History of Bishop's House

1 Lower Albert Road, Central, Hong Kong

Bishop’s House sits on a hill at the corner of Lower Albert Road, on a larger piece of property which is the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui (HKSKH) compound. The present Bishop’s House is vastly changed from the past. Originally it was only a small house without other buildings around. Today this property is known as Bishop’s Hill, and includes the former Central Hospital to the east; Martin House and other office and residential buildings to the south, up the hill, facing Upper Albert Road; St. Paul’s Church and kindergarten on Glenealy; and the HKSKH Ming Hua Theological College, adjacent to Bishop’s House, also on Glenealy. Further to the east of the compound is Government House.

The original Land Deed for the Bishop’s House property is dated 19 April, 1850. It includes Nos.1 & 18 Lower Albert Road and Nos.1,2 & 3 Upper Albert Road.

Bishop’s House was established together with St. Paul’s College in 1851, even though classes at St. Paul’s began earlier. Since then, it has also been the residence of the succession of the bishops of Victoria, and the site of the diocesan and then provincial offices.

The history of Bishop’s House begins in 1843, when the Reverend Vincent Stanton was appointed Colonial Chaplain to serve the Anglican Community. Hong Kong had been established as a British colony the previous year, according to the provisions of the Treaty of Nanking. By the time Stanton arrived, he already had plans to erect a school for Chinese boys in Hong Kong and he raised funds in England for this purpose. After his return to England, he continued to raise funds for St. Paul’s College, one of the oldest secondary schools in the territory.

Map of Victoria, 1863 (No. 9 is Bishop’s House) Map of Victoria, 1863 (No. 9 is Bishop’s House)

The 1849 Indenture of  St.Paul’s College states that “St. Paul’s College at Victoria is primarily founded for the object of training a body of Native Clergy and Christian teachers for the propagation of God in China according to the principles of the United Church of England and Ireland, and under the immediate control of the Bishop of the said Diocese.” There were only 9 students and one tutor in 1849, the first year for the enrollment of students. In the same year, the Diocese of Victoria was created and George Smith (1849-1866) was appointed the first diocesan bishop. Reverend Stanton turned over the college to Bishop Smith, who became the first warden of St. Paul’s College. In addition to the classrooms, library and dormitory, this building was the home of the Bishop of Victoria, and so was named Bishop’s House.

Bishop Charles Richard Alford (1867-1873), Bishop John Shaw Burdon (1874-1897), Bishop Joseph Charles Hoare (1898-1906) and Bishop Gerald Heath Lander (1907-1920) were also wardens of the college. Under Bishop Burdon, the house was nearly burned down in the great fire of December 25-26,1878. The school motto “Respect the Lord in Heaven, love others as yourself” (恭敬天主,愛人如己) on the exterior wall of Bishop’s House dates from Bishop Burdon’s time. After 1909 the Bishop of Victoria was no Ionger the warden of St. Paul’s College, but the college remained on the premises.

Bishop Charles Duppuy (1920-1932) lived here, as did Bishop Ronald Owen Hall (1932-1966) when he became the 7th Bishop of Victoria in 1932. He subsequently moved to a small home on Tao Fung Shan, but retained a room and his office in Bishop’s House. Under Bishop Hall, the weekly clergy service and breakfast was begun at St. John’s Cathedral, after which the clergy walked over to the Bishop’s office where they met around a common table.

During the Japanese occupation, Bishop’s House remained intact and was for a time a residence for foreign nationals. After the end of the war, St. Paul’s College was moved to Bonham Road. In addition to housing the Bishop’s Office, Bishop’s House became a residence for young priests and their families, as well as visitors and guests, and the site for classes of the newly established Ming Hua College.

In 1951, the new Diocese of Hong Kong and Macau was formed as a detached diocese after its separation from the Chung Hua Sheng Kung Hui. In 1966, Bishop John Gilbert Baker (1966-1981) became the 8th bishop of Hong Kong and he made the last major renovation of Bishop’s House. Bishop Peter Kong Kit Kwong (1981-2006, now Archbishop Emeritus) was the last bishop to live in Bishop’s House. Archbishop Paul Kwong and the Bishops of Eastern Kowloon and Western Kowloon maintain separate episcopal residences. In 1998, the province of the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui was established and Bishop’s House housed the Provincial Office. The Provincial Office moved out temporarily in 2011, and Bishop’s House now contains the offices of the HKSKH Archives.

Bishop’s House was designed in a modified Tudor style, three stories in height, on a foundation of granite. It is the second oldest Western-style building in Hong Kong, after Flagstaff House (1846), now the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware in Hong Kong Park. An elegant three story tower stands in the northwest corner of Bishop’s House. The main  door faces east with the Latin ANNO DOMINI 1851 above the archway, the year that St. Paul’s College was officially established.

There is a side door below the ground floor with the Chinese characters 耶穌教(the religion of Jesus). There was originally an annex to Bishop’s House on the site of the present Kong-Kit Building of Ming Hua Theological College. It housed a succession of schools, including St. Paul’s College, St. Paul’s Co-educational College, St. Marks School, Kei Yan Primary School, Sheng Kung Hui Kindergarten, Chung Chi College and Titus English Night School. The annex fell into disrepair and was subsequently torn down.

Today, as you enter Bishop’s House, to the left is a small chapel with a front piece inscribed with the characters 道成肉身 (the Word Became Flesh). Beside the reception desk is a stairway built in the 1960s leading to the former bishop’s residence. To the left of the entryway are the former church offices.

To the right is a large reception room, with portraits of our 8 British bishops on the western wall. East of the reception room is a large conference room, now used for classes and meetings. Beyond the reception room are the offices of the staff of the HKSKH Archives. These offices and the conference room, enclosed in the late 19th century, had originally been an expansive veranda which afforded a magnificent view of the harbor, before there were all the skyscrapers. In 1995, Bishop Peter Kwong did a simple renovation converting these rooms to offices.

Upstairs there are the former bishop’s office, bedrooms, kitchens and parlors, as well as an enclosed veranda and tower. Before Bishop Baker moved in with his family in 1967-1968, he made a major renovation, designed and overseen by his son, who is an architect. What we see upstairs today is much the same as it was at that time. Because it is awaiting renovation, this area is closed to the public.

The basement is used for storage and is not open to the public. It now houses the HKSKH Archives and storage for the Province in climate controlled conditions.

A building is the reflection of change and continuity in the church as well as the city. With a history of more than 160 years, Bishop’s House has witnessed the development of the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui (Anglican Church) as well as the interaction between Christianity and Hong Kong society. Today, surrounded by lush greenery and old banyan trees,the building stands as testimony to the story of the gospel and the eternally immutable love of God in this blessed land.