Christ Church (Anglican)
73 Eastern Hutt Road, Taita
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 1
Private/No Public Access
21st September 1989
Sec 554, Pt Sec 59 Hutt District
Christ Church, Taita, is one of the oldest surviving churches in New Zealand and the oldest church still standing in Wellington.
The first Anglican church in the Hutt Valley was little more than a raupo whare located at the settlement of Aglionby, on the western side of the Hutt River in 1841. At that time the entire Hutt Valley was part of the Wellington parish and it was not until 1855 that the separate Hutt parish of St James was formed.
Christ Church predates this event however and was constructed through the efforts of early pioneering families (mainly farmers) in the district of Taita who wanted their own church in their midst. The land for the new church was donated by Algernon Tollemache, an early settler who owned a great deal of land in Wellington and in other parts of the country. It is believed that Octavius Bousfield (1830-1882) may have designed the plans for this simple Gothic Revival timber church. Bousfield was a surveyor who arrived in New Zealand in 1851 and who is known to have been a competent draftsman. The evidence for Bousfield's involvement is a newspaper notice in February 1853 calling for tenders for the new church, the plans of which could be seen at his house in Thorndon. The tender was awarded to Sidney Hirst, a carpenter and joiner from Yorkshire, England, who arrived with his wife and children in New Zealand in 1842. Remarkably Hirst, built the church without using any nails. The first service at Christ Church was held on 1 January 1854.
Christ Church functioned without incident as Taita's parish church until the late 1940s. During that time many parishioners were buried in the extensive churchyard. In the late 1940s a branch railway was constructed to the eastern Hutt and when it passed Christ Church access from the main part of Taita became difficult. In 1950 the Taita vestry proposed to move the church to Stokes Valley. In response, the Christ Church Preservation Society was formed by concerned parishioners, under the chairmanship of Sir Winifred Sim QC. The society built a memorial wall and lychgate (designed by the father and son architectural partnership of Clere and Clere), in order re-orientate the church to the eastern Hutt Road. In 1954 a new church - St Matthew's- was built in Taita and Christ Church lost its parishioners. The society took over management of the church and it has remained responsible for its care and maintenance ever since. The controversy over the church's future was one of the events that led to the formation of the New Zealand (then National) Historic Places Trust in 1955.
In November1989 the Christ Church was severely damaged by fire. Through a public appeal, money was raised to repair the church and it was re-opened in October 1991.
Christ Church, Taita, has great significance as the oldest surviving church in Wellington. It was built by some of the earliest Pakeha settlers to the upper regions of the Hutt Valley. It has been a landmark in Taita for nearly 150 years. Within its churchyard are the graves of some of these early settlers, including Sidney Hirst and members of his family, as well as a number of local Maori, including Te Atiawa chief Manihera Matangi and his wife Haana. It is also the last resting-place of the notable architect, Frederick de Jersey Clere and his first wife, Mary Goodbehere. The church has significant technical interest in that the method of its original construction did not require nails. The successful efforts to save the church in the 1950s provided some of the impetus for the formation of the Historic Places Trust. The esteem with which the community holds Christ Church was no better illustrated than in the determination to restore the building after the disastrous fire in 1991.
Historical Significance or Value
The land on which Christ Church stands was given by the Hon A G Tollemache, an Englishman who later farmed in Hawkes Bay. The church was built to serve the 32 European families in the district and was opened on 1 January 1854.
Christ Church is one of the five first Anglican churches to be built in the Wellington District. The first vicar of Christ Church was Thomas Biddulph Hutton, who had been ordained as a priest at St Paul's, Wellington, on 23 February 1853, and was resident at St James Parsonage at the Hutt, until gifted land by Edward Gibbon Wakefield in 1855.
This church is an example of an adaptation of an English parish church design to local materials and technology. That the church was built without nails is evidence of considerable skill on the part of Sidney Hirst, and overall its design is simple with little ornament, but a high standard of workmanship.
With the realignment of the railway and road the Christ Church Preservation Association built a memorial wall and lychgate to orient the church to the Eastern Hutt Road. This lychgate and wall was designed by Clere, Fitzgerald and Richmond and built by Maurice de Muth in 1951. The church is a townscape feature as an ecclesiastical building in a predominantly industrial area. It is plainly visible from both the railway at the rear and road at the front of the property.
Bousfield, Octavius Woodthorpe
Bousfield (1830-1882), an early surveyor who arrived in New Zealand in 1851, was a draughtsman with the Survey Department in Wellington from 1852. He became Assistant Surveyor at Wellington in 1857 before shifting to Napier. He was involved with the surveying of Maori land proposed for European purchase in Hawkes Bay and Poverty Bay. With Captain E J Winter he took part in a campaign against Pai Marire and Te Kooti in 1866. He edited the 'Hawkes Bay Times' and was a member of the Provincial Council (Hawkes Bay) from 1863-67.
His architectural design ability is demonstrated by a drawing in the British Museum of a building believed to be the Provincial Buildings, Napier. Bousfield is also thought to have designed Christ Church, Taita (1853-54).
Sidney Hirst is referred to in all published histories of the Christ Church as its builder. He also was the builder of most of the houses in Sydney Street according to descendants. Coincidentally, this is where Bousfield lived. Sidney Hirst arrived at Wellington in 1842 with his wife and two children and stated his occupation as joiner and carpenter. Hirst moved to the Hutt some time in 1853, and this would fit with his being the successful tenderer for the building of the church as the tenders closed 1 March 1853.
ARCHITECTURAL DESCRIPTION (STYLE):
This is an early English Gothic Revival ecclesiastical building with an entrance in the west end through a covered porch, and apse and vestry in the east end. Its simple Gothic features are the lancet windows, altar rail and ornamental arch over the sanctuary which exhibits Gothic trefoil motifs.
Wooden shingles have been replaced by iron roofing. The original vestry has been closed off and another built to the left of the entrance. Walls on the interior have been lined with tongue and groove match lining. The church has been repiled with wood, and the roof reclad in iron.
The pews, carved font, altar, lectern and reading desk are all totara and are special features which date from the opening of the church.
Lych-gate and memorial wall built
Damaged by fire
Totara logs (given by John Ings Daysh who arrived at Petone in the "Gertrude" in 1841) were pit sawn for the church. The frame of the building was constructed without the use of nails, and clad in weatherboard with an original roof of totara shingles. It sat on totara piles, and was unlined, with buttressed walls.
16th August 2001
Report Written By
Alexander Turnbull Library
Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington
Ross Whitcher, Christ Church Taita. Manuscripts Collection
Archives New Zealand (Wgtn)
Archives New Zealand (Wellington)
New Munster Blue Book, 1852. N.M. 11/4,
'Centenary of Hutt Valley Church', 6 October 1946
'Oldest Anglican Church in New Zealand Ceremony at Taita', 8 October 1945
'National Trust Needed in NZ, says Chairman: Preservation of Christ Church
Taita, and Other Historic Places Advocated' Evening Post,
24 February, 1951
Charles Fearnley, Early Wellington Churches, Wellington, 1977
'Christ Church, Taita: Doubt as to Centenary', Wednesday 27 October, 1954
'Memorable Occasion, Christ Church Taita Celebrates Centenary' Hutt News,
10 October 1945
Jourdain, W R The history of land legislation and settlement in New Zealand, Wellington [N.Z.] : Govt. Printer, 1925
C. A. Lawn, Pioneer Land Surveyors of New Zealand, unpublished, 1971
David Millar, Once Upon a Village, a History of Lower Hutt, 1819-1965, Wellington, 1972
New Zealand Spectator and Cook Strait Times
New Zealand Spectator and Cook Strait Times
5 February 1853
Wednesday 21 December 1853 'Address to the Rev. R. Cole M.A'
Wellington Provincial Gazette
Wellington Provincial Gazette
Vols. 1-4, 1853-1857
C.F. Pascoe [Assistant Secretary of the Society] 200 Years of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts
1701-1900, (London, 1901)
This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.
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.