St Thomas' Church (Anglican)

12 Acourt Street And Dundas Road, Sanson

  • St Thomas' Church (Anglican).
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Karen Astwood. Date: 1/10/2009.
  • St Thomas’ Church and hall.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Karen Astwood. Date: 1/10/2009.
  • Nave, looking toward tracery window.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Karen Astwood. Date: 1/10/2009.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 1193 Date Entered 30th April 2010


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Lot 194 DP 13 (CT WN9/22), Wellington Land District and the building known as St Thomas' Church thereon, and its fittings and fixtures. The extent does not include the church hall. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).

City/District Council

Manawatu District


Horizons (Manawatu-Wanganui) Region

Legal description

Lot 194 DP 13 (CT WN9/22), Wellington Land District

Location description

When travelling north into Sanson on State Highway 1 turn southeast onto State Highway 3/Dundas Road at this major intersection. The church is on the corner of State Highway 3/Dundas Road and Ascourt Street, which is the last road before exiting the town. Turn southwest into Ascourt Street where parking is available on the roadside adjacent to the church.


St Thomas' Church, constructed in 1877, is a timber country church located on the edge of Sanson. This building, designed by Charles Tringham, demonstrates Gothic Revival influences and the architect's aptitude in working in this architectural style.

European settlement in the Manawatu was relatively late and it was not until the completion of many Native Land Court cases that it started in earnest during the early 1870s. These proceedings meant that the establishment of Sanson, a town within a larger farming block called Sandon Township, was delayed until 1872. However, Sanson soon acquired facilities, such as St Thomas' Church, that signalled its maturity as both a junction and rural service centre. Prior to the construction of the church local Anglicans attended services in residences when either their, or Methodist, clergy or lay readers were available. However, after the area's parish was established in 1875 the Sanson Anglican community instigated plans for a purpose-built place of worship, contributing significantly to the project through direct donations of money and labour, or through attending fundraising events. After its completion the community continued to support the church and this resulted in some mid twentieth century additions, such as the memorial windows, and an organ that required a specially constructed niche. These activities were associated with the 75th anniversary of the church and the lead-up to its centenary. Other people are also honoured in the church through features like the World War One roll of honour.

St Thomas' Church can be clearly placed within the Gothic Revival tradition of country church architecture in New Zealand because of the extensive use of timber in its construction, its chancel and sacristy adjoined to a modestly sized steep pitch gabled nave, its tower, tracery and lancet windows, and the use of motifs such as quatrefoils throughout the building. The building has undergone few changes since construction, with the exception of the building of the organ lean-to, the installation of the memorial windows, and the replacement of some furniture in the mid twentieth century.

St Thomas' Church has significance as a confident example of the vernacular style of country church architecture prevalent in the late nineteenth century which derived its characteristics from Gothic Revival architecture. This building has historical and social value because its construction is a key indicator of the progression of the Sandon block settlement and because it became an integral part of that community's social fabric. This community esteem has been physically demonstrated within the building. The church also has considerable historical importance because it is one of the earliest remaining churches in the Manawatu.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Despite an initial delay, the Hutt Small Farmers Association town of Sanson was established in the early 1870s and by the end of that decade the town had matured due to its functions as a service town for the much larger rural population of the surrounding area and as a junction town. As a purpose-built church from this early period St Thomas' Church is a marker of the coalescence of this community, who prior to its construction had intermittent access to religious services. Because Sanson was established relatively early among Manawatu towns, St Thomas' Church is also of importance because it is one of the oldest remaining churches in the region.

Architectural Significance or Value:

St Thomas' Church confidently expresses Gothic Revival style influences, which were characteristic of country churches of this period within New Zealand, through aspects such as its tower, fenestrations, and general layout and form. As is typical of these country churches, St Thomas' Church is not ostentatious, but its simple decorative touches elegantly elevate the building above the purely functional. This church is also a rare and relatively unchanged example of Charles Tringham's ecclesiastical work, and the skill of this accomplished architect is demonstrated at St Thomas' Church.

Social Significance or Value:

Churches in rural areas had considerable local value in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries because they became one of the most regular places for people to gather and network in an age when transport and telecommunications technologies were still developing. The fairs and other social gatherings arranged in connection with St Thomas' Church were also of value to the wider, not just the Anglican, community. St Thomas' Church also has local significance because of the numerous commemorative elements within the building which honour members of longstanding and prominent local families, as well as casualties of World War One, and as such creates links to these previous generations of congregants.

Spiritual Significance or Value:

Because of its function, St Thomas' Church has had considerable local spiritual significance since its construction, as the site of regular services as well as innumerable Anglican christenings, weddings, funerals, and other religious events. Initially, the church was important because it was a symbol of the local Anglican community's commitment to their faith and as their first and only church it assured them that their spiritual needs were specifically and permanently catered for within Sanson. St Thomas' Church has had a direct association with the religious aspects of thousands of people's lives and is therefore of spiritual value locally.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:

St Thomas' Church is an important site because it physically represents the concurrent spread of European settlement and the Anglican faith in New Zealand. It also reflects the determination and commitment of the faithful in rural districts, such as Sandon, in their efforts to create these symbols of their religious convictions.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place:

Community esteem for St Thomas' Church has been demonstrated since the inception of the church, it being paid for and laboured on by the community it would serve. Subsequently, the community has shown its high regard for the structure through its passive or targeted donations towards the church's maintenance and beautification.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Tringham, Charles

Charles Tringham was born at Winforton in Hertfordshire, England, in 1841. Little is known of his education but it is thought that he acquired woodworking skills. Tringham arrived in New Zealand at Auckland in December 1864 and the passenger list records his occupation as a carpenter. Tringham moved to Wellington and established a partnership with a builder named William Lawes. At the end of December 1866 he left the partnership to establish himself as a builder and undertaker. Within a year he was advertising himself as an architect and gaining a considerable number of contracts for houses, churches, hotels and a variety of other commercial premises. Tringham married Margaret Hunter Bennett in April 1868, the daughter of Dr John Bennett, the first New Zealand Registrar-General, and this may have helped his social status in Wellington. Lucrative contracts followed, including the Italianate house ‘Westoe’ (1874) near Marton for Sir William Fox, and the extensions to William Clayton’s former home in Hobson Street (now the nucleus of Queen Margaret College). Tringham was nearing the end of his architectural career in the 1890s and was elected President of the Wellington Association of Architects in 1895. He retired to the Wairarapa to farm and remained there until his death in 1916.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is the original citation considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration. Information in square brackets indicates modifications made after the paper was considered by the NZHPT Board.

Various iwi inhabited the Manawatu, primarily along the rivers, for approximately 300 years before European incursion into the area began. There were several fortified pa along the Manawatu's waterways with few inland settlements in amongst the heavily forested and swampy landscape. Despite the presence of settlements the area was not heavily populated, but it was known as a wonderful hunting and gathering ground for eels, waterfowl, and other native birds and fruits. There were many instances of dispute between the various Manawatu iwi and hapu, with perhaps the most significant sustained period of conflict occurred in the early nineteenth century as a result of the southward movement of some Waikato tribes and Te Rauparaha.

As such, from the late 1840s the sale of the Rangitikei-Manawatu Block to the Crown was contested between several iwi and 'there raged for years a storm of litigation around the Rangitikei-Manawatu Block which not only strained the relations between [iwi and] European settlers, but at one time threatened to break out in inter-tribal war.' Therefore, it was not until the conclusion of several Native Land Court cases in the late 1860s that the European settlement of the block was able to progress to any extent.

The origins of Sanson lie with a group called the Hutt Small Farms Association (HSFA) which was established in 1868. Despite making initial payments to the government for lands purchase negotiations stalled settlement for another four years. The block of land then became known as the Township of Sandon, named after Lord Sandon. Within this a settlement was established, named after Henry Sanson, the secretary of the HSFA. The distinction between Sanson and the general area where it is situated, Sandon, has understandably caused some subsequent confusion. The town of Sanson progressed steadily, and as is often the case a general store, tavern, and school were among the first buildings constructed, followed by a Post Office in 1876 and the Bank of New Zealand the following year.

The positioning of Sanson roughly midway between Palmerston North, Foxton and Longburn meant from early on it was a junction town, a characteristic it has retained. The small town, which only had a population of 250 people by the late nineteenth century, was however primarily a service town for the surrounding agricultural and horticultural area. Like other similar towns in the area, such as Rongotea, Sanson relied on the growth of the local dairy, grain, and wool industries for its continuance. Despite there not being a large population living within the town, the strength of the population in the wider district meant that there was a demand for services in Sanson, and so by 1900 the town also featured municipal offices and two churches, one of which was St Thomas' Church.

Sanson spirituality and St Thomas' Church

While Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Wesleyan parochial districts were established soon after planned European settlement in the Manawatu began in the 1870s, it was generally not until the 1880s or later that purpose-built churches were constructed. Therefore, because it was completed in 1877 St Thomas' Church is one of the oldest churches in the region. Some of the other early Anglican churches in the district were St James' Church in Halcombe (1881) and St John the Evangelist Church, Feilding, completed in 1882. These first churches became symbols, not only of the community's commitment to faith, but also the maturing of their town and the development of its local industries and economy. The fact that Sanson's St Thomas' Church pre-dates many other churches in the Manawatu is a reflection of the settlement being founded slightly earlier than most of its counterparts.

For many years prior to the construction of St Thomas' Church services in Sanson were held in private residences. These gatherings are known to have been combined affairs with Anglicans and Methodists attending when access to vicars, other visiting clergy, and lay readers, of either denomination could be arranged. With the local Anglican parish being established in 1875 it was not long before the community in Sanson began to prepare to construct a purpose-built place of worship. The first step towards the construction of St Thomas' Church was the establishment of the building committee. This committee consisted of a group of 20 local men of various occupations. One of these men was George Williams who, in addition to being one of the members of the HSFA and an original settler, had been active in the Anglican community taking on the role of lay reader, superintendant of the Sunday school, and organist. Other members of the committee were predominantly farmers but also included brick makers, local business owners, and a sawmill owner.

The construction of St Thomas' Church began in 1876 but was then delayed due to problems with the initial contractor. However, by April 1877 a new contractor was engaged and Bishop Hadfield was able to lay the foundation stone. The church was built by Mr Cleghorn's company to a design by Charles Tringham. Tringham also designed Westoe, Kakariki (1874), Plimmer House in Wellington (1874), as well as All Saints Church, Foxton and St Mark's Church, Wellington in 1876, before giving up architecture in the 1890s to become a farmer in the Wairapapa. Despite the contract being awarded to Mr Cleghorn the construction seems to have been a community affair with a group of local people volunteering labour on the project, including Ezra Everiss, one of the building committee members, and Samuel George, a cabinet maker. The church, consecrated by Bishop Hadfield on 4 November 1877, cost the considerable sum of £590 and was funded by the community. Local residents raised a portion of the cost at the time and then paid the balance of a loan from the Pension Board over the subsequent decade, primarily through concerts, fairs, and other fundraising events.

Initially the key focus of the building committee and the wider Sandon and Sanson Anglican community was to get the church constructed. After this feat was accomplished the church then gradually began to accumulate other key components, such as the bell for the tower in 1881, and a lectern, and altar linens in 1882. As with many churches, at St Thomas' Church these items were later supplemented or replaced by donated commemorative items that recognised the service and commitment of numerous parishioners. One example is a war memorial plaque erected in 1919 which lists the names of 22 men from the area who died as a result of participation in World War One. Then in the 1950s Keith Henson, who was a parishioner, created the altar, pulpit, and font in memory of his [mother Mable], Jean Matthews, and Mrs W.J. Croucher, respectively. Croucher was a major benefactor of St Thomas' Church, leaving a considerable legacy to it upon her death in 1954. The Croucher Trust was set up to administer these funds, and among other things this money paid for the construction of the church hall.

This flurry of activity at the church seems to have been motivated by the 75th anniversary of the building and then the lead-up to its centenary. The memorial stained-glass windows in the apse, which depict Jesus and the four evangelists, were installed between 1958 and 1960 and are dedicated to various congregants. These windows were sourced from England with the central window, dedicated to Croucher and featuring Jesus, completed first and the others following over the next few years. There was difficulty securing the import license for the last three windows but eventually, after the Prime Minister was prevailed upon, they were able to be installed in 1960. One of these last windows was dedicated to Mrs E.F. Grace who was a relative of Charles Grace, a member of the church's original building committee.

Perhaps the biggest acquisition by St Thomas' Church in this period of replacement and renewal was the purchase of a small single-manual pipe organ, which is still in use. This organ was the third such instrument ordered for the church. The first was lost when the cargo ship it was being transported on from England, the Southminster, wrecked on rocks in 1878 at Cape Campbell near Blenheim. Despite this set back the church community was quick to source another organ, this time from Wellington. This organ was used at St Thomas' Church from 1879 until 1940. However, it was not until 1960 that the present organ was installed in its specially constructed alcove. In the interim musical accompaniment was provided on an organ borrowed from a local woman. The new organ was a significant expense for the Croucher Trust and parishoners, costing £585 exclusive of transport and packing fees from England. Given the experience of the first congregation of St Thomas' Church in their efforts to source an organ, it was no doubt a relief to the mid twentieth century parishioners when their new organ finally arrived and was installed in its tailor-made alcove addition that did not impede on the existing available space in the church.

As Tannock says in the centenary booklet for St Thomas' Church, the buildings constructed in early periods of settlement are indicative of the priorities of the community, and their retention and maintenance is a continuance of this. Over the years the church has been the centre of the Anglican community's religious activities, being the site of regular services as well as christenings, weddings, and funerals. Because of the church's importance to the social fabric of the local community it was maintained though their generosity whether this was financially or through volunteer work. As well as helping with the maintenance, cleaning, and furnishing of the church, groups such as the Ladies' Guild also organised events that provided congregants, and the broader Sanson community, with socialising opportunities.

Physical Description

General setting and exterior

St Thomas' Church is located on a section of land which has consistently held its position on the outskirts of Sanson since the town was surveyed in 1872, and therefore the building has a prominent position when entering the town using the main road from the east. St Thomas' Church is also highly visible, despite being setback from Dundas Road, from elsewhere on the east side of Sanson because its tall bell tower, and steep main gable, dwarf the surrounding generally single storey residences.

The main entrance to the churchyard is through an opening in the solid concrete boundary fence at the front of the property, which at one point supported a gate. Birch and other mature trees populate the entrance lawn of the churchyard and to a certain extent screen the building from the main highway. These trees were mature by the 1980s and were probably planted around the mid twentieth century. The concrete fence at the front of the churchyard does not extend around to the Ascourt Street boundary, although there are concrete paths leading to the designated entry points on both of these street fronts. While once occupying a larger churchyard, the curtilage around St Thomas' Church is now relatively compact primarily because of the presence of the comparatively bulky church hall, constructed in the 1960s, located between the church and the southeast boundary of the section.

St Thomas' Church is a modest sized church which features many aspects typical of the Gothic Revival style of architecture that was used for most of New Zealand's country churches in the mid to late nineteenth century. As such, it is a timber structure, clad using vertical board and battens, has a steep pitch corrugated iron covered gabled nave, a chancel terminating in an apse, a form which is echoed by the adjoining sacristy. Other key Gothic Revival influenced components of the church include the bell tower, which also acts as an entry porch, the proliferation of lancet windows, and the preponderance of unadorned native timbers on the interior.

The bell tower on the northeast corner of the church is one of its most striking features. The comparatively high level of exterior decoration on this section of the church is indicative of the architect's intent that it should be the focal point of St Thomas' Church. The tower is a squared structure is an adjunct to the nave of the building, and its helm roof is clad in shingles and punctuated by dormer ventilation cavities on each face. This roof begins above the level of the apex of the main gable, and under its eaves there is a corbel course. The part of the tower immediately below is stepped slightly back from that of the lower section, which is three times as high as the upper, in order to create an illusion of greater height. The vertical emphasis of the tower is further enhanced through the decorative detailing of the upper wall section, which includes pairings of lancet shaped ventilation cavities with trefoil cut-outs within their apex. Then interspersed between these cavities are decorative panels that are suggestive of windows and have heavy straight pointed hoods. The upper and lower sections are clearly defined by a border featuring decorative circles. Above the eave line of the nave gable is a series of shorter inset lancet shapes that correspond to the taller ventilation cavities of the upper section and break up the expanse of this part of the tower. On the southeast façade at the base of the tower is the main entrance, which is a timber panel set of doors in a lancet frame. On each of the walls flanking the door are central deeply recessed quatrefoil motif windows. These ground level aspects of the tower are unified by a stringcourse which encompasses them all and mirrors the shape of the northeast façade on each of the tower's walls.

This northeast façade is dominated by a simple frosted and clear glass geometrical tracery window with a quatrefoil at its apex. The bargeboards at either end of the nave are plain but the adjoining fascia is stepped which is an elegant feature that elevates this aspect of the building above the purely functional. Each gable end's apex is surmounted with a cross finial, however, the northeast one is missing its horizontal component.

Each of the long sides of the nave, the northwest and southeast façades, is punctuated by four deep-set lancet windows. However, the northwest wall has the added feature of a small lean-to towards the apse end which was constructed in the 1960s in order to create the alcove that accommodates the organ.

The apse, which houses the chancel, is five sided and accordingly has a radial roof stemming from a gabled section which connects to the nave and creates enough depth to house the altar furniture and fittings. Bridging this space on the southeast façade, and adjoining both the chancel and nave, is the sacristy. This mirrors the apse's form but is smaller in size and height. Either side of the exterior sacristy door is a scaled down version of the lancet windows found elsewhere in the building, including the apse which has a window in each of its five sides. The sacristy door is accessed by a set of concrete steps and is an interesting feature of the building, which is repeated twice on the interior, because of the unusual shape of its lintel which curves inwards from each jam before stepping up to create a flat top. The door knob is quite large and centrally positioned.


Upon entering St Thomas' Church the extensive use of timber in its construction is conspicuous and striking, as is the effect of the lofty gable in adding to the sense of interior space. In the nave the ceiling is supported by a series of scissor trusses whose diagonals are also echoed in the matchboard lining of the ceiling and the exposed timber frame bracing of the walls in this main section. The fact that the nave is not lined means that the peg and dowel construction used in the framing is visible. However, the chancel and sacristy are lined. The nave has few decorative features and the font, and rows of ten pews either side of a central aisle, are also reasonably austere.

The simplicity of the nave is contrasted with the decorative aspects of the chancel, which help to make the altar area the focal point of the church. One of these decorative features is a solid altar rail with quatrefoil cut-outs, a motif which repeated around the top of the horizontal matchboard lined walls. However, the contrast is predominantly created by the set of memorial windows whose exuberant colour draws the viewer's eye in this otherwise monochromatic building. From the east to west sides of the apse are lancet windows depicting St Matthew, St Mark, Jesus, St Luke, and St John.

The lancet shape of the windows is referred to in the detailing of the 1953 timber fittings such as the altar, lectern, and pulpit which were crafted by parishioner Keith Hanson. The font, which is positioned on the axis of the central nave aisle and that leading from the entrance, was also crafted by Hanson in 1956 and features the quatrefoil motif common elsewhere in the building. The repetition of these shapes in the decorative features of the building has a unifying effect, creating a relationship between original aspects of the building and later additions. The other significant commemorative feature of the church is the World War One roll of honour plaque which is situated being the pulpit at the southeast end of the nave.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1876 - 1877

1881 -
Bell installed

1956 -
Font installed

1958 - 1960
Installation of altar stained-glass windows

Construction Details

Concrete, corrugated iron, glass, shingles, timber

Completion Date

30th November 2009

Report Written By

Karen Astwood

Information Sources

Buick, 1903 (1975)

TL Buick, 'Old Manawatu', Christchurch, 1903 (1975)

Davies, 1981

D. A. Davies & R.E. Clevely, Pioneering to Prosperity 1874-1974: A Centennial History of the Manchester Block (Feilding & Oroua Borough Councils, Feilding 1981)

Maclean, 2003

S. Mclean, Architect of the Angels; the churches of Frederick de Jersey Clere, Wellington, 2003

Petersen, 1973

G. Petersen, Palmerston North; A Centennial History, Wellington, 1973

Saunders, 1987

B. Saunders, Manawatu's Old Buildings, Palmerston North, 1987

Waitangi Tribunal

Waitangi Tribunal Report,

Anderson, R. and K. Pickens, 'Rangahaua Whanau District 12 - Wellington District: Port Nicholson, Hutt Valley, Porirua, Rangitikei, and Manawatu,' Waitangi Tribunal Rangahaua Whanau Series, August 1996. Updated 14 August 2009

Papers Past

Papers Past,

Wanganui Chronicle, 21 September 1877, 19 October 1877

Other Information

A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Central Region Office

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.