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Published July 16th 2016
A place for anyone and everyone
A walk along North Terrace, Adelaide reveals so much in the way of heritage and history and even more can be discovered if you make the effort to wander into some of the institutions along its route.
As impressive as Scots Uniting Church on the corner of Pulteney Street and North Terrace, Adelaide is on the outside, particularly hemmed in amongst the more contemporary buildings in the city, a peep behind the front doors is well worth the effort.
The church itself was originally built and opened in 1851, being known as Chalmer's Church, named in honour of the Reverend Thomas Chalmers who led a "disruption" in Scotland in the 1840's, leading to the formation of the Free Church of Scotland. In the 1860's the Presbyterian church was formed in South Australia and Chalmer's Church became one of a small handful of Presbyterian churches in the city. It wasn't until 1929 that the name Scots Church was adopted and finally in 1977 the Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian Churches all merged to form the Uniting Church of Australia.
One of the reverends, Rev. Dr John Seymour came to Chalmer's Church in 1916 and stimulated both the formation of Scotch College as well as the Presbyterian Girl's College (now Seymour College).
When built, the structure was originally thought of as "essentially a country church placed in a town and does not fit in with the architectural beauty of Adelaide". An interesting comment considering how today it is shadowed by many more modern and contemporary buildings, making the church stand out even more. The spire and bell were added in 1858 and in the 1860's a two-level schoolroom was built at the rear of the church. Since that time, the Hall was added in the 1950's and some of the bluestone and foundation stone as well as stained glass windows were utilised from the demolished Flinders Street church.
If you look on top of the spire, you will see a weather cock, a rare sight in this day and age. It is suggested that the origin of the use of weather cocks or roosters refers to the biblical story of the cock crowing three times reminding the disciple, Peter of his betrayal of Jesus, following his Crucifixion.
More remodelling occurred in the late 1960's and even as recent as 2004, other major renovations were carried out. Despite the alterations, the essence of the historical nature of the church has remained, and today it is touted as the second oldest church in the city of Adelaide still currently used. (The first being Holy Trinity Church further down North Terrace.)
One can't help but be impressed with the overall size and appearance of the organ in the church which was rebuilt and enlarged in 1990, following the original organ which dates from 1900, which in turn was replaced by the organ from Flinders Street Church in 1957.
The original organ was known as a "kist of whistles" and was installed to replace the harmonium, which has been reacquired and is displayed near the current organ console. If you go back to the beginnings of Chalmers Church, in the first 5 years, singing in the church was led by a congregation leader with a tuning fork. It wasn't until the 1860's when the harmonium was introduced into the church and it cost at that time 80 pounds.
Up until around 1912, the organ required someone to manually blow through the pipes, presumably someone with a healthy set of lungs! The blower's wages around that time were 9 pounds six shillings and six pence, as against the organist's salary which was 65 pounds. Don't know what happened to the blower as an occupation, however in 1912, a hydraulic motor was installed to the organ, doing away with the need for the manual nature of creating fine music.
With the overall enlargement and rebuilding in the 1990's the organ now has nearly 1,900 pipes and can only imagine how it must sound with added pipework and horizontal trumpets at the back of the church.
Up until 2009 there had been 15 organists and choirmasters since the church began, two of them being female and one of those being assistant organist for a period of 62 years. Since 2009 music has been provided by a team of organists.
I always admire the light shining through stain glass windows in churches and cathedrals and Scots Uniting is certainly not short of some stunning examples throughout the church. The earliest windows were added at the turn of the 20th century but the most striking are those installed in the early 1960's, designed by Lawrence Lee, one of three men responsible for the windows in the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral in the UK. These more recent set of three panels are on the north wall and are named the "Celebration of Creation". The windows on the west side of the church are those which were removed from Flinders Street Church in the 1950's.
Technology comes into play in the modern context of the church as a view of the stained-glass windows as well as honour boards can be seen with the aid of your smartphone, which produces additional information that is of keen interest.
It is good to see the use of a sustainable garden alongside the historic church and in the CBD, which has been established with the design of plants to suit the local environment, as well as being water-wise. Even the use of mulch to conserve soil moisture providing a habitat for local native animals brings a little oasis amongst an otherwise "concrete jungle".
For those of you planning your wedding , an option for you might be to consider having the ceremony at Scots, which will cost around $1,315 which includes the organist and flowers.
Similarly baptisms and funerals can also be arranged through contacting the church on 08 8223 1505. The church's office hours are from Monday to Friday 9 am - 3 pm by appointment.
Scots provides a typical example of the freedom of different types of religion which were allowed to practice in South Australia in early colonial days and since 1986 has been placed on the South Australian State Heritage register as a property of significance.
I found upon visiting, that the church personnel were very welcoming and keen to share relevant information with me - another piece of our history which should always be preserved!
Excellent article and photos.Well worth a look inside.Stained Glass Window a standout..Harmonium..would like to hear that played.Always thought the concrete looking spire remained unfinished..I wonder if it was meant to be this way?Nice to see that classical music is now being played here on Fridays,whilst the Elder Hall Concerts take a break.
Thank you for this article. Being a Scottish immigrant here since 1982 I love anything old and historic. I never realised this church had such a wonderful history. I have been to 3 weddings here, all daughter's from our same Scottish friend's family. All were a delight, if that's the correct term of phrase for such an occasion. One was a traditional Celtic ceremony which was wonderful. The bride did a lot of research herself and the lady conducting the service did a marvellous job. Just shows you what lengths they will go to to make your special occasion even more special.