The Anglican Church at Cobbitty recently held an open day for the community to celebrate 190 years of the Anglican community in the village. Those who attended could listen to local experts give talks on the history of the Anglican church in Cobbitty, the stained glass windows in St Pauls, and its fixtures, furnishings and artefacts.
The Anglican Church has been the heart and soul of the village since the Hassalls established themselves in the Cowpastures district in the early days of the colony of New South Wales. The church has been central in place-making and developing community identity in the village.
The church’s presence is why the village exists and is closely reminiscent of a pre-industrial English-style rural village. The village even had its own blacksmith, an essential traditional trade in all rural villages. Working over their hearth with hammers and anvils, making and crafting the farmers’ tools to make decorative work for the church graveyard.
The Hassalls were the de-facto lords of the manor. The development of the village was their fiefdom. Long-term local identity and font of knowledge of all things Cobbitty John Burge recalled in his talk on the ‘History of the Cobbitty Anglican Church’ that the Hassall family owned pretty much all of the farms up and down the Nepean River in the vicinity of Cobbitty.
The Reverend Thomas Hassall, the son of missionaries Rowland and Elizabeth Hassall, who arrived in New South Wales in 1798, was appointed the minister of the Cowpastures district in 1827.
The Heber Chapel
Thomas Hassall built The first chapel in the area, called Heber Chapel, and opened in 1827, with Thomas as rector. It was named after the Bishop Heber of the Calcutta Diocese, where Cobbitty was at the time.
As its first school and church, Heber Chapel became the centre of village life. The chapel was used as a school building during the week and for religious purposes on weekends. Schooling at the chapel continued until 1920.
The Heber Chapel was constructed of hand-made bricks with a shingle roof. Its simple design perhaps reflected the rustic frontier nature of Cobbitty of the 1820s when Pomari Grove, the site of the church and chapel, was owned by Thomas Hassall.
Recent renovations and restoration were carried out in 1993.
St Paul’s Anglican Church
There was the opening of St Paul’s Church in 1840, with consecration by Bishop William Broughton. The community supported the construction of a Rectory in 1870 and a church hall in 1886.
St Paul’s Anglican Church was consecrated in 1842, designed by Sydney architect John Bibb in a neo-Gothic style with simple lancet-shaped windows, typical of the design. These windows originally had plain glass and, over the decades, were changed for stained-glass
The church was built with plain glass windows. Stained glass became popular again in the mid-19th century as part of the Gothic revival movement in England and New South Wales. Stained glass was originally installed in medieval churches and cathedrals and then fell out of popularity. (Dictionary of Sydney)
There are 10 memorial windows in St Pauls, the oldest dated 1857 and made by English glass artist William Warrington. It was donated by the Perry family in memory of their daughter Carolyn. There is one original window dating from 1842 with small glass panes in the period’s style.
Well-to-do members of the church community preferred to donate a window as a memorial rather than a wall plaque or other church object to commemorate their loved ones.
The current presentation of the church is different from the 1840 St Pauls. Today’s church represents the many changes that have occurred over the years. The changes in the building reflect changes in style, technology, tastes and support, as well as periods of neglect.
A presentation by John Burge on ‘The History of the Cobbitty Anglican Church’ illustrated the many lives of the church, from periods of solid support by the local community to relative neglect. During the 1980s, the graveyard became overgrown, and graves were hidden under bushes. John’s images showed numbers of past symbolic trees, mainly cypress, that were planted and grew into large trees. Sometimes these were planted too close to the church building endangering its safety and stability. They were removed.
When you look at the church, you see a slate roof and automatically assume this was original. It is not. The slate roof is a recent addition in 2014 and was installed as part of the church restoration when work was done on roof trusses, barge boards, and guttering. The church initially had a shingle roof with a plastered interior vaulted ceiling. Now it has a slate roof with a maple timber-lined interior ceiling. The walls are quarried sandstone from Denbigh.
Electricity was installed in 1938 after originally being lit by candles and then kerosene lamps.
The pews and pulpit are unchanged and are Australian red cedar timberwork.
Music is provided by an 1876 Davidson organ from Sydney after the music was initially provided by violin, then harmonium.
The Anglican story of Cobbitty continues to evolve around the Heber Chapel, St Pauls, the Rectory and the church hall. The village continues to grow, as does the life of the church community, with a host of activities under the current church leadership.
Updated on 6 June 2023. Originally posted on 8 October 2017 as ‘A little bit of England celebrates 190 years at Cobbitty’
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