St John's Anglican Church

St John's Anglican Church

The first brick church that opened in 1841 on this site was called St John’s in the Wilderness as it stood on the almost unoccupied south-eastern section of the city. This small church served a few local residents and those from across the parklands in the suburban village of Unley.

In winter after dark it took some navigation to get from St John’s to the more inhabited parts of the city. After twisting and turning to avoid holes full of mud and water, pedestrians often found themselves back where they started - or in the parklands, which was then a forest of dead trees.

As a result St John’s was not well attended and it was partly closed between 1843 and 1846. Then in 1861 a substantial fall in offertories and pew rents was a new cause for concern.

In 1874 Reverend F. Slaney Poole obtained the incumbency and under his care the St John’s complex reached its present form.

The boom period of the 1870s and early 1880s led to the building of many fine residences that still largely define the character of this south-eastern corner. The population increase also led to an increase in stature for St John’s as a place of Anglican worship and no doubt stimulated Poole to consolidate the complex.

In 1879-80 the Parish Hall was built, and in 1883 the new rectory. In 1886 when new classrooms were built the old church was condemned by the City Council surveyor.

The church considered transferring St John’s to Hurtle Square but decided to rebuild it and provide a mission church at the western end of the parish. It bought a plot on Moore Street and planned to use the materials from the old St John’s to build the mission church of St Mary Magdalene.

Poole recounted in 1926 that St Mary’s was built by “using up so much of the old material as was possible” to keep costs down, but also to maintain the historical link with the old St John’s and overcome the “tender regret” members of the congregation felt when old St John’s was demolished (see St Mary Magdalene’s Church).

Architect R.G. Holwell (associated with St Mary’s, Sturt, now in the Marion City Council area, and St George’s, Gawler) drew up plans for St Mary’s. The builder was William Rogers, a member of the congregation who also built the Jubilee Exhibition Hall off North Terrace (now demolished) and Rymill House.

In 1887 the foundation stone of the new St John’s was laid. The building is a credit to Rogers, whose work extended far beyond what the building contract required. It is substantially built of sandstone rubble unusually tuck-pointed. The brick dressings are also interesting, especially the buttresses with their cut-back courses on the rake (reminiscent of brickwork peculiar to Norfolk, England). The prominent tower, fashionably asymmetrical with its clasped buttresses, is well detailed and integrated with the main body of the church. The elegant sanctuary and division of walling into bays relieves its solidity and austerity. The interior is simple, with an unusually wide nave. The stout roof features exposed king-post trusses and matchboarding.


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The Church is historically significant as the site of one of the earliest churches in Adelaide. The detail is also important architecturally.

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Images of St John's Anglican Church

  • St John's Anglican Church, 2014
R G Holwell
William Rogers
Building materials
Brick, Stone, Sandstone
Architectural styles
2 Victorian Period (c. 1840–c. 1890)
1887 -
Architecture and design features
R G Holwell, clasped buttresses, quoins, tower, leadlight
Engineering features
South East Corner
Council Ward
Alternative Addresses
Town Acre
Planning Zone or Policy Area
Original owners
Anglican Church
Original occupant
Later occupant/s
Purposes and use
Religious, Church
AS2482 classification
15500 - Religious Building
Public Access
Opening hours only
State Heritage ID
ACC Reference No.
DPTI Heritage No.
Certificate of Title No.
CT 5845/618 F182376 A724
NTSA file exists
Heritage Status
State Heritage listed
State heritage listing
State Heritage listed
Date of State heritage listing
Local heritage listing
Date of Local heritage listing
NTSA listing
NTSA classified
Date of NTSA listing
Section 23 (4) crtiteria
Risk status
Historic Themes
3.1 Economic Cycles
3.1.5 Farming Boom
6.3 Worshipping
6.3.1 Places of worship/Churches
Reverend F Slaney Poole
Australian Curriculum references
Year 5: The Australian Colonies


  • ACA, Digest of Proceedings, 13 November 1882, Smith Survey 1880; Adelaide Church Guardian, May 1919, 1 December 1944; Church News, 17 January 1896, 24 January 1896; Glover, C.R.J., A brief history of the Church of St John the Evangelist, 1839-1909, 1911; Jackman Gooden Architects, Historical architectural plans; Jose, G.H., The Church of England in South Australia, Vol. 1, 1937, p. 13; MLSA, Historical photographs (Town Acre
  • 581, 582), Newspaper cuttings book, Vol. 1, pp. 20-1, 23-4, 25-9, 43-5; Register, 6 October
  • 1923, 20 November 1926; South Australian Register, 17 October 1882, 9 January 1888,
  • 1 January 1896, 6 October 1923, 20 November 1926.

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