Historical Significance or Value
Holy Trinity Church opened in 1870, within a few years of the road being constructed through the Ohariu Valley. It is the oldest Anglican church still in use for services in the Wellington region. Old St Paul’s, Wellington and Christ Church, Taita are older, but are no longer used for regular services. Holy Trinity Church is closely associated with the settlement and development of the Ohariu district, which although close to Wellington city, retains its rural character.
The aesthetic value of Holy Trinity Church is enhanced by its rural setting, with a backdrop of large trees behind and the grass covered hill rising to the west of the church. Due to its modest scale its presence in the landscape is not overstated, but it provides a visually appealing point of reference. Although it has minimal external decoration, its small bellcote and the simple crosses on the gables contribute to its aesthetic appeal.
Holy Trinity Church was built in 1870 and is associated with the earliest period of European settlement in Ohariu Valley. As such the site is of archaeological significance. The site is likely to contain archaeological deposits associated with its continuous use since 1870, including marked and unmarked graves.
Holy Trinity Church is typical of many country churches of the period which reference Gothic Revival architecture, but within a New Zealand vernacular. It is a simple design consisting of a nave, porch, and vestry. However, many of the details, including the windows, the window sills and internal linings are idiosyncratic and this adds to the special character of the building. These features suggest it may have been designed by its local builder, who was a blacksmith rather than a carpenter.
Holy Trinity Church is representative of many small country churches built in the nineteenth century that provided a social as well as spiritual focus for their communities. Through its services and Sunday school for children it provided occasions where the community could meet and interact. Fundraising activities for the church, such as fairs, have also provided social occasions for the community. It is closely associated with particular families in the valley, some being early settlers there.. The Ohariu Valley Ladies Guild, formed in 1955, has taken a particular interest in fundraising and caring for the church and parishioners have contributed various bequests over the years.
Since its construction Holy Trinity Church has been the scene of innumerable Anglican religious services, marriages, funerals, baptisms and other events, and therefore has been directly associated with the spiritual lives of hundreds of local residents. This makes it of considerable local spiritual importance.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
Holy Trinity Church is representative of the concurrent spread of European settlement and the Anglican faith in New Zealand. Slower transport and poor road conditions in the nineteenth century made Ohariu Valley a more remote location than it is today. The church is an example of small timber churches seen in many parts of the country, which contribute to the character of rural New Zealand. Unlike some similar churches which have been converted to other uses, Holy Trinity still functions as a church.
(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history
As this property was first developed in 1870, the site is of archaeological significance as there will be archaeological evidence of past activities associated with the church and surrounds which include the graveyard. The building itself has the potential to provide information about nineteenth-century construction techniques, which is important because it adds to our knowledge about a finite group of buildings from this time.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place
As a church since 1870, Holy Trinity has been attended by hundreds of local people and therefore many have close personal and family connections with the place. Some of these families have made bequests to help with the upkeep of the building. It is also a local landmark and the combination of these factors has meant that the community has rallied around it through various fundraising efforts to assure its continuance.
(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place
Holy Trinity Church is an example of a simply built church, usually identified as carpenter architecture, but in this case the builder was a blacksmith. Built in 1870, it had some additions in 1877 but has remained substantially unaltered since then, except for repairs. The overall stylistic influence is Gothic, but it is not known if it was designed from a standard design for country churches by Frederick Thatcher or was designed by its builder perhaps following a plan from a model book. While Holy Trinity Church is representative of a rural colonial church, it has some idiosyncratic features that provide a point of difference to country churches from a similar era. Such features include the recessed windows which are shaped to a Gothic point cut from a solid block of timber, and the unusual window sills.
Before the arrival of Maori from Taranaki in the 1820s, the Wellington area was populated primarily by people of Kurahaupo waka descent, including Ngai Tara, Rangitane, Muaupoko, Ngati Apa and Ngati Ira. The Waitangi Tribunal referred to these as ‘Whatonga-descent peoples’ since all claimed descent from Whatonga, an early Maori explorer, who named the harbour, Te Whanganui a Tara, for his son Tara. The people from the Taranaki region were often given the common name of ‘Ngati Awa’ (and later Te Atiawa) by outsiders, but they comprised a number of tribes. These ‘incoming tribes’ included Ngati Toa (also known as Ngati Toa Rangatira), Ngati Rangatahi, Te Atiawa, Ngati Tama, Ngati Mutunga, Taranaki, and Ngati Ruanui. Maori settlement on the south-west coast was concentrated in the larger bays and at the mouths of the larger streams. Ngati Tama settled at Ohariu, Ohau and Oteranga Bays as well as at places around the harbour. An estimated 200 Ngati Tama were in the Wellington area, including the south west coast, at 1840. A network of tracks existed between coastal pa and those around Wellington Harbour.
By the 1820s, Europeans were arriving at Port Nicholson (as it came to be known, after John Nicholson, the Sydney harbourmaster). In May 1839 in London the New Zealand Company advertised 990 lots of Port Nicholson land for sale. Each lot was to consist of 101 acres – comprising 100 rural acres and one urban acre – at a cost of £1 per acre. All 990 lots were sold by July 1839 and in August 1839 Colonel William Wakefield arrived and began negotiating with Maori to purchase land. The first immigrants began arriving in January 1840.
European settlement in the Ohariu Valley (located to the north-west of Wellington) was hindered by thick forest cover and was largely inaccessible until the first road was constructed between 1856 and 1858 (known today as the Old Coach Road (Register No. 7396, Category 1)). Most landowners chose not to live on their 100 acre sections until after the road was formed. An 1857 watercolour by William Fox called ‘On the Ohario [sic] Road, Wellington’ shows a thickly wooded area with one small cottage in a clearing. Not surprisingly, sawmills were soon established in the area. An 1863 survey plan of the valley shows the owner of Section 21 (the future location of Holy Trinity Church) to be L. Inglis.
The establishment of a road meant that landowners in the valley were required to pay road rates, and in 1861 agents for various absentee land owners, including Louisa Engliss [sic] of Section 21, were ‘respectfully requested to come forward’ and pay road rates owing for the Ohariu District Road. In 1864 a neighbouring landowner petitioned the Provincial Council because of delays to the construction of the Ohariu Valley Road between Sections 20 and 22. The petitioner, Mr Catt, complained that the route had been surveyed three times and the route laid out in three different places, adding that he would be willing to make the road himself if ‘the line be marked out for him.’ When the third owner of Section 21, Richard Woodman, subdivided the section in 1870, he sold the larger area of farmland to George Best, and the small piece of land between the paper and actual road to the ‘The Bishop of Wellington and others (Diocesan Trustees)’ for the sum of five pounds.
The road, the church and the settlement of the valley have a connection with the settler ship Oliver Lang, which first sailed to Wellington in 1856. Labourers who travelled on the Oliver Lang are credited with the construction of roads in Johnsonville, Ngauranga and Ohariu. Several prominent Ohariu families also travelled on the Oliver Lang, including the Kilsby and Best families who are associated with Holy Trinity Church, and the Bassett family who were associated with St Joseph’s Chapel (a nearby Catholic Church which has since been demolished). The Oliver Lang was returning to Wellington in 1858 when it collided with a barque and was beached at Kaiwharawhara. The ship’s fittings were soon advertised for sale, and the hull was advertised in 1861. The ship’s bell is said to hang in the bellcote of the Holy Trinity Church, but there are no records to confirm this, and there is a rival account of the bell at old Hutt School (1875–1903).
Blacksmith George Kilsby, with his son (also George), built the church in 1870. George junior was probably a young man of about fifteen years old as he may have been the ‘infant’ listed on the passenger list for the Oliver Lang in 1856. Building materials, including heart totara and rimu, were most likely available from the local mills. The outer shell of the building was built from hand sawn timber and the weatherboards show typical vertical marks from a pit saw; many of the fixings to the weatherboards and floorboards are handmade nails, perhaps made at Kilsby’s forge in Johnsonville. The Diocesan standing committee offered the inhabitants ₤50 for building the church, on condition they raised an equal amount in labour, material or ‘otherwise’.
The church’s simple timber Gothic style suggests it may have been designed by its builder, perhaps following a plan from a model book but there are no surviving plans. However, Margaret Alington suggests it is the last of the country churches around Wellington to show evidence of being based on one of Frederick Thatcher’s group designs. Bishop Abraham had apparently asked Thatcher to draw up a basic design or designs for country churches that could be elaborated according to the money available. Alington identifies six churches around Wellington built between 1864 and 1870 that appear to be based on similar designs; Holy Trinity in Ohariu Valley is the only one still surviving close to its original form. Nevertheless it must be noted that the church was a basic rectangular shell when first built and only took on its current form in 1877.
Archdeacon Octavius Hadfield (1814–1904) opened the church on Trinity Sunday, 12 June 1870, an appropriate day given the name of the new Church. Holy Trinity, when first built, had no interior linings or bracing and according to the Diocesan Year Book in 1877, it ‘creaked like a ship in a gale and often the Minister’s voice could not be heard.’ The same source noted fundraising concerts held in 1876 to raise money for improvements to the church. These were carried out in 1877 when the church was lined, braced and a vestry and porch were added; thus the church took on its current shape.
There were some other alterations in the 1870s and 1880s including replacement of the timber window sills by a working bee in 1887 and the addition of the bellcote by Joe Bryant and Walter Broderick at an unknown date; repairs to the bellcote were made in 1888 when the totara shingle roof was covered with corrugated iron. Both Bryant and Broderick are buried in the cemetery as are George Kilsby senior and his daughter Eliza. Eliza Kilsby was fifteen years old when she died in 1873, and lies in one of the earliest marked graves in the cemetery. The church has never had a hall, but the local school was built directly across the road in 1872 and its hall was used for church fundraising events and a Sunday school. After 1906 when the local community hall was built, a wedding at the church was often followed by a reception at this hall.
Holy Trinity Church has never been a parish church, but was associated with the Porirua Parochial District until 1912, when it became part of the new Johnsonville Parish. In 1871 a single vicar served the parishioners of Pauatahanui, Porirua, Ohariu, Karori and Makara, and a letter to the editor of a local newspaper noted the effect of continual travel on the health of the vicar, the Reverend W D R Lewis, when ‘anyone acquainted with these different localities must acknowledge that they cannot efficiently be administered by one clergyman.’ In July 1878 the minister, Reverend Mr Newth, moved to Nelson and the church had to rely on a weekly service read by lay reader William France, the church warden. It was not until 1886 that Reverend Fancourt took over the Porirua Parochial District. St John’s Church in Johnsonville (Holy Trinity’s ‘mother’ church) had opened in 1847, but was destroyed by fire on three occasions (1855, 1860 and 1882) resulting in the loss of early records for Holy Trinity Church. The present St John’s Church dates from 1921.
In 1895 it was noted that Holy Trinity Church was not yet consecrated, but this did not occur until a church was debt free, and finance was a considerable problem for many country parishes in the late nineteenth century. Over time any record of the Church’s consecration was lost, but the Church was rededicated in 1948 after some restoration work.
After the First World War, Anzac services were held in the church. Electric power came to the valley in the late 1920s and the church was connected in 1930. Some bequests from parishioners over the twentieth century have gone towards upkeep of the church and its grounds. In 1955 the Ohariu Valley Ladies Guild was founded by a local woman, Betty Ahradsen, and has undertaken fundraising and general care of the church ever since. Interior fittings have usually been gifted by local families or funds have been raised locally to purchase them, such as a harmonium, which was donated by Mr and Mrs W Bryant after the Second World War.
The building remains largely unchanged since 1877, apart from recladding of the roof in 1888 and repairs from time to time. A photo taken in 1979 shows the entrance porch had just been rebuilt. Architect and author Charles Fearnley noted some interesting features of the building, which may lend support to the suggestion that the builder designed it. For example, the window heads are designed as simple triangles to imitate the pointed Gothic arch, and on the sides of the building the windows are recessed under the eaves soffit. The interior is neatly lined in diagonal boards, but the joints do not always match. The window sills are a thick slab of timber set at an angle with the window sash sitting down on it, and there is no guttering. Fearnley also noted some unusual features in the graveyard, including two sets of ‘one-off’ designed picket fences around two graves and the row of Bryant family graves, with the marble stone diagonally placed on the plot and the names on different faces of the headstone.
The Wellington City Library website notes that from the 1970s, when it was decided to allow the subdivision of farm land into 10-acre ‘lifestyle’ blocks, the valley began to change. ‘This in combination with the end of the ‘can system’ of milk collection saw a gradual decline in the number of dairy farms (though sheep farming remained strong) and the arrival of new residents who commuted into Wellington for work.’
Ohariu Valley Road was widened in 1981 and the churchyard was reduced in size by 274m2 with the loss of the fence line and a row of mature holly trees. However in 1982 the paper road to the west of the Church was stopped and 1463m2 of land was added to the churchyard. The church gates were replaced in 1989 and the church roof was replaced with corrugated mild steel in 1991; this again was a community event. Local newspapers reported that although only eight families worshipped regularly at the Church, over eighty Ohariu Valley families provided money and labour to maintain the Church. Use of the Church has changed over the past fifty years, but a small congregation continues to worship at services held monthly, and a larger congregation gathers at Christmas and Easter, and the Church is also used on occasion for weddings. It is the oldest Anglican church still in use for services in the Wellington region (Old St Paul’s in Wellington and Christ Church in Taita are older, but are no longer used for regular services).
Holy Trinity Church is located in Ohariu Valley near the large north Wellington suburb of Johnsonville, within half an hour’s drive from Wellington City. Despite its closeness to the city, there is an abrupt transition between urban and rural when the suburban housing ends at the top of Ironside Road in Johnsonville and the road descends into the rural valley. Ohariu Valley covers 15 kilometres from Makara in the south to Tawa in the north, and is comprised of relatively large farms with few houses, and some small holdings and ‘lifestyle blocks’. There is a riding school, golf club, a couple of wedding and conference venues, and a café/restaurant in the valley, but it is largely rural in character.
The church is located on Ohariu Valley Road, which is the main road through the valley from Johnsonville. Nevertheless, at the intersection with Rifle Range Road and Takarau Gorge Road, a right hand turn is required to stay on Ohariu Valley Road. The church is 1.45 kilometres from the intersection, located on a slight rise, but is hidden from view by a bend in the road and by planting along the roadside fence line. Recently constructed wind turbines can be seen from the church on surrounding hills.
On entering the church gate, a path leads up a slight rise to the church. Graves are located both in front of, and behind, the church; marked by a range of materials, including concrete and marble headstones, and wooden picket fences. A small flock of sheep keep the grass ‘mowed’.
The orientation of the church is approximately east to west, with the sanctuary or chancel at the east end of the building. The plan of the building is a small rectangular nave approximately 10 x 4.5 metres with a porch and vestry on the south elevation (which is the side seen on approaching from the path). The porch and vestry are modern copies of the originals; rebuilt in the 1970s. The church is a simple Gothic styled building, with a steep-pitched roof. Historian Margaret Alington notes the 60-degree angle gables were standard features on several rural churches around Wellington that may have been based on a group design by Frederick Thatcher. There is no tower, but a bellcote is located over the west gable housing one bell.
As with many rural colonial churches Holy Trinity is built of native timbers, probably milled locally; in this case rimu and totara predominate. Another characteristic of New Zealand’s early country churches is the limited use of exterior and interior decoration. This was mainly dictated by the limited budgets available, which meant the functionality of the building was the highest priority. This is the case with Holy Trinity Church as there are only a few decorative features on the building, such as the crosses on the gables and curved boards under the eaves. Its exterior paint scheme is currently (2011) white, with salmon-pink trim around the windows and on the doors.
The porch and vestry roofs are the same shape as the main roof. The bargeboards at the gable ends are unusual in that there appears to have been an original bargeboard installed with the totara shingles and when the first corrugated iron roof was installed (1888) the gap between the corrugation and the original board was covered by an additional facing. This layered effect to the bargeboard appears to be an early modification to the building, and the detail repeats on the bellcote, vestry and porch gables. There is no water supply at the church and therefore no toilets or sprinkler system (except at the porch where a new system of PVC guttering fills a small barrel with rainwater).
On the south elevation, there is one window between the entrance porch and the vestry, which has one window visible from the path. There is also one window on the west elevation. There are three windows on the north elevation, and the east end has a group of three windows, one taller flanked by two shorter windows, symbolising the Holy Trinity. The east (sanctuary) window frame is unusual in that it extends beyond the face of the weatherboards and the sill here is a solid 100mm block of timber set at an angle. The west window is the only one to have a traditional sloping window sill, and may be a recent addition.
The windows are built within a rectangular frame and the window heads are shaped to a Gothic point cut from a solid block of timber. On the north and south elevations the windows have been set at a height that necessitated them being fitted into the eaves overhang. In a couple of windows the top one has been replaced with an opening window. The window sills are an unusual 75mm solid block of timber set at an angle.
Inside, the roof is supported by four scissor trusses. The ceiling is formed from 120mm tongue and groove, beaded boarding fixed horizontally, with a small area of flat ceiling under the apex of the roof. The diagonal wall boarding is installed as ‘panels’ and the boards change direction approximately at the windows. Where the ‘panels’ join, some meet at a true mitre, some at a half joint. A lack of timber inner window sills and timber window reveals is another unusual feature of the linings in the church. The interior decoration of the church is minimal and generally only occurs in the fixtures and chattels. The diagonally laid lining and scissor trusses do, however, give decorative interest to the interior. The sanctuary is raised approximately 20 centimetres (one step) above the floor level of the nave and bounded by a set of decorative timber altar rails, which date from 1904 and replaced earlier ones. The interior features include the altar, the two matching altar rails, 12 wooden pews, lectern, harmonium, font, and prayer desk and chair.
Internal lining and bracing, a porch and vestry are added
1887 - 1888
Replacement of timber shingled roof with corrugated iron; repairs to the bellcote
1940 - 1948
Church refurbished and then rededicated in 1948
1970 - 1979
Vestry and porch were rebuilt
Corrugated mild steel roof added
Timber; steel roof.
Public NZAA Number
7th January 2013
Report Written By
Charles Fearnley, Early Wellington Churches, Wellington, 1977
Fearnley, Charles, ‘The Church of the Holy Trinity, Ohariu Valley, Wellington’ Onslow Historian, 5(2), 1975, pp. 3–5.
G. Thornton, Worship in the Wilderness: Early country churches of New Zealand, Auckland, 2003
Margaret H. Alington, An Excellent Recruit: Frederick Thatcher Architect, Priest and Private Secretary in Early New Zealand, Auckland, 2007
Matthews, Heather, One Hundred Proud Years: A History of Holy Trinity Church Ohariu Valley (1870-1970), Publ: Church Centennial Committee?
Smith, Moira, Holy Trinity Church, Ohariu Valley, Conservation Plan (historical research), Nov 2011.
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.