St Aidan's: an historic church in Exeter

OF THE many historic villages in the Wingecarribee Shire, one of the most picturesque is Exeter, between Moss Vale and Bundanoon.

Taking pride of place there, St Aidan's Church seems to grow from the earth, like its surrounding elms, oaks and gums. Being a most attractive and historic church, it is often chosen as an idyllic setting for weddings.

As settlers began arriving in the district in the early 1820s, encouraged by Governor Macquarie, Sutton Forest developed as the first village where many small grants were taken up and several major estates established.

Free settlers James and Elizabeth Badgery arrived in Australia in 1799 and prospered in the Hawkesbury region, but soon were looking further afield. They took up a 500 acre land grant, Spring Grove, near Sutton Forest in 1821 and this was where Exeter later eventuated.

Badgery expanded his holdings in conjunction with his sons, Henry, William, James and Andrew.

As well as taking up grants close to their father's land, the sons managed family holdings established at Braidwood and Bega.

In 1839 Henry Badgery built a substantial brick house on his Vine Lodge property, near his father's Spring Grove.

In 1878 a railway station opened in the locality when the Great Southern Railway was put through to Goulburn.

The Badgery family prospered and further expanded their holdings, but an economic downturn in the late 1880s forced them to sell off some of their farming land.

Vine Lodge was subdivided and lots were offered for sale, thus the village of Exeter took shape, named after the cathedral city in Devonshire, England, where the Badgerys had originated.

By the early 1890s the village had most services required by a small community: a railway station, school, post office, general store and bakery - but no church building.

Church of England services were held at Vine Lodge from 1893, then a committee led by Rev A.G. Stoddart, Frank Badgery, Frank Yarwood and Arthur Yates approved construction of a church in December 1894 and called for subscriptions.

Built of roughly trimmed basalt (collected locally) and of Bundanoon sandstone, the neat rectangular structure had slanting buttresses and a large semi-circle window with a Celtic cross atop the gabled, timber-shingled roof.

A ceremony of dedication took place on January 11, 1896.

The church was named St Aidan's, after the Irish monk who journeyed from Iona in 645AD to bring Christianity to Northern Ireland and founded a monastery on Lindisfarne, an island off the coast of England.

The church's design alludes to his Celtic origins and is surmounted by his traditional cross.

Soon the church was deemed too small for the growing village and its surrounding properties. From dairying, cattle and mixed farming, land use had diversified to include orchards and market gardens.

In the late 1890s Arthur Yates, a Sydney seed merchant, bought a property in the Vine Lodge sub-division. With its extremely fertile soil, cool climate and position on the southern railway, he considered Exeter an ideal place for a commercial nursery, so established a seed and bulb farm.

In 1902 Yates made a generous donation of ?200 to start a subscription list for enlarging the church and submitted plans drawn by a firm of Sydney architects. In November 1903 the foundation stone for a new nave was laid by Miss Elsie Badgery.

The walls of the original building were raised and this area became the chancel with choir stalls, pulpit and lectern. A gable-roofed nave and sanctuary, north and south transepts and a small entrance porch were added. The unfinished west end of the nave was clad with corrugated iron.

The enlarged church was consecrated on February 4, 1911. Its memorial windows and tablets are an Exeter history in themselves.

The most striking is the semi-circular stained glass east window, dedicated to James and Elizabeth Badgery, founders of the Badgery dynasty in Australia.

A brass plaque in the nave in memory of Arthur and Caroline Yates commemorates the important role they played in the life of St Aidan's.

In the grounds, an elegant brick War Memorial Hall was built in 1922 and extended in 1937. The church roof was changed from shingles to slate in 1929.

For its centenary in 1995, the church gained a half octagon west end extension plus a new entrance porch and in 2005 the internal east and west ends were turned around with the interior opened to allow more congregation participation.

The heritage-listed church and hall are both gems that do the district proud.

o This article is sourced from the book Exploring Exeter by historian Linda Emery, and from the archives of Berrima District Historical and Family History Society, Bowral Rd, Mittagong. Phone 4872 2169. Email bdhsarchives@gmail.com; berrimadistricthistoricalsociety.org.au

ST AIDAN’S CENTENARY: The west end was completed in 1995 and a new entrance porch added. Photo: BDH&FHS

ST AIDAN’S CENTENARY: The west end was completed in 1995 and a new entrance porch added. Photo: BDH&FHS

ST AIDAN’S: The church viewed from the north after additions, circa 1910, with unfinished west end. Photo: BDH&FHS

ST AIDAN’S: The church viewed from the north after additions, circa 1910, with unfinished west end. Photo: BDH&FHS

OLD ST AIDAN’S: The church circa 1905 seen from what was then Moss Vale Road (now Exeter Road). Photo: BDH&FHS

OLD ST AIDAN’S: The church circa 1905 seen from what was then Moss Vale Road (now Exeter Road). Photo: BDH&FHS