Evensong marks 100 years on present site

Chancel, organ and sanctuary of second St Matthew's Church

Chancel and Sanctuary, second St Matthew’s Church, showing the 1899 Hobday pipe organ, the carved pulpit, choir stalls, altar rails, altar, reredos and Meredith windows – 09-156/32.R12B4S1

I was glad when they said unto me:
We will go into the House of the Lord

St Matthew’s Day, 21 September 2013, marked 100 years since St Matthew’s moved into its second church on a new site in Church Street, where it is today.

The occasion was marked with a special Choral Evensong, led by the Reverend Ted Dashfield, with the Evensong Choir.

 – – –

Here is a brief history of the three church buildings involved in St Matthew’s lengthy history.

The first St Matthew’s

First St Matthew's Church and school room

First St Matthew’s Church, with the school room on the right – 05-55.R7B1S3

The first St Matthew’s Church was located approximately on the site of the former Shoprite supermarket and could be accessed from both Queen Street (right in the centre of the shops) and Church Street.  The little schoolroom was used as the parish hall.

St Matthew’s started life in 1864 as a very small wooden church. Later a larger middle section was added and the two halves of the original church moved out to form the side aisles.

Growing concern about the poor state of repair of the wooden church led to a decision being made to build a new church – of permanent materials – on the acre that currently houses the church, parish hall, schoolroom and vicarage.

Farsighted vestry members – against the trenchant views of the Diocesan Trustees – decided to lease the Queen Street/Church Street site to various commercial interests, rather than selling it, to provide on-going income for the parish.

The little schoolroom is our last remaining link with this first church. It was subsequently moved to its current site behind the Parish Hall, on the Park Avenue frontage, as part of decommissioning of the first church.

The second St Matthew’s

The second church church was consecrated on St Matthew’s Day, 21 September 1913.

The brick building was designed by C. J. Mountfort, son of Gothic revival architect Benjamin Mountfort. Its soaring arches and brick walls must have provided a fine accoustic for choral music and the sounds of the 1899 Hobday organ (relocated from the first church).  It was a much-loved centre for the Church of England in Masterton and often used for services marking important civic events.

Second St Matthew's Church, with the 1922 Parish Hall to the left

The 1922 Parish Hall and second St Matthew’s Church, from Church Street – 04-169/4.digital

Second St Matthew's Church from the East End

The second St Matthew’s from the liturgical East End, as it would be viewed from Park Avenue
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-6529

Meredith Windows, behind the altar, second St Matthew's Church

Meredith Windows, behind the altar in the second St Matthew’s Church – 90-017/67

Meredith Windows, behind the altar in the chapel, present St Matthew's

Meredith Windows behind the altar in the chapel of the present church – C Forrest


Earthquake hits

Second St Matthew's Church, showing substantial earthquake damage

St Matthew’s from the liturgical east end (Park Avenue side), showing the Meredith Windows still intact and the collapsed chapel –

On June 24, 1942, a huge earthquake hit the Wairarapa and the church was damaged beyond repair.  After removing all salvagable furniture, fittings – and the organ – the church was demolished by charges laid by Army sappers a week later.  Church services moved to the Parish Hall, where they remained for the next 14 years.


The third St Matthew’s

Architect's drawing of proposed new St Matthew's Church c1943

Architect’s sketch of a possible design for St Matthew’s, February 1943

In August 1942 – a month after the earthquake which saw the demolition of the church – in the midst of the Second World War – a special general meeting of parishioners enthusiastically endorsed a fundraising programme to build a replacement church.  Architect sketches were prepared but that was as far as it went for many years.

Building material shortages, post-war government and financial constraints meant that Vicar Eric Rich’s – and the parish’s – dream of a replacement church was not realised until 1956, when, as Assistant Bishop, he laid the foundation stone for the present church.


New church starts to become a reality

In 1952 Vicar Vincent Venimore arrived, determined that fundraising and building a new church was a priority.  The foundation stone was laid in 1956.

Assistant Bishop and former Vicar, Eric Rich, relays the foundation stone from the 1913 St Matthew's Church.
Assistant Bishop and former Vicar, Eric Rich, re-lays the foundation stone from the 1913 St Matthew’s Church. 04-42/22-10
Vicar Vincent Venimore pours first concrete for new church, 1956-57
Vicar Vincent Venimore pours first concrete for new church, 1956-57 – 04-42/22-17 

Cover of dedication order of service, 19 April 1958

The Order of Service for the Dedication of St Matthew’s, 19 April 1958 – 99-269/31.R7B2S5

The present St Matthew’s was dedicated on 19 April 1958 by Assistant Bishop and former Vicar, Eric Rich.

Overflow congregation seated between the new church and hall at the Service of Dedication, 19 April 1958 – 04-42/22-31.digital

Assistant Bishop Eric Rich knocks with his crozier to seek admission to the church at the dedication service

Bishop Eric Rich, Assistant Bishop of Wellington and former St Matthew’s Vicar knocks with his crozier on the door to seek admission to perform the service of dedication 04-042-022-33

St Matthew's, Masterton, 1958 photograph

1958 photograph of the newly-opened St Matthew’s Church, taken from Church Street. The campanile (bell tower) is between the Church and the Parish Hall – 04-42/22-34.digital

Description of the 1958 church from the Dedication Order of Service:

The plan is traditional in effect and includes the Memorial Chapel in parallel with the nave, thus providing an addition to the nave seating. The three main elements of the building are the high nave and chancel block, the memorial chapel, and the campanile [bell tower]. The lower masses include the baptistry on the west front, the aisles and vestries, with the organ chamber rising above on the north side.

The building was designed by King and Dawson, registered architects, of Wellington, with D. Bruce Smith and associates as consulting engineers, and the contractors were W. Rigg, Ltd., of Masterton. The building is of a simple general form making for a high degree of earthquake resistance. The separation of the tower from the main structure is an assistance in this regard, as well as providing a striking feature associated with the curved wall of the entrance porch. The nave section construction is based upon steel portal frames, with reinforced concrete walls and timber roof. The chancel, chapel and organ chamber walls are reinforced concrete. The floors consist of a reinforced concrete slab poured a little above the ground, and covered in the nave and chapel with cork tiles, in the chancel with parquet, and with tiles in the porches.

The effect aimed at inside the church is one of rugged simplicity with features of fine detailed design and craftsmanship. The walls above the aisles are of rough texture for acoustic reasons, and portions of the low interior walls have brickwork exposed inside. The high ceilings have been treated acoustically with a bias to speech. The greater proportion of natural light is admitted at the lower levels where it is primarily needed, through windows the full length of the aisle walls. The high nave windows are limited in area in order to provide a gradation of light in the height of the building. Attention is directed to the sanctuary by the large windows on either side, which flood the area with light.

The memorial chapel features the Meredith window preserved from the previous church and placed above the chapel altar, where it may be seen from almost all the seats in the nave. The windows in the south wall of the chapel also incorporate stained glass from the old church. A memorial book is also to be installed. The baptistry walls have been lined with tuku tuku, together with symbolic carving and scrolls, which have been given by the Maori people. The font incorporates both European carving and tuku tuku, thus providing a symbol of the unity of Maori and pakeha in the fellowship of the Christian faith.

The organ is a fine instrument built with modern electric action by Matla & Son, of Christchurch, and incorporating the majority of the pipes of the former Hobday organ. The carillon associated with the campanile is the only one of its kind in New Zealand, and incorporates a range of two complete octaves. The beautiful altar and pulpit from the old church have been installed in the new building. Facing towards the high altar from the west wall are the carved figures of the four evangelists, with that of St. Matthew appropriately nearest to the entrance porch.

The completion of the building is a tribute to the enthusiasm and devotion of past and present parishioners of the Parish of Masterton. It is built to the Glory of God.

Some dimensions are:—

Length overall, 129ft. 4in.
Width of Nave, 43ft.
Width overall vestries and chapel, 97ft. 31/2in.
Height of nave, 24ft.
Height of campanile, 60ft.


Assistant Bishop Gordon McKenzie consecrates the Lady Chapel in St Matthews

Assistant Bishop Gordon McKenzie consecrates the altar in the Lady Chapel. Churchwarden Don Carruthers, holding his churchwarden’s wand, is in the centre of the photograph, Vicar Vincent Venimore is to his right.  04-042-022-059

On 11 February 1973, the parish having paid off all outstanding debt on the new church, it was consecrated by Assistant Bishop Gordon McKenzie.

Further information and resources:

The Wairarapa Archive has a huge collection of photographs of St Matthew’s.

At the time of the consecration of the second St Matthew’s, in 1913, the parish produced a booklet – St Matthew’s Church, Masterton – which has some very interesting photos of early vicars and much useful information about the history of the parish.

The parish’s history site – Masterton Anglican History – has transcriptions of all parish magazines between 1938 and 1944, and 1952, as well as other news reports and accounts of the 1942 earthquake.

The Order of Service for Evensong to celebrate the 100th anniversary of St Matthew’s on the present site contains a brief history of the parish, together with photographs.