The following is a brief history of Anglican Ministry on
the Southern Highlands of NSW and of the Anglican
Church of St Simon and St Jude, Bowral.
Whilst the physical structures of the church buildings and surrounds may be historical or attractive in some way, St Judes is in reality the people. It is true that our meetings are open to anyone who may wish to join us, but we recognise that the members of a church are not simply those who may attend meetings. Rather they are those who have come to personally trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. When we meet, it is as groups of people who are bound together by our common experience of knowing God as our Father and each other as his adopted children.
In November 1853 the Rev. James Hassell took up temporary residence on the Oxley family property 'Wingecarribee. He had been appointed Rector of the Parish of Berrima, which covered the land that Bowral would later stand on. Tradition says that he took a Christmas service in the house. It is from this date that Anglican ministry in Bowral is seen to begin, and over most of that time it centres on the church of St Jude's.
Situated in the heart of old Bowral, St Jude's is part of Bowral's earliest history. Its buildings and early grounds have connections with Bowral Public School and what is now Bradman Oval. Some of its early congregational members are commemorated in Bowral street names. With its rectory, and own cemetery, situated across from the public school established in 1867, it is part of Bowral's earliest growth. However, though 116 years old this year, the present church is the third building used for Anglican worship.
The "Township of Bowrel" was proclaimed in 1859 on land belonging to John Norton Oxley, son of the explorer. In 1863 a travelling evangelist, J. J. Westwood, described it as "Wingecarribbee or Bowrels, a new township of six months growth, in store and public houses, chiefly for supplying the wants of railway navvies". The reputation of the town as a place of cultured and pleasant living was yet to come.
Once the town land was proclaimed in 1859, J. N. Oxley wrote to the Rector of Berrima that he was giving in the Bowral area a land gift of 48 acres. This was to be used for a church, rectory and glebe (an area of open land which could be used to support the Rector) of 43 acres 3 roods. His gift, though very generous, was not absolute; the church should pay all legal costs for the land transfer. Oxley in 1861 also initiated the idea of the first building erected on the land. This was to be a stone and slate structure built by parishioners that would serve as a church and Sunday school and a church school (for all denominations) during the week.
This structure was completed in 1863 and quickly fulfilled all its purposes. Indeed the school gained pupils so fast that it was necessary to build a second room to accommodate the numbers.
In 1867 the first teacher resigned. The proposed next teacher refused to accept the appointment unless the school was sold to the colony's Council of Education as a public institution. For £100 the building and an acre of land became the foundation of Bowral Public School. The original building was pulled down in 1895 but a plaque on a piece of the original stone marks the spot. With the building sold, for the next few years the Anglican congregation of Bowral had no fixed place of worship. Services were held in the hut of a couple called Brennan who lived on the glebe, or in the hotels in the town. The story is told that one wealthy Sydney visitor, a Mrs. Harrison worshipping in the dinning room of the present Port O'Call (then the Imperial Hotel) that she promptly donated £1000 (about $70,000 today) for the building of "a proper cruciform church".
In 1874 the first church designed by Edmund Blacket, was dedicated. It was an unusual design which he was very pleased with: "it looks well; it is so much unlike the regular conventional form of church that it is sure to attract attention." It was a style regarded as Saxon or Norman with more subdued light in the short nave and chancels, but with a central tower which had big windows to concentrate "brilliance" there. A writer on the Blacket family, Dr Morton Herman, called it "a small gem of architecture". The church was named as the Church of St Simon and St Jude.
But it was designed for a congregation of only 140 and Bowral was growing swiftly. Within a few years, with the regular congregation and increasing numbers of weekend visitors, it was becoming overcrowded on summer Sundays.
The Rev. Stanley Howard was to make a decided impact on the architecture of the church site. Inducted in 1879, and living at first with his family at 20 Merrigang St, he petitioned for a proper rectory next to the church. It was built for £1,169 and was a copy of his father's parsonage in England. Rev. Howard was determined that the cost of the building should be paid off quickly with gifts, sales and other fund-raising activities. In November 1882, three years to the day that his family moved into the completed building, it was paid off, but Rev. Howard did not see it. He had died a few weeks earlier.
His successor, the Rev. J. W. Debenham, continued the push for a building which could seat a larger congregation. A committee was formed and at one stage looked at plans for a church with a capacity of 700, though this was promptly cut back to 400 on the grounds of cost. It was proposed that if the old church could not be enlarged, it should be left and used as a school and hall. A strong supporter of a new church building was Bishop Barry, son of a notable English architect, who, in a comment on the social transformation of Bowral, said he liked to see, "churches simple and rude when the houses were simple and rude also; but he did not like to see the church building rude when the houses around them showed increasing signs of improvement".
There was a great deal of discussion - and strong dispute - in the church building committee about the architect and various designs of the new church building, if the old one could not be satisfactorily enlarged. On February 27, 1886, it was reported in the local paper, The Free Press, that a contract to build a new hall and enlarge the old church was decided on. However, three weeks later the same newspaper reported that the old church was to be pulled down. A new church designed by Mr. Thomas Parrott of Goulburn was to be built on the same site, with a new school hall to be built first. The debate before the final vote had been so fierce that Rev. Debenham in a letter to Mrs. Howard claimed that he had found it necessary to persuade some wealthy parishioners to continue their subscriptions after they had voted to oppose this decision.
The design was agreed upon because it was "designed for economy" yet it had classical Gothic appearance favoured at the time. Iron pillars were used to support the interior roof arches. Wrapped in plaster, they were slim, elegant and strong, taking a weight that would have required much bulkier stone or brick ones. The church would be constructed of all new material.
The new, now present, church is built of tuck pointed brick with double buttress of Mittagong stone and a slate roof supported by 16 interior arches. Inside, the church is 24m long with transepts 19m across. The width of the nave is 12m, and the roof 8m high. The wood work throughout the building is Kauri pine. Forty-eight windows evenly disperse light throughout the building. Originally of cathedral glass, all but two are now of stained glass. They are a visual history, commemorating the lives of some ministers and members of earlier congregations. The window over the sanctuary, representing The Good Shepherd with Peter and Paul, were among the first to be put in and commemorate Rev. Stanley Howard.
Bishop Barry laid the foundation stone on June 8, 1886. The Governor of NSW, the Rt. Hon. Baron Carrington, attended with other local dignitaries - perhaps another comment on the increasing social status of the town. Building proceeded rapidly, though briefly held up in September through a shortage of bricks, but by late October The Free Press reported that the brick and stonework was finished, and timber for the roof could be installed. A couple of weeks even before the official opening the building was complete enough (with a bit of tidying up) for the marriage of Miss Annie McCabe of Berrima and Dr. C. J. Jenkins.
Although the church was not quite finished the official opening took place on Sunday, February 20, 1887. It was presided over by the Primate, Dr. Barry, who had so enthusiastically supported its construction. His sermon text for the occasion was from 1 Corinthians 13:13: And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. Adding an ecumenical aspect to the occasion, the choir of the neighbouring Weslyan church joined the choir of St Jude's in the service. The final touches were finished by March 5. In accordance with church tradition, because the total debt on the church, hall and additional work of £2462/5/0 had not been paid completely, it was Sunday, January 28, 1905 that the official dedication was presided over by Archbishop Samurez Smith.
Two items were missing from the new building: a proper organ and a pulpit. From 1887 onwards the church only had the use of a small organ. Then in 1894 a committee was formed to raise funds for a proper one. Mrs. H. M. Oxley and Mrs. T Loveridge became joint honorary secretaries and treasurers, with 11 other members. The first function was a fete on the Oxley property which raised £40, and many others followed. By November 1898 enough was raised to talk to a notable Sydney organ specialist, Charles Richardson. The cost would be £350. Installation started on February 5, 1900, and the work was finished and dedicated on March 11 that year. Originally the keyboard was in the nave close to the sanctuary, but was moved to its present position during later work. It has had pipes added and been restored several times. It has been recently restored again, under the direction of the present organist, Dr. Allan Beavis.
A 1980 letter from a firm of Melbourne organ restorers, George Fincham, says it is a "rare example of a (Victorian) Richardson organ". It is the biggest in the Southern Highlands and can he heard in regular midweek and Sunday concerts. According to Miss Barbara Morgan, daughter of the Rev Distin Morgan, the Rector of St Jude's from 1910 to 1937, the organ was powered by a gas engine which "made an awful noise".
This was sometimes used to effect by the organist, George Vincent, who walked from Mittagong twice a day every Sunday to play it. If he felt the sermon had gone on long enough, he would slip out and start it up.
Some parts of the original Blacket church were incorporated into the chancel floor and vestry, as was the bell tower. The only items of furniture that were transferred from the original church were the font and the communion table. For 12 years the new church had no pulpit, sermons being delivered from a reading desk. In December 1898 the Rector, the Rev. S. Wilkinson, was authorised to inquire about pulpits, and reported at the end of February that for £27/10/0 a handsome one could be obtained. He appealed for ladies (it was always the ladies!) to start a special pulpit fund, but a month later was able to report that it was going to be given as a gift by T. H. Keigwin.
On Saturday, April 29, 1899 an extra large packing case came down by train and was taken to the church. It was then discovered that measurement had not been made, or not too well - the pulpit would not fit through the main doorway. However with the doors taken off and a great deal of effort it was possible to get it through with 3.5 mm to spare!
In 1910 the interior of the church looked very different from the way it is today. In that year, Rev. Distin Morgan became the new Rector, and his daughter left recollections of the church at the time. There was green linoleum on the aisles and dark green paint up to 1.3m on the walls. Above that was a yellow dado, and then light green paint to the roof. At some time the chancel step and the font had been covered with a gloss enamel paint. The effort to remove it by hand with sandpaper took a long time, and for weeks it was necessary for the font to be covered by a tent to stop the dust flying everywhere. She commented that without heating the church was freezing on winter mornings. Even kerosene heaters taken over by her mother and herself and left on all Saturday night made little difference.
In the sanctuary area things were very plain, with only a red frontal on the communion table, or a white one for a festival day. After a long debate in 1907 and 1908 even flowers had been disallowed on the table. Gifts of vases and a brass cross were again to cause a lot of argument before they were eventually accepted.
A major change to the appearance of the sanctuary area occurred in 1931. From the proceeds of an estate left to the church, the wood panelling was designed, purchased, and erected. In the following years more panelling was erected, and choir stalls put in place.
This necessitated the moving of the pulpit to its present place. Gifts and memorials had helped to furnish the church, some of them remembering those who were killed in the world wars. A plaque on the minister's reading desk at the end of the choir stalls remembers Herbert Edward Southey who died in Gallipoli on April 25, 1915.
In 2004, following consultation with the congregation, the sanctuary was remodelled. While the wood panelling around the walls was retained, the choir stalls were removed to create an open space flowing to the sides. This enabled the pulpit to be moved back to its original position and original height, for normal services. It is however, mobile so that for dramas or special presentations it can be moved out of the way. The new communion rails are also movable, making the whole area more flexible for congregational and public events.
One other link with Bowral's history is the land given to the St Jude's by John Norton Oxley in 1859. In 1910 there was no housing between the church and the hospital, but in the 1920s land was sold off. Members of the church, particularly Henry Molesworth Oxley, brother of John, felt that some of the land should be used for a place for adults and children to play. Bowral Council, which rented and finally bought land agreed, and a park and playing space would become the future Bradman Oval.
The booklet "150 Years for Christ -1853 to 2003" provides a more detailed history of the Anglican ministry on the Southern Highlands and of the Church of St Simon and St Jude.
A copy can be obtained from the church office firstname.lastname@example.org for $5.00 plus postage.
See what's on this month at St Jude's Anglican Church, Bowral.
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Our programmes for children are designed to encourage and inspire a relationship with God.
They are designed to appeal to all age groups and provide God's teachings through a fun, inspirational and caring environment.