St Stephens Church

23-27 Maunder Street, Marton

  • St Stephens Church, Marton.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Rebecca O'Brien.
  • St Stephens Church, Marton. Interior.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Rebecca O'Brien.
  • St Stephens Church, Marton. Stained glass.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Rebecca O'Brien.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 1250 Date Entered 2nd April 2004


Extent of List Entry

Registration includes the building, its fixtures, fittings and chattels (including original pews, baptism font and brass plaque memorials) and land in CT WN904/37 but excludes the adjacent church hall.

City/District Council

Rangitikei District


Horizons (Manawatu-Wanganui) Region

Legal description

Pt Lot 25 Deeds Plan 177 (CT WN904/37)


St Stephen's Church, erected in 1873 on a site used as a defensive redoubt by settlers during the New Zealand Wars, has stood as a symbol of peace and of the Anglican faith for over 130 years.

In 1865 during the New Zealand Wars, the Ngati Ruanui military leader Riwha Titokowaru (? - 1888) began advancing on colonial forces from Wanganui towards Foxton. Under the leadership of Major John Marshall, the settlers in the Rangitikei district mobilised. In 1863 a militia was established to protect the settlers from Titokowaru's advance. By November 1868, the threat of attack reached crisis point and a chain of ten redoubts were erected. To ensure maximum safety, redoubts were constructed close to settler residences. Number Seven or 'Matthew's Redoubt', was erected for £13.10.0 on a key defensive position on the property of farmer Richard Hammond. The redoubt was never used. Titokowaru's campaign came to an abrupt and mysterious halt in 1869, and the government ordered that all timber and iron used on the construction of the blockhouses should be sold. Matthew's Redoubt was immediately dismantled.

On 2 May 1871, three years after Rangitikei's first Anglican clergyman Arthur Towgood had been appointed, Richard Hammond sold the land on which the redoubt had stood for £1 to the Bishop of Wellington. Three trustees were appointed to ensure that the area's first Anglican church was erected on the site. They were Hammond, Marshall, and the Reverend Basil Taylor. The Reverend Towgood commissioned Wanganui based architect George Frederic Allen (1837-1929) to design the new church, and in October that same year the newly appointed Bishop Octavius Hadfield laid the foundation stone for the building.

Allen was said to have drawn inspiration for his original plans of the church from the Salisbury Cathedral, a medieval Cathedral completed in 1258 in the English Gothic style. Yet it is more likely that he drew inspiration from his design for 'Oneida', a large rural homestead in Wanganui, whose owners had been influenced during their travels by North American architecture. Like Oneida, St Stephen's is Carpenter Gothic in style and features the same strong vertical lines created by the use of board and battens on both buildings. Built almost entirely from native timbers, St Stephen's was designed along traditional, cruciform lines, with the altar at the east end, two transepts and a nave, and the baptistery at the west end. Due to a shortage of funds the vestry was located under the east end of the church. The interior was designed to seat up to 200, and features elegant timber archways in the nave and at the entrance of the two transepts. Built by contractors Edward Humphreys and William and Henry Snellgrove, the hill on which the church was constructed made it visible from the main street. It was completed over a two-year period and was officially consecrated and opened on St Stephen's Day in 1873.

The church has undergone little modification since its construction. The main alteration occurred when the church was extended on the south side to accommodate the students from Huntley School, which opened in 1896 and gained its own chapel in 1908. This alteration provided one extra aisle of seating, but modified the cruciform plan of the building.

St Stephen's has served as a centre of the Anglican community in Marton since 1873 and this role is physically reflected in the church building and grounds. St Stephen's was furnished and decorated over the years through the generosity of its parishioners. The many gifts included the pulpit, altar and the church bell, which was donated by Mr. W. J. Birch, and hung in a separate belfry tower near the entrance of the building. Memorials in both brass and glass, such as the plate commemorating the architect and his wife, also line the church walls. Following the Second World War, church members who had died in the conflict were commemorated in a memorial pathway and garden, which allowed access to the church from the town's main street. The garden features almost 200 native shrubs and was designed to foster a sense of peace.

In 1997 the church parish was amalgamated with those of Bulls and Hunterville to form one Rangitikei Parish. It continues in use as a parish church and stands as a testimony to the strength of the Anglican faith in the region.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

St Stephen's Church in Marton has strong spiritual significance as a long-standing place of worship and is a continuing symbol of the strength of the Anglican faith in the Rangitikei parish district. It has served in its capacity as a parish church for over 130 years and St Stephen's is historically noteworthy for its association with the establishment of the Anglican Church in the area. The building's location on the hill above the town's main street, used for a redoubt by settlers during the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s, both adds to its archaeological importance and its landmark qualities. It is of architectural interest as an example of the work of architect George Frederic Allen and as an expression of the North American Carpenter Gothic style. The esteem in which the community holds the church is demonstrated by its continuing use and the addition of plaques and memorials and gifts the parishioners.

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

St Stephen's Church is representative of the numerous, small, timber churches constructed throughout New Zealand in the Gothic style in the nineteenth century. It demonstrates the importance of religion to the early settler community, while the size and style of the building provides insight into the nature of the community that caused it to be constructed.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:

Through the site on which it rests, St Stephen's Church is connected with the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s. The site is located on a slight rise near the entrance to the town and these qualities caused it to be chosen by the settlers for a defensive redoubt in 1869. The construction of the church symbolised the restoration of peace in the area.

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

The local community holds the Church in high esteem. This has been demonstrated by the continuing use of the building for over 130 years, and the addition of memorial plaques and gifts such as the bell tower, font, windows and altar.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place:

Designed by Frederic George Allen, St Stephen demonstrates the development of this architect's personal style and his continued experimentation with the Carpenter Gothic style.

(h)The symbolic or commemorative value of the place:

The church is a symbol of the development of the Anglican parish in Marton and its continuing strength over the past 130 years in which it has remained in use.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Allen, George Frederic


William Richard, Henry Edward Snellgrove, and Edward Humphreys

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

St Stephen's is located on Maunder Street, which occupies a hill overlooking the main street of Marton. Access to the church from the main street is provided by a gravel pathway through a 'garden of remembrance', which features native tree plantings and a memorial cross. The front of the church is partially obscured from Maunder Street by the church bell tower and belfry, which is constructed from wood and supported with cross bracing.

St Stephen's is Carpenter Gothic in style. This is indicated by the vertical lines created by the use of board and batten on the exterior, which may have been inspired by Allen's earlier work on the well-known Wanganui homestead 'Oneida'.

The church is oriented towards the east and was designed around a cruciform plan. It includes an altar in the east, two transepts, and a nave, and the baptistery at the west end. The vestry is located on top of the original site of the redoubt under the east end of the church. The church originally accommodated up to 200 people, but the cruciform plan has been modified in the south to incorporate an aisle of seating. The plan was further modified in 1954 when the front entrance was extended to the north.

The church is built around a timber frame and is clad in board and battens. It is covered with a roof of corrugated iron. The new entrance to the church has a concrete floor, a fibrolite ceiling, hardi-plank walls and two lancet windows. The walls and ceiling of the original church are made from native timbers. The floor has been carpeted but the original timber floor remains intact. The roof is supported by a series of timber arches that lead towards the east end of the building. The curved eastern end is raised, and accommodates the altar and the organ. The walls of the sanctuary slope unevenly in towards the centre.

The majority of the lancet windows are clear glass, with cross-hatching in lead and a pale yellow glass border. The windows in the vestry are of plain glass. The original wall on the north side features early brass memorials and a stained glass window to St Stephen's Parochial School (1910-1970). The south-east wall in the south transept features brass plaque memorials to those who fell in the First and Second World Wars. There are no memorials on the newer wall to the south.

Construction Dates

1868 -
Site used for 'No.7' redoubt

1871 -
Foundation stone laid by Bishop

Original Construction
1873 -
Church completed

1898 - 1908
South transept extended for extra aisle of seating

1909 -
Organ erected (Norman and Beard Ltd)

1953 -
Memorial pathway / Garden of Remembrance constructed

1957 -
Application to enlarge front porch / repile building (W. G. Wade)

1998 -
Sprinkler system installed (Chapple Architects)

Construction Details

The church is constructed from native timbers. It originally featured a roof of totara shingles but this has been replaced with one of corrugated iron.

Completion Date

8th September 2004

Report Written By

Rebecca O'Brien

Information Sources

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

J. Belich, 'Titokowaru, Riwha ? - 1888', updated 16 December 2003, URL:; Athol L. Kirk, 'George Frederic Allen (1837-1929)', Vol.2, 1870-1900, Wellington, 1993, pp.5-6.

Land Information New Zealand (LINZ)

Land Information New Zealand

CT 904/37, CT 342/60, Deed 22/832, Deeds Index 8/758, all Wellington Registry

Salmond, 1986

Jeremy Salmond, Old New Zealand Houses 1800-1940, Auckland, 1986, Reed Methuen

St Stephen's Church (2)

St Stephen's Church, Here is a Church: St Stephen's, Marton, 1971

Journal of the Whanganui Historical Society Inc.

Journal of the Whanganui Historical Society Inc.

J. Lundy, 'The Rangitikei Redoubts', vol.26, no.2, Nov 1995, pp.3-9

Other Information

A fully referenced version of this report is available from the Central Region of the NZHPT.

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.