Union Church

Submitted by David on Mon, 11/30/2009 - 16:16

A recent RAS talk by Dr Brooke Himsworth covered the history of Union Church. It's currently on Kennedy Road, but he explained this is the fourth church building already. It has moved twice, and disappeared once in its 150+ year history.

The church was founded by James Legge, an active man in Hong Kong's early history. The first church was built on Hollywood road around 1844/5.

Next they moved to Staunton Street, opening a more substantial church there in 1865.

As that area became crowded they looked for a new location, and settled on the present site in Kennedy Road. That opened in 1890, with a manse on the site as well. The new building was an early example of recycling, reusing much of the materials from the church on Staunton Street. However the site was a different shape, and together with the choice of a green colour scheme, the new church wasn't considered as attractive as the previous version.

The church funded half the costs of building the Kennedy Road station on the still new Peak Tram.  Many of the congregation in the 1930s were Scottish workers from Taikoo Docks. Would they have used the tram to climb the hill on a hot Summer's day?

Now the 'disappearance'. Himsworth's father was interned in Stanley Camp during WW2.  After the Japanese surrender he was one of the first people to leave the camp and head into Central. He walked up to see the church, but when he got there all he found was a small pile of rubble, and the three dedication plaques from the walls of the old church. It's understood that the Japanese took their turn at recycling, and the church materials were used in the Japanese reconstruction of Government House!

As life in Hong Kong returned to something like normal, the congregation turned to rebuilding their church. The church still owned a manse at 3, Severn Road on the Peak, and sold that after the war. It raised a little over $62,000 towards the new, fourth generation of Union Church.

The new Hall & Manse were completed in 1949, with the first service held in the hall on 30th October that year. Next came the Sanctuary, finished in March 1955, and finally the Annexe, built in 1970.

Some other points from the talk:

  • In the 1930s, the George Hotel stood on Kennedy Road, opposite the church. Now of course it is Zetland Hall, the masonic centre.
  • James Legge was a talented linguist, and preached in both Chinese and English. That led to the creation of a Chinese-speaking sister church, Hop Yat Church. The current Hop Yat Church building is in Mid-levels, and was built in 1925.
  • A daughter church is the Kowloon Union Church, on Nathan Road.
  • Himsworth's father noted on his first walk from camp how deserted the place seemed. Everyone was hiding inside to see what would happen after the Japanese surrender. It reminded me of this photo of Wanchai in 1945, with no signs of life.
  • On Sunday, 12 June 1966, heavy rain caused a landslide that sent a torrent of mud and stones crashing into the church. It required a lot of cleaning up, but fortunately it didn't cause any structural damage.
  • And finally Dr Himsworth has an interesting history himself, as he was born in the Stanley Internment Camp.