The Church of St Mary on the Hill

26 Avon Road, Pokeno

Venue for the Pokeno Arts Festival and start of the Garden Ramble

13-14 November 2021

The beautiful church of St Mary on the Hill, Avon Road, Pokeno, is a well-known landmark. Travellers on State Highway 2, travelling west, admire the tall spire, standing out among the trees opposite Birt’s Timber Mill. The story of St Mary’s is a fascinating one and the full detail can be found in the history of the church, The Bells of St Mary’s, written for the occasion of its 120th Anniversary in 2020. Copies will be available at the time of the Arts Festival and Garden Ramble.

Though a small Anglican church was built in the Pokeno Village, in the 1860’s, when it was military settlement, it did not survive. For years after, the residents had to hold their Anglican worship in the Pokeno School, which at the time was located in what is now the Domain, across the road from the church.

It was a wealthy local resident Harriet Johnston and her adopted son, Francis Pyne, who came to the rescue. They were settlers from England, who arrived around 1890 and purchased a 700 acre farm which extended from the foot of Mt William to the Mangatawhiri Stream, towards Mercer. Seeing the need for an Anglican church, worthy of the district, Harriet donated some of the land from the farm and paid for the building of the church.

The Foundation Stone was laid on 4 November 1899, and the church was Consecrated on 25 March 1900. Both Harriet Johnston and Francis Pyne made their mark on the Pokeno community. Harriet Johnston was a generous benefactor whose donations, as well as St Mary’s, included an earlier village hall, which sadly got burnt to the ground in 1919. Francis Pyne was much involved in community committees, including sports interests, the Pokeno School Board, and for time, as Chairman of the Pokeno Roads Board. Their names are perpetuated in the naming of Harriet Johnston Drive and Pyne Crescent, in the new Pokeno housing developments.

The church of St Mary was designed by Edward Bartley, architect at the time, for the Auckland Diocese. Of compact Gothic Revival design, St Mary’s has a steep roof and lancet windows of Early English type. It incorporated £the main nave, chancel, transepts, a south porch together with a tall tower and steeple on the north side. The building was constructed in kauri, Mr A Vinson being the builder. The construction cost was £690 plus interior furniture and fittings, also provided by Harriet Johnston.

The exterior of the church is distinctive, with its high-pitched roof and tall spire. A set of three bells can be heard ringing out over the valley on a worshipping Sunday, or for special occasions, like weddings and funerals. The interior of the church shows the beautiful timber framework of the roof beams, arching high above the pews. On entering the church, one cannot help feeling a sense of calm, of beauty and a spiritual presence. The beautiful stained glass west window, with the theme Faith, Hope and Charity sets the whole scene.

The church of St Mary on the Hill, now a registered building has been a centre of worship for 120 years. As well as regular worship it has been a place of celebration with christenings and weddings, but also a place for grieving, where loved ones are farewelled at their funeral.

The church of St Mary on the Hill is a tribute to the generosity of Harriet Johnston and Francis Pyne, as well as to generations of former worshippers.

The Anglican Churches of Bombay Pokeno are pleased to be able to welcome you to the church of St Mary on the Hill and to the Pokeno Arts Festival and Garden Ramble.