28 May 2017

Bid to save historic Marlborough church

10:25 am on 28 May 2017

A Christchurch landscape architect is spearheading a fund-raising campaign to save a heritage stone church near the Marlborough coastline, that was badly damaged in last November's earthquake.

St Oswald's Memorial Church

The 1927 St Oswald's Memorial Church is currently owned by the Nelson Anglican Diocese, which wants to return it to descendants of the original benefactors, said Leicester Murray. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The 1927 St Oswald's Memorial Church is currently owned by the Nelson Anglican Diocese, which wants to return it to descendants of the original benefactors.

Leicester Murray said the church was built by his great grandparents from stone quarried nearby at Wharanui, about 60 kilometres south of Blenheim. It was built in memory of their son, Hector, who died of tuberculosis in the 1920s.

He said a preliminary report showed the church is repairable, but like most stone structures built before 1930, it was rendered uninsurable by the Christchurch earthquakes of six years ago.

Mr Murray said the diocese cannot afford to fix it, but the motivation to save it transcended any family connection. He said the landscape would not be the same without it.

"It cries out everything that is genius loci - of which the definition is 'spirit of place' because it was constructed of the local vernacular - it's stone quarried literally a couple of hundred metres away.

"To wipe that away just wouldn't be doing it justice and personally I would struggle to sleep at night," he said.

Mr Murray, who grew up on a farm near the church, and still calls the area home, said the online fund-raising campaign that has now started will gauge the level of public support for the project.

"I just think we wouldn't be doing honour to all those before us - let alone those around us - if we just didn't do our homework and make a diligent decision versus a flippant decision."

Mr Murray said the church was designed by a Nelson architect, who also worked on the Wharanui homestead opposite the church beside State Highway 1.

He said the same stone was used in several other buildings in Blenheim and Picton, but the church had a particular appeal and often attracted visitors driving by who stopped to check it out.

Traffic at the moment is limited to locals, as the highway to Kaikōura is currently closed.

Mr Murray described the style of the stone church as "arts and crafts" (an early 19th-century British and American movement that was also the inspiration behind the craftsman and bungalow house styles) with a European influence.

He said when the quake hit last November, he was on the road straight away, in an attempt to head north from Christchurch to Marlborough. It was soon evident he was unable to get beyond the inland Kaikōura route, and was diverted to assisting stricken home-owners in the area.

Mr Murray said there were 24 family descendants, who supported the plan to save the church.

"There is a significant emotional attachment among the family, and it would be ideal if we could save it, but we are waiting for an engineer's report to be completed and from there we can form a repair strategy.

"What we need to know first is, what it is we'd be taking back, and what sort of costs are associated."

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