By Tamara Patten, Property Lead, Old St Paul’s
Old St Paul’s church is a gem of a heritage building located in Pipitea, Wellington. Opened in 1866, Old St Paul’s served as Wellington’s Anglican pro-cathedral for nearly a century, until its closure in 1964 to make way for the new and much larger St Paul’s Cathedral, a block away.
The church is made of beautiful native timbers and is a particularly fine example of wooden Gothic Revival architecture. Now cared for by Heritage New Zealand, Old St Paul’s is pretty on the outside and absolutely stunning on the inside.
Old St Paul’s exterior (l) and interior (r), a particularly fine example of wooden Gothic Revival architecture. Photographer Grant Sheehan, courtesy of Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.
The 2016 Kaikōura earthquake did significant damage to Old St Paul’s. The 153-year old wooden structure held up comparatively well – its more modern neighbours directly next door and across the road both had to be demolished – but the timber frame twisted during the quake, and widened in places by up to 150mm. Pillars had to be braced with strops to bind the structure in place, and there was a marked slump in the foundations at one end of the building.
So, in May 2019 Old St Paul’s closed for repair and strengthening work. One of the first steps was emptying the church of its contents. Much of Old St Paul’s collection is original to the building, and ensuring its protection was a key element in the early phase of the project.
The packaging and removal of smaller and portable collection items was ably managed in house by the Old St Paul’s team and other Heritage New Zealand staff. This covered church accoutrements of all kinds – from hymn books to lecterns, altar candles to church textiles, and over 100 historic wooden pews.
Crating and moving the larger collection items presented a much greater challenge, so Heritage New Zealand formed a partnership with National Services Te Paerangi and Te Papa’s object support team to ensure the best possible handling and protection of the large taonga.
Old St Paul’s pipe organ had to be dismantled, both to get it out of the contractors’ way and to protect it from damage. The pipes and foot pedals were wrapped and put in storage, and the delicate internal structure was carefully boxed in to protect it from dust and debris. The organ crating has been cleverly done with wooden bracing to ensure that no new nail holes were made in Old St Paul’s woodwork.
(l – r) Old St Paul’s pipe organ. Photographer Kelly Thomas; Wrapping the organ pipes; Internal organ structure crated. Photographs courtesy of Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga
The Seddon memorial pulpit, dating to 1908, comprises about 500kg of delicately carved oak. The pulpit was positioned directly in the path of some of the planned foundation works, so it had to be moved. It is too large, heavy and fragile to be removed from the church, so a solution had to be found to enable it to be moved around inside the building. The pulpit was carefully hoisted using a gantry, placed on a movable pallet where it was braced in place with a wood frame, and then neatly crated.
The process of hoisting the pulpit off the floor was simultaneously one of the most exciting and terrifying of my career to date. Fortunately it came off without a hitch, and in fact this purpose-built box on wheels is such a beautiful piece of crating work that it is now my iPhone wallpaper!
(l – r) Seddon memorial pulpit; the pulpit being hoisted; Neatly crated. Photographs courtesy of Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga
The church’s original baptismal font is another hefty 500kg item, this time made of stone. After much discussion, we decided that moving the font posed too great a risk to the object. The font has been braced and crated in situ, minus its ornate wooden lid. The treatment of this item illustrates some of the tensions and negotiations that inevitably come with a construction project in a heritage building. Our heritage-friendly contractors agreed to be inconvenienced and work around the font, as this was in the best interest of the object.
(l – r) Baptismal font; Font crated in situ. Photographs courtesy of Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga
On either side of the main aisle there are 10 illuminated panels, made of rimu and kauri with scripture painted in red, black and gold. These were donated to the church in 1893 by the artist Charles Decimus Barraud, who, in typical New Zealand one-degree-of-separation style, turned out to be a relative of one of the Te Papa staff who assisted with the project. These very heavy panels were removed and crated, ready for conservation cleaning.
(l – r) Illuminated panels; Crated and ready for conservation cleaning. Photographs courtesy of Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga
Finally, Old St Paul’s beautiful stained glass windows were covered with corflute and ply, held in place by a clever wedge system that protects the woodwork as well as the windows.
(l – r) Stained glass window at Old St Paul’s; Window wedge detail. Photographs courtesy of Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga
Our thanks to Josh Barraud, Mike Huaki, Charlie Blackiston and Marc Dutilloy from Te Papa for their expertise and assistance, and to the champs at National Services Te Paerangi for their help coordinating this work.
Thanks also to Maycroft Construction, and Olaf Wehr-Candler of Pukerua Glass Studio. Old St Paul’s will reopen in May 2020. Keep an eye out for some special celebratory events!