Various iwi inhabited the Manawatu, primarily along the rivers, for approximately 300 years before European incursion into the area began. Despite the presence of many settlements the area was not heavily populated, but it was known as a wonderful hunting and gathering ground for eels, waterfowl, and other native birds and fruits. In the area around Rongotea Maori settlement seems to have been focused around the banks of the Oroua River and mainly consisted of kainga, which were occupied by Rangitane from the seventeenth century. In the eighteenth century, Ngati Apa began to impinge on Rangitane land around the river and this became a source of conflict between the two, but also resulted in intermarriage and the creation of Ngati Tauira. In the 1830s Ngati Kauwhata and Ngati Raukawa deposed the existing iwi from some of their lands around the Oroua River and Rongotea, and as such when early European missionaries travelled down the river they recognised Ngati Kauwhata as the dominant iwi.
Because of these various periods of conflict and displacement, by the late 1840s the sale of the Rangitikei-Manawatu Block to the Crown was contested between several iwi and '...there raged for years a storm of litigation around the Rangitikei-Manawatu Block which not only strained the relations between [iwi and] European settlers, but at one time threatened to break out in inter-tribal war.' Therefore, it was not until the conclusion of several Native Land Court cases in the late 1860s that the European settlement of the block was able to progress to any extent.
Despite Crown sections being advertised for sale in the Rongotea area in 1872 as part of the Township of Carnarvon there was limited interest until the Foxton to Sanson road was completed in 1874. This increased access encouraged a partnership of Otago runholders, Hon. Robert Campbell (1843-1889) and John Douglas, to purchase a block of land which they called the Douglas Block and established Campbelltown, the name of which was later changed to Rongotea. However, the establishment of the town took some time due to the less than transparent activities of Campbell, a member of parliament, in the purchase and proposed settlement scheme. Therefore, it was not until 1876 that parliament sanctioned the settlement under the Special Settlements Act (1871). Once the legalities were sorted out and other preparations made the sections of land in Rongotea sold relatively quickly. By February 1880, nine months after being put up for sale, it was reported that approximately half of the town sections had been sold.
This development continued over the next decade and by the late 1890s, Rongotea was said to be:
'a lovely farming centre..The town itself, with a population of 153 inhabitants, is prettily laid out and well situated, and the roads are capital, the land being chiefly occupied by dairy farmers, who are fairly prosperous.'
The facilities in the town included a public school and Post Office. As well as Catholic, Methodist and Wesleyan churches, the local Anglican community also had a place to worship when St Simon and St Jude Church was completed in 1896. A notable absence was that there was no tavern in the town, and there was not one until 1967, because of prohibition which was passed in 1896. The building of churches and the 'dry' status of Rongotea coincided in the late nineteenth century and their combined influence meant that Rongotea was nicknamed, perhaps facetiously, 'The Holy City.'
Rongotea religion and St Simon and St Jude Church
While the Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Wesleyan parochial districts were established soon after European settlement in the Manawatu began earnestly in the 1870s, it was generally not until the 1880s or later that purpose-built churches began to be constructed. Therefore, two of the earliest examples of Anglican churches in the Manawatu district were St James Church in Halcombe (1881) and St John's Church, Feilding completed in 1882, both of which were designed by Frederick de Jersey Clere (1856-1952). These buildings coincided with, and were indicative of, the intensive growth periods in the region. For example, between 1878 and 1881 the population in the Manchester Block, which encompassed Feilding, and Halcombe, is reported to have increased from 1,713 to 2,860 people. This pattern was replicated elsewhere as soon as towns were firmly established. Therefore, churches became symbols, not only of the community's commitment to faith, but also of the maturing of the towns and the development of its local industries and economy.
Primitive Methodist congregants seem to have been the first to hold services in the Rongotea area in 1878 and, perhaps surprisingly, it was other non-conformist denominations which first organised themselves to hold services in residences and other buildings from early on. When Rongotea was established several of the main Christian denominations were gifted a plot by Campbell to build a church, but it was not until the 1890s that the congregations could afford to build. The Wesleyans constructed the first purpose-built church in the town, and it was not until 1895 that members of the Church of England, and also their Catholic counterparts, started to erect their own.
For their building the Anglican Church committee approached Clere and Richmond Architects. This Wellington based architectural firm was then contracted to design the church and Clere took the lead on the project. As indicated earlier, Clere had experience designing some of the earliest churches in the Manawatu, and became the Diocesan architect in 1883. Upon the consecration of St Simon and St Jude Church the Diocesan newspaper noted that the:
'..seating accommodation is 156, though as the building is very roomy many more than that were accommodated at each of the opening services. The Chancel is particularly roomy and, as a great deal of care had been taken in furnishing the interior of the Church, was much admired by everyone present.'
The contractor for St Simon and St Jude Church was Messrs Rochelle & Co, a Palmerston North firm, who also built the Catholic church in Rongotea in the same year. This Catholic church has some original elements remaining but has been altered significantly, therefore St Simon and St Jude Church is in essence the oldest church in 'The Holy City.'
Like other churches, the construction of the building relied greatly on the community motivation to see it happen. Once the idea of building the church had been mooted it seems that the local Anglican community rallied to the cause quickly and were generous in their donations of money towards, and labour during, the construction. However, funds were still being collected after the consecration of the building and through a series of fairs, picnics, and other methods, the balance was paid in approximately a year. The large turn-out to the consecration celebrations also helped to reduce the debt. The services led by Bishop Wallis and Archdeacon Toogood on this day were full to overflowing, and this continued with the crowds being so large that the intended venue for the evening social event was too small and it had to be held in the open air. Although the exterior was not quite finished by the time it was consecrated the church was considered a resounding success.
The success of the building and the regard with which it and its architect were held is perhaps demonstrated by the fact that two years later St Simon and St Jude Church became the model for the new church of St Mary Magdalene in Ashhurst. In early correspondence about the proposed building that church's committee specifically asked Clere to design a similar building. Indeed, the design of St Simon and St Jude was also replicated, with some individualising details, at St Alban's Church at Pauatahanui, and St Mary's Church, Levin, which were erected within two years of the Rongotea church.
From 1907 St Simon and Jude Church was the base church for the parish. Prior to this the church community had been active in acquiring land around St Simon and St Jude Church, including the two sections neighbouring it which contained a house that would become the vicarage. From this time the Rongotea Parohical District presided over several sub-districts including Glen Oroua, Taikorea, Oroua Bridge, and Rangiotu. However, in 1932 the Rongotea and Bulls parishes amalgamated. One of the key motivators behind this merger was the economic hardships brought on by the Great Depression. Subsequent economic considerations meant that in the mid to late twentieth century five of seven sections that the church had acquired earlier that century were sold, and the vicarage was also sold for demolition. The proceeds of these sales were placed in a trust, and one of the main purposes in establishing this was to have funds available to maintain St Simon and St Jude Church.
Over the years the church has been the centre of the Anglican community's religious activities being the site of regular services as well as events such as christenings, weddings, and funerals. Because of the church's importance to the social fabric of the local community it was maintained though their generosity whether this was financially, or through volunteer work. Groups such as the Ladies' Guild, continued their fundraising efforts and volunteer work in order to beautify the church and add to the collection of objects, such as embroidering altar linen and choir robes in preparation for the 75th jubilee of the church. Another physical reminder of the contribution of this group to the building and community was the commissioning of the font in the early 1930s. Aside form the practical necessity of this item, the font was also dedicated to the memory of Rev. W.S. Tremain who had been the Rongotea Parish Vicar between 1921 and 1931. The contribution of the Ladies' Guild to the running of the church was recognised in 1995 with the installation of the Ladies' Guild window.
St Simon and St Jude Church is still used regularly and has been important to the community as the site of Anglican spiritual rites of passage from the day of its consecration when two local children were christened. Many in Rongotea and the outlying rural area have had a personal connection with the building because of its function and some have been honoured in the building through donations like the communion chalice and the various stained glass windows and memorial plaques.
St Simon and St Jude Church is located within a relatively small churchyard that is enclosed by picket fencing on the street front and then by wire fences and hedging on its three remaining boundaries. Situated southeast of, and close to, the church is its hall. This is a simple L shaped gable building which appears to date from the mid twentieth century. There are concrete paths leading to, and between, each of these buildings and the rest of the relatively open and flat yard is grassed, with some plantings of shrubs on the entrance side of the church.
St Simon and St Jude Church is straightforward but elegantly conceived example of Clere's Gothic Revival inspired country churches and has remained relatively unchanged since its construction in 1896. It features a nave that terminates in a five-sided apse that contains the chancel and sanctuary and spans the whole width of the building. This and the acute pitch of the main gable are key features of the building. The vertical emphasis created by the gable, desirable in Gothic Revival style church architecture, is accentuated further with the presence of a steeple at the northwest end of the roof. The height of the building means that, despite the mature trees lining Thames Street, and other obstructions, the church is visible from many vantage points on the west side of Rongotea. The building also has simple steeply gabled lean-to adjuncts to the main nave section which form the vestry on the south side of the building and also a porch on the north corner of the church. All of the gable apexes of the building are surmounted with cross finials.
The church's rusticated weatherboards clad totara framing, and the large expanse of the roof has been covered in corrugated iron from its inception, although this has subsequently been renewed. Totara was used in the piles, window frames, the two pairs of double tiered external timber buttresses on each long side of the nave, as well as the cladding at ground level, because of this materials relative durability. The joists in the church are matai. At the base of the nave walls there are supplementary timber rudimentary braces, which are small and located between the buttresses. It is unclear whether these are an original aspect of the design but it seems unlikely.
Each of the nave's long walls are punctuated with groups of three single windows that are interspersed between the buttresses. Some of the original fenestrations have been replaced with stained glass memorial windows, but the multipaned windows next to the porch and two southwest facing windows closest to the northwest end of the church appear to be original. This northwest wall has a multipaned triple light. A heightened level of natural light is provided in the apse through the use of pairings of diamond panelled leadlight windows in each of the four walls flanking the central gable capped section of the apse, which itself has a large single window. The vestry also has a single window, and all of these fenestrations are straight pointed lancet windows which are typical in Clere churches.
The gables of the building generally have plain bargeboards and gable ends, with the exception of the gable in the apse and also that of the porch which are the public faces of the church. The apse gable faces the street access to the church and as such has the extra decorative element of a trefoil cut-out at the apex of the otherwise simple bargeboards. In the gable section above the main entrance of the porch Clere likewise included some of the only external decorative features of the building with the triangular door hood which frames a lancet-top shaped window. Above the door lintel the vertical weatherboards of this section have been finished with pointed ends to create a zig-zag edging, much like that of the solid section at the apex of the northwest gable end.
This decorative zig-zag detailing is also repeated on the steeple. In keeping with other aspects of the building, the steeple is a simple structure which has an open framed bellcote whose each upper corners have solid braces which are shaped so that the openings on each of the four sides appear to be arched. These were originally repeated on the lower corners, but have been subsequently removed. Above this the spire has shallow bell cast eaves, and is clad in shingles, as is steeple's base.
The main body of St Simon and St Jude Church is accessed through two sets of timber double doors in the porch. The outer set has been painted on the exterior but the other surfaces have been varnished in order to let the wood grain show. This is repeated on the horizontal matchboards of the ceiling. The walls have brown manufactured lining with a faux wood grain. The interior set of doors features the metal 'Gothic latches with ring handles' specified by Clere, which are substantial fittings softened by decorative cast aspects, including rose and leaf motifs.
Upon entering the nave one is immediately struck by the lofty ceiling, supported by king-post trusses, which makes the building feel deceptively large, and also the preponderance of vertical rimu matchboards which line the ceiling and walls, and then continues in a dado that extends around the lower section of the walls. The seven rows of pews which flank the central aisle of the nave are an original feature of the church and carry on this timber theme.
The circa 1931 christening font dedicated to Rev. Tremain sits on the junction of the aisles leading from the porch and through the nave, and is in line with the central large window of the triple light of the wall immediately behind it. The font has a sizeable timber plinth upon which the shaped marble pedestal sits. The simple metal basin of the font is then supported by arms that extend from the pedestal.
Moving around the main body of the church from the entrance the first stained glass window to the north depicts St Jude and was installed in 2006. This is the most recent addition to the church and its dedication to the memory of Rev. and Lottie Tremain is indicated by a plaque below the window. The other windows all feature their commemorative details within the glazing. This window is preceded by another plaque which commemorates Edith Estelle Williams who died in 1909. The St Jude window is appropriately paired on this north wall with a window depicting the other titular saint of the church, St Simon, which was installed in 1985 in memory of William and Vera Amey. The focal point of the apse is the Elizabeth Tryphosa Somer window which features Jesus. Next to the entry to the vestry, on the south wall of the nave is the Ladies' Guild Centenary Window (1995), which among other images and symbols features a depiction of St Simon and St Jude Church. Currently there are plans for another stained glass window that will go next to the Ladies' Guild window and will balance those of St Simon and St Jude opposite.
The apse contains the altar, and other related furniture, and is separated from the nave of the church by its elevated position and also the timber altar rail. While this altar rail is of a similar design to that originally installed in the church, all of the fittings, including the altar, in the apse were replaced in the 1950s and are distinguishable by the colouring of the timber used.
The vestry is accessed through an internal door where the apse terminates on the south side of the nave. This is a characteristically small space that doubles as the church office and is lined with manufactured sheets which are white on the ceiling and brown wood grain patterned on the walls.
Christening font installed
St Simon window installed
Ladies' Guild Centenary window installed
St Jude window installed
Corrugated iron, glass, marble, metal, timber
30th November 2009
Report Written By
Buick, 1903 (1975)
TL Buick, 'Old Manawatu', Christchurch, 1903 (1975)
D. A. Davies & R.E. Clevely, Pioneering to Prosperity 1874-1974: A Centennial History of the Manchester Block (Feilding & Oroua Borough Councils, Feilding 1981)
Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
McDonald, D. C. 'Campbell, Robert 1843 - 1889,' updated 22 June 2007, URL: http://www.dnzb.govt.nz/
Maclean, S., 'Clere, Frederick de Jersey 1856 - 1952,' updated 22 June 2007, URL: http://www.dnzb.govt.nz/
S. Mclean, Architect of the Angels; the churches of Frederick de Jersey Clere, Wellington, 2003
An Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Government Printer, Wellington, 1966
G. Petersen, Palmerston North; A Centennial History, Wellington, 1973
Waitangi Tribunal Report, www.waitangi-tribunal.govt.nz
Anderson, R. and K. Pickens, 'Rangahaua Whanau District 12 - Wellington District: Port Nicholson, Hutt Valley, Porirua, Rangitikei, and Manawatu,' Waitangi Tribunal Rangahaua Whanau Series, August 1996. Updated 14 August 2009
Papers Past, www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz
Feilding Star, 29 October 1895, 25 July 1896, 17 December 1896
Manawatu Herald, 20 February 1880
G. Thornton, Worship in the Wilderness: Early country churches of New Zealand, Auckland, 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.