St Andrew’s Church, Tsim Sha Tsui
Here’s one that has been on the back-burner for a while as I cleared a backlog of stuff. It’s one of the many true pieces of history that are scattered around TST (Tsim Sha Tsui – a place full of an immense amount of history thrown in with an equal amount of tat).
Walk up Nathan Road and about half way up the “Park Lane Promenade”, on the opposite side of the road through the branches of the famous 100 year old banyans, you will see a bright red brick building that once housed the old Kowloon British School (built by Robert Ho Tung). This building in fact is off limits because it now houses the Antiquities and Monuments Office – the same Govt department responsible for the depressing lack of built history in HK and the same one only willing to take action if it has no choice (for example King Yin Lei). The AMO’s use of the old Kowloon British School is perhaps one of its better moves but it’s a shame that as a result no one can get inside to see what its like.
Anyway, sitting behind this interesting building is a small church, hidden from the main road by a high wall and the general hustle and bustle that can be fairly distracting along this stretch of road. This has its benefits because it means that peace and quiet is a short step away from Nathan Road and its tree shaded front courtyard provides an excellent diversion on a sunny day.
St Andrew’s Anglican Church was built in 1905 from money provided by the famous local entrepreneur and philanthropist called Sir Catchick Paul Chater – an Armenian immigrant who ended up being one of those people in HK who defined the way the colony developed. Although built in 1905, its official dedication and opening wasn’t until the following year in 1906.
I suspect that the fact that it is a religious building has probably contributed significantly to its continued existence in an area that has been drastically remodeled over the years, but it also sits on a swathe of land that also houses the famous ‘ex-Royal’ Hong Kong Observatory and of course the aforementioned Kowloon British School.
Although it’s an Anglican Church, during the Japanese Occupation between 1941 and 1945, it was turned into a Shinto Shrine though, unlike Govt House, it managed to avoid any changes to its architecture to fit in with its new (albeit temporary) role for Japanese Buddhist worship.
One thing I have noticed is that it is now missing a distinctive steeple that old photos show mounted on the top of the small tower at the front. I understand that it underwent a refurbishment in 1959 but can’t find any mention that this included getting rid of its pointed spire.
Actually, the plot of land on which the church sits also houses the neighbouring vicarage. This was built in 1909 (The foundation stone on the front gives us a specific date of 23rd February) and again was built using funds donated by Sir Chater. It’s a stylish building with columned balconies and is currently used as a meeting house as well as housing a youth centre on the second storey.
There is one particular building at the back, on a small raised area, that is rather intriguing and I have no idea what it is/was. It looks like a small chapel but is currently off-limits to the public. It looks a little bit worse for wear and the brickwork is sagging as well as having plenty of greenery sprouting fro the roof tiles. I wonder if this was an entrance to a crypt?
Here’s some more interesting info about it. In the 1950′s, the church grounds were used by “Uncle Siu” to teach some northern styles of Kung Fu. He used to hold an open-air class at the front of the church and a certain young Bruce Lee attended the class just prior to leaving Hong Kong for the US in 1959. He intended to earn money in the US as a kung fu instructor and wanted to learn a few “showy” moves to impress the gwai-lo’s. A deal was struck with Uncle Siu to exchange Cha Cha lessons for kung fu lessons and over a few days Bruce mastered two forms, one in Praying Mantis and the other in a style called Jeet Kune (not to be confused with Jeet Kune Do). He mastered them so quickly that poor old Uncle Siu never got the chance to pick up his cha cha.