Garlick was responsible for the design of a large number of churches and church schools in the city, suburbs and country, including, within Adelaide, the school of the Church of St John, the Wesleyan Church school in Archer Street, and the Primitive Methodist Church in Wellington Square. Hence, this building may be seen also as part of the general expansion in social facilities that was expressed in a burgeoning of public and private building in South Australia during the early 1880s.
Christ Church was one of the most prosperous Anglican churches in South Australia. In North Adelaide, where almost half the population was Anglican, Christ Church was considered the parish church of the establishment until well into the 20th century, and church members could well afford to erect a “mission church” during the boom era of the 1870s to early 1880s. It was fitting that this should be established not in some remote suburb but in lower North Adelaide, where lived a good many of the domestics, artisans and other workers engaged by North Adelaide’s wealthy residents.
Christ Church had an established tradition of providing licensed lay readers, who held services in several northern working-class districts and villages, including lower North Adelaide, Hindmarsh, Salisbury and Enfield. This band of lay readers was an innovation started in 1853 by Reverend William James Woodcock, the rector of Christ Church from 1849 to 1868.
By the 1880s, however, the Church of England had fallen far behind the other denominations in the work of church extension. During the 1860s and 1870s, only two new churches had been built in the suburbs, despite a great increase in population. When a new bishop, George Kennion, arrived in Adelaide in 1883, he determined upon church extension and missionary work. In 1883 he founded the Bishop’s Home Mission Society to supply clergy for mission districts in poor areas and to assist in new buildings. During the 1880s, 15 churches were opened in or near Adelaide, most of them assisted by the mission society.
The Christ Church mission church of St Cyprian’s was at first one of the exceptions, as until 1890 it was served by clergy and lay readers from the local mother church. However, decreasing pew rents due to the continued depression and the exodus of worshippers to St Peter’s Cathedral persuaded the congregation to hand over control of the church to the mission society.
It was Bishop Kennion’s idea that these suburban missions should be given the names of Anglo-Saxon or Celtic saints to illustrate the early English origins of the church – for example, St Cuthbert’s at Prospect. Accordingly, the church in lower North Adelaide was dedicated in 1898 as St Cyprian’s.
The foundation stone was laid by Lady Jervois and the building was completed and opened for public worship on February 11, 1883. Most of the congregation and Sunday school students were working class: 22 of the latter were grandchildren of William Tuckey, a labourer who had arrived in 1836 with Colonel Light to work on the surveying of Adelaide. A hint of the rough and tumble character of the neighbourhood, then known as “Irish Town”, was given by the Anglican Dean G.H. Jose in a brief recollection of the early days of St Cyprian’s: “On more than one occasion, the Roman Catholic priest and I have stopped gangs of boys fighting over the back fence.”
The building is of marginal architectural interest, although the materials are typical of much of North Adelaide. The earliest section of the church is constructed of limestone rubble set over a bluestone plinth, with brick dressings to shouldered arches, doors and lancet windows. The interior of this section is meanly proportioned and detailed. This is in contrast to the later section of 1910-11, which is constructed of pick-faced squared sandstone and features an unusual interior with exposed sandstone and simple stuccoed enrichment and joinery. The trustees of the Mission School church added a porch in 1883.
The building is Gothic Revival in style, largely original and in good condition. Its survival in Melbourne Street and its picturesque appearance contribute to that varied streetscape.