Until 1837, the city only had one Presbyterian church connected to the Synod of Ulster. First Derry Presbyterian Church, the only Presbyterian church built within the city walls, was constructed in 1690. By the early 1800s, around 250 Presbyterian families living within the city and liberties were without a place of worship, with reports of families fighting for seats at First Derry. Representations to the Synod of Ulster resulted in the decision to construct a new place of worship and on 9th July 1834, a committee comprising 19 laymen and 5 ministers were appointed to manage the construction of a brand new church at Great James Street.
The church was one of the first buildings to be built during the Victorian expansion of the city which also saw the laying out of Queen Street and Clarendon Street. This was part of the most ambitious project of town planning carried out in the area since the construction of the walled city in 1613. The elegant Georgian terraces and Victorian townhouses which still surround the church accommodated the city’s growing merchant and professional classes and contrast with the modest terraced houses built for the workers of the shirt factories and thriving shipyards in the late 1800s.
During the height of the ‘Troubles’ a high percentage of Protestants living in the city moved across the River Foyle to the Waterside, resulting in a reduction in Presbyterian congregations. With its location on Great James Street, the church was often caught up in unrest and on occasion the congregation removed precious artefacts from the building for safe keeping. Great James’ Street Presbyterian closed in 1983 as the congregation moved to a new church in Kilfennan in the Waterside, which was certainly a very emotional and difficult time for all those concerned.
The building then served as the local library for a time, before being used as a commercial glassworks. Proposals to turn the building into a nightclub and boutique hotel didn’t come to fruition and the church fell into disrepair.