Historic Building Details

HB Ref No:

Extent of Listing:
Church, gates, gate piers and railings

Date of Construction:
1840 - 1859

Address :
Portaferry Presbyterian Church Meeting House Street Portaferry Co Down BT22 1LD


Survey 2:

Date of Listing:

Date of De-listing:

Current Use:

Former Use

Conservation Area:

Industrial Archaeology:





OS Map No:

IG Ref:
J5952 5083

Owner Category

Church - Presbyterian

Exterior Description And Setting

Remarkable two storey Doric temple style Presbyterian church of 1841 by John Millar, with hexastyle portico to front and rere. The building presently stands, like a large bright solid block dwarfing its neighbours, to the SW side of the narrow Meeting House Lane (off Portaferry town Square). The church is a plain rendered two storey gabled building in the simplified style of a Greek Doric temple, with hexastyle portico to NW and SE. The building's largest entrance is to the NE side of the NW portico and is reached via steps which lead into a porch which is set between the columns. The entrance, which leads to the gallery, has relatively plain, panelled timber double doors whose panels echo the tapered shape of the portico columns. Above door level there are enclosed portions to form the porches (front and rear) between the columns, with a plain rendered wall with glazing over. There is a smaller ground level entrance to the SE face of the base of the steps. The tapered, storey height columns, showing entasis, themselves are unfluted except immediately below the capitals and above the base, rest on the top of the ground floor. A full entablature encircles the structure and each gable is finished with a pediment. Triglypths and other details are in simple block form. The lower storey has been designed as a ‘battered podium’ (a character of Classical Greek architecture that probably originally derived from Egypt) supporting the temple above. The site rises quite sharply to the north west, making the ground floor semi-basement on this side. To the SE the lower ground allows the two outer columns of the portico to rest on battered corner bases which are separate from the main base. The open portion created by these separate bases gives access to a smaller doorway into the church (one to each side). Between the two central columns to the SE there is a small projection which looks like a minature temple. This projection allows room for the narrow stair via which the minister reaches the pulpit. The longer SW and NE facades are largely identical, with four tall upper level windows which are in line with four much smaller ground level windows. The upper windows have 'hopper' openings for ventilation. All these windows were renewed in the 1930s with leaded and coloured glass with simple geometric/floral patterning. The battered portico base to the SE has two small ground floor windows, as ground floor SW and NE. The roof is covered in Bangor blue slate with cast iron ogee gutters with square down spouts. The ground floor has four small evenly spaced windows, whilst the first floor as four tall evenly spaced windows with ‘hopper’ openings for ventilation. The building is surrounded on two sides by wrought iron ‘spear’ railings on a low rendered wall interspersed with plain square piers.


Millar, John

Historical Information

Described by the late Sir Charles Brett as 'one of the treasures of Ulster architecture' this church was built between 1840-41 and replaced an earlier mid-eighteenth century Presbyterian Church on this site, which had been rendered unfit after the ‘Great Wind’ of January 1839. The architect was John Millar, whose choice of the Classical style may have been influenced by the p
references of the local minister, Rev. John Orr, and also by those within the congregation, many of whom had attended Rev. William Steel Dickson’s Classical School, which had been established in Portaferry in 1780. The building cost £1,999 and was formally opened by Rev. Henry Cooke in September 1841, though minor building work (mainly to the grounds etc.) continued sporadically up to 1847. The architect, John Millar (c.1776-c.1856) worked as an assistant for some years to Thomas Hopper and as such was involved with the building of Gosford Castle, Co. Armagh. Once established in his own practice as an independent architect based in Belfast, Millar designed a number of churches in Greek Revival style, notably the Presbyterian Churches in Antrim (1833-37) and Castlereagh (1834-5), though the Portaferry Presbyterian church was undoubtably his finest achievement. The building has been described as an amphi-prostyle hexastyle Greek Temple set upon a battered podium. The distinctive Doric columns of the exterior hexastyle fronts are derived from those of the Temple of Apollo at Delos, recorded by James Athenian Stuart and Nicholas Revett in their visit to Greece in the 1750s and published in Volume III of their 'Antiquities of Athens' (1794 - see engraving in chapter 10, plate I). The columns (also found in the Portico of Thoricus in Attica, disvovered 1812, and the Temple of Nemesis at Rhamnous) are distinquished by having plain unfluted shafts, except at the base and top (just below capital) where short flutes appear. It was the practice in Classical Greece to start their columns in this way - so, consequenetly the order is sometimes referrred to as an 'unfinished order'. Revett used the Order for the first time since antiquity on the Portico at Standlynch, now Trafalgar House, in Wiltshire (c.1766) and later on the open colonnades of his church at Ayot St Lawrence, Hertfordshire (1778-9). Millar, who undoubtably saw the Order published in 'Antiquities of Athens' , used it for the first time on his Presbyterian church in Antrim of 1833-37 (see HB20/08/023B). Millar also employed entasis on his columns. Surprisingly, both Stuart and Revett, and indeed other 18th century authorities were not aware of entasis in Classical architecture; namely the subtly convex curved swelling in the column's batter from base to top - even though at some temples, like Paestum, the entasis is obvious. Although Allasion first published a paper on the subject in 1814-15, it was C.R. Cockerell, Haller von Hallerstein and Linckh who appear to have been the first to recognise entais in Greek architecture, while John Millar (at Portaferry) was undoubtably among the very first architects to consciously employ it. While the columns derive from the Temple of Apollo at Delos, the general form of the building undoubtably owes much to the Temple of Nemesis at Rhamnous (built around 420 BC), which had been published in 1816. Here too the same type of plain columns are used with incipient fluting at base and top. Millar did not however simply copy the published drawings of this temple but created something entirely new (and as such he anticipated much more modern classicism). For example, he omitted certain details such as the articulation of the triglyphs and guttae, with plain and unadorned metopes, all resulting in an overall abstraction of the classic form. At Portaferry his columns are confined to the front and rere, and not down the long sides as in the Temple of Nemesis. Millar needed to light his church so he pierced his side walls with tall plain window openings, each seperated from the other by square pilasters that read as square columns, which echo the rhymhical flow of vertical columns down the side of a Classical Greek temple. In the interior of the church at Portaferry, Millar used at each end an unusual form of the Ionic Order which was employed in the cella of the Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae in Arcadia. Stuart and Revett were not aware of this order; it was discovered and recorded by the great early 19th century classicist Charles Robert Cockerell (1788-1863) in 1811-12 during his hazadous expedition to Greece (with the archaeologist Haller von Hallerstein and English architect John Foster). While Cockerell was largely responsible for Volume IV of 'Antiquities of Athens' (published in 1830), it was not until 1860 that he published in detail the results of his detailed survey of the Bassae Temple [see 'The Temples of Jupiter Panhellenius of Aegina and Apollo Epicurius at Bassae']. Miller, who never visited Greece, obviously looked at drawings of the Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae (whose frieze is in the British Museum) and first used them in the Presbyterian Church at Castlereagh (1834-5), before he employed them at Portaferry. John Miller seems to have been the first architect since the ancients to use this order in his buildings. Cockerell himself was to later use the order at the Ashmolean Museum portico, on the Taylorian Institute in Oxford (1841-45) and the University of Cambridge Library (1837-41). At some stage in the 20th century, apparently due to a damp problem, the church was painted, though exactly when this first took place has yet to be established. The present painted surface, which incorporates pink columns, is the product of a much more recent scheme in the 1990s, when two trees were also removed from the ground to the rere of the building. The church was first wired for electricity and the new organ installed after the Great War. Also at this time, the two large stained glass windows commemorating the fallen of the Great War were added (1925-26), whilst the gallery windows were replaced in the mid-1930s. Various minor alterations were carried out in the latter half of the twentieth century including the laying of carpets, a new heating system, and the enlargement of the choir enclosure, with the addition of a new communion table, lectern etc. Claims made by a number of authors in the past that both ends were glazed for the first time in 1907 is not correct; close examination of the building leaves little doubt that Millar's original building had a glazed sections at each end - a scheme for which there are precedents (for example Schinkel's proposed scheme for glazing in the portico of the Neue Wache in Berlin). The present congregation is today relately small, but is very committed to safeguarding the historic integrity of their church. Around 2002 a small independent charitable trust, the 'Friends of Portaferry Presbyterian Church' was established. This involves members of the congregation and others, which, in co-operation with the congregation, seeks amonst its objects to create a renewed interest in and appreciation of the merit of the church as a work of architecture. To this end concerts have taken place at which choirs and musicians of international standard have performed. In June 2009 the friends brought together a gathering of over 100 people in the church with a panel of distinquished architectural historians to take part in 'A Celebration of the Architecture of Portaferry Presbyterian Church and the Greek Revival'. References- Primary sources 1 PRONI VAL/1D/3/4 Valuation town plan of Portaferry, c.1838 2 Linen Hall Library ‘Slater’s National Commercial Directory of Ireland’ (Manchester 1846), p.520-23 3 PRONI and Linen Hall Library ‘Belfast and Province of Ulster Directory’ Vols.1-21, 1852-1900, (Belfast, Henderson [1852-65], Belfast News-Letter [1865- ]) 4 Linen Hall Library ‘Slater’s Royal National Commercial Directory of Ireland’ (Manchester 1856), p.592-95 5 PRONI OS/8/23/1- OS town plan of Portaferry, 1859 6 PRONI Second ('Griffith's') valuation, 1863 [In print.] 7 PRONI VAL/12E/112/1- Valuation maps of Portaferry, c.1863, with revisions of 1902 8 Linen Hall Library ‘Slater’s Royal National Commercial Directory of Ireland’ (Manchester 1870), pp.341-43 9 PRONI OS/8/23/2 OS town plan of Portaferry, 1874 10 George Henry Bassett ‘County Down Guide and Directory’ (Dublin 1886) 11 PRONI OS/8/23/3 OS town plan of Portaferry, 1900 12 UFTM WAG 609, 611, 612 W.A. Green Collection, photographs of Portaferry Quay, harbour, Shore Road etc. 13 PRONI VAL/12E/112/2- Valuation maps of Portaferry, 1902, with revisions of 1935 14. Stuart, James and Revett. The Antiquities of Athens. Volume I (1762) and later volumes (1795, 1816, 1830). 15.Ordnance Survey Memoirs. G. Scott, Down, p10. 16. Curl, James Stevens. December 2009. Notes on Portaferry Presbyterian Church supplied to Built Heritage, NIEA Secondary sources 1 G. Philip Bell, C.E.B. Brett, Sir Robert Matthew, 'Ulster Architectural Heritage Survey: Portaferry & Strangford' Belfast Ukster Atchitectural Heritage Society, 1969, p12) 2 Jean McCartney, "Portaferry Presbyterian Church" in 'Journal of the Upper Ards Historical Society No.1' (1977), pp. 19-23 2 Dick Oram, "The Buildings of Portaferry" in 'Journal of the Upper Ards Historical Society No.16' (1992), p. 24 3 Amy Anderson & Joy Lyttle, 'Portaferry Presbyterian Church 1642-1992' (Portaferry 1992), pp. 2-4, 9, 12-13, 2. 4. Brett, C.E.B. 1996. Buildings of County Antrim. Belfast, Ulster Architectural Heritage Society and the Uster Historical Foundation. 5. Brett, C.E.B. 2002. Buildings of North County Down. Belfast, Ulster Architectural Heritage Society (p63). 6. Crook, Joseph Mordaunt. 2001. The Greek Revival: Neo-Classical Attitudes in British Architecture, 1760-1870. London. John Murray. 7. Curl, James Stevens. 2001. Classical Architecture: An Introduction to its Vocabulary and Esentials, with a Select Glossary of Terms. London, Batsford. 8. Larmour, Paul. 1994. 'John Millar- A Greek Revival pioneer'. Perspective (The Journal of the Royal Society of Ukster Architects). September-October, Vol 3, No 1, p56 [The main source of infortmation for those seeking information on the life of Millar]. 9. Curl, James Stevens. 1970. Classical Churches. Belfast, Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, p14, 17 10. Brett, C.E.B. 1994. 'John Millar, Architect of Belfast'. Ulster Architect. September/October, pp4-6. 11. Dinsmoor, William Bell. 1950. The Architecture of Ancient Greece: An Account of its Historic Development. London, Batsford. 12. Robertson, D.S. 1945. A Handbook of Greek and Roman Architecture. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. 13. Curl, James Stevens. 2006. Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. Oxford, Oxford University Press. 14. Walker. 2000. Historic Ulster Churches. UHF, p85.

Criteria for Listing

Architectural Interest

A. Style B. Proportion C. Ornamentation D. Plan Form E. Spatial Organisation I. Quality and survival of Interior J. Setting K. Group value

Historic Interest

Y. Social, Cultural or Economic Importance W. Northern Ireland/International Interest Z. Rarity


Remarkable two storey Doric temple style Presbyterian church of 1841 by John Millar, commonly recognised one of the most important Greek neo-Classical buildings in Ulster. Millar's building is essentially an amphi-protystyle Greek Temple with battered base, using columns (externally) of the 'unfinished order' of the Temple of Apollo at Delos. Internally, Millar used Ionic columns based upon the Temple of Apollo at Bassae (Aradia) while the overall form of building was based on the Temple of Nemesis at Rhamnus. Millar's intrepration of Greek classicism anticipates more modern classicism, for example in the way he articulates the triplyphs and guttae and unadorned metopes.

General Comments

Date of Survey

Wednesday, June 18, 1997