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​​​Early Presbyterian Worship in Northcote and Birkenhead

​I have again concentrated in this brief history, on the development of the church up to the 1920's. A fuller description of the history can be found in the references at the end which are available at our Museum. It is noted that both the Northcote and Birkenhead Parishes suffered major financial problems over the years.

Compared to the Anglican, Methodist and Catholic churches, the Presbyterians were latecomers to New Zealand. Whereas those churches had been established for a generation or more, it was not until the 8th March 1840 that the Rev. John Macfarlane conducted the first Presbyterian service in New Zealand on Petone Beach. St. Andrews in Symonds Street. The first Presbyterian church in Auckland was opened in April 1849.

In 1888 the Presbytery of Auckland appointed the first Presbyterian Home missionary Mr J.B. Marshall to live in and serve the Northcote area. The first service was held in the Gladstone Hall in Onewa Road in September of that year. The first congregational meeting was held on January 9th 1889 at which a local committee and a ladies' building fund committee were elected. Members immediately launched themselves into buying hymnbooks, setting up an organ fund, establishing choir practices, organising regular giving, organising collection of money for the building fund, finding a site for a church, and arranging for Communion.

Gladstone Hall in its later years as a Roman Catholic Church

In the meantime it was agreed to rent the Gladstone Hall from Messrs Vaile and Douglas for three shillings a week. They were offered the purchase of the hall for £500 but rejected this offer, opting to erect their own building. The hall which had been built about 1880, was purchased by the Catholics in 1916 for the same amount, and included 4½ acres of land. St Mary's Catholic Church now stands on this site.

Sunday School classes were started early in 1889, mainly run by Mr Marshall and his wife. As Mr Marshall was often away on home mission duty in Whangarei, attendances and offerings began to decline, and the congregation soon dispensed with his services altogether. However, this did not prevent the infant parish purchasing the present site in Onewa Road for £60 and opening a church on it on October 20th 1889. The church cost £204 to build, excluding the seating. This church remained in use until 1981, the last fifty years of that time as a hall.

The 1889 Northcote Presbyterian Church, picture early this century

In 1904, a manse was built on one acre of land next to the church given by Mr William Aitken. The manse, still in use today, was largely designed by Mr Rushbrook in association with a local architect, Mr. F Souster. Two sections on this land were sold to provide the nucleus of a fund for a new church building fund.

In 1905, the status of the Northcote Parish was raised so that they could then appoint their own ordained minister rather than having to rely on appointed home missionaries. The parish continued to grow under the guidance of Rev. G.Y.Roby. In 1909, sixty-five were attending Communion at Northcote and there were nine out stations where occasional services were held - Albany, Greenhithe, Birkdale, Birkenhead, Wainui, Upper Waiwera, Wade, Dairy Flat and Mayfield (Glenfield) and had become geographically unmanageable. Northcote held services every Sunday but the other areas received meagre ministerial attention. Services at Birkdale were initially held in the Birkdale School but from about 1916 they were held on two Sundays a month at St Peters Anglican Church.

In 1908 the members in Birkenhead resolved to purchase a site for a church, and in November 1909 a site in Crescent Road (now 28 Mariposa Terrace) was purchased. They were at this time holding cottage meetings but early in 1913 they started holding regular services in the new Foresters Hall where Mr Edwin Clark had been running a Sunday School since September 1911. He was the Sunday School superintendent until 1930.

In 1913 when regular services were started, Birkenhead dared to ask Northcote for two services a month. They were declined but made further requests so that on January 15th 1914, the Northcote Parish was split in two, with Birkenhead being set up as a Home Mission station and taking charge of all the out stations. This division was only achieved after many heated discussions and some acrimony between the two congregations. In 1915 the Birkenhead Parish was redefined to include the Birkenhead Borough and Glenfield, and the Northcote Parish as the Northcote Borough. In 1917 Northcote was reduced to a Home Mission station because of its limited area.

Meanwhile Birkenhead had plans for a church 59 feet by 25, seating about 200 persons, of wooden construction and to cost about £550. However, work on building was commenced at the Crescent Road site in August 1914 on a wooden church 45 feet by 25 feet. The builder was Messrs G & E Ohms and the plans were prepared by Mr W.H. Glover, architect, with seating for about 200 adults, besides the vestry and classrooms. The foundation stone was laid on 17th November 1914 by Mr J W Stewart Esq. in the presence of a large gathering. The Prime Minister (W F Massey) sent a telegram regretting his inability to be present. A service followed in the Victoria Hall. The opening service was held on December 13th 1914.

During the next 40 years, besides the morning and evening services in Birkenhead, fortnightly or monthly services were held at Albany, Glenfield, Birkdale and Beach Haven but attendances at all these services were small.

In Birkenhead, property matters were again starting to move. By February 1927, less than three months after electricity became available in Birkenhead, electric lights were installed in the church for £10. In August 1928, the site on which the present church stands, was bought from S. Vaile and Sons for £400. The decision was made to shift the church rather than retaining it for a future manse. Mr A Patterson moved the church for £135. During the move, services were held in the Victoria Hall and on December 9th 1928, the first services in the relocated building were held. An electric urn "of a new pattern" was installed at a most reasonable price of £7.5.0p.

In 1932 the church was dedicated as St Andrews and four years later, the vestry was enlarged to make a meeting room and kitchen. On 21st June 1953 the new hall was opened although the interior was not finished until 1960.

On the 16th April 1967 the dedication of further church extensions and the double storied youth block was held. Much of this was financed by Mr John Court. More recently the entrance and foyer has been upgraded.

On 18th November 1962, a new church/hall was opened in Birkdale, and within eighteen months an extension was made to add a toilet block, Sunday School room and to enlarge the kitchen.

St Andrews Birkenhead, 1967 with church extensions and youth block

The new brick church costing £1267 was dedicated on 12th March 1932. The old church was used as a hall. Sometime later the church was dedicated to St Aidan.

On May 15th 1960, the Lindesfarne Hall costing £2875 was opened, but was sold to the Northcote Borough Council in 1970 as the church could no longer afford the upkeep. It is still in use today. In 1978, the interior of the church was reversed and the extensions were built at the back.

The old and new Northcote Presbyterian churches soon after opening of the present church in 1932

St Aidan's Presbyterian Church, Northcote 1988

- Alec Utting



Birkenhead - The Kauri Suburb: Muriel Fisher and Wenman J.Hilder Birkenhead Borough Council 1969

Bridge of Faith 1888 - 1988 St Aidan's Presbyterian Church Northcote: Gillian and Geoffrey Vine 1988

The Presbyterian Church in Birkenhead - The First Fifty Years 1914 - 1964: Malcolm H Johnston 1996

St Philip's Union Parish Beach Haven - Birkdale History: 1985


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