St Michael and All Angels Belfry (Anglican)
86 Oxford Terrace, Christchurch
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 1
2nd April 1985
Extent of List Entry
Extent includes part of the land described as Res 7 (CT CB47C/1021), Canterbury Land District and the structure known as St Michael and All Angels Church Belfry (Anglican), thereon.
Res 7 (CT CB373/217), Canterbury Land District
The free standing belfry at the church of St Michael and All Angels was designed in 1861 by Benjamin Mountfort (1825-1898), the pre-eminent architect in nineteenth-century Canterbury. St. Michael's was the first church to be constructed in Canterbury and was consecrated eight years later. Its bell had arrived from Britain with the Canterbury Association settlers in 1850 and was hung outside the first wooden church. The bell became damaged at some stage, although how and why seem to be lost in the realms of myth and legend. However the damage occurred, the bell was shipped back to England to be recast and Mountfort's belfry was designed to provide protection for the newly restored bell. It was also intended for use as a lychgate but was little used for this purpose. The cost of building the belfry was covered by public subscriptions.
Built in timber, the belfry became an instant landmark in the flat swampy landscape of nineteenth-century Christchurch. Dr. Ian Lochhead, in his recent book on Mountfort, traces the architectural sources back to medieval timber belfries, particularly those from Essex, and the timber belfries of Scandinavia. A model for the distinctive canopy of the belfry, Lochhead points out, was the roof of the eleventh-century tower of an Anglo-Saxon church, St. Mary's of Sompting, Sussex. The roof on the tower is said to be unique in England, although common in the Rhineland, and was pictured in John Henry Parker's Glossary of Terms used in Grecian, Roman, Italian, and Gothic Architecture, (3rd edition, 1840). A small number of English churches were built with such Rhenish helm roofs from 1850 onwards and Mountfort's belfry can be seen as part of the Victorian adoption of this roofing form. This reference to Anglo-Saxon buildings can be seen as a link between the origins of English ecclesiastical architecture and the position of the church in Canterbury in the 1850s.
The belfry at St. Michael and All Angels is significant as a prominent Christchurch landmark, and as an intriguing design, drawing on numerous historical sources, by the pre-eminent Victorian architect, Mountfort. It is associated with the arrival of the Canterbury Association settlers in Christchurch, and with the first church to be built in Christchurch (now replaced by the present S. Michael and All Angels).
The Belfry has important historic values as it was built in 1861 alongside the first Church of St. Michael and All Angels, the first church to be built in Christchurch. At that time it provided a notable landmark within the flat environs of the evolving city and it remains a prominent streetscape feature. The bell the structure houses was brought to the province in 1850 with the first group of the Canterbury Association's settlers and represents the Association's plans for the province to develop as an Anglican community.
Designed by Canterbury's Provincial architect B.W. Mountfort, the belfry illustrates his skills in the Gothic revival style and has considerable architectural value. Its elaborate form and detailing harmonises well with the present church, completed in 1872.
The belfry can be assigned Category One status because it has outstanding historic associations with the first years of Canterbury's settlement and it represents the founding fathers' goals for the province to develop as an Anglican community. It is an important example of colonial design by a notable architect, it is part of a group of historic buildings and it is a landmark feature highly regarded by the people of Christchurch.
Mountfort, Benjamin Woolfield
Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort (1825-98) trained as an architect in England, in the office of Richard Cromwell Carpenter, a member of the Cambridge Camden Society (later the Ecclesiological Society). He arrived in Canterbury in 1850.
Mountfort was New Zealand's pre-eminent Gothic Revival architect and, according to architectural historian Ian Lochhead, 'did most to shape the architectural character of nineteenth-century Christchurch.' The buildings he designed were almost exclusively in the Gothic Revival style.
During his career he designed many churches and additions to churches; those still standing include the Trinity Congregational Church in Christchurch (1874), St Mary's Church in Parnell, Auckland and the Church of the Good Shepherd in Phillipstown, Christchurch (1884). In 1857 he became the first architect to the province of Canterbury. He designed the Canterbury Provincial Council Buildings in three stages from 1858 to 1865. The stone chamber of this building can be considered the greatest accomplishment of his career. He was involved in many important commissions from the 1870s, including the Canterbury Museum (1869-82) and the Clock-tower Block on the Canterbury College campus (1876-77). He was also involved in the construction of Christchurch's Cathedral and made several major modifications to the original design.
Mountfort introduced a number of High Victorian elements to New Zealand architecture, such as the use of constructional polychromy, probably first used in New Zealand in the stone tower of the Canterbury Provincial Government Buildings (1859). Overall, his oeuvre reveals a consistent and virtually unerring application of Puginian principles including a commitment to the Gothic style, honest use of materials and picturesque utility. The result was the construction of inventive and impressive buildings of outstanding quality. He died in Christchurch in 1898. A belfry at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Phillipstown, the church he attended for the last ten years of his life, was erected in his honour.
Timber, shingle roof
10th December 2001
Report Written By
Ian Lochhead, A Dream of Spires: Benjamin Mountfort and the Gothic Revival, Christchurch, 1999
New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT)
New Zealand Historic Places Trust
M Peters with J. Mané, Christchurch-St. Michael's: a study in Anglicanism in New Zealand. Christchurch: Canterbury University Press, 1986
A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Southern Region Office.