Frederic de Jersey Clere (1856-1952) was a prominent architect in Wellington, who had an association with Old St Paul’s spanning 50 years; from additions as early as 1883 to proposed plans for the new Cathedral in 1932. He was the architect for the Wellington diocese for many years, designing hundreds of churches throughout the lower North Island.
Frederick De Jersey Clere, 1936
Additions to St Paul’s
De Jersey Clere did many faithful modifications to Old St Paul’s between 1883 and 1902: he added two porches, enlarged the baptistery, replaced wooden roof shingles with iron, renewed the foundations, raised and repaired some of the floor, and strengthened some of the south transept wall with cross braces.
The extension of the baptistery (the area in the centre with the corrugated iron roof beside the bell tower) was one of Clere’s projects at Old St Paul’s.
Clere’s plans for strengthening south transept wall.
His work was faithful to the ideas of the original architect Frederick Thatcher in style. The New Zealand Building Progress wrote: ‘the exponent of true Gothic art is he who will design as one of the fourteenth or fifteenth century architects would have designed had he possessed modern materials and advantages’; Clere did exactly this.
New Cathedral, 1917
In July 1917 the Reverend Charles Askew, Vicar of St Mark’s of Wellington, began a mission to develop a new cathedral for the city. Although Clere was the diocesan architect Askew convinced the synod to commission an English architect living in Nelson, Frank Peck, to design it for them. Pesk visited the city and chose the site of the existing St Mark’s church (at the Basin Reserve) as the most suitable for the cathedral.
The proposal, and the haste at which the idea was pushed through the synod, caused something of a scandal in the city. Clere was urged by friends to draw up an alternate plan, which he also designed for the St Mark’s site. The New Zealand Building Progress published his plans, which were ‘the ideas which [had] been formulating in his mind during the past thirty years or more, as to how a large church could be designed to meet the special requirements of this Dominion and people’. Neither Peck nor Clere’s designs were made into reality in the end, but it is interesting to see Clere’s ideas, which he planned to build in reinforced concrete.
Clere’s suggested new Wellington Cathedral, on the St Mark’s site
Remodelling Old St Paul’s, 1930s
From the early 1900s, the Old St Paul’s vestry believed that the St Paul’s church would eventually need to be replaced, and started to collect funds for a new church. It put off much-needed repairs to the church in favour of a complete replacement, but delays continued and in 1930, even though the vestry still believed that Wellington would eventually need a bigger cathedral, they asked Clere to ‘prepare plans for a new front in brick and for lifting the Church bodily leaving the internal structure as much as possible as it was’.
The proposal Clere made to the vestry was to remove the facade and lengthen the church towards the street, and then add a new facade of concrete, with a tall new bell tower. The idea was to leave the interior of the church much as it was, except that Clere proposed to remove the North Aisle, which had been added after the original church was completed, and which many people disliked as it had undermined the church’s original symmetry.
1931 plans for remodelling of St Paul’s
After the Hawkes Bay Earthquake in 1931, Clere was asked to redevelop his ideas, so in 1932 he put together a new plan for the remodelling of the church. Noticeably missing is the high tower, now replaced by a much shorter, and safer, crenelated tower.
The very different plan shown to the public after the 1931 Hawkes Bay earthquake.
These plans went on display in the church to interest parishioners in the project, but yet again no progress was made.
Last plans, 1937
In the mid 1930s the synod set up a new committee to start developing a cathedral on a new site, this time in Molesworth Street and began hunting for an architect to design it. In 1937, Clere was already 80, but made a plea to the Bishop that he was the right man for the job. He wrote a long letter to him, concluding with the reasonable statement: ‘I really do not know of anyone who could serve the church better. If I thought there was such a man, I would make room for him at once’.
Instead, the Christchurch architect Cecil Wood was chosen, and now we have the Cathedral of St Paul on Molesworth Street.
While Clere didn’t get the chance to make his concrete Anglican Wellington cathedral, he did design the beautiful Catholic church St Mary of the Angels on Boulcott Street from concrete in 1919. It is believed to be the world’s first neo-Gothic church made from reinforced concrete.
St Mary of the Angels Catholic Church
As an aside, Frederick de Jersey Clere’s second marriage was held at St Paul’s in 1905, and his daughter, Nancy, got married at St Paul’s in 1932 – here she is pictured on her wedding day. Clere’s descendants likewise continued a long family involvement in the church.
Sources: Susan McLean, Architect of the Angels, 2002 Wellington. Michael Blain, Wellington Cathedral of S Paul, 2002, Wellington. Te Ara, http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/1966/buller-sir-walter-lawry-nzc-kcmg-frs, accessed 27/06/16; Evening Post, 20 August 1932. The Press, 9 January 1933; St Mary of the Angels, http://smoa.org.nz/about/church-building-award/, accessed 29/06/2016; A Cathedral Design, NZ Building Progress, September 1917, Alexander Turnbull Library; Cathedral Church of St Paul Re Rebuilding Scheme, ref MS 88-290-11/17; Architect – Wellington Cathedral, ref 88-290-11/17, Alexander Turnbull Library
Images: Featured image, Ref: C-121-018, Alexander Turnbull Library; St Paul’s Cathedral, Ref: 1/1-025547-G, Alexander Turnbull Library; Frederick de Jersey Clere. New Zealand Free Lance : Photographic prints and negatives. Ref: PAColl-5936-06. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22689473; 1917 plans, A Cathedral Design, NZ Building Progress, September 1917, Alexander Turnbull Library.