St Paul's Church (Anglican)

Old Tai Tapu Road, Tai Tapu

  • St Paul's Church (Anglican). Image courtesy of
    Copyright: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Taken By: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Date: 10/01/2013.
  • St Paul's Church (Anglican).
    Copyright: Church Property Trustees. Date: 22/01/2007.
  • St Paul's Church (Anglican). Door detail. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Taken By: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Date: 10/01/2013.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 4395 Date Entered 16th November 1989


Extent of List Entry

The extent includes the land described as Pt RS 597 (CT CB371/289), Canterbury Land District and the building known as St Paul's Church (Anglican) thereon. Refer to the extent map tabled at the Heritage New Zealand Board meeting on 11 September 2014.

City/District Council

Selwyn District


Canterbury Region

Legal description

Pt RS 597 (CT CB371/289), Canterbury Land District


The stone church of St Paul's, at Tai Tapu, was built by Sir Robert Heaton Rhodes (1861 - 1956) in memory of his wife, Jessie Cooper Clark (1865-1929). Rhodes was a prominent landowner, politician and philanthropist, whose wife of 38 years, Jessie, died of a cerebral haemorrhage in October 1929. Rhodes announced the following April that he intended to have a new stone church built at Tai Tapu in her memory. Jessie was noted for her philanthropic work with organisations such as Nurse Maude's District Nursing Association, the Plunket Society and Canterbury Girl Guides, as well as for her generous support of St Paul's and the local parish.

The Rhodes family had been associated with Tai Tapu since Rhodes' father and uncles had subdivided some of their Ahuriri run into sections for a new town in 1875. The first church of St Paul's was erected the following year to a design of local architect Frederick Strouts and Sir Heaton Rhodes was elected to the vestry in 1896. By 1929 the vestry of St Paul's had decided to build a new church, rather than maintain the old, and a building fund was started, which Jessie supported, leaving £250 to it in her will. The vestry happily accepted Rhodes' offer to build them a new church in Jessie's name and the plans Rhodes had commissioned Christchurch architect Cecil Wood (1878-1947) to draw up.

Wood designed a number of churches throughout Canterbury and was heavily influenced in their design by the Arts and Craft ecclesiastical architecture current in England during his time working there. Wood's design for St Paul's is similar to his design for St Barnabas, Fendalton, constructed four years earlier, with clearly differentiated nave, chancel and transepts and a square crenellated tower over the main entrance.

Local stone was used at St Paul's, with the bulk of the stone coming from Banks Peninsula. The red stones that form the quoins and facings were quarried from Rhodes' own property, Otahuna, (also registered by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust/Pouhere Taonga) and this involved opening up a number of old quarries on the property. A piece of granite was shipped over from Jessie's family home in Australia to form the foundation stone. Other materials from overseas used in the church include Australian sandstone, used for the mullions and tracery of the windows, and timber from Canada.

The interior of St Paul's is particularly beautiful and reflects the successful working partnership developed between Wood and local carver, Frederick Gurnsey (1868-1953). Among the elements Gurnsey carved are the portable lectern, prayer desk, font cover and the altar. Many of these carvings were based on detailed drawings by Wood. Links were also created between the old and the new churches; the base of the sundial was the font from the old church and it stands on the spot where the old church once stood. The trees and bushes that surround St Paul's were paid for out of the proceeds from the sale of the old church.

The commission for St Paul's proved to be a blessing for both Wood and Gurnsey, coming as it did during the Depression. Rhodes' commitment to the church provided both architect and carver with an opportunity to display their exceptional craftsmanship and the end result was a fine example of an Arts and Crafts church. This carefully crafted style of church was a hallmark of Wood's practice and St Paul's has been described by at least one writer on Wood's work as his best. St Paul's was built as a memorial to Rhodes' wife Jessie and her commitment to numerous charitable community organisations. It also stands, in conjunction with the neighbouring library, as an example of Rhodes' many philanthropic works for the local community. He enjoyed, according to his biographer Geoffrey Rice being seen as the 'Squire of Tai Tapu' and assisted the township and parish in many ways. The church with its grounds forms a picturesque part of Tai Tapu and continues to be used as an Anglican church today.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Tai Tapu's St Paul's Church and the nearby Public Library are both significant reminders of the generosity of Sir Heaton Rhodes. Rhodes was member of one of Canterbury and South Canterbury's most important and wealthy run holding families and he had a long association with Tai Tapu.


Tai Tapu has probably the finest collection of stone buildings of any small Canterbury town. The architect's sensitive handling of local materials and his almost obsessive attention to detail have long been appreciated. His work is complemented by that of the master carver, F.G. Gurnsey. Gurnsey worked with Wood on the Hare Memorial Library at Christ's College in 1915 and the two men subsequently forged a link between art and craft which English Arts and Crafts architects considered to be vital to the artistic integrity of a work of architecture. Gurnsey and his assistant, J.C. Vivian, carried out all the stone and wood carving at St Paul's, working to Wood's precise specifications. Built to seat 104 people, St Paul's may be compared with the larger suburban church, St Barnabas, Fendalton, completed to Wood's design in 1926. Both are in the Arts and Crafts style, but the rural setting, outstanding design, use of materials, and individual history of the former ensures that St Paul's, Tai Tapu holds a unique position within Cecil Wood's oeuvre.


St Paul's stands within a very pleasant rural setting and its proximity to the Public Library, designed and built by Cecil Wood between 1931 and 1932, greatly enhances the architectural character of Tai Tapu.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Wood, Cecil Walter

Born in Christchurch, Wood (1878-1947) was articled to the local architect Frederick Strouts between 1894 and 1899. He worked for a short time as a draughtsman with the firm Clarkson and Ballantyne before travelling to England in 1901. Here Wood was exposed to a high quality of architectural design in the Edwardian Free Style, and was employed by two leading Edwardian architects Robert Weir Shultz and Leonard Stokes.

In 1907 Wood returned to New Zealand to take up partnership with Samuel Hurst Seager. The partnership lasted for only one year for Wood set up his own practice in 1908. The years 1908-1915 were dominated by domestic commissions, but it was also during this time that he began his association with Christ's College, which included such commissions as Hare Memorial Library (1915), the Memorial Dining Hall (1923-5), Jacob's House (1931) and Open Air Classrooms (1932). During the 1920s Wood's practice began to expand and a Georgian influence can be seen in such works as Weston House Park Terrace (1923-4) and Bishopscourt (1926-7).

A short lived partnership in 1927 with R S D Harman allowed Wood to travel to the United States while another in 1937 with Paul Pascoe allowed him to travel to England, Europe and the United States without neglecting his practice. During this second trip he made preparations for the design of St Paul's Anglican Cathedral in Wellington, which was erected after his death.

During his life Wood had made a substantial contribution to the architecture of Christchurch, having an enthusiasm for both European and American styles.

Gurnsey, Frederick George

Frederick George Gurnsey (1868 - 1953) was born in Wales. He was apprenticed to Harry Hems and Company, a leading ecclesiastical carving firm in Exeter, and worked for them once his apprenticeship was complete. Gurnsey visited New Zealand in 1904-1905 and returned in 1907 when he was appointed as an instructor at the Canterbury College School of Art in Christchurch. At the School of Art he taught carving, modelling, casting, enamelling and metalwork, and was the acting director of the school from September 1917 to April 1920. He resigned in 1923 to become a full-time carver.

Gurnsey executed thousands of carvings, in both wood and stone, for churches, civic buildings, public monuments and various private commissions. Some of his more prominent carvings include the reredos in the Christchurch cathedral, his work in the Chapel of St Michael and St George, the carvings on the Bridge of Remembrance in Christchurch (1924), those on the Massey Memorial in Wellington (1930), and those in the Church of the Good Shepherd at Tekapo.(1935). During the Depression Gurnsey diversified into making domestic furniture. He has been described as 'one of the greatest European carvers ever to have worked in New Zealand', although due to his personal modesty and the way in which carving falls somewhere between fine arts and craft, his achievements have, until recently, largely been unrecognised. Confident with carving in both wood and stone, Gurnsey was responsible for many beautiful works, particularly in the South Island.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

In 1875 the township of Tai Tapu came into existence when Robert Rhodes, Sir Heaton Rhodes' father, created a new subdivision just beyond Halswell. A year later the town's first Anglican church was built to a design by Frederick Strouts, the architect with whom Wood served his articles. Strouts also designed Otahuna (1895), Sir Heaton Rhodes's country residence near Tai Tapu, and it therefore seems likely that Cecil Wood was given the commission for the second St Paul's because of his link with Strouts.

Strouts' wooden church served the town for over fifty years but early in 1929 the vestry of St Paul's, of which Sir Heaton Rhodes was a member, decided to build a new church rather than continue the expensive task of maintaining the existing building. Lady Rhodes, nee Jessie Cooper Clark, took an active interest in the rebuilding proposals, and after her death in September 1929 Sir Heaton Rhodes decided to donate the new church to the people of Tai Tapu in memory of his wife. On September 26 1930, Lady Rhodes' birthday, the foundation stone of Wood's church was laid and sixteen months later, on January 25 1932, Bishop West-Watson consecrated the building. The church furnishings and fittings were also paid for by Sir Heaton Rhodes, with the exception of the east window which was donated by the Tai Tapu parishioners. The window depicts the Healing Christ, and therefore commemorates Lady Rhodes' association with a large number of health organisations, including the Nurse Maude District Nurses' Association, of which she was the founder. Sir Heaton Rhodes, who represented the Ellesmere district in the House of Representatives from 1899 to 1925, continued to take a paternal interest in Tai Tapu after the church was completed.

Physical Description

Cecil Walter WOOD (1878-1947) Architect

Messrs Sylvester and Company, Contractors



The church is in the English Arts and Crafts style of Gothic Revival architecture. The nave, chancel, vestry and crenellated entrance tower are all clearly expressed on the exterior of the building and a steeply pitched roof shelters the low walls of the nave. The tower projects from the south-west corner of the church, visually offsetting the vestry at the north-east corner, while the randomly coursed rubble of the exterior contrasts with the ashlar blocks of Anama stone which line the interior. Inside the church the nave and chancel have different roofing systems, the former a king-post roof and the latter a wagon roof.

The east window is inset with panel tracery but the other windows are filled with geometric tracery, the three windows along each side of the nave alternating in their outline.

F.G. Gurnsey carved the altar, lectern and organ console from Canadian Oak, and following Wood's specification, transformed the stone above the interior doors into representations of native birds and animals from Lady Rhodes' homeland, Australia. Gurnsey was probably also responsible for the unusual ceiling grille above the entrance of the church which allows the sound of the organ, housed within the upper section of the tower, to enter the church. The five stained glass windows in the church were made by the London firm of Heaton, Butler and Bayne. Two stone fragments set into the nave walls, one from St Paul's, London, and the other from St Patrick's, Dublin, strengthen the building's visual and spiritual links with the architecture and religion of England, and outside the church a sundial made from the font of the first St Pauls' marks the site of Strouts' church. The furnishings and fittings were all designed by the architect, with the exception of the Glastonbury chair, and the resulting integrity of interior and exterior decoration is rarely to be found in either rural or urban churches.


Date Unknown - Two stained glass windows installed: north wall of chancel and north wall opposite entrance.

Notable Features

Frederick Gurnsey and his assistant J.C. Vivian undertook the carving of the interior, including the altar, portable lectern, prayer desk, organ console, and font cover. The altar was described by the 'Church News' as 'one of the most notable pieces of carving in the Dominion'. It, and other carvings in the church, made reference to Jessie's Australian background by depicting a kangaroo, emu and kookaburra, while the portable lectern features ferns and fantails. Such references to nature were a part of the ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement.

All of the stained glass windows in St Paul's were made by Heaton, Butler and Bayne of London. Three of them were donated by Sir Heaton Rhodes. One, which dates from 1931, illustrates St Paul and St Stephen. The two later windows, dated from around 1941, illustrate the Baptism of Christ and St George and St Martin, respectively and the latter commemorates the dead of World War I. The window in the east sanctuary was donated by the parishioners in memory of Lady Rhodes and depicted the Healing Christ - a reference to Jessie's involvement in a number of health-related organisations. The fifth window was donated by Alister and Edith Clark, brother of Jessie and sister of Sir Heaton respectively.

Stone fragments from St Pauls and St Patricks

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1930 - 1932
Foundation stone laid 29 September 1930. Church consecrated 25 January 1932

1929 - 1930

Construction Details

The exterior of the church is built of two different shades of locally quarried rubble stone. The window mullions and tracery are carved from Hawkesbury sandstone imported from Sydney, and the interior is lined with pink anama stone from the Mount Somers quarry. Roof framed in rimu, tiles imported from Sydney.

Completion Date

12th August 2002

Report Written By

Melanie Lovell-Smith

Information Sources

Ciaran, 1998

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

pp. 175, 198

Maingay, 1964

Lyndsay St. John Maingay, 'Cecil Walter Wood, architect of the free tradition: a study of the life and work of Cecil Wood, architect, 1878-1947, to examine some aspects of the development of architecture in his time and their influence on his work', PhD Thesis, University of Auckland, 1964

Morten, 1982

Arthur Morten, Bertie Sisson & Rosemary Sisson, Historical notes, 1875-1982: on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the new church, Tai Tapu, 1982

Ogilvie, 1991

Gordon Ogilvie, The Port Hills of Christchurch, Auckland, 1991


Rice, 2001

Geoffrey Rice, Heaton Rhodes of Otahuna: the Illustrated Biography, Christchurch, 2001

Stacpoole, 1972

John Stacpoole and Peter Beaven, 'Architecture 1820-1970', Wellington, 1972


Star Midweek

Star Midweek

June 25 1988, p6

Stocker, 1997

Mark Stocker, Angels and Roses: the art of Frederick George Gurnsey, Christchurch, 1997



The Press

Photographs: September 27 1930, p17; December 31 1931, p11; January 4 1932, p11; January 25 1932, p11; January 26 1932, p11, November 16 1936, p16; April 24 1930, p12, May 1930, p10

Press, September 27 1930, p19

Press, December 22 1931, p3

Press, October 11 1982, p14

Press, July 27 1985, p19

Press, February 21 1987, p21

University of Canterbury

University of Canterbury

'Arts and Crafts churches of Canterbury: School of Fine Arts Gallery, 12 to 30 August 1996, (exhibition catalogue)', Christchurch, School of Fine Arts, 1996, Matthew Crooks, p.10, Kent Nicholls, p.11

Cattell, 1985

J. Cattell, Historic Buildings of Canterbury and South Canterbury - A Register of Classified Buildings, Publishing Division of Government Printing Office, Wellington, 1985

pp. 20, 23-4, 36, 47

Scotter, 1965

W.H. Scotter, A History of Canterbury, Vol. III 1876-1950, Whitcombe & Tombs Ltd, Christchurch, 1965

Church News

Church News

February 1932, Vol. LXII, No. 8, p6

June 1932, Vol. LXII, No. 12, p20

Other Information

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

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.