St John's Church (Anglican)

130 Edward Street, WAKEFIELD

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St John’s Church (Anglican) in Wakefield was designed in 1846 by Marianne Reay (c.1804-unknown), making it the first known piece of New Zealand architecture designed by a woman, and one of only two buildings known to have been designed by a woman in nineteenth century New Zealand history. It is the oldest surviving church in the South Island and one of the oldest in the country, in remarkably original condition, making it a well-preserved example of early New Zealand church design. These factors furnish St John’s with considerable architectural and historical significance. St John’s also has social significance through its strong connection to the area’s early colonial families and its continual use for over 150 years. A simple but picturesque wooden structure nestled amongst established trees and a historic graveyard, its historic and aesthetic value was recognised by its featuring on a 1981 Christmas stamp. In 1845 Bishop George Selwyn (1809-1878) allocated money towards the construction of a church in the settlement of Wakefield (initially known as Pitfure or Waimea South). Sawmiller Edward Baigent (1812-1892), one of the first European settlers in Wakefield, donated five pounds worth of timber and oversaw the church’s construction. Baigent’s invoice for his work stated that the church had been designed by Mrs Reay, and in his short 1891 memoir he wrote of St John’s, ‘Mrs Reay drew a design for the church which was approved.’ Little is known about English-born Marianne Reay, who joined her husband Reverend Charles Lucas Reay (1811-1848) in Nelson in 1843, where he was working as a missionary for the Church Missionary Society (CMS). Charles was transferred from Nelson to Waiapu by the CMS in 1847 and died there in 1848. Marianne does not appear to have been popular within the CMS community and left New Zealand soon after her husband’s death. The first service at St John’s was led by Reverend Reay on 11 October 1846, before the church was fully completed. St John’s, with gabled nave, chancel and bell tower, was constructed from rusticated totara weatherboard with a wooden shingle roof. The exterior was painted white and the interior lined with white pine (kahikatea). The bell tower was surmounted by a cross, with another cross at the opposite end of the nave’s roof. The north and south walls each had three lancet windows. In 1865 the eastern end of the church and chancel were extended by 18 feet (5.5 metres), and it is likely the interior lining was replaced with kauri panelling at this time. Between 1865 and 1903 a vestry was added, the ceiling was lined and the shingle roof replaced with iron. Since then no major changes have occurred, apart from the installation in 1952 of a stained glass window depicting St John, designed by artist Frederick Ellis (1892-1961) and fabricated by leading stained glass artist Roy Miller (1915-1981). Restoration took place in the lead-up to the church’s 150th anniversary in 1996 and in 2019 St John’s continues to be used for regular services.

St John's Church (Anglican), Wakefield. Image courtesy of | Shelley Morris - Shells | 18/12/2012 | Shelley Morris
St John's Church (Anglican), Wakefield | Alison Dangerfield | 01/03/2015 | Heritage New Zealand
St John's Church (Anglican), Wakefield. CC BY 3.0 Image courtesy of | Mattinbgn | 28/11/2011 | Mattinbgn - Wikimedia Commons



List Entry Information


Detailed List Entry



List Entry Status

Historic Place Category 1


Private/No Public Access

List Number


Date Entered

6th June 1983

Date of Effect

6th June 1983

City/District Council

Tasman District


Tasman Region

Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Pt Sec 5 Blk XVI Wai-iti SD and the land described as Pt Sec 179 Waimea South Dist (RT NL11B/1153), and part of the land described as Legal Road, Nelson Land District, and the building known as St John’s Church (Anglican) thereon, and the associated cemetery. Refer to the extent map tabled at the Board meeting on 27 June 2019.

Legal description

Pt Sec 5 Blk XVI Wai-iti SD and Pt Sec 179 Waimea South Dist (RT NL11B/1153); Legal Road, Nelson Land District

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