St Alban's Church (Anglican)

410 Appleby Highway (State Highway 60), Appleby

  • St Alban's Church (Anglican), Appleby.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Karen Astwood. Date: 1/06/2009.
  • St Alban's Church (Anglican), Appleby.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: R McClean. Date: 21/01/2004.
  • St Alban's Church (Anglican), Appleby. Yew tree and northern section of cemetery.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Karen Astwood. Date: 1/06/2009.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 1654 Date Entered 11th December 2009


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Pt Sec 191 District of Waimea (CTs NL59/115, NL59/116), Nelson Land District and the church and Sunday school buildings and structures known as St Alban's Church (Anglican) thereon and their fittings and fixtures, the notable tree, and all the moveable chattels in the church building, including the altar and associated altar furniture, the pews, font, and organ. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).

City/District Council

Tasman District


Tasman Region

Legal description

Pt Sec 191 District of Waimea (CTs NL59/115, NL59/116), Nelson Land District

Location description

When travelling along the Appleby Highway/State Highway 60 in a northwest direction from Richmond, St Alban's Church is on the north side of the road between Blackbrye Road which branches off the highway to the south and Lansdowne Road which is a northern branch. There is parking space available in the church grounds.


St Alban's Church (Anglican) in Appleby, a rural settlement close to Nelson, was constructed in 1868 and as such is one of the oldest remaining churches in the Waimea Plain. The churchyard features the church, contemporary cemetery and plantings, as well as a Sunday School building of simple design, and is therefore a complete example of a typical New Zealand country churchyard.

After the New Zealand Company established its Nelson settlement in 1841, areas close to this nucleus began to develop due to settlers being allocated large tracts of land to farm, and this in turn led to the creation of settlements such as Appleby. By the late 1860s Appleby was a well-established community whose economy was based on agricultural and horticultural activities. An indicator of this maturity is the success of the efforts of the local Anglican population in creating their purpose-built place of worship, St Alban's Church. The continued expansion of the community and their demand for religious facilities led to the construction of the Sunday School in 1883. This building not only fulfilled its anticipated function but was also the site of many local community social events, the proceeds of which often directly benefitted the church and helped with its maintenance. Many of the prominent New Zealand Company settler families who established Appleby are represented in the St Alban's Church cemetery, which has grown over the years as has its impressive yew tree, a traditional English churchyard plant, which shelters the cemetery's northern section.

Set amid its large churchyard, St Alban's Church is typical of many New Zealand country churches of the period. The church building references New Zealand's vernacular take on Gothic Revival architecture through its simple design which consists of a steep pitched gabled nave, chancel, and small vestry that have undergone no major alterations since construction. The building is an unlined timber structure and its modest scale and level of decoration are also consistent with New Zealand Gothic Revival country churches.

St Alban's Church is a historically and socially important place because its construction and the extension of its facilities in the mid to late nineteenth century marks the maturing of Appleby's farming community and the coalescence of the New Zealand Company settlement of Nelson. While the church and its associated Sunday School were significant locally as a places of Anglican worship and religious instruction, it also facilitated social interaction and fostered a sense of community which can be difficult to establish in rural areas. St Alban's Church is still identifiably a characteristic New Zealand country church in its form and facilities and due to the retention of the pastoral nature of its surroundings. It is mostly because of this that it is a local landmark which has considerable aesthetic and architectural significance.

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Historical Significance or Value

The construction of St Alban's Church in 1868, and then the addition of its Sunday School later in the nineteenth century, is indicative of the growth of the population in the Nelson area and the cementing of Appleby's status as the nucleus of a large farming community by the 1870s. Although not founded on a denominational basis, by the 1870s Anglicanism was ingrained in the life of the population of Nelson and had a large number of congregants. The building of the church coincided with a second wave of church building in the Nelson district which was a key indicator of the coming of age of the Nelson province, and because St Alban's Church is one of the oldest remaining churches in the region it has historical value. Most of the prominent Anglican families in the area are represented in the churchyard cemetery at St Alban's Church and as such it creates a direct historical link to some of Nelson's early New Zealand Company settlers, and their descendants, who have shaped the history of the Appleby area from the mid nineteenth century onwards.

Aesthetic Significance or Value:

The aesthetic value of St Alban's Church comes from the fact that, due to a lack of residential build-up in its immediate vicinity, its rural setting has been maintained. Country churches are appealing because their presence in the landscape is not overstated due to their modest scale, but by the same token the churches and their large churchyards, which contain old cemeteries and plantings, enhance a feeling of pastoral beauty. The simplicity of the church building, the impressiveness of the historic yew tree and other plantings, and the presence of the headstones that break the expanse of the churchyard, combine at St Alban's Church to create a sense of tranquillity despite being situated next to a highway, which demonstrates the strength of its aesthetic value.

Architectural Significance or Value:

St Alban's Church has architectural value as a proponent of the Gothic Revival style of church architecture which was adapted to New Zealand conditions and materials and became a vernacular style. Typical rural examples of these churches are characterised by their modest size, simple designs featuring a buttressed nave, as well as a chancel and a vestry, all of which are constructed using native timber. St Alban's Church is not only representative of this vernacular style, but it is one of the earliest examples remaining in the Nelson region and therefore has architectural significance.

Social Significance or Value:

Because of the rural setting St Alban's Church and the Sunday School were socially significant buildings particularly in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The rallying together of the community to enable the construction of the buildings meant that they became symbols of that society's pride in and commitment to their faith. When the community's efforts came to fruition, the function of these buildings as places for Anglican worship and instruction, as well as other religious and social events brought the disparate families of this rural area together on a regular basis which would only have occurred infrequently otherwise. The social interaction and networking that occurred on these occasions fostered a sense of community. The social significance of St Alban's Church is enhanced by the presence of the small churchyard cemetery which is a direct link to previous generations of congregants and is still visited by people associated with these individuals as part of grieving rituals and acts of remembrance.

Spiritual Significance or Value:

Since its construction St Alban's Church has been the scene of innumerable Anglican religious services, events, and celebrations and therefore has been directly associated with the spiritual aspect of thousands of local residents lives, which means it is of considerable local spiritual importance. As a place of Anglican religious education for generations of local children, the Sunday School building contributes to the overall spiritual value of the place.

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

St Alban's 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 Appleby, in their efforts to create these symbols of their religious convictions.

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

As the centre of one of Nelson's rural parishes since 1868, St Alban's Church has been attended by thousands of local people since its construction and therefore many have a close personal and family connection with the building, its Sunday School, and also its cemetery. This combination of buildings and structures is also a local landmark and since St Alban's Church was established it has benefitted from community efforts to maintain the buildings and the grounds through voluntary labour and donations, which is indicative of a consis-tent history of local esteem for the place.

(f) The potential of the place for public education:

The presence of the churchyard cemetery at St Alban's Church has potential for public education about some of the key New Zealand Company immigrants who were allocated land in Appleby and developed its agricultural and horticultural industries, as well as also being of use to people researching family histories.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape:

The country churches affiliated with Anglicanism and other denominations which dot the landscape throughout the Nelson province mark the historical progress of this New Zealand Company settlement and are indicative of its spread, development, and maturing during the mid to late nineteenth century.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Higgins, Winfield

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

The settlement of the Nelson region is said to have begun with the landing of the prominent early iwi, Waitaha, in the waka Uruao. This travelled from Hawaiki and the voyagers made landfall on the Boulder Bank circa 850, near what would become Nelson city. From there scouting parties set out to explore the interior while others continued their sea journey down the east coast of the South Island. The settlement of the Nelson region then ensued and was driven by the fact that the area was found to be rich in resources, such as minerals for fashioning tradable items like adzes. Food, in the form of seal, moa and shellfish, was plentiful too and the district also had large tracts of land with fertile soil, or soil whose fertility could be manipulated, suitable for growing kumara and other garden produce. It was because of this abundance of resources that the district is said to have been 'one of the most fought over in New Zealand.' In the immediate vicinity of what was to become known as Appleby, there is evidence of Maori occupation and agricultural activity dating from the thirteenth century. In particular, in 1828 there was a large fortified pa situated where Appleby was to be established, that is until it and its residents were destroyed by a war party led by Te Rauparaha.

A European association with the Nelson area was first established in 1642 when Abel Tasman anchored in what was to be called Murderer's, then Massacre, and now Golden Bay. The result of this first visit was a lethal exchange between the Dutch sailors and Ngati Tumatakokiri. It was centuries after this initial encounter that European interest in the area began in earnest with explorative visits from Captain James Cook and Dumont D'Urville and a few others. Then in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century flax traders and sealers began to frequent the coast around Nelson. However, because there were few whaling stations in the immediate area there was no substantive European settlement until the New Zealand Company's establishment and settlement of Nelson from 1841.

The company explored the potential of several sites for its settlement but Nelson was chosen as the nucleus, despite the generally swampy nature of the low lying areas, because of its harbour and the plentiful supplies of game and fish. It was then a matter of Captain Arthur Wakefield meeting with the various iwi of the region to persuade them to agree to the proposed settlement. This was essentially a confirmation and extension of a land sale organised by the Tory expedition in 1839. The meeting took place at Kaiteriteri and Wakefield eventually negotiated a deal with those in attendance. However, subsequent events demonstrate that in regard to this and some later transactions there were discrepancies in what each party believed they had agreed to. This led to several instances of conflict in the Nelson region during the 1840s, in particular. Perhaps the most well-known occurrence was the 'Wairau Affray' in 1843.

It was not until the 1850s that the Nelson community and other towns in the area began to coalesce. Provincial government was established in 1853, and most of the farm land from Wakapuaka to Brightwater was occupied by this date. By the 1850s all of the major Christian denominations could also boast of clergy and associated buildings in and around Nelson. Between 1853 and 1858 the European population of the district had risen from 4,587 to over 7,000 and continued to grow and prosper into the 1860s and 1870s with the aid of the local gold rushes and the nationwide demand for the area's produce. This growth in population can be seen in the coinciding increase in churches and school buildings which were necessary to supplement those already established.

The extension of settlement beyond Nelson town and the established of farms was a recognised necessity in order for the town to progress. However, this was problematic because much of the surrounding district was mountainous, densely forested, or was covered in fern or swamp, and the soil was of inconsistent levels of fertility. Like other places in the Nelson region, Appleby, formerly Lower West Waimea, was named in the 1850s after an early local settler's home town in England. When more people came to Appleby they found that the fertility of the soil, which had been proven through the extensive gardens that local Maori had had in the area, meant that the establishment of farms and orchards in the area was not as arduous as elsewhere. The condition of access roads and the barrier of the Waimea River meant the community was quite isolated though. Through the perseverance of early settlers, by the 1870s Appleby, like other places in the district, was a well established farming community, but it differed in that its main focus was dairy farming. Many of the famers also had close familial links with the majority of other local households. The main families were the Bests, Newports and Giffords, many of whom are represented among the individuals interred in St Alban's Church's churchyard cemetery. By 1875 Appleby featured a store, carpenter's workshop, and a hotel, as well as St Alban's Church.

Rural religion and St Alban's Church:

Nelson in the 1840s seems to be what one would expect of a 'frontier' society; horribly unhygienic by modern standards and rough behaviour abounded. One solution to this, which the New Zealand Company approved of, was the influence of religion. Unlike the later settlements Canterbury and Otago, Nelson was not founded around denominational lines and as such all the major Christian sects were able to gain a foothold, although the Church of England was by far the most popular. In the early 1850s Nelson, with its disparate religious communities was accorded the distinction of being the seat of the Anglican Diocese. This confidence was rewarded by the 1870s with Anglicanism becoming ingrained in the city and throughout the district. This coincided with a second wave of church building around this period and the construction of St Alban's in this period is reflective of the entrenchment of Christianity throughout the region.

The first divine service in Waimea was reported to have taken place at the home of a Mr Kerr in 1842 but it would take several decades for an Anglican church to be built in Appleby. After an acre of land was gifted by Francis William Newdigate in 1864, the church trustees set about making their task of building St Alban's Church a reality. The location of the church was later said to be 'well selected for centrality of situation,' which is especially important in a rural setting. The church was designed by Winfield Higgins of West Waimea and it is likely that G.A. Thorburn, the local school teacher, was one of the main builders on the job as he is noted as being involved with the construction in some capacity and that one of his major passions and hobbies was woodworking and carving. The foundation stone for the church was laid by Bishop Andrew Burn in November 1867, and the building was then completed, dedicated and consecrated all in 1868. This means that St Alban's Church is one of the oldest surviving Anglican churches in the large geographical area known as the Waimea Plain.

Like other country churches, the construction of the building relied greatly on the community being motivated to see it happen and then to back this up with financial or other contributions. Upon completion St Alban's Church was described as 'picturesque' and featuring a chancel of 'bold and proper dimensions.' The fundraising that had taken place in order to construct the church was so successful that all almost all the debt had been cleared by the time it was consecrated. The raising of £382 was a very large sum for the size of the community at the time which makes their effort remarkable and is perhaps indicative of the level of their commitment and desire for a new church, as is the large turnout for its consecration. The community intended to continue their good work in regard to the building by eventually adding a tower and spire. However, these plans never came to fruition.

The churchyard was also planted at the time of the church's construction with boundary hedges and trees, and an impressive yew tree remains from this initial planting. Given that St Albans is named after the English martyr and that it is a Church of England building, it is entirely appropriate that a yew tree was planted in the churchyard as it is a traditional churchyard tree in England. Burials in the churchyard's cemetery took place from 1869 when the area was consecrated, and have continued to the present.

Later in 1880 it became apparent that there was a need within the wider district for a Sunday School. Philip Best, who is interred in the church's cemetery under the yew tree, owned the property which neighboured the churchyard and he generously donated a triangular section of his land to the church in order for the Sunday School to be built. Through voluntary labour and donations from the community the building was completed in 1883. At the beginning of the twentieth century social events were frequently organised and staged in the Sunday School. These generally involved music, dinner put on by the ladies, and competitions. These events benefited the church financially as well as being greatly anticipated social occasions for the whole of the local community.

Small country churches 'made a statement that religious belief was important to country folk. Moreover, the country church often became the focus for community activity well before the advent of the community hall.' Despite steady population growth many of the rural settlers still lived in relative isolation. Therefore occasions such as church openings and services were important social gatherings, particularly for women and children who did not have the same opportunities as many of the men to mingle.

While Appleby was a parochial district, it relied on ministers from the Richmond Parish to perform services at the church. It has only ever had a permanent minister during a short period in the mid twentieth century. Therefore, the ministers had to travel, until the 1920s usually on horseback or bicycle, around the churches in the area completing a circuit which saw them hold services at Stoke in the morning, Appleby in the afternoon, and then finish the day at Richmond in the evening. Being a rural church many parishioners had to travel quite a distance to get to services as well and therefore attendance was often affected by the weather. The act of getting to church and the Sunday School also helped forge a sense of community spirit amongst the scattered population. For example, one generous and fervent local John Roby, who was also in charge of Appleby School from 1880-1894, would drive his buggy around the area, filling it to capacity with children to encourage Sunday School attendance.

Maintenance of the church, Sunday School, and the churchyard has always relied greatly on the generosity of the community it served for financial contributions or labour during working bees. However, when additions such as a porch were considered in 1900 there was not sufficient funds to drive the project any further. Later that year the church did receive a donation, which enhanced the church, from Archdeacon Wright and his family. They gifted the eastern coloured glass windows to the church as a replacement for the original frosted glass predecessors, as well as carpet. Prior to this the only floor lining had been mats.

Physical Description

St Albans Church is set amid a large churchyard, surrounded by horticultural and agricultural properties, that is dominated by the 1868 church building and an impressive yew tree that dates from a similar period. The yew tree shelters the line of burials which were begun a few years after the church was completed and form the northern section of the cemetery. At the far corner of the churchyard is the simple gabled Sunday School building which was constructed in 1883. Currently the area between the northern section of the cemetery and the Sunday School is leased out for cultivation purposes. The roadside and southern boundaries of the churchyard have a screen of plantings. The southern boundary plantings form an intimate setting for the southern cemetery section and shelter it in much the same way as the yew shades the opposite line of graves.


The combination of the simple style of this modestly sized church building with its characteristic nave featuring a high stud and corrugated iron steep pitched gable with deep bell cast eaves, chancel, small vestry, angle buttresses, as well as other aspects that emphasis the height in this church, such as lancet windows and crosses on the ridge ends of each gable, are reminiscent of the New Zealand translation of Gothic Revival church architecture. This vernacular architectural form is also characterised by the use of readily available and local materials which explains the predominance of totara and matai used in the vertical cladding, for the scissor trusses which support the roof, and the framing which is exposed on the interior because the church is not lined. Many of these churches also feature corrugated roof cladding, although St Alban's Church originally had a shingle roof which was replaced in 1922 with corrugated iron.

Another characteristic of New Zealand's early country churches is the limited use of exterior and interior decoration. This was mainly dictated by the fact that these were community funded buildings and the limited budgets available meant that the functionality of the building was highest priority. As such excessive decoration is absent or otherwise restricted to feature pieces of furniture and glazing. This is the case with St Alban's Church as there are only a few decorative aspects on the building which break its austerity, such as the diamond panelled coloured triple-light lancet window of the chancel that replaced a frosted glass equivalent in 1900, the diamond shaped window in the gable end above the entrance, and the corbel courses under all the eaves. These support the eaves and therefore have a decorative, as well as functional aspect, as do the buttresses.

The interior decoration of the church is likewise minimal and generally only occurs in the fixtures and chattels that have been donated to St Alban's Church over the years. The white paint used on the timber cladding on the exterior is echoed on the interior ceiling cladding, which creates a contrast with the dark stain used around the walls and the scissor trusses. Likewise the seven rows of pews that flank the central aisle of the nave are stained timber, which despite a simple fleur-de-lis shape at the apex of the aisle-side pew ends are primarily of a utilitarian nature. Other features such as the christening font, the pulpit which dates from 1925, and the 1927 Holy Table in the chancel are all modest in form and decoration and constructed from timber. The most elaborately decorative aspects of the interior are the church's organ, and a carved chair donated by E.H. Challies in 1960. The four altar rail supports, which unlike the majority of the fittings and chattels are not constructed from timber, are another decorative feature and their floral and trefoil design is created with twisted, shaped and partially gilded metal.

Sunday School:

Like the church building, the Sunday School building, constructed in 1883, is of a simple design and was constructed as an unlined native timber framed and clad, steeply pitched gable building whose roof is supported by scissor trusses. It features three multi-paned windows along each length of the building, and is accessible through the entrance on the west end. There is no guttering on the building except for on the small entrance porch whose steel supports and concrete pad indicate it is not an original feature of the building. Likewise the asbestos sheeting on the Sunday School was added over top of the original timber cladding in 1958 as a measure to try and reduce ongoing maintenance.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1867 -
Foundation stone of church is laid

Original Construction
1868 -
Construction of church completed

Original Construction
1869 -
Consecration of cemetery of churchyard and burials begin

Original Construction
1883 -
Sunday School built

1900 -
Colour glass in altar windows is installed

1922 -
Church reroofed in corrugated iron

1954 -
Electricity installed in church and Sunday School

1958 -
Church painted

1958 -
Asbestos sheeting erected over exterior cladding of Sunday School

Construction Details

Concrete, corrugated iron, glass, stone, timber

Completion Date

30th July 2009

Report Written By

Karen Astwood

Information Sources

McAloon, 1997

Jim McAloon, Nelson: A Regional History, Whatamango Bay, 1997

Mitchell, 2004

J and H Mitchell, Te Tau Ihu o te Waka - A History of Maori of Marlborough and Nelson, Wellington, 2004

Newport, 1966

J N W Newport, A short history of the Nelson Province, RW Stiles ad Co Ltd, Nelson, 1966

Wells, 2003

A. Wells, Nelson's Historic Country Churches, Nelson, 2003

Thornton, 2003

G. Thornton, Worship in the Wilderness: Early country churches of New Zealand, Auckland, 2003

Bes, 2006

H Best, Appleby, Wellington, 2006

Other Information

A fully referenced version of this 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.