Home' Greymouth Star : June 14th 2014 Contents Greymouth Star
6 - Saturday, June 14, 2014
he corner of Cardwell and
Fox streets in Cobden has
been home to three Open
Brethren churches over
the years, including the
current hall which was built in the early
Grahame Freeman lives two houses
down from the church, and it was his
great-grandfather Alonzo Wisdom
who built the first church and financed
the second one. The third and current
hall was financed by the congregation
These days the Gospel Hall looks like
any other hall; the name on the outside
was removed in recent years after the
building was sold to private owners for
a second time. The letters are now kept
by Mr Freeman, who helped put them
up years ago.
This old Cobden church has an
American link. Mr Wisdom arrived in
Greymouth in the 1860s from Nova
Scotia, where his family tree can be
traced back to the pilgrim fathers who
founded the United States.
Assembly began in homes of the
Open Brethren congregation in the
late 1870s before they moved to the
old Cobden School hall. Mr Wisdom
owned the entire block and gutted a
cottage to build the first church.
As the first hall grew old, a second
was built on the same site, and the
third church was built as more room
Grahame Freeman attended the
Gospel Hall for 50 years until it
Sundays were busy, with two ser vices
and Sunday School. A communion
ser vice was held in the morning,
followed by Sunday School in the
afternoon and a Gospel ser vice in the
After ser vices the congregation would
head to people’s homes to sing around
“ We had some excellent singers,” Mr
The church did not have a clergy, the
ser vices would instead be led by one of
“In the morning when people came
in, there were two men who would
always greet you at the door —
somebody would give out a hymn,
somebody would give a reading and
then somebody would give thanks to
The hall has been the site of many
celebrations over the years, hosting
weddings and anniversaries. During
the 1950s and 1960s the fellowship
numbered about 60.
Early records of registers show several
old Cobden family names.
“There are families there that go way
back,” Mr Freeman said.
Over the years, numbers were
bolstered by people moving to
Greymouth for work.
“They’d get transferred with their
jobs and that sort of swelled the
congregation, that happened from early
1900s right through.
“ People would come and go. (But)
there was a core of families who were
Most often the newcomers were
railway employees, and doctors and
teachers doing their training.
“ It ’s been a fluctuating congregation
because of that.”
The Gospel Hall shut its doors for a
final time just over six years ago.
“ Numbers had dwindled, we tried
to keep it open, we tried to get people
to come but there seemed to be an
The Gospel Hall had the first Sunday
School in Cobden, and Mr Freeman
has fond memories of the annual
summer picnics: “ They were quite a
The church would hire a bus and
go out on a Saturday trip, travelling
to Wingham Park, O’Brien Park,
Taramakau Settlement and Ahaura, for
Plenty of fun was had, and the
children chased the “ lolly bag man”
who wore an old coat with bags of
lollies sewed on.
“One of the fitter ones would run
around and the kids had to grab them
off the coat.”
In winter the congregation would
have tea in the hall with “games and
As with the main congregation,
Sunday School numbers slowly
“Sometimes we got really down,
towards the end parents gave their
children the choice whether they
wanted to go to Sunday School, but in
the old days it was a given thing,” Mr
Faith of our Fathers:
Old West Coast churches
People could walk past the unassuming
Cobden Gospel Hall and have no idea about
the history and memories that lie within.
NICHOLAS McBRIDE learned a little about
this Open Brethren church, which operated in
the river suburb for 140 years.
A summer picnic at Coal Creek in 1919.
Another summer picnic, at Ahaura in the 1960s.
The second Gospel Hall during the late 1800s.
The third Gospel Hall during the 1900s.
The third hall with its mock brick facade and letters still attached.
The Cobden Gospel Hall as it stands today, still with tarpaulins on after
losing part of its roof in Cyclone Ita on April 17.
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