Church and Earthquakes

In the next of our guest posts, Max Reeves, a student of Victoria University of Wellington’s Museums and Heritage Studies programme, writes about two small churches affected by the November 2016 earthquakes.  

One of the joys of travelling through small town New Zealand is the cosy, picturesque Gothic revival churches which pop up in seemingly every small town. These Gothic churches were vestiges of the patriotism of the first generations of European settlers to Aotearoa, but the interest continued well into the twentieth century. The style was a cultural preference, made suitable by the materials available to New Zealand designers.

The revival of the Gothic style in England began with Augustus Pugin’s The True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture in 1841, the same year New Zealand got its first Anglican Bishop. Unfortunately, in the earthquakes of November 2016 two rural stone Gothic churches, both built in the 1920s, suffered damage.

All Saints Anglican Church (1920-1925) is a staunch, stoic building in Waiau, just south of Hamner Springs. This church was the first ecclesiastical design of Cecil Wood which was completed, and is a fantastic example of a Gothic church inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement.

Showing interior view of All Saints Church, Waiau, looking towards altar, date unknown.  

All Saints in Wharanui was built thanks to a bequest of £1,000 from the estate of Mrs. M.F. Macfarlane, who died in 1919. Wood’s design for the church drew on the natural landscape. Typical for Wood’s churches, the raw stone is left uncovered, following from the Gothic prescription that churches should mirror the natural landscape. The use of bare, local riverstone mirrors the use of flint in medieval, English Gothic churches.

Plans were completed by Wood in 1920, and construction began in 1924, with some additions and alterations to the plan, including the church’s square tower. The church was dedicated on 31 May, 1925, and two months later a stone wall was added. In 1928 Wood designed a timber lychgate in the English tradition with a pitched shingled roof and wooden framing on riverstone piers. The final addition was the neighbouring hall, again made from riverstone, in 1968. The use of riverstone and reliance on English style makes the church complex a cohesive entity, representative of the principles valued by Gothic architects. Like many of Wood’s buildings, earthquakes have not been kind to this church.

Screen Shot 2017-02-21 at 6.12.40 PM.png
All Saints after the earthquake, Nov 2016

Saint Oswald’s Anglican Church (1927), Wharanui, pictured at the top of this article, is a picturesque stone building just north of the Marlbourough/Canterbury boundary. It was built as a memorial chapel and it commemorates the people who contributed to this small community’s history.  St Oswald’s was funded by Charles Frank Murray and Selina Jessie Parkinson as a memorial to their son Charles Hector Heaton Murray, who died in 1924 in Geneva, Switzerland, when he was just 20 years old. The building was designed by local man W. Haulkner of Nelson, and constructed by W.R. Vass. Like All Saints, it is built of local stone, and reflects the Gothic tradition in New Zealand.

Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 5.34.12 PM.png

What is interesting about this church is not its place in the canon of a major ecclesiastical architect. The church serves as a monument to the local people, with its exquisite stained-glass windows built in commemoration of several local families: Parsons, Murray, Westenra and Thomas. The small graveyard associated with the church contains several members of the Murray and Parsons families. The church, remains an important piece of local history. Not only does it immortalize the tragic death of Charles Murray, and his parents love for him, but it commemorates the people who have built and preserved this small New Zealand community.  Although it was undamaged in the 2013 Seddon earthquakes, it was not so lucky in the 2016 quakes.

All Saints and St Oswald’s Anglican churches are fantastic examples of the Gothic style in New Zealand. Furthermore, All Saints is an important building in the canon of Cecil Wood, one of New Zealand’s major rural church architects. St Oswald’s, on the other hand, preserves and commemorates a small New Zealand town, making it an important part of our heritage. Sadly, these buildings were both damaged in the November 2016 earthquakes. Hopefully, they can be in some way preserved both for their beauty and what they represent.  No public statement has yet been made about their future.

Screen Shot 2017-03-08 at 11.28.25 PM.png
Damage to St Oswalds after the Nov 2016 quake.

Main image: St Oswalds, Wharanui, by PhilBee, on Flikr, used with persmission, copyright. Damage to St Oswalds, University of Auckland, Dept of Civil and Environmental Engineering report, ‘Preliminary Update’.  Historic image of All Saints: ‘Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-6698’, Photographer James Richardson, unknown date.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Annelise Schroeder says:

    Hello! My great great uncle was William Houlker, a Nelson architect. You have a paragraph that reads, “Saint Oswald’s Anglican Church … building was designed by local man W. Haulkner of Nelson, and constructed by W.R. Vass.” You do not give any source for your information, but my family and I are trying to find out whether it was our relative who designed St Oswald’s and I came across this blog. Do you know? Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s