St. Andrews Kirk: Celebrating 187 years
For 187 years St. Andrew’s Kirk, with its high steeple and quaint double angled roof has graced the landscape of the city. In the words of Reverend Archibald Browne this church was built ‘with a view to afford the Scottish part of the community an opportunity of having the Ordinances of Religion administered to them according to the form of the Church of Scotland. It was here on 1 August 1838 that the Governor of British Guiana, Sir Henry Light, attended an afternoon service to observe Freedom Day, which resulted in the emancipation of the enslaved Africans, many of whom crowded the upper gallery and surroundings of this ecclesiastical structure, despite the inclement weather, to witness this historic event.
According to a report this structure was probably constructed on the site of the old Indian Post, which was the solitary mark of European civilization during the earliest phase of the development of Demerara in the 18th century. As trade increased and Demerara attracted a considerable number of planters this trading post was replaced by a Brandwagt (Fire watch), or signal station around which a little village, Stabroek, was established.
Although Demerara blossomed into a thriving colony during the mid 18th century there existed no Predikant or Kerk (a reverend or head of the church). Twice a year the Predicant of Fort Island, the seat of the Dutch administration for the colony of Essequibo and Demerara visited the younger colony (Demerara). Without a fixed place of worship marriages, baptisms and other ceremonies were conducted at the houses of several planters such as Donald Stewart of Dunoon, on the left bank of the river. The colonists approached the Council of Ten in Holland who passed a resolution in 1784 that a ‘church should be erected in Demerara for the extension of religion’. This promise took several years before it was fulfilled .
On1 May 1810 the Court of Policy, the body responsible for the administration of the colony, was presented with a petition. The members indicated that they ‘ were in want of a regular place of worship, which would encourage a love for divine worship’.
They also requested financial assistance, similar to that which had been granted to church members in Suriname. After careful consideration the sum of 15,000 guilders was granted ‘to assist in defraying the expense of so useful and praiseworthy an undertaking’.
On 12 August 1811, about mid day, a little procession including Governor Bentinck, a number of the officers of the Demerary Militia and the Predikant Reverend Gabriel Ryk walked from the King’s House on the Brickdam, Stabroek to a vacant plot of swampy grass near the Demerara River.
Here the procession halted, and after an eloquent and impressive oration by the Predikant, the Governor held the level while there was lowered upon a lead plate resting on a brick foundation the sill of a building intended for a Dutch Reformed Kerk.
The Dutch commenced their task with vigour securing well-burnt bricks and mature and seasoned greenheart for the construction of their church. Though incomplete, services were conducted in 1812.
By 1813, the construction of the church was hampered by financial constraints. In January, Issac Hadfield, an architect petitioned the Court of Policy. He stated that he had been contracted to complete the joinery work of the building but that he was constrained by the lack of finance and building materials. He further claimed that he was owed a great sum of money, more that 15,000 guilders.
He stated that he had paid a great deal of money in wages to workers he owed thus he did not have the required funds to purchase the building materials and as such he was unable to complete the task. Hadfield proposed that the Court intervene as the church could without any alterations be converted to a Court House and the offices of the Public Buildings.
The Church had indeed suffered a significant step backward as many of the subscriptions promised were not fulfilled. The church was sadly without the financial resources needed to complete the structure.
A Marshal’s notice in the Essequebo and Demerary Gazette of 10 April 1815 advertised for sale ‘all and every part of the building called the Dutch Church the same at present unfinished, situated in Stabroek Georgetown.’ Several members of the Dutch Vestry purchased the building on 4 May 1815.
Reports indicated that the structure remained unused and exposed to weathering. In fact the Inspector General even remarked that ‘it will soon be rotten as the rain beats in on all parts’.
In 1815 the Dutchmen who purchased the structure approached the resident Scottish population who were desirous of establishing a Church in Essequibo and Demerara. They offered the Scots an opportunity to invest in the church by surrendering one half of their shares to allow for the completion of the structure.
On 7 February 1816, the Scots submitted a petition to the Court of Policy. They indicated that ‘many of the Scotch inhabitants of the colony were desirous of erecting a place for divine worship. On 26 February 1816 ‘tenders for the finishing of the building intended for the Dutch Church, according to the plan and specifications of Joseph Hadfield were advertised.In June 1816 the transport was passed to the new owners. After several months of extensive repairs and alterations St. Andrew’s Kirk was officially opened for public worship on 27 September 1818.Reverend Archibald Browne, a graduate of arts from the University of Glasglow, delivered the first sermon. St Andrew’s Kirk has changed dramatically since it was constructed some 187 years ago.
In 1849 a report of the North British Mail described the Kirk as ‘a neat wooden building, well fitted up inside. Unlike our Scotch churches at home it has an organ loft .the appearance of this church, however, is entirely spoiled by being placed in an unenclosed plot of land with rank grass and filthy trenches surrounding it’. In 1852, a new spire was erected as the original was in danger of falling. In addition, the original rounded Norman windows and doors were removed and replaced by new ones, which were designed along Classic and Gothic architecture to enhance the tower of the church. The church was further enhanced in 1891 92 with the addition of two porches on either side of the tower.
In 2003 this church was restored. In an era when many seem inclined to demolish wooden structures to replace them with concrete edifices of little architectural merit the National Trust of Guyana congratulates the congregation of the St. Andrew’s Kirk for their outstanding efforts to conserve the nation’s built heritage.
In 1875 Cesar Castellani, the renowned Maltese architect, then assistant to Joseph Hadfield , the Colonial Civil Engineer was contracted to design and install the decorative the decorative ceiling of Parliament’s chambers, the home of the national assembly.
The decorative ceiling and bordering entablature consisted of wood and composition including wooden planks, turning, straight and circular runs and ornate medallion brackets to which ornaments made from compo mixed material was attached with nails.
Typically such ornaments were traditionally made from Plaster of Paris. However this would not have been a practical choice as the humid climate of Guyana would have resulted in severe deterioration of the ornamental pieces.
In the circumstance a composition material consisting of plaster, animal hairs and alum for the purpose of whiting the material was used.
In 2003 extensive repairs were undertaken and fibreglass replicas were used to replace extensively damaged ornamental features. A specimen of each of these unique works of art were obtained by the Trust .
Each ornament was stripped of its original paint, missing pieces and broken sections were bonded with acid free , transparent archival glue and adhesives. They were then repainted with lead free paint and mounted in a special case in the Trust’s gallery.
On 3 October 2005 The National Trust of Guyana launched Heritage Week 2005 with an exhibition ‘Memoirs: a Collection of Guyana’s Heritage in Photographs.
In delivering the feature address at the launch Ms. Gail Teixera, Minister of Culture Youth & Sport and Minister of Home Affairs noted that the photographs exhibited testifies to the rich heritage of the nation.
The photographs she noted represent valuable chapters of Guyana’s history capturing illustrating scenes of the past. She commended the National Trust for their efforts to preserve the nation’s heritage.
She further noted that the Government of Guyana was committed to the conservation of the nation’s patrimony using the restoration of State House, Castellani House, the Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology and other structures throughout the country.