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private home in Woodstock,
once the centre of
Presbyterianism in the area,
is hard to pick these days as a
A second glance, however,
will pick out the steep pitched
roof and gable of the former
Woodstock Presbyterian Church.
The steep roof-line is the remaining definitive
feature following radical transformation of the old
church into a residence about 40 years ago.
It was built in 1910, replacing a smaller and much
older church alongside, and by the 1960s it was
well past its heyday. After becoming derelict it was
converted into a private residence in the early 1970s
— a purpose it has served for almost as long as it was
ever a place of worship.
Back in the mid-1960s Woodstock resident Peter
Nancekivell was a five-year-old who had just started
school up the road.
He vividly recalls, as a new school entrant, having
to walk home alone past the old church each day in
the early afternoon. By then it was hemmed in by
large trees, dark and foreboding, and with a derelict
house next door, it gave the place a ‘haunted ’ air. For
a small boy, it was a place to run past as quickly as
By then the church was receiving very occasional
use, only once or twice a year. It eventually closed
about 1968 and for a short time was apparently used
by a motorcycle club.
Its decline as a centre for people’s spiritual
aspirations is a contrast to the optimism which the
builders no doubt must have invested when they
opened the church in 1910.
It seems the Presbyterians were doing fairly well
in the district back then. There are just a couple of
Woodstock references in the Dunedin-based New
Zealand Presbyterian Church records: a scrub fire
that damaged the church in 1940, and reference
to when Woodstock, with Kaniere, was operating
autonomously as a “fully sanctioned” home mission
charge between 1910 and 1915.
The archive does reveal 38 Presbyterian marriages
taking place at Woodstock and Kaniere in the five
years it was a semi-autonomous parish, 100 years ago.
Hokitika Museum also holds copies of Woodstock
Presbyterian records. Baptisms and marriages in
the museum records date from 1905 onward, with
generic references under ‘Woodstock Presbyterian’.
Some local marriages were noted down as being in
the ‘church at Woodstock’ or having taken place at a
‘private house’ or ‘residence of ’.
Some of the family names detailed by those records
still exist in the district: Thorpe, Nancekivell and
A West Coast Times report of 1910 details the
opening of the church, the second on the riverbank
On September 20, the day before the opening, the
Times reported that the new building was eagerly
anticipated as a replacement for the older church.
A subsequent report said about 100 people attended
The “new edifice” with seating for over 150 was
designed by Mr D Stevenson and erected by Messrs
Greenfield and Row. It stood “in close proximity”
to the old, which was to be converted as a room for
Bible classes and for a men’s club.
“The church is a well finished structure, containing
a convenient pulpit and all the other necessary
appointments, and is a credit to the architect and the
builders,” the West Coast Times reported.
Visitors from Ross and elsewhere boosted the
opening congregation, which was judged “an
excellent one” in view of the prevailing “boisterous
On behalf of the Woodstock congregation
Mr McDonald instructed Westland Presbytery
Moderator Rev R Stewart to declare the church
A service of dedication followed which included
an “eloquent ” sermon on the ‘building of the second
temple’ and concluded with the hymn O God of
About 200 people attended a social that night
at which they heard addresses as diverse as “the
advancement of Presbyterianism in Woodstock,”
and “powers or influence of the Church”. A closing
collection raised £9 towards the new building.
Eleven years ago, Lindsay and Sarah Thompson
bought the former church after making the move
Mrs Thompson says they were attracted to the
character of the property, particularly its riverside
setting, and they have come to cherish it as a
comfortable family home.
It did come with a quirky feature from its church
days: a sloping floor. The 1910 church was built
with a 9-inch fall to give the seated congregation an
elevated view of proceedings at the front.
Interestingly, this was retained during the building’s
conversion into a house by the Smythe family, also of
Christchurch, from about 1973.
Mrs Thompson says the unusual feature is barely
noticeable, although it does require some “innovation”
to ensure kitchen fixtures and furniture are level.
“It doesn’t worry us — we’re used to it.”
Mr Thompson says the floor is definitely a “quirky”
element, a hint, perhaps, of its parsimonious
“L ocal wags said it was to make sure any money
that fell to the floor rolled to the front.”
Alterations from the 1970s saw the replacement
of the tall narrow gothic-style windows with more
conventional joinery, and the loss of the vestibule
entrance facing Woodstock Road.
The building was also entirely re-clad and has been
expanded somewhat. Subsequent owners to the
Smythes, especially the late Jack Stuart, all added
their own touch over the years.
“ To be honest, apart from the pitch of the roof, you
wouldn’t know it was a church,” Mrs Thompson says.
None-the-less the place has tangible character.
“It ’s an interesting place to live in. Because it used
to be a church, it doesn’t have any hallways. It ’s just
one block, but it means it is pretty warm.”
Some of the old church’s riverside site has
apparently never been mined, something the present
owners wonder about.
Mr Thompson says the element of mystery and the
possibility of a rich lode all adds to the mystique.
The old church itself has “a great feel” with its heart
rimu framework, which has hardened like steel.
“It has massive bones, this place. I feel really safe in
it as far as earthquakes or anything goes — I feel this
is a lucky place.”
While converting and maintaining old churches
like Woodstock can be challenging, the setting and
character have made it all worthwhile.
“The quirkiness of these old places is quite clear,
especially if they are kept maintained.”
Faith of our Fathers:
Old West Coast churches
PICTURE: Courtesy of Anne Thorpe
The Woodstock Presbyterian Church, on opening day in 1910.
PICTURE: Brendon McMahon
The former church is now a comfortable home.
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