Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

08 August 2009

Country Churches of NZ 96. St. John's, Barrhill, Canterbury

I wrote and illustrated Country Churches of New Zealand. It was published in 2002 by New Holland, Publishers and is still on sale in bookshops. The publishers have kindly agreed to me re-publishing some of the book’s images and descriptions in this blog.

'Very simple church, almost severe. In a lovely grassy glen surrounded by old trees and empty cottages. I felt as if I were in the ghost of Goldsmith's "Sweet Auburn! Loveliest village of the plain".' (SKETCHBOOK NOTE 2/11/01)

St John's, with 30 cm. thick concrete walls and kauri ceiling, was built in 1877 by immigrant Scot, John Cathcart Wason, at the village he named Barrhill after one in Scotland.
Wason wanted to replicate an almost feudal, old world community and laid out the village with avenues of trees, a market square, workers' cottages, bakery, smithy (I wonder whether the door hinges were wrought there?) post office, inn and store.

It succeeded until 1890 when the new railway line was laid some kilometres to the south. Thus it became isolated and sent the village into decline.

On the day I sketched in the churchyard all was still; around the 'square' were just a few empty weekend cottages and one permanent house; Wason's leafy common lands were being grazed by sheep with no sense of history.


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By Don Donovan