The Pirie Street Wesleyan Chapel was the third building completed for an expanding congregation. The first two chapels in Hindley Street (1838) and Gawler Place (1839) became too small and the members of a trust formed in 1849 began canvassing for subscriptions to build a larger one. They bought a half-acre site in Pirie Street for £600 in Pirie Street and the church was built in 1850. The cost, including land, was more than £6000:
Often spoken of as the “Methodist Cathedral”, the Pirie Street church fostered the spread of Methodism throughout the state. As the headquarters of South Australian Wesleyan Methodism, the church and its hall complex became the venue of the annual state conference and of the triennial General Conference of the Methodist Church of Australasia when it was held in Adelaide.
In 1853 a minister’s residence was built next to the church and in 1862 architect Edmund Wright designed a schoolroom to be built on to the rear south end of the existing chapel.
On completion, the hall was described in the South Australian Register of January 3, 1863, as being “admirably suited to answer the purpose for which it is intended”. The style was early English, in keeping with the chapel. The walls were of Dry Creek stone, neatly pointed, with brick dressings, “and in order to avoid any appearance of lowness, the Architect has thrown up side gables, in which the windows are placed”.
The old wall at the rear of the church was cut away and an archway introduced to the height of the two schoolrooms. Ahandsome gallery of cedar was placed in the centre, and entry was from a porch in the east side. Heavily stained roof timbers stood out against the blue boarding of the roof. The rich, moulded window arches and the three arched recesses at the platform end were deemed “pleasing and effective”.
The church was in a phase of expansion when the hall was built, and as an important element of Methodism was providing a good education for children, Prince Alfred College started in the lecture hall in January 1869. Five months later 50 pupils moved to their newly completed accommodation at Kent Town and the school went on to become one of the most prestigious in Adelaide.