St Barnabas Church History

St Barnabas has an interesting history. Stoke was first known as “Brook Green” but was renamed by William Songer, who arrived in Nelson in 1841 as Captain Wakefield’s personal attendant. William was Stoke’s first settler, and named the place in memory of his English birthplace. Settlers cleared flax and raupo and fruit growing became the main occupation of settlers in Stoke by the mid 1890s.

The first Stoke School shifted a number of times but had a building in 1851 where St Barnabas Church now stands. At one stage it was near the infamous Stoke Toll Gate, a rather unsuccessful venture of the Stoke Roads Board who had the unenviable task of trying to maintain the roads in the area with insufficient funds and constantly coming under criticism over where they took gravel from.

St Barnabas Church was opened on 22 August 1866, (Architect: William Beatson), and was the first stone church built in the Nelson Diocese. The stones came from nearby Marsden Valley stream and the half acre of land was given by Thomas Marsden. It had a new nave added in 1971, (Architect:Alex Bowman), which blends well with the original architecture. The original church is now used as the chancel and sanctuary.

Adjacent to the church are Isel House and Isel Park, part of an original property of 930 acres purchased by Thomas Marsden. He was one of the community’s larger landowners, acquiring a number of plots of land. Thomas planted a great number of trees which still stand around the property today and this love of silviculture was shared by his son James, born in Nelson in 1844. James was one of the first scholars of Nelson College, and lived most of his life in Stoke grazing sheep and cattle, and growing crops of barley, wheat and turnips. Visit Isel House to discover stories of the Marsden family.

The Church office has booklets available about the history of the church and the graveyard.