St John the Evangelist Church (Anglican)
13 Camden Street And Church Street, Feilding
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 1
Private/No Public Access
28th June 1990
Horizons (Manawatu-Wanganui) Region
Pt Lot 183A DP 19 (CT WN145/140), Wellington Land District
St John the Evangelist Church is the 'first important church' of eminent New Zealand architect Frederick de Jersey Clere (1856-1952) and the earliest remaining example of his work. It was constructed in Feilding for the Anglican community in 1882.
When Feilding was founded in 1874, the Emigrant and Colonists Aid Corporation set land aside for a church. Until the church could be completed, services were held initially in the Manchester Street School building and later in the Immigration Barracks in Beattie Street. In 1879 the Corporation offered to donate more land for the church so that the land originally reserved for the purpose could be sold and the funds contributed towards the erection of the building. Further funds were raised from subscriptions and a 'fancy fair', allowing the Church Building Committee to commission architect Frederick de Jersey Clere to design a church to the value of £600.
The son of an Anglican clergyman, Clere was born in Lancashire, England and immigrated to New Zealand in 1877 when he was 21 years old. Clere had trained as an architect from the age of 16 and by the time he moved to Feilding in 1879 he had already been commissioned to design two small churches, one of which was completed after St John's. The other has since been demolished. The church at Feilding was Clere's first major commission and was described by Clere as his 'first important church'. Less than a year after the completion of the Feilding Church, Clere became the chief architect for the Wellington Anglican Diocese. He designed over 100 churches in this capacity and is highly regarded for his success in marrying European architectural styles to New Zealand conditions.
Clere's design for the Feilding Church reflects both the trends then prevalent in church design and the development of Clere's personal architectural style. Clere adopted the Victorian Free Gothic style used in church buildings throughout New Zealand. His design was based on the shape of the cross and made extensive use of the narrow windows and pointed arches associated with the Gothic style. At the western end of the Church, Clere incorporated an 18 metre-high (60 foot) bell tower. The barrel vaulted roof was based on a design developed by Clere while he was an apprentice in London. Clere designed the church to seat 350 persons and, at an estimated cost of £600, was proudly referred to by its architect 'the cheapest church' that he knew of. It was constructed entirely from native timbers and Clere noted that he 'made no attempt to copy a stone building, but used my ideas of what wooden construction should be'. A simple, economical and elegant example of the Victorian Gothic style, the Feilding Church embodies the principles that Clere would apply to the majority of his ecclesiastical designs throughout his career.
The contract to erect the Church was assigned in 1880 to William Dennis Nicholas, a member of the church and former Churchwarden. Due to a mistake in his tender, Nicholas was unable to erect the spire on the church but the remainder of the building was completed in just over four months. The Church, officially named 'St John the Evangelist' was consecrated by the then Bishop of Wellington, Octavius Hadfield (1814-1904) on 15 February 1882. When opened for service the church was unpainted, there were few memorials, and the windowpanes were made of plain frosted glass. The building has since acquired stained glass windows and several memorials. It also features a carved reredos with emblems made of oak that was acquired from the Dunblane Cathedral in Scotland (thirteenth century) during its 1889 renovations. The building continues to serve the Anglican community of Feilding and, apart from alterations to the roof, the building remains true to Clere's design specifications and is in excellent condition.
The Church of St John the Evangelist is of national significance for its intimate association with Frederick de Jersey Clere, an architect of considerable importance in New Zealand. As Clere's 'first important church' and the earliest surviving example of his work, the Church of St John the Evangelist offers a unique insight into his talents as an architect. Together with Clere's written material, the building provides important insights into the design philosophies that distinguish the architect's work. The Gothic-style, timber church is also noteworthy as an example of the churches constructed throughout New Zealand in the late nineteenth century. The Church of St John the Evangelist has strong spiritual significance as an enduring place of worship and is a continuing symbol of the Anglican Church in Feilding.
Clere, Frederick De Jersey
Clere (1856-1952) was born in Lancashire, the son of an Anglican clergyman, and was articled to Edmund Scott, an ecclesiastical architect of Brighton. He then became chief assistant to R J Withers, a London architect. Clere came to New Zealand in 1877, practising first in Feilding and then in Wanganui. He later came to Wellington and practised there for 58 years.
He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1886 and held office for 50 years as one of four honorary secretaries in the Empire. In 1883 he was appointed Diocesan Architect of the Anglican Church; he designed more than 100 churches while he held this position. Clere was a pioneer in reinforced concrete construction; the outstanding example of his work with this material is the Church of St Mary of the Angels (1922), Wellington.
As well as being pre-eminent in church design, Clere was responsible for many domestic and commercial buildings including Wellington's Harbour Board Offices and Bond Store (1891) and Overton in Marton. Clere was also involved in the design of large woolsheds in Hawkes Bay and Wairarapa.
He was active in the formation of the New Zealand Institute of Architects and served on their council for many years. He was a member of the Wellington City Council until 1895, and from 1900 a member of the Wellington Diocesan Synod and the General Synod. He was also a member of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts.
William Dennis Nicholas
No biography is currently available for this construction professional
The reredos behind the altar is the original reredos carved by a Mr Anderson. Incorporated into the reredos are emblems of oak recovered from the Dunblane Cathedral in Scotland when the building was renovated in 1889.
1881 - 1882
Church consecrated and officially opened in 1882
Shingle roof replaced with asbestos slates laid over felt
Vestry added and porch installed
Partial re-piling; exterior skirting boards replaced
Screens placed over exterior of lead-light windows
Roof replaced with long-run colour steel
New pipe organ installed
1st May 2003
Report Written By
Alexander Turnbull Library
Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington
F. de J. Clere, 'Some early recollections of the settlement of Feilding and of the Anglican Church in the Wellington Diocese in the year 1879', (1951), qMS-0479
F. de J. Clere, Hints on building wooden churches, Wellington, 1886
G. Fitzpatrick, St John's Church, Feilding, New Zealand; A Short History; The First Fifty Years 1882-1932, Feilding, 1932
S. Mclean, Architect of the Angels; the churches of Frederick de Jersey Clere, Wellington, 2003
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.