How the Church of Christ moved to Trott’s

Brantwood Chapel is a beautiful historic building situated at Trott’s Garden on Racecourse Road, which can be hired as a wedding and events venue. At first glance, without knowing the history of the building you may assume that it had always been there. After all, it fits in perfectly amid the pristine scenery of the garden. In actual fact, Brantwood was originally the Church of Christ, and it was built in 1916 on the corner of Cass and Wills Streets on the current site of the Salvation Army store.

The story of this particular church building is one of dedication. Great care was taken in its construction, relocation and restoration many years later.

The Church of Christ

Missionaries from the Church of Christ had visited Ashburton since the 1880s, but according to Mr C Watt, when he came to deliver his first service here at the start of that decade the only attendee was a little black cat. One source states that the church was founded in 1878, two years earlier.

By April 1906 the Church of Christ had grown popular enough that they became formally established in Ashburton. After yen years, the congregation found themselves in want of a new building for worship. Their existing building was large enough, but “it failed to afford the comfort to members that the financial position warranted.” Initially, members of the church worshipped in the Templar Hall and in private homes. Eventually they erected the Mission Hall on Wills Street, and then a manse on Cass Street.

A member of the congregation named W E Olsen drew up the plans and specifications for the new church, and claimed the tender for building it. Specifications for the Church of Christ planned for most of the woodwork to be done in red pine (rimu), with the wall plates on the brickwork being of totara and the edge sleepers being of jarrah.

Top view, part of the original architectural plan of the Church of Christ, built by W E Olsen in 1916.

Roughly a month later in April, the foundation stone for the new church was laid during a well-attended ceremony, at which the Mayor Galbraith congratulated the church for their progress. Also unsurprisingly, we are given a reminder of the times during which the church was built, as during the ceremony the Mayor “praised those members who had sent their sons to the front – a sacrifice in a great cause.”

The new church opened on the 21st of September 1916. The ceremony was conducted by Olsen’s wife, alongside Mr Briton Jarvis, the head evangelist of the church.

Church of Christ, c. 1916. The edge of the manse can just be seen at the left-hand edge of the photo. The foundation stone is visible on the right side of the building on the face of the brickwork, bordered by the gates.

To the garden

On the 19th of November 1998, the church’s new owners Alan and Catherine Trott had the building essentially cut in half, placed on two trucks, and shifted it three kilometres across town to its new home at Trott’s garden. The brickwork was removed, and the church was moved essentially from the windows up. A work crew from Laing Properties assisted Alan in moving his church, an operation which proved to be a great logistical challenge.

Moving the church onto Racecourse Road, 19th November 1998. Two movers in high-vis can be seen preparing to remove the stop sign at the intersection.

Power and phone wires had to be taken down on Racecourse Road to allow the church passage, and at least one road sign had to be pulled from the ground to make way. Following the move, it took Alan and carpenter Les Leath eight months of hard graft to get Brantwood Chapel in good shape, much longer than the three month deadline Alan had anticipated.

The results were phenomenal. The church had been fully renovated, restored, and found itself in much more pristine surrounds.

Moving on

The chapel is now over 105 y ears old. The Ashburton Museum were fortunate enough to be able to screen the short documentary film, Moving On, as part of the museum’s 2021 exhibition ‘Reel Life of Ashburton’. Produced by Geoff Fitzgerald, Moving On documents the shifting of the Church of Christ to Trott’s Gardens in 1998, and it also covers the history of the building as well as the chapel’s restorative works. A DVD of the film is held in the archives of the Ashburton Museum, which was digitally copied and used for the exhibition.

By Connor Lysaght

This post was modified for this blog and was originally published in the Ashburton Guardian, 30 January 2021.

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