St Mary's Church (Anglican)

329 Halswell Road, Halswell, Christchurch

  • St Mary's Church (Anglican).
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Pam Wilson. Date: 1/04/2005.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 3135 Date Entered 24th June 2005


Extent of List Entry

The registration includes the church, its fittings and fixtures, and the land on CT CB35C/292. The area of registration extends five metres beyond the building in all directions.

City/District Council

Christchurch City


Canterbury Region

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 60019 (CT CB35C/292), Canterbury Land District


Halswell was one of the earliest areas of settlement in the Christchurch region. Initially part of the Upper Heathcote Parish (which included Riccarton, Halswell, Templeton and Governor's Bay), it became part of the parochial district of St Peter's, Riccarton about 1857. Land had apparently been set aside - probably by the Canterbury Association - for 'St Mary's on the Halswell' by this time.

Rev. Croasdaile Bowen (1831-90), second son of C. C. Bowen, Speaker of the Provincial Council, was ordained in 1857, and became first a curate and later vicar (in 1859) of the parish of St Peter's. He soon became a familiar figure in Halswell, galloping across the countryside after morning services at St Peter's to take a service at the Halswell schoolroom. With the population of Halswell increasing; and an edict in 1857 from H. J. C. Harper, the newly ordained Bishop of Christ Church, that every settlement should have its own church as soon as possible, Bowen was anxious that a church be constructed there. Tenders for a stone church were advertised in 1861. Prominent architectural firm Mountfort and Luck submitted plans, but these proved too expensive to build, and the church was redesigned in timber, with capacity for future enlargement. Tenders for construction were called in May 1862, and the foundation stone laid in March 1863. The 120-seat church was completed by builders Raistrick and Sons at a cost of £650, and opened by Bishop Harper on 4 November 1863. On 24 July 1865, the Halswell church site was granted by the Crown under the Public Works Act (1854) to the Superintendent of the Province of Canterbury, to be held in trust for the Church of England. Three years later, on 23 December 1868, the Superintendent conveyed the site to the Anglican Church Property Trustees. St Mary's and its burial ground were not however consecrated until 19 October 1871, when the church became debt free. A bell, gifted by 'friends at home', was installed in the belfry in 1869. As one of the earliest Anglican churches in the Canterbury settlement, St Mary's was presented with one of the four sets of altar plate sent from England by the Canterbury Association.

Benjamin Mountfort (1825-1898) was born in Birmingham, and articled to pioneering Gothic Revivalist Richard Carpenter in London for four years. After a short period practising in Britain, Mountfort emigrated to Canterbury with his family aboard the Charlotte Jane in 1850. After initial setbacks, he established himself as one of New Zealand's leading architects, and the most talented and individual practitioner of Neo Gothic in the country. Appointed Provincial Architect in 1856, Mountfort was also frequently employed as an ecclesiastical architect. Consequently many prominent public buildings in Canterbury, constructed over a forty year period, bear his distinctive stamp. Some of the designs for which he was responsible include the Canterbury Provincial Government Buildings (1858-65, Cat I), Canterbury College (1875-96, Cat I) and Canterbury Museum (1869-82, Cat I). With building activity growing and the imminent prospect of work for the Provincial Government, Mountfort entered into partnership with his sister's husband, Issac Luck, in 1857.

Issac Luck (1817-81) arrived at Lyttelton in 1851, and soon afterwards advertised his services as 'builder, architect and surveyor'. Two years later he married Susanna Mountfort. As a skilled practical builder rather than a qualified professional architect, Luck probably handled the practical side of business within the partnership, whilst Mountfort was primarily the designer. Luck was a large and hearty man, the antithesis of Mountfort, but the two men seemed to have complemented each other well, and the partnership lasted eight productive years before being dissolved in July 1864.

St Mary's was part of Bowen's Riccarton Parish until 1876, then united variously with Templeton and Addington before being reunited with Riccarton in 1895. In 1898 the church became part of a new Halswell Parish, which also included Tai Tapu, Greenpark and later Spreydon. This parish's first vicar, Rev. Henry Williams, also served as chaplain of Sunnyside Asylum. Since 1957 the parish has encompassed St Mary's, and All Saints Church, Prebbleton.

During 1890-1 St Mary's underwent a major extension and refurbishment at a cost of £350 by Addington builder H. Topliss, overseen by architect R. W. England. Initially a south transept was added to the church, forming a chamber to house an organ acquired in 1882. Following this, fifteen new cathedral-glass leadlight windows from the London firm of Taylor and Oakley were installed, the altar furniture replaced, the roof reshingled - with the addition of new crestings and filial crosses, the interior and exterior repainted, and a lych gate built. The church was then reopened by Harper's successor, Bishop Julius, in March 1891.

Robert William England (1864-1908) was born in Lyttelton, the son of Robert West England, a partner in the construction firm, England Bros. At the age of nineteen he went to England to study architecture, and was articled to Joseph Lancaster Ball of Birmingham for three years. In 1885 England was admitted to the Royal Institute of British Architects, and returned to New Zealand to set up in practise the following year. In 1906, he entered into partnership with his younger brother Edward Herbert England, establishing a new architectural firm of 'England Bros.'. England was a prolific architect, specialising in large domestic buildings. Prominent dwellings he designed include Holly Lea (the McLean Mansion, 1902, Cat. I), Fitzroy, (now the Nurse Maude Association Building, 1898, Cat. II), and Wharetiki (1902, Cat. II). In 1908 England died following a nervous breakdown.

A three light stained glass window was installed above the altar in 1957 as a gift from Eileen Fairbairn in memory of her family. The Arts-and-Crafts style window, made in England by German-trained artist Joseph Nuttgens depicts Christ in Majesty. The same year, the roof was reshingled and the belfry repaired and strengthened. In 1963 the church was painted and the sanctuary refurbished in preparation for its centenary, which was celebrated that November. The following year the shingles on the roof were apparently again replaced.

Then in 1967 a disastrous fire, believed to have been started by children playing in the vestry, severely damaged the sanctuary, vestry and organ chamber. Although the stained glass window above the altar was damaged, both it and the church's altar plate were saved. Despite initial opinions suggesting that the building could not be salvaged, the decision was made to have the majority of the nave of the old church restored. A new sanctuary and transept to a design of Don Donnithorne were added in Halswell Stone in 1968, at a cost of $16, 738. This doubled the capacity of the church, from 100 to 200. The entire building was re-roofed with decramastic tiles at this time. Donnithorne also prepared plans for the rebuilding of the nave, but these fortunately were never implemented. The composite church was completed by builder John Harris, and reconsecrated by Bishop Pyatt in March 1969. In 1983 a tornado damaged the church's windows. A roof, to a design of Don Donnithorne, was added to the south door of his 1968 addition in 1993. During 2002 the belfry, buttresses and floor were repaired.

The 1882 pipe organ was badly damaged by the fire in 1967. It was replaced by a small Continuo organ from the Calvary Hospital Chapel in 1968, which was in turn replaced with a war memorial organ, gifted by the closing Tai Tapu Methodist Church in 1990.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Historical significance as one of the oldest Anglican churches in Canterbury, and the first on the plains south of Christchurch.

Architectural significance as an example of the early ecclesiastical work of prominent Gothic Revival architect B. W. Mountfort.

Social significance as a reflection of the central role the Anglican church played in early Canterbury.

Spiritual significance as a centre of Anglican worship for the Halswell community for over 140 years.

(a) it reflects the Anglican basis of settlement in Canterbury.

(e) it is held in high esteem by its community such that they voted to restore the majority of the building following a disastrous fire in 1967.

(g) it is regarded as the culmination of the early ecclesiastical work of prominent architect B. W. Mountfort, incorporating a new compositional clarity, simplicity of detail and confidence that was to characterize his church-building thereafter.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

England, Robert William & Edward Herbert

Robert William England (1863-1908) was born at Lyttelton, the son of a timber merchant. Educated in Christchurch, he chose to go to England for his architectural training and began practicing as an architect in Christchurch around the age of twenty-three. In 1906 he took his younger brother Edward (1875 - c.1953) into practice with him.

Among the notable residential designs the England Brothers were responsible for are McLean's Mansion, (1899 - 1902), and the third stage of Riccarton House (1900). Robert was more concerned with the final effect achieved than stylistic fidelity and drew on a variety of styles including the English Arts and Crafts movement. Some of their more well-known public works include the former D.I.C building in Cashel Street (1908), the A.J White building on the corner of Tuam and High Streets (c.1904-1910) and the Kaiapoi Woollen Mills building in Manchester Street (now demolished). They were also involved in designing a number of churches around Christchurch, including Knox Church in Bealey Avenue and St Albans Methodist Church.

The firm continued after Robert's death in 1908 until 1941, although it is generally considered Edward was a more conservative architect than his brother and the firm's most notable commissions occurred before Robert's death.

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.

Luck, Issac

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Donnithorne, Don

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Raistrick & Sons

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Topliss, H

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Harris, John

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Doolan, M

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

A small timber early English Neo-gothic church with extensive modern additions in stone. The majority of windows in the original building are paired lancets, except for a small rose window in the west wall, and a triple lancet with trefoliar cusps at the opposite end above the altar. A string course encircles the church below the windows. The steeply pitched roof is crowned with a small belfry. Simple timber flying buttresses support the walls.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1863 -

1890 - 1891
Organ chamber added, windows reglazed, roof reshingled.

1957 -
Stained glass window installed, roof reshingled.

1963 - 1964
Sanctuary refurbished, roof reshingled.

1967 -
Serious fire.

1968 - 1969
Restoration of nave, construction of new transept and chancel at eastern end, re-roofing.

1993 -
Addition of roof to south door.

Construction Details

The original 1863 section of the church is vertical board-and-batten on rubble stone foundations. The 1968 addition is clad in Halswell Stone. The lightly constructed roof of the 1863 section was originally shingled, but both sections of the building are now clad in decramastic tiles. However shingles remain on the porch and belfry. The Matai doors have wrought iron hinges.

Information Sources

Christchurch City Council

Christchurch City Council

Heritage Unit File

Ciaran, 1998

Fiona Ciaran, Stained Glass Windows of Canterbury, New Zealand. A Catalogue Raisonne, Dunedin, 1998

p 136.

Lochhead, 1999

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

NZHPT File 12304-350; NZHPT Building Record Form

Penney, 2003

P Penney, St Mary's on the Halswell Christchurch: St Mary's Parish of Halswell Prebbleton, 2003.

Other Information

A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Southern 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.