Presbyterian Church, Portaferry


This church was built in 1841 by the Presbyterian congregation of Portaferry on land gifted to them by the local landlords, the Savage family. However, it was not the first church on this site - two churches existed here previously - although little is known of them other than a brief mention in the Ordnance Survey Memoir of 1834 which records a building “ no means an ornament to the town”.

The minister in 1839 was the Rev John Orr and it was under his guidance that this building was erected. Orr, and his clerical predecessors William Steel Dickson and William Moreland, had run a Classics School in Portaferry for the ‘sons of merchants and gentlemen’. This familiarity with antiquity, at least in part, explains the rather unusual adoption of the Greek Revival style of design. In addition, the purity of thought associated with the ancient Greek civilisation struck a note with the free-thinking Presbyterians of the day.

The building was designed by John Millar, a young Irish architect who had trained with Hopper in London, and is thought to be amongst his best buildings.  Not long after its completion he emigrated to Australia, survived a shipwreck (winning a medal for his bravery) and then New Zealand where ultimately be died. It is modelled on the Temple of Nemesis on the Greek Island of Rhamnous (although this has been contested) but Professor Margaret Myles of the University of California, and a world authority on that ruin, is convinced of its lineage.

The church building was little changed, apart from the installation of an organ in 1917, until it underwent a £1.5m restoration in 2015. This not only resulted in its structural “salvation” but also fitted it out with 21st Century facilities and equipment. Today the building is still used by the local Presbyterian congregation but it is now under the ownership of the charity Portico of Ards Ltd and is a nondenominational building used as an Arts and Heritage Centre for the region and a venue for weddings, conferences and events of all kinds.