St John's Church (Methodist)

229A-231 Ponsonby Road, Ponsonby, Auckland

  • St John's Church (Methodist). c.1900. Image courtesy of ‘Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 80-BIN62 .
    Copyright: Auckland Libraries . Taken By: Ernest Charles Binns.
  • At John's Church (Methodist). Image courtesy of -
    Copyright: geoff-inOz. Taken By: geoff-inOz. Date: 11/11/2009.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 643 Date Entered 24th June 2005


Extent of List Entry

The registration includes part of the land in CT NA36D/293 (as shown on Map C in Appendix 4) and the church, its fixtures and fittings, thereon. The registration does not include the attached hall to the east of the building or the attached community centre on its northern side.

City/District Council

Auckland Council (Auckland City Council)


Auckland Council

Legal description

Part of Lot 1 DP 80035 (CT NA36D/293), North Auckland Land District


Constructed as a landmark building in Ponsonby, St John's Church opened for worship on 30 April 1882. The church was one of several places of worship built during the later nineteenth century to serve the growing and varied religious needs of the expanding suburb. Completion of the new structure appears to have been celebrated by the wider Protestant community. Two of the six opening services were conducted by Rev. Spurgeon of Auckland's Baptist Tabernacle, and Rev. Robertson of St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Ponsonby.

Members of the Methodist (also known as Wesleyan) faith were represented among Auckland's first European settlers. The town's first Methodist services, held in 1841, led to the establishment of a local congregation. A Wesleyan chapel was constructed in High Street in 1843, to be replaced by a more substantial brick building five years later. By 1865, the Wesleyan community was sufficiently well established to erect a large church on Pitt Street, seating 650 individuals. The 'Mother Chapel' in High Street closed in 1874, leaving the Pitt Street church to lead further development in Auckland and the surrounding area. Ponsonby's Wesleyan church was one of many new places of worship to develop under the auspices of the Pitt Street community.

In 1876, the Wesleyans took steps to provide a place of worship in Ponsonby, paralleling a similar move by Presbyterians in the same year. Both groups went on to build large timber churches in the Gothic Revival style in the suburb, in 1882 and 1880 respectively. There had been an Anglican church on Ponsonby Road since 1866, and the Baptist and Roman Catholic faiths were to each build new churches in the locality in 1885 and 1887. Ponsonby's population of 1,640 in 1874 had more than doubled by 1881, and was to double again by 1886. This was the result of a speculative surge of house-building on Auckland's suburban fringe, which occurred during a protracted economic boom in the 1870s and early 1880s.

Early in 1876 Wesleyan services had commenced in a building on Summer Street. An area of land, part of the present St John's site, was purchased and a small weatherboard chapel opened for worship on 11 November 1877. A year later a gallery was built to provide more seating, but within another three years the building was too small. The congregation's rapid growth led to the appointment of a separate minister for Ponsonby in 1880, and the following year a property adjoining the chapel was bought to allow for expansion. Plans were prepared for a large new church seating 550 people, and the foundation stone of the current structure was laid on 2 November 1881.

The new building was to be part of a larger complex of religious and educational structures serving Methodist needs. A dwelling that previously occupied the purchased site was moved back to face Arthur Street, where it served as a parsonage, and the 1877 chapel was also relocated on the site to serve as a Sunday School hall and gymnasium. Costing £2,240, the new building was constructed by James Heron, a foundation trustee of the church, to the design of Edward Bartley (1839-1919), who had worked in Auckland as a designer-builder since 1854. Bartley formally began practice as an architect in the 1880s and was to become vice-president of the Auckland Institute of Architects and Diocesan Architect for the Anglican Church. He constructed a number of notable ecclesiastical and other buildings in the Auckland area, including St David's Church, Symonds Street (1880); Holy Trinity Church, Devonport; Jewish Synagogue, Princes Street; the Opera House, Queen Street; and the Auckland Savings Bank, Queen Street (all 1884).

With the exception of churches at Pitt Street, Grafton Road and Parnell, comparatively few Wesleyan places of worship in Auckland were said to have any architectural pretensions before the construction of St John's. Most new Methodist churches, or chapels as many still preferred to call them, were small structures of comparatively humble design. By contrast, Ponsonby's new house of worship, designed in Gothic Revival style, was unmistakably a 'church'. Gothic Revival was modelled on predominantly British medieval ecclesiastical architecture and became the preferred style for Anglican churches from the mid nineteenth century. Initially rejected by 'low church' denominations for its association with pre-Reformation religious hierarchy, it was also adopted in the latter part of the century by Wesleyan and other congregations as these groups became increasingly part of the religious establishment. By the time that St John's was constructed, many Wesleyans who had settled in Auckland in earlier decades had become people of substance. Prominent local figures involved as foundation trustees of St John's included the solicitor William Thorne (1847-?), a city councillor and member of Auckland Harbour Board; Joseph Liston Wilson, proprietor of the New Zealand Herald; and George Winstone (1848-1932), co-founder of Winstone Brothers' haulage and quarrying firm. Ongoing debate between 'high' and 'low' church elements within the congregation is indicated by discussions about whether the new building should be named after St John the Baptist or John Wesley, founder of the Wesleyan faith.

Nationally, the Methodist denomination grew in strength during the 1880s, peaking just after the turn of the twentieth century at which time an estimated one in ten New Zealanders was Methodist. During this period, St John's Church was the centre of the religious, cultural and social life of its members. Prior to the First World War (1914-1918), St John's had a cricket eleven in the Auckland club competition. With the outbreak of war, however, the team and an adult gymnastics group went out of existence.

Modifications were made to the church interior in the early 1900s, including the accommodation of a pipe organ and the creation of vestries at the eastern end of the church in 1903. In 1927, a communion rail made by a congregation member (a cabinet-maker) was added. As well as work undertaken to strengthen the Church tower and sheath the spire in copper, electric lighting was also installed in the Church. The layout of the sanctuary was modified by relocating the pulpit to the south side. Some of these changes indicate the changing relationship between minister and congregation. A photograph of the sanctuary taken in 1897 shows that a pastor and choir on the rostrum would have been distanced from worshippers by the height of the platform and the strict delineation of space. Although modifications undertaken in 1903 had brought the pulpit further forward, it was not until 1927 that the minister was able to preach from a position closer to the level of the congregation. These mirror broader social changes in New Zealand, whereby there was a growing emphasis on egalitarian ideas through the early twentieth century.

Like other churches in the older suburbs of New Zealand's larger cities, St John's suffered a substantial decrease in its congregation following the Second World War (1939-1945). By 1953 the church exterior required extensive repairs, and in 1964 the earlier church - re-used as a Sunday School - was burnt down. With the inflow of Pacific Island peoples to Auckland's inner city suburbs in the 1960s, St John's main ministry changed. The District Synod saw the need for a centre where the social and cultural needs of the church's Samoan members could be met, after which St John's Church was used as the headquarters of an Auckland District Samoan Fellowship. A Samoan minister, Rev. Siauala Amituana'i, was appointed to St John's, and an extension to the church erected in 1977 to accommodate a Methodist Samoan Community and Cultural Centre. In 1983 St John's became the first Samoan Methodist parish in New Zealand. This parish covered the Auckland District and Manurewa in the Manukau District, as it does today. In 1989, a two-storeyed hall addition was constructed to accommodate a Sunday School and to better provide for social activities of the congregation and other community groups.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The building is of historical value for reflecting the growth of Methodism in the late nineteenth century and the development of Ponsonby, as well as - more recently - for being the founding church of New Zealand's first Samoan parish.

St John's Church has high aesthetic importance for its visual aspect and its contribution to the streetscape of Ponsonby Road, and as a valued Auckland landmark. It is also aesthetically significant for its ornate interior. The church has architectural significance as a fine example of a timber ecclesiastical building in the Gothic Revival style, designed for a Wesleyan congregation by Edward Bartley, a notable late nineteenth-century architect in Auckland.

The church has continuously occupied the site for almost 125 years, providing for the social and spiritual needs of a continually changing community.

(a)The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history

St John's Church reflects the developing status of Methodism as part of New Zealand's religious establishment at the end of the nineteenth century. The building is also associated with the growth of one of Auckland's surviving early inner city suburbs and its subsequent demographic changes, including Pacific Island immigration in the second half of the twentieth century.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for, the place

As a place of communal worship, the church has a strong association with the Ponsonby and broader Samoan communities.

(f) The potential of the place for public education

As a prominent building beside Ponsonby's main thoroughfare, St John's Church has potential for public education on the role of religion in past society in general, and the development of Methodism in particular. It can provide education about New Zealand architecture, particularly the historical use of Gothic Revival in ecclesiastical buildings.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place

The building can be considered of value for its technical design as a large timber building of ornate Gothic Revival design, and as a local landmark.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape

St John's Church is part of one of Auckland's most valued heritage precincts, which incorporates a historical landscape of mixed religious, commercial, domestic and institutional buildings along Ponsonby and Jervois Roads. These include the former Newton Police Station (NZHPT registration # 541; Category II), the Auckland Unitarian Church (NZHPT registration # 7178; Category I), Allendale (NZHPT registration # 4581; Category I), the former Ponsonby Post Office (NZHPT registration # 628; Category I) and the former Auckland Savings Bank (NZHPT registration # 5454; Category II). Ponsonby is particularly noted for its ecclesiastical structures of nineteenth-century date, which additionally encompass St Stephen's Presbyterian Church on the corner of Shelly Beach Road and Jervois Road, the Ponsonby Baptist Church on Jervois Road, and several Roman Catholic buildings in New Street and St Mary's Bay Road, including the Bishop's House, St Mary's Convent Chapel, and the former Bishop Pompallier's House.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Bartley, Edward

Edward Bartley was born in Jersey in 1839, and educated in the Channel Islands where he learned techniques of the building trade from his father, an architect and builder.

Bartley immigrated to New Zealand with his elder brother Robert, also an architect, while still in his teens. They eventually settled in Devonport, Auckland. Initially Edward was in the building trade but later he practised solely as an architect. He was at one time vice-president of the Auckland Institute of Architects and was also Diocesan Architect for the Church of England.

Amongst Bartley's most notable works were his ecclesiastical buildings including St John's Church, Ponsonby (1881), St David's Church, Symonds Street (1880), Holy Trinity Church, Devonport, and the Synagogue (1884). He was also responsible for the Opera House (1884) and Auckland Savings Bank, Queen Street (1884).

Heron, James

1886-87 addition - register number 626.

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

St John's Church is situated on a ridge-top location in Ponsonby, an inner suburb to the west of Auckland city centre. The building's spire and its Ponsonby ridge location, make the structure a prominent landmark, which can be seen from most parts of the western inner city and from the Waitemata harbour. The church is located beside Ponsonby Road, a major thoroughfare through the suburb. It sits on the front half of the site, towards the Ponsonby Road frontage, surrounded by an open area laid out in car parking, paving and lawn.

The building consists of a timber church of Gothic Revival design (erected in 1881-1882), with a lounge/foyer addition on its northern side (1977) and a two-storeyed hall at its eastern end (1989).

The dominant element of the original church is a tall steeple at the northwest corner of the main elevation, surmounted by a cross. Large doors are located at the base of the steeple tower on its northern and western sides, with pairs of Gothic three-light windows occupying the stage above. On the second stage are large rose windows, decorated externally with acanthus-leaf label stops, also found on hood mouldings elsewhere on the building. The four sides of the spire base each have timber louvres, set within a Gothic frame. The spire was originally embellished with decorative gables, said to have been carved by the accomplished sculptor and engraver, Anton Teutenberg (1840-1933). By the 1970s, however, little trace of these survived, and any remaining evidence is believed to have been lost when the spire was resheathed in copper in 1995.

The main body of the church is rectangular and broad, with buttresses. The latter have been embellished with finials and other ornamentation. The gable fronting Ponsonby Road bears a large Gothic window comprised of six lights, with a pair of three-light windows on either side. The northern and southern sides of the nave each contain seven windows, also of Gothic style. Those on the northern side have been shortened and the buttresses removed to accommodate the 1977 addition.

Internally, the church's hammerbeam roof is a major feature. The walls are lined with tongue-and-groove timber. Some of the windows consist of memorials to past congregation members, are of stained glass and have simple, stylised botanical motifs.

The altar is separated from the main seating area by a communion rail (erected in 1927), forming a sanctuary. The arrangement of this part of the church has been altered a number of times. The original pulpit is accommodated in a central recess at the eastern end of the church, flanked by screened vestries. Access to each vestry is through doors from the sanctuary. Plywood panelling (circa 1959) has been applied to the vestry walls facing the main body of the church.

A glazed vestibule, built in 1959, extends across the west end of the nave. All but one of the original pews was removed from the church in the 1980s. A pair of swing doors has been installed at each end of the north wall of the nave. A set of folding doors between these allows the nave and the 1977 foyer/lounge addition to be used as one space. The exterior of the upper section of the church's modified north wall and lancet windows are visible from inside the lounge addition, which has been erected against the northern side of the church. The northern addition is of modern, single-storey multi-gabled form. This contains a lobby used as the main entrance to the church, and a lounge.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1881 - 1882
Earlier buildings on site relocated

1903 -
Sanctuary altered, reredos screen removed, pulpit brought forward, pipe organ installed, vestries built

1927 -
Church tower strengthened, spire clad in copper sheathing, sanctuary altered with pulpit relocated to south side and choir seating altered/re-orientated, communion rail added

1946 -
Organ modernised

1953 -
Foundations repaired; tower base repaired; slate roof replaced with Marseille tiles

1959 -
Glassed-in vestibule formed at western end of nave, and sanctuary altered with stepped choir area lowered and plywood panelling applied to the exterior vestry walls

1977 -
Lounge/foyer added on northern side, involving demolition of 1904 Sunday School building, removal of buttresses, shortening of lancet windows and creation of doors to nave

Pipe organ, stepped choir platform, and all but one original pew removed; pulpit returned to centre of sanctuary

1989 -
Two-storeyed hall built against eastern wall

1995 -
Restoration of tower and spire, and re-cladding of spire in copper

Construction Details

Timber frame with rusticated weatherboards; concrete foundations; Marseilles tile roof.

Information Sources

Hames, 1970

Eric Hames, 100 Years in Pitt Street: A Brief History of the Pitt Street Methodist Church, Auckland, 1970

Hames, 1972

Eric Hames, Out of the Common Way: The European Church in the Colonial Era 1840-1913, Auckland, 1972

Laurenson, 1977

George Laurenson, A Spire on the Skyline: St John's Methodist Church, Ponsonby 1877-1977, Auckland, 1977

New Zealand Herald

New Zealand Herald, 12 July 1932, p. 6; 28 September 1933, p. 6.

29 April 1882

Stone, 1973

R. C. J. Stone, Makers of Fortune: A Colonial Business Community and its Fall, Auckland, 1973

Weekly News

Weekly News

24 September 1881, p.22 (1), 30 September 1882, supplement pp.1 and 3 (2).

Conservation Plan

Conservation Plan

Works Consultancy Services Limited, 'St John's Church, Ponsonby - Conservation Plan', [Auckland], 1995

Other Information

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