved, the minister and congregation must have been well pleased.
Centenary of First Church by A J Deaker, 1960.

The height of the Campanile (tower) is 105 ft (32m)
The length of the church interior is 90 ft (27.5m)
The width of the church interior, across transcepts, is 70 ft (21.5m)
The walls at the base of the Campanile are 3ft 3ins thick (1m)
The footings of the Campanile are almost 6 ft thick (1.8m)
Over one million bricks were used in the construction of the church
Centenary of First Church by A J Deaker, 1960.

AND THE WORK CONTINUES…

The First Church Heritage Building Conservation Trust is making good progress with the renovation of our NZ Historic Places Trust Category 1 building. The windows have been made safe, most of the brickwork has been re-pointed and a new electrical switchboard has been installed. The work is currently focussed on protecting the east wall.

Over $500,000 has been spent to date, with funding from the congregation, Synod, Community Trust of Southland, the Invercargill Licensing Trust and the Lotteries Commission. Next on the agenda is to protect the building from earthquake and fire .

Ahead is renovating the interior of the church. There is a challenge in balancing the need to protect its heritage values against the multiple use that we want the church to continue to have.

These achievements would not have been possible without the congregation's part in money raising, as this as provided seeding for other funding. Please carefully consider making a donation or even a bequest, so that the work can continue on our wonderful church building.

 
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Minister : Rev Nyalle Paris
First Presbyterian ChurchTay Street PO Box 941 Invercargill 9840 New Zealand. Ph (03) 218 2560 - 64 3 218 2560 International
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