St John's Church (Anglican)

130 Edward Street, Wakefield

  • St John's Church (Anglican), Wakefield. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Shelley Morris. Taken By: Shelley Morris - Shells. Date: 18/12/2012.
  • St John's Church (Anglican), Wakefield.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Alison Dangerfield. Date: 1/03/2015.
  • St John's Church (Anglican), Wakefield. CC BY 3.0 Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Mattinbgn - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Mattinbgn. Date: 28/11/2011.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 40 Date Entered 23rd June 1983 Date of Effect 23rd June 1983


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.

City/District Council

Tasman District


Tasman Region

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


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.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Marianne Reay

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Edward Baigent

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Dorn and Rush

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1846 -

1865 -
Church lengthened by 18 feet (5.5 metres), chancel moved further east, foundations ‘reformed’, likely that white pine interior lining replaced with kauri panelling at this time

- 1870
Vestry added (to the side of the chancel)

- 1880
Wooden roof shingles replaced with iron

- 1887
Chancel lengthened by 10 feet (3 metres)

Structural upgrade
- 1892
Ceiling lined, iron ties installed across ceiling to strengthen it

- 1903
Vestry enlarged by 8 feet (2.4 metres)

- 1928

- 1952
Stained glass window set designed by Frederick Ellis and fabricated by Roy Miller installed in east wall

- 1981
Underfloor heating and new windows with larger leaded panes of clear glass installed

Structural upgrade
- 1995
Re-piled, deteriorated solid timber buttresses replaced by hollow buttresses of the same design, window frames repaired, wire protection frame removed from stained glass windows and replaced by clear polycarbonate cover

- 1996
Sprinkler system installed

Completion Date

26th May 2019

Report Written By

Cherie Jacobson and Elizabeth Cox

Information Sources

Stringer, 1996

Marion Stringer, St John's Anglican Church, Wakefield, Nelson, New Zealand: 150th Anniversary History, Nelson, 1996

Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle

Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle

‘New Church’, Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, 24 October 1846, p.2.

The Records of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust

Burnett, R. I. M. ‘St John’s Anglican Church, Wakefield.’ The Records of the New Zealand

Evans, 1992

Evans, Rex (ed). The Baigents of Wakefield: A Family History, Auckland: Evagean Publishing, 1992.

McCuish, 2007

McCuish, Columbine. ‘Biography of the Revd Charles Reay’, unpublished: 2007, Ref: MS-Papers-8728, Alexander Turnbull Library.

Other Information

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.

A fully referenced summary report is available on request from the Central Region Office of Heritage New Zealand.