ANGLICAN worship south of the Cowpastures first took place in a weatherboard chapel that opened at Sutton Forest in 1830 and then in the more imposing Christ Church at Bong Bong, dedicated in 1845.
St Simon and St Jude’s (known as St Jude’s), the present Church of England in Bowral, is the second church building on this site and, indeed, Anglican worship in Bowral took place at various localities in the early days before the first St Jude’s was built.
In Bowral, or Wingecarribee as it was originally known, services were conducted by Reverend James Hassall from 1853 in what had been Surveyor-General John Oxley’s first local home, which stood from about 1815 until 1857 near where the second Oxley family home Wingecarribee was built.
Religious devotion held in both these Oxley homes was attended by people from as far away as Upper Mittagong and Kangaloon.
In 1859 J N Oxley (son of the Surveyor-General) advised Rev. Hassall that the survey of the township for Bowral had been completed, leaving a reserve for a church, school house and parsonage, with a Glebe of about 43 acres attached for the clergy’s use.
In 1863 a stone, slate-roofed building seating 50 opened as a school, a church and a Sunday school.
It operated as such until 1867 when it was sold to the Council of Education and became a public school.
An acre of land surrounding the building was acquired at the same time, which today is the grounds of Bowral Public School.
With the change of classification of the school, the infant township was again without any formal place of Anglican worship.
At that time Berrima Parish originally included Bowral, which became its own parish in 1870, and services were held in various cottages and in the dining room of the Imperial Hotel.
After attending service in ‘the pub’ a horrified Sydney visitor reputedly donated £1000 for a new church.
The noted colonial ecclesiastical architect Edmund Blacket was commissioned to design the new church to be dedicated to St. Simon and St. Jude.
Already famous for St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney, Blacket proposed ‘a small gem of architecture’ in brick and trachyte to a design he had wanted to build for years.
Blacket’s design was a radical departure from his usual style and incorporated a squat tower at the crossing of the nave and transepts. With five windows on each of the four sides, the tower flooded the church with brilliant light.
Writing to his daughter in July, 1874, Blacket said: “I stopped at Bowral on my way home and saw the church. It is nearly finished and looks well: it is so very unlike the regular conventional form of church that it is sure to attract attention”.
Sadly, the attention was not wholly favourable.
Twelve years later, this small architectural gem was demolished, ostensibly because it was no longer big enough to accommodate the burgeoning Bowral population and the influx of tourists during the summer months.
But, in reality, the parishioners had never taken to be building and found all manner of reasons why the existing church could not be extended.
Consecrated as the Church of St Simon & St Jude on November 14, 1874, it seated 150 and occupied a site opposite the earlier church-school. Reverend Stanley Howard, the first rector of Bowral to live in the town, had an attractive rectory built beside the new church in 1880. Set amid a lovely garden, it exudes a certain “Englishness” and is today among the most significant Victorian buildings in Bowral.
The history of St Jude’s will be continued next Monday.
This article is sourced from the archives of Berrima District Historical & Family History Society, corner of Old Hume Highway & Bowral Road, Mittagong.
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