Sentimental Sunday: An old Sanson church

A little Anglican church in the Manawatu recently celebrated its  140th year and quite co-incidentally I happened to be down that way for the weekend. Even more interesting, from a family history point of view, is that the builders of St Thomas’s  (Main Road, Sanson) were ancestors of mine – the Ellerm brothers, Fred and Bert.

I had been inside St Thomas’s only once before, at a family funeral when I was fifteen years old, and since then had only ever driven past the church on the way to Palmy, admired its cuteness and thought, "one day, I must make the effort and have a good look around." One day turned out to be this particular weekend because it happened to be the weekend to celebrate “The 140th anniversary of the consecration of St Thomas’s church, Sanson, by the Right Reverend Octavius Hadfield, Bishop of Wellington.” On the Saturday was an open day with photographs and the chance to really inspect the building. On the Sunday was a special 10am service, followed by lunch and a birthday cake. The pews were packed.
St Thomas’s was built in 1877, and designed by architect Charles Tringer. As Don Donovan in the lovely book Country Churches of New Zealand wrote, work was due to begin April 1877, but the contractor, whose lowest bid of £588 had been accepted, failed to show up.  It was Fred and Bert, the Ellerm Brothers, who had the job done in time for Bishop Hadfield to consecrate the church in November. While the church with its mid-Victorian gothic style exterior is wonderfully charming, inside is even more so. Built of totara, the Ellerm lads used pegs and dowels in place of nails, and etched their names in a totara beam near the back. The church boasts a pipe organ and at the front, stained glass windows of Christ and the four gospel writers, donated in the 1960s.

In another co-incidence that particular weekend, the old Ellerm farm was for sale, and we went to check out the open home. The last time I’d been in this house I’d have been five-years-old, back when I'd go out to stay for the weekend, ride on the tractor with Poppa, (the farm was a Border Leicester stud farm), and play Canasta with whoever was up for a game. Inside, it took a while to figure out where everything had been, due to renovations, additions and, naturally, the house being much smaller than I remembered.
All round it was a pretty good - and quite unexpected - weekend.
For more on New Zealand's wonderful old country churches, do check out Don Donovan's book. There are borrowable copies available from Auckland Libraries.
Central Research

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