St Mary’s Church, Pokeno is a well-preserved Anglican church dating to the end of the nineteenth century, which reflects attitudes to philanthropy among wealthy members of the local settler community. Erected in 1899-1900, the timber church was created as a result of the benefaction of a local landowner, Harriet Johnston, and her protégé Francis William Pyne. It has served the community continuously since that time, apart from a brief period when it was closed in 1920-1922.
Prior to the mid nineteenth century, groups with connections to the Pokeno area included Ngati Tamaoho and Ngati Pou. Following the third New Zealand - or Waikato - War (1863-4), confiscations of Maori land encompassed the 19,000 acre Pokeno Block. The site occupied by St Mary’s Church passed through the ownership of several early settlers before being purchased in 1890 as part of a large farm by Francis William Pyne (1866-1926), a migrant from England and a recent graduate of Oxford University. In 1892, Pyne was evidently joined by Harriet Johnston (c.1829-1916), an elderly lady from Devonshire, who became a major benefactor to the area. Johnston funded the construction of a village hall in 1898 and subsequently offered to pay for the creation of an Anglican church on donated land adjoining the large farmhouse that she occupied with Pyne and his wife. At this time, Pokeno was known primarily as a dairying area.
St Mary’s Church was prominently erected on the top of a ridge overlooking the main thoroughfare between Thames and the Great South Road. Of compact Gothic Revival design, it had steep roofs, and lancet windows of Early English type. In plan it incorporated a nave, chancel, transepts and a south porch, together with an offset tower with steeple to the north. The building was one of the last works undertaken by Edward Bartley as architect for the Auckland Anglican Diocese, a post he had filled since the 1880s. Bartley is known for the construction of many notable buildings in the Auckland region, including the Auckland Savings Bank and the Jewish Synagogue in central Auckland. The church design has been credited to its first vicar, H. Barnard Wingfield.
Subsequently described as ‘the finest country Church in the diocese’, the building was opened for worship in March 1900, in a service led by the Archbishop of New Zealand, William Cowie. At the opening, the interior was described as encompassing stained glass windows, lavish fittings gifted by Harriet Johnston, and other items such as kauri pews, a font of Oamaru stone and a large Bible. Johnston’s subsequent gifts included a set of three bells for the tower (1900) and a large stained glass window for the west wall of the church, depicting Faith, Hope and Charity (1910). These were respectively made by the notable firms of John Warner and Sons of Cripplegate - who had cast most of the bells for the British Houses of Parliament in 1856-8, including the original ‘Big Ben’ - and Whitefriars of London. Johnston died in 1916, when it was said that ‘her name was widely known in the cause of charity. The beautiful Church of St Mary’s, Pokeno Valley, owes its existence to her liberality, and is a lasting memorial to her.’
Subsequent disputes over the payment of the vicar’s stipend led to the closure of the church in 1920-22. Proposals to relocate the building were resisted by parishioners. Other than an extension to the porch in 1961, the building has remained largely unaltered. It still retains many of its early fittings and chattels, and its rural setting. Commemorative tree plantings were held to mark the building’s 75th, and subsequently 100th anniversaries. It continues to be used as a place of worship.
St Mary’s Church has aesthetic significance for the quality of its external and internal appearance, and for its rural setting. It has been regarded as a notable work by the architect Edward Bartley, possibly to a design by H. Barnard Wingfield. The place has historical significance for reflecting philanthropy in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century New Zealand, particularly among wealthy, landed settlers. St Mary’s Church has social and spiritual significance as a place of gathering and worship for the Pokeno community for more than a century.
Historical Significance or Value
The place has historical significance for reflecting the use of philanthropy in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century New Zealand, particularly among wealthy, landed settlers. It demonstrates the strong ties to their homeland felt by many new British settlers at the turn of the century. It has historical value for its connections with a notable benefactor to the Pokeno community, Harriet Johnston, and other individuals including Archbishop William Cowie, and the Reverend James Kayll, a penal reformer. It has significance for reflecting the development of the Anglican church among rural communities south of the Bombay Hills.
Aesthetic Significance or Value:
The place has aesthetic significance for the quality of the church’s external and internal appearance, and for its rural setting. Since its opening in 1900, the building has been admired for its beauty. The church’s well-preserved exterior incorporates numerous visually appealing aspects, including a shingled steeple and an effective use of mass and ornamentation. Its interior has aesthetic value for its timber linings and roof, stained glass windows and numerous fittings and chattels. The external impact of the church is enhanced by its setting on top of a ridge.
Architectural Significance or Value:
The place is architecturally significant as a well-preserved example of late nineteenth-century Anglican church design. It has been regarded as a notable work by the architect Edward Bartley, possibly to a design by H. Barnard Wingfield. It is one of the most admired of Bartley’s later works for the Anglican Church, at a time when he was architect to the Anglican Diocese of Auckland. It has been particularly highly regarded as a fine example of a country church within the Auckland region.
Social Significance or Value:
The place has social significance as a place of gathering and congregation for the Pokeno community for more than a century. It has hosted events of social importance during that period, including those marking births, marriages and deaths.
Spiritual Significance or Value:
The place has spiritual value as a place dedicated to and used for religious worship for more than a century. It has considerable spiritual significance to members of the local Anglican community.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
The place reflects the presence of philanthropy in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century society, at a time when there was an expansion in non-profit activity in New Zealand. It particularly reflects the British tradition of genteel philanthropy, which had a strong ‘spinster culture’ component during the nineteenth century. The place reflects other ties between New Zealand and Great Britain during this period, including through its use of some fittings and chattels that were derived from British sources. The place reflects the development of the Anglican Church among rural communities south of the Bombay Hills.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place
The place has strong community association due to its use as a place of gathering and worship for more than a century. Parishioners have resisted attempts to relocate the structure, and have commemorated both the 75th and 100th anniversaries of its creation.
(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place
The place was regarded in contemporary accounts as ‘the finest country Church in the diocese’, and ‘one of the best out of Auckland’. It has more recently been considered one of the most admired of Edward Bartley’s later works for the Anglican Diocese of Auckland. The value of the design is augmented by the survival of contemporary stained glass windows, fittings and a variety of chattels. These include items created by notable firms including John Warner and Sons of Cripplegate, and Whitefriars of London.
(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place
The place has commemorative value as a memorial to Harriet Johnston, a wealthy English migrant who was a major benefactor to the area, and who gave funds for the creation of the church and its contents.
Summary of Significance or Values
This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, e, g and h.
It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category II historic place.
Early history of the site
Tangata whenua in the district south of the Bombay Hills are descended from the Tainui waka. During the nineteenth century, groups with particular connections to the Pokeno area included Ngati Tamaoho and Ngati Pou. Occupation at Pokeno at the beginning of the 1860s included a settlement near the Waikato River, where wheat was cultivated and a portable threshing machine employed. A nearby flour mill was water-powered. As a prelude to the expansion of colonial authority into the Waikato, however, a nearby military post known as the Queen’s Redoubt was created in 1862. In 1863-4, the region was taken by force during the third New Zealand - or Waikato - War.
Following the conflict, confiscations of Maori land included the 19,000 acre Pokeno Block. Overseas settlers were encouraged to move into the area through the creation of townships and the establishment of an organised Special Waikato Immigration Scheme. Surveying for a township at Pokeno began in early 1865, and by the end of the year numerous structures had been built. Initial settlers included those from ships that had sailed from Scottish and English ports. By 1868, however, many had moved to Thames following the discovery of gold in the Coromandel.
The land on which St Mary’s Church was to be built - allotment 56 - was initially issued as a ten-acre Crown Grant to John Clark in 1870. Grants could only be received after individuals had resided on the land for at least three years. Before the grant was issued, the land had already changed hands and was transferred several other times prior to the middle of 1874. At least some of the purchasers were based in Thames. In 1872, a two teacher school opened on the opposite side of Avon Road at Pokeno Hill, as the settlement in the vicinity of the current site was known. A teacher’s house had also been authorised for construction. In 1874, allotment 56 was bought by Richard Hobbs, who appears to have held the land as part of a larger farm. At the end of the century, Pokeno was described as ‘almost entirely a dairy farming district’, and settlement remained dispersed.
Construction of St Mary’s Church (1899-1900)
Wealthy English migrants to the district during this latter period included Francis William Pyne (1866-1926) who arrived in New Zealand in 1889; and Harriet Johnston (c.1829-1916), who is believed to have arrived in 1892, aged 63. The two are said to have been related, and were later commemorated in the same grave. Recently graduated from Oxford University, Francis Pyne settled in Pokeno in 1890 having bought a grazing farm of nearly 700 acres. His purchases included the site of the current church and surrounding land. In 1894, Pyne married the daughter of another English migrant and subsequently had at least one daughter. In 1895, he became chairman of the Pokeno Road Board.
Pyne’s purchase may have been funded by Harriet Johnston, who was described at the time as ‘a Devonshire lady’. Settling in a substantial residence shared with Pyne and his family, Johnston became a prominent benefactor to the area in the nineteenth-century British tradition of genteel philanthropy. Although the ‘spinster culture’ that underpinned charitable contribution in Britain was less strong in colonial New Zealand, a general expansion in non-profit activity occurred between the 1880s and the end of the First World War (1914-18), as common identities beyond the family were fostered within settler communities. In 1898, Johnston gifted the construction of a new public hall at Pokeno, which cost approximately £600. By May 1899, she had offered to fund the construction of an Anglican church. This was to be accompanied by a stipend for a resident Anglican clergyman.
The new church was to be erected on allotment 56, adjacent to Pokeno Hill school and her own house. Anglican services had previously been held in a variety of structures, including an initial church erected inside the Queen’s Redoubt in 1863 (destroyed before March 1867), and then in a small dwelling which had been used by Bishop George Augustus Selwyn (1809-1878). After its opening in 1872, Pokeno Hill school was employed for both Anglican and Presbyterian worship. The Presbyterians constructed their own church in 1885, perhaps following the example of the Wesleyan community which had erected a chapel at Pokeno in 1881. The creation of a purpose-built Anglican church in 1899 can be seen as a comparable expression of a distinct religious identity by the local Church of England community, and accompanied the creation of a separate parish.
The foundation stone for the new building was laid in November 1899. A paper sealed in a bottle beneath the stone made reference to Harriet Johnston’s benefaction. The paper stated that the church ‘was erected for the benefit of the residents of Pokeno, to be used for Divine Service, according to the rites of the Church of England and in the hope that the ministrations may be the means of bringing many souls nearer to Christ.’ While work was in progress, the land was transferred from Francis Pyne to the Anglican Diocese.
To be known as St Mary’s Church, the building was of timber construction, with a nave, chancel, transepts and a south porch. On its north side, it had an offset tower surmounted by a steeple. Externally, its walls were clad with weatherboards and its steep roofs were shingled. The design of the new building reflected its religious affiliations, adopting an ornate Gothic Revival style that drew on Anglican architectural traditions promoted by Bishop Selwyn from the 1840s onwards. Its position at the top of a hill and its incorporation of a steeple made it visible from a considerable distance.
The building’s architect was Edward Bartley (1839-1919), who had been responsible for many significant structures in the region including the Jewish Synagogue (1884-5) and the Auckland Savings Bank (1884-6) in central Auckland. From 1880, Bartley was Diocesan Architect for the Anglican Church, overseeing the construction of many of its structures including Holy Trinity Church, Devonport (1881) and St Jude’s Church, Avondale (1884). His later works at Kamo (1886) and at Pokeno are said to have been particularly admired. St Mary’s Church appears to have been the last timber church he erected for the Diocese, as his only subsequent work involved overseeing the stone-built St-Matthew’s-in-the-City in central Auckland in 1902-5.
H. Barnard Wingfield (1866-1953), who became the first vicar at St Mary’s, has also been credited with the church design. Wingfield had received architectural training and is known to have designed several other churches in the northern part of the North Island including St Peter’s Church, Te Kopuru (1902) and St Alban’s Church, Waingaro (1907).
Construction was undertaken by the contractor, A. Vinson, and was completed by March 1900, when the building was consecrated in a service led by William Cowie, Archbishop of New Zealand (1831-1902). Cowie was responsible for the construction of many churches in the region as Bishop of Auckland from 1869-70. A detailed account of the opening mentions the building’s many stained glass windows, and fittings that had also been gifted by Harriet Johnston. Other contents were created by members of the congregation. Chattels included pews to seat 150 people; a font of Oamaru stone; standard and hanging lamps; and a rimu reading desk. A large Bible was donated by one of Johnston’s relatives in England. The cost of the church is said to have been £690, not including fittings.
An evening service following the opening attracted a congregation of 200.
Subsequent use and modification
From soon after its opening, the church was used for christenings and weddings. In 1901, the church is said to have been described in the New Zealand Graphic as ‘the finest country Church in the diocese’. After the departure of its first vicar, H. Barnard Wingfield, the vicar from 1904-1907 was James Kayll (1873-1944), who subsequently became a notable figure in New Zealand penal reform.
Further gifts from Harriet Johnston included three bells for the church in 1900 and a large stained glass window in the west wall in 1910. The former were made by John Warner and Sons of Cripplegate, who had cast most of the bells for the British Houses of Parliament in 1856-8, including the original ‘Big Ben’. The window was manufactured by another notable firm, Whitefriars of London, and incorporated representations of Faith, Hope and Charity. Johnston also provided a vicarage on land to the south of the church.
Following Johnston’s death in 1916, it was stated that ‘her name was widely known in the cause of charity. The beautiful Church of St Mary’s, Pokeno Valley, owes its existence to her liberality, and is a lasting memorial to her. This Church is recognised as one of the best out of Auckland, and all who see it are impressed by its beauty and the correctness of its appointments, which include a charming peal of bells.’
Subsequent difficulties over the payment of the vicar’s stipend by her heir Francis Pyne led to the closure of the church between 1920 and 1922. The vicarage was also repossessed by Pyne, and subsequently sold. From 1923, the work of the parish was carried out from the nearby settlement of Bombay. It was suggested that the church should be relocated to Pokeno township, which expanded beside the Great South Road to the south. By the 1940s, pupils at Pokeno Hill School mostly arrived by bus, and the school was eventually closed.
Changes to the church during this period included the replacement of its shingled roof with corrugated iron in 1946, mostly using voluntary labour. Repairs were carried out following local resistance to a further proposal to relocate the structure. In 1951, the adjoining vicarage building was purchased to house an incumbent vicar, but burned down two years later. In 1961, an addition was made to the church porch in an identical style to the original.
Activities at the church during the mid twentieth century included a Sunday School, and a combined Bible Class with the nearby Presbyterian Church. Subsequent events encompassed celebrations marking the 75th anniversary of the building, when 200 people attended a commemorative service and three silver birches were planted inside the grounds. Centenary celebrations in 2000 were marked by the planting of a kauri. Conservation work on the structure included reshingling the main steeple in 1986.
The church remains in use for worship and related activities as a significant part of community life.
St Mary’s Church occupies a hilltop location to the northeast of Pokeno, a small settlement on the south side of the Bombay Hills. Separated from the main settlement by more than a kilometre, the site is predominantly rural in character. To the north, the church overlooks State Highway 2, a major arterial route linking Thames and the Great South Road (State Highway 1). The church steeple is visible from the highway. A cutting for an earlier line of State Highway 2 is situated between the church and the main road, removing earlier relationships between the church and associated features to the north, including the site of Harriet Johnston’s house.
The church property is respectively bounded to its north and east by Avon Road and Church Road. The former provides direct access between State Highway 2 and Pokeno township. Church Road is currently a cul-de-sac. Directly to the west and south, the church is bounded by a small area of housing. A property immediately to the south occupies the site of a former Vicarage. Pokeno Domain lies directly opposite the church, on the eastern side of Avon Road. This is the site of a school that was used for church services before the construction of St Marys Church. It retains several mature oak trees and surface features that are evidently linked to its former use.
The church property is approximately square in plan, and is dominated by the timber church with its prominent steeple. The church is located in the centre of the site, with its main axis arranged approximately east-west.
Several trees within the grounds include those planted for commemorative purposes. Two silver birch trees marking the 75th anniversary of the church occupy the northeast corner. A kauri celebrating the church centenary is positioned to the east of the south porch. Other trees including an oak, a large evergreen and a golden totara are located close to the south and west boundaries. A planted border along these sides forms a memorial garden. The western border incorporates a modern water tank. The oak tree contains a rustic bench around its trunk, which was created in 1997 to commemorate the Maramarua Guild.
The remaining area is grassed, apart from a concrete track that leads from Avon Road to the south porch of the church.
The well-preserved church exterior is of compact, Gothic Revival design with steep roofs and lancet windows. It is of timber construction throughout, with weatherboard wall cladding.
Its ground plan incorporates a nave, chancel, and north and south transepts. An offset tower with steeple is situated on the northern side of the nave, towards its western end. The tower contains a belfry at upper floor level and a vestry below. A lean-to containing toilet facilities is positioned between the vestry and west wall of the north transept. A gabled porch on the south side of the nave currently forms the main access into the church.
The nave has a gabled roof with a large, triple-lancet window of Early English design in its west wall. An oeil de boeuf opening in the gable apex is of trefoil design, and provides ventilation to the interior. Windows in the north and south walls of the nave are of double-lancet type. The transepts are of similar design to the nave, containing gabled roofs, triple-lancet windows and oeil de boeuf apertures in each gabled end. The chancel is of five-sided design, with double-lancet windows in two of the three angles that make up its eastern end. A foundation stone at the base of the east wall states:
was laid by
Nov 4th 1899
The prominent tower and steeple form the most heavily ornamented part of the church exterior. The tower base contains a large doorway of Gothic design in its north wall. The door itself incorporates external metalwork of medieval influence. Windows at this level and the belfry above are of double-lancet type. The external wall cladding of the belfry is particularly ornate and contains decorative horizontal boards that imitate string coursing and corbels. The steeple is clad with wooden shingles.
The south porch contains a door in its west wall of similar design to that in the tower. A window in its east wall is of double-lancet type.
All roofing other than the steeple is clad with long-run steel. The sub-floor of the structure is piled.
The interior of the church retains much of its early fabric, including linings, stained glass windows, fittings and a variety of chattels.
All spaces, including the nave and chancel are lined with timber sarking and have wooden floorboards. Roof sarking in the main spaces has been diagonally applied. Wall linings are made up of vertically-laid boards. The nave, chancel and transepts have roof trusses of elaborate, arch-braced type.
In the nave, rows of kauri pews with kneelers are arranged on either side of a central aisle. Towards the chancel end, there is a pulpit, said to have been carved by Francis Pyne and his wife. Inside the chancel, the sanctuary floor is raised and defined by a low altar rail. A font of Oamaru stone is situated at the west end of the nave beneath a large stained glass window depicting Faith, Hope and Charity. Other stained glass windows include several of geometrical design in the chancel, containing yellow, red and clear glass panes
Memorials encompass a brass plaque to Harriet Johnston on the north wall of the nave, which was created by R. Richardson of High Street, Auckland. A small plaque on the south wall of the nave is dedicated to an incumbent during the 1970s, the Reverend Peter Tanton, who donated the commemorative silver birches outside the church and who lost his life in the Mount Erebus disaster.
The vestry room to the north of the nave contains fitted furniture including a vestment cupboard, a fixed bench and a hinged wooden table. A narrow cupboard for the bell pulls is surmounted by a plaque bearing the words ‘John Warner & Sons Bell Founders Ltd to Her Majesty, Cripplegate, London.’
The front porch to the south of the nave contains a double lancet window with newer stained glass, created in 1985. The porch also contains kitchen facilities in its south end.
1899 - 1900
Stained glass window inserted in west wall of nave
South porch enlarged
Steeple re-piled and re-roofed
Timber, with corrugated metal and timber shingle roofing
8th June 2011
Report Written By
Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1902
Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol.2, Christchurch, 1902
M W Bartley, Colonial Architect, The Career of Edward Bartley 1839-1919, Wellington, 2006
G.D Hessell, St Mary on the Hill, Pokeno, [Pukekohe, 1978]
Nona Morris, Early Days in Franklin: A Centennial History, [Pukekohe], 1965
A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Mid 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.