Stow Memorial Church

Stow Memorial Church

Built in 1865-67 as a memorial to Reverend T.Q. Stow, the Congregational church replaced one constructed in 1839-40 in Freeman Street (Gawler Place). Although not directly associated with the building, Stow was immensely important in establishing Congregationalism in South Australia. After his death in 1862 several prominent Congregationalists decided to build a church as a memorial to him.

Architect Robert George Thomas won the design competition held in 1864 and construction began in 1865. The church was opened in 1867.

The South Australian Register of April 17,1867, described the church as in the early English Gothic style, with adaptations from the French Gothic. The nave was much wider than usual, while the aisles were narrower, leaving nearly the whole interior open to the view of the minister. There was a tower and spire, partly built, “and the whole of the works are of the most durable and substantial character, none of the walls of the church being less than 2 ft 4 in thick”. The total cost for fixtures and fittings was about £1200. Interior fittings were of Sydney cedar, and a handsome clock was presented by Mr Perryman.

The builders were Brown and Thompson (formerly English and Brown) and the cost was more than £10,000. Carving was done by an Irish mason, Mr Peters. The lengthy report in the Register concluded: “The exquisite beauty and chasteness of the Church have been the subject of remark for sometime past; and now that it is so far completed as to be opened for public worship, its harmonious proportions and grand effect have been admitted by all who have seen it. The building is a real ornament to the City, it is far superior in effect to any other ecclesiastical edifice in the Colony, and does great credit to the architect who designed it, to the builders who erected it, and to the congregation who have been spirited enough to carry it out.”

Stow Church is one of two churches designed on Flinders Street by Thomas. The Baptist Church was built four years earlier in 1861-63.

R.G. Thomas was a son of Robert Thomas of South Australian Register newspaper fame. He arrived in 1836 on the Rapid and was engaged as a draftsman on Light’s staff. He stayed in South Australia for some years surveying the colony, then returned to England to complete his education as a civil engineer and architect. He designed some prominent churches and buildings while at Newport, Monmouthshire (Wales), and the influence of this experience and the architectural aesthetic of the time is evident in the two Adelaide churches.

Following his return to Adelaide in 1860, Thomas joined the public service in 1866. He became architect-in-chief, designing the Supreme Court in conjunction with William McMinn and superintending the erection of the General Post Office. He left this post in 1870. From 1874 until his death in 1884 he was the secretary to the Board of Health.

The church has bluestone walls well dressed with sandstone and the porch detailing is exceptionally fine. The capitals are of Caen limestone (France) and quatrefoils in Bath limestone (England). The contrast between the materials and the crisp detailing and robustly carved relief, all of which remain in good condition, display the virtuosity of the mason's craft.

The building’s interesting composition is a significant departure from the primarily axial Gothic churches, the small aisles behind a well-detailed “screen” of arcading, and the relatively large transepts, achieving a surprisingly intimate interior. The composition, if completed with the spire over the tower as in the original design, would be dramatic, stamping the building as architecturally “fashionable” for the 1860s, even in Britain. It justifiably won the acclaim of critics.


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Stow Memorial Church (now Pilgrim Church) is an important part of the Victoria Square environs. The building remains significant to the historical development of the Congregational Church and the quality of architecture in South Australia at a time when the colony was gaining confidence and prosperity.

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Related places
Stow Memorial Church Sunday School
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See also

Images of Stow Memorial Church

  • Stow Memorial Church, 2014
Robert Thomas
Brown and Thomas
Building materials
Stone, Bluestone, Limestone
Architectural styles
2 Victorian Period (c. 1840–c. 1890)
1865 -
Architecture and design features
Robert Thomas, capital, quatrefoil
Engineering features
Council Ward
Alternative Addresses
Town Acre
Planning Zone or Policy Area
Original owners
Congregational Church
Original occupant
Later occupant/s
Purposes and use
Religious, Church
AS2482 classification
15500 - Religious Building
Public Access
Opening hours only
State Heritage ID
ACC Reference No.
DPTI Heritage No.
Certificate of Title No.
CT 5936/934 F181671 A829 CT 5936/935 F181671 A829
NTSA file exists
Heritage Status
State heritage listing
State Heritage listed
Date of State heritage listing
Local heritage listing
Date of Local heritage listing
NTSA listing
NTSA registered
Date of NTSA listing
Section 23 (4) crtiteria
Risk status
Historic Themes
6.3 Worshipping
6.3.1 Places of worship/Churches
Australian Curriculum references
Year 5: The Australian Colonies


  • ACA, Digest of Proceedings, 29 April
  • 1889, 27 October 1890, Smith Survey
  • 1880; Hunt, A., This side of heaven,
  • 1985; Loyau, G.E., Representative men of South Australia, 1883, pp. 233-5; MLSA, Historical photographs (Town Acre 235); Morgan, E.J.R., & Gilbert, S.H., Early Adelaide architecture 1836 to 1886, 1969; Pascoe, J.J., History of Adelaide and vicinity, 1901; South Australian Register, 26 January 1864, 25
  • June 1864, 7 February 1865, 17 April
  • 1867; Thomas, R.G., Unpublished, undated, anonymous paper of R.G. Thomas held by Department of Planning and
  • Development, ACC.

Further reading

External links

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