20th century · Adaptive Re-use · Aesthetics · Architecture · Attachment to place · Belonging · Burra Charter · Camden Story · Church History · Churches · Collective Memory · Commemoration · Community identity · Cultural Heritage · Elderslie · Families · Family history · Farming · First World War · Genealogy · Heritage · History · Living History · Local History · Local Studies · Memorial · Place making · Placemaking · Sense of place · St Mark's Church Elderslie · Urban development · Urban growth · Urbanism · Village · Wartime

A little church on the hill, St Mark’s Church Elderslie

A public outcry

In 2009 there was a public outcry when there was a proposal to relocate St Mark’s church and develop the site. (The District Reporter, 16 February 2009) While the church building had remained unused for several years, the public protests posed a conundrum for local authorities. Why was there such an outcry over an empty building?

Small churches like St Marks are vital to small communities in the construction of place and development of community identity. Their potential loss threatens a community’s collective memory and sense of place.  The church tells the story of a small farming community that has disappeared through the mists of time.

The history of St Mark’s church is the history of Elderslie, and the church was a special place of community celebrations and commemorations along with family celebrations, traditions, and events. The church has been a gathering place, a sacred site.

This charming image taken by John Kooyman in 1998 shows the church and other buildings under the shade of the magnificent camphor laurel tree. (Camden Images)

An outdoor Sunday School proves popular

St Mark’s church’s origins go back to 1901 and the formation of an outdoor Sunday School by Elderslie resident Miss Elizabeth Carpenter, a disgruntled St John’s church parishioner. Elizabeth (b. 1863) was the eldest daughter of Elderslie orchardist Horatio Carpenter. According to Elderslie resident Len English, the Carpenter orchard of Fernside was just behind the church with a frontage on Macarthur Road.

According to Harold Lowe, St Mark’s churchwarden and treasurer, the story goes that 38-year-old Elizabeth Carpenter had a falling out with the rector of Camden’s St John’s Church, Rev Cecil John King. (Harold Lowe, File Notes, Camden Museum Archive)

The Sunday School proved popular with local families, and ‘in the summer of 1902…[the Sunday School was] held under the shade of the great stone pines below Mrs Lydia Carpenter’s orchard’. Miss Elizabeth Carpenter had her ‘American organ brought down on a slide and led the singing’. During the autumn, with inclement weather, the classes were held in Fernside’s ‘old wine press room’. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)

 The Sunday School continued to be an essential part of the church’s activities, and in 1933 the Camden press reported that the children of St Mark’s Sunday School held their picnic in Mr Bruchhauser’s ‘top paddock’. Showers did not let up until after lunch, but nothing was ‘daunted’, and the picnic was set up by ‘teachers and helpers’ in the church. ‘A very happy afternoon was spent by all’ after the ground dried out with ‘games and races’. (Camden News, 8 June 1933)

Transcript on the back of the image (Camden Images)
St Mark’s Luker Street Elderslie Sunday School c1955. Bishop Wilston, Ruth Ferguson to R & believed Bishop Wilton, Mary Ferguson next to Ruth. Nancy Ferguson is on the right in a blue dress and white hat. Children, front row, from left Barbara Noble 3, Lesley Noble 6, John Bunce 8, Pat Higgs girl in front of the nameplate. Identification by Lorrie Noble (Dec 1998) Photo from transparency by Ina Cameron, 65 Harrington St, Elderslie, who came to Elderslie in 1946 and worshipped at St Mark’s.

A new church

Miss Carpenter led fundraising efforts, ably assisted by RA Cross, Mr Albury, and Mr Bellingham, early in 1902 (Camden News, 5 August 1954) and moves were made ‘for the purchase of a piece of land’ and construction of the church building. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)

A small portion of Thomas Teasdale’s land was acquired by the Church of England and held in the name of the Bishop of Sydney, the Most Reverend William S Smith, and part of the Narellan Parish. (SOHI 2022)

These efforts resulted in the opening of a church building on the site, with the first service on 22 June 1902. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)

A church building was constructed and has been described as

 a traditional vernacular form with a simple gable roof covered in shingles.  It is a good and representative example of a very modest mission church typical of those erected in small country towns in the late 19th and very early 20th Centuries. Built of weatherboard with a corrugated metal roof and a small belfry, it contained two rooms (the nave and a small vestry) plus a porch. The window openings are simple timber sashes with horizontally pivoting openings. Windows are glazed with translucent and opaque domestic glass from the early 20th Century/Inter-War period. (SOHI 2022)

A new Elderslie resident, Mr Fred Carpenter, constructed the first six ‘handsome and comfortable seats of polished Kauri’, and parishioners donated chairs, books, lamps, blinds, alms dish, matting, communion cloth, pulpit cushions and drape. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)

The church was dedicated by The Rt Rev Bishop AW Pain from Gippsland on St Mark’s Day in 1903, April 25. (Camden News, 5 August 1954)  Saint Mark’s Day, or the Feast of Saint Mark, is held on April 25 and commemorates Mark the Evangelist, also known as Saint Mark. Mark the Evangelist is an important character in early Christianity and is the ascribed author of the Gospel of Mark. Mark the Evangelist is considered the guardian of the earth and harvests and is celebrated in several countries.

According to the Camden press, churchwarden Harold Lowe suggested the church name some years after its consecration. (Camden News, 5 August 1954) According to Lowe, the new church was called St Marks at a meeting held on St Mark’s Day. (Harold Lowe, File Notes, Camden Museum Archive)

Church of England authorities ‘licensed [the church] for divine service in 1913 and named [it] for St Mark’. (SOHI 2022)

By 1914 the church was known as the St Mark’s Mission Church. (Camden News, 13 August 1914) According to Merriam-Webster online dictionary, a mission church is not locally self-supporting but depends at least partially upon the support of mission funds from the larger religious organisation that established it.

Church governance

St Marks was part of the Church of England Parish of Narellan along with St Paul’s Cobbitty and St Thomas’s Narellan.  Services at St Mark’s Church were conducted by the rector of Cobbitty’s St Paul’s, Rev Canon Allnutt. (Cobbitty 1827-1927)

The first churchwardens were RA Cross, Thomas Albury and John Latty. By 1915 churchwardens were GM Gardner and T Albury, the minister’s warden was H Bellingham, and Miss Brain was the Sunday School teacher. (Camden News, 29 April 1915) Harold Lowe was the church auditor. (Camden News, 11 May 1916)

The church held its yearly vestry meeting, and the re-elected churchwardens for 1933 were T Albury, RA Cross and J Ross. (Camden News, 8 June 1933)

In 1940 the Narellan Parish Log reported that the rector decided to hold an evening service on the third Sunday of the month where he conducted a Lantern Picture Show. (Camden News, 7 November 1940)

This image shows the parishioners in 1955, which was likely taken by Ina Cameron around the same time as the Sunday School image. While a poor image, the charm and character of the period are clearly shown. Most parishioners were women and likely members of the church women’s guild. Gloves, hats and Sunday best were essential fashion items when attending church in the 1950s. (Camden Images)

First World War and Anzac Day

The First World War profoundly affected the church and the Elderslie community.

In 1915 a memorial service was held at St Mark’s for two Elderslie lads who ‘gave their lives for the Empire’ on the battlefield of the Great War and was held to an ‘overflowing’ congregation. They were Lance Corporal Eric Lyndon Lowe, Signaller, 18th Battalion and Bugler Milton Thornton. The local press reported that ‘beautiful wreaths’ were presented by Mrs Faithful Anderson of Camelot and one from the Cobbitty Rectory. Rev Canon Allnutt took the service, and his daughter, Alice, sang the ‘At Rest’ by Aylward during the offertory. An amount of £1/10/6d was collected for the Liverpool Camp Church Tent Fund. (Camden News, 28 October 1915)

The progress of the First World War and patriotic fundraising put pressure on the community and church parishioners. Yet despite ‘the many calls and patriotic funds’, church finances were pronounced ‘satisfactory’ at the annual 1916 vestry meeting. (Camden News, 11 May 1916)

St Mark’s Day coincided with Camden’s first Anzac Day in the Camden district in 1916. In 1919, the Anzac Day commemorative service at St Mark’s church ‘was crowded and especially attended by the families and friends of those who had met a soldier’s death’. (Camden News, 1 May 1919)

In 1934 Rev AF Pain celebrated the Festival of Saint Mark at the church, where parishioners presented ‘a bounteous supply of the fruits of the earth’ that was sent to Camden District Hospital. (Camden News, 15 February 1934) In 1937 there was a combined service for Anzac Day and the Festival of St Mark. (Camden News, 22 April 1937)

The services for Anzac Day commemoration and St Mark’s Day were split in the years after the Second World War. In 1952 the service with Holy Communion was held by Bishop EW Wilton from Cobbitty on Anzac Day, Friday 25 April 1952, at 9.30 am. The following Sunday, 27 April 1952, the church had the St Mark’s Festival Service. (Camden News, 24 April 1952)

Farewells and church anniversaries

The 10th anniversary of the church celebrations in 1912 was dampened by the departure of church founders Elizabeth Carpenter and her mother, Lydia.

According to rector Canon GH Allnutt, the Carpenter women had made an ‘immense contribution’ to the church’s foundation with service held once a month at Fernside while the church was being built. The rector presented Miss Carpenter with a gold watch for her efforts. She ‘was visibly affected’ as she thanked the assembly in ‘a simple words’ as the presentation had come as a ‘great surprise’. She said, ‘ she felt quite unworthy…as she had only tried to do her duty to the best of her ability’. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)

In 1939 the church lost its long-term organist when parishioner Olive Burford of Camden to Alan Tindall of Rockdale. As a token of thanks, the parishioners gave her a silver hot water jug. (Camden News, 17 August 1939)

In 1952 on the 50th anniversary of the church, attendances were reported as ‘encouraging’ in the Camden press. Bishop Wilton conducted the evening service and said there was a Sunday School and a congregation ‘that is growing in strength’. The organists were Miss L Cross and Mrs J Bradford. Churchwardens were CS McIntosh, H Rudd, N Hore and Mr Bradford. The supper was organised by parishioners: Mrs Childs, Mrs Teasdale, Miss Teasdale, Mrs Wrench, Mrs N Ferguson, Mrs C Dunk, Mrs R Dunk, Mrs Weiberle, Mrs Harris, and Mrs Wilton. (Camden News, 10 July 1952)

Improvement and additions

There were ‘improvements and additions’ to the church over the decades. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)

The churchwardens at St Thomas Narellan gave parishioners at St Mark’s the ‘old ‘John Oxley’ harmonium’ after they installed a new organ. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)

The church’s original shingle roof was replaced in 1912 with ‘short-sheet corrugated iron painted dark red-oxide’. The ceiling and floors were also replaced.  (SOHI 2022)

On the death of Canon Allnutt in 1919, Percy Butler was commissioned to construct a communion table in his memory. Local cabinet maker and carpenter Fred Carpenter had built additional seating, a prayer desk, a communion rail and a lecturn.   (Harold Lowe, File Notes, Camden Museum Archive)

A vestry was later added to the building that could act as a chancel when there was a need for additional seating. (Harold Lowe, File Notes, Camden Museum Archive)

The St Mark’s Churchwomen’s Guild held the 1954 church fundraising fair with stalls selling ‘useful goods including handicrafts suitable for ‘Christmas presents’ at the home of Mrs C Dunk in Luker Street. The fair was opened by Mrs A Pain, the wife of the former rector St Paul’s Church of England, Cobbitty, who held services at St Mark’s church between 1919 and 1940. (Camden News, 4 November 1954)

The construction of Warragamba Dam was advantageous for the church community when the former Nattai Post Office/general store building was brought up from Burragorang Valley and placed at the church’s rear to be used as a hall. (The District Reporter, 2 February 2009). The Women’s Guild and the Elderslie community funded the relocation and fit-out of the hall for use as a kitchen. (The District Reporter, 16 February 2009; SOHI 2022))

In 1959 a meeting of churchwardens, the Women’s Guild and the rector resolved to create a special fund to finance the purchase of the land adjoining the existing church site. It was decided at the same meeting to repair the organ, which cost £24. (File Notes, Camden Museum archives) The kitchen was extended in 1961; in 1966, the Church of England purchased a small part of an adjoining property. (SOHI 2022) In 1968 a new hall was constructed on the site.

The addition of a new building on St Mark’s church site in 1955 was much anticipated by parishioners who provided voluntary labour for the construction. Images supplied by Ina Cameron, a local Elderslie resident. (Camden Images)

Funerals and remembrance services

Funerals and remembrance services were a time of community grieving and support, and the church had a central role in these events.  

The death of local parishioners was always a loss to the church. A St Mark’s parishioner and ‘keen’ church worker Mrs Ellen Cross recently died aged 66. (Sydney Morning Herald, 6 January 1930) A stalwart of the St Mark’s Sunday School Mrs FA Goodman died aged 60 years old. She had taken the Sunday School just days before admission to Camden District Hospital, where she died of pneumonia last Saturday, December 5. Mrs Goodman had ‘conducted’ the Sunday School from 1926 to her death. (Camden News, 10 December 1931)

St Mark’s churchwarden James Ross was killed by a motor car as he walked at night between the Cowpastures Bridge and the milk depot in 1938. (Camden News, 29 December 1938)

A remembrance service was held at St Mark’s on the death of Joyce Asimus, daughter of Mr and Mrs Roy Asimus, of ‘The Heights’ Elderslie who died after a recent operation. Joyce was reportedly a ‘friendly, energetic and affectionate soul held a high place in esteem and affection of the neighbourhood’. The St Mark’s Churchwomen’s Guild was represented by Mrs Funnell Senr, Mrs Wilton, and Mrs Childs. (Camden News, 29 October 1953)

St Mark’s parishioner and Elderslie resident, 89-year-old Mr RA Cross of Macarthur Road Elderslie, died in 1954. Mr Cross had been a churchwarden since St Mark’s church foundation. The Camden press reported that Mr Cross had attended St Marks Church within days of death along with other parishioners. Mr Cross was a retired brickmaker and made bricks for famous local properties, including Camelot, Carrington Hospital, and Pomare at Cobbitty. His funeral was held at St Thomas’s church at Narellan, with the service taken by Bishop Wilton and buried in Narellan cemetery. A week later, there was a remembrance service at St Mark’s for this ‘faithful and regular worshipper’.(Camden News, 29 July 1854)

The funeral of Mrs Constance AM Ross of Elderslie, mother of Mrs Childs, was held at St Mark’s church in 1952. The Camden press reported that this was the first time a funeral service with the casket was held at the church in its 50-year history. (Camden News, 10 July 1952)

This is a sad image from 2011 of a church past its use-by date, all boarded up, unkempt and unloved. Yet it was still able to rouse the emotions of the Elderslie community to protect the cultural heritage of the building and the collective memories it possessed for them. The church building is up for sale. (IWillis)

Last service and the loss of a church

Over time, church parishioners died, old Elderslie families moved away, the church congregation grew smaller, and the parish could not financially support the church. Church authorities decided to ‘amalgamate St Mark’s with St Thomas‘s, Narellan, with the final service being held at St Mark’s being held on 21 October 2001. The church was then closed to sell the land’. (SOHI 2022)

 In Elderslie, as elsewhere, the threatened loss of a local church often triggers a passionate response from the local community. The local church, even if unused, is a repository of collective memories and a sacred site that possesses a sense of place and community identity.

In 2009 there was a community outcry over a proposal to subdivide the land surrounding St Mark’s church, relocate the church building, demolish the church hall, and cut down the camphor laurel on the Camden’s Register of Significant Trees. (The District Reporter, 16 February 2009)

Passionate locals voiced their concerns, particularly about the state of the camphor laurel. Councillor Eva Campbell maintained that the church building was ‘the most significant building in Elderslie’. (Macarthur Chronicle, 3 February 2009) Later reports show that the camphor laurel tree was planted to celebrate the church’s consecration in 1903.

 In the end, Camden Council voted to cut down the tree and approved shifting the church across the existing site to allow the consolidation of three allotments into two. (The District Reporter, 16 February 2009; Macarthur Chronicle, 3 February 2009)

The Anglican Church deconsecrated St Marks in 2010. (SOHI 2022)

The removal of the camphor laurel tree adjacent to St Mark’s church in 2009 after approval by Camden Council. At the rear of the church, site are the kitchen and hall in the process of demolition (IWillis)

The church site and buildings were sold to the private owners in 2011 and converted to a private residence where the new owners became the guardians of the community’s collective memories.  

In 2022 a proposal by the private owners to extend the former church building generated public interest in maintaining the cultural heritage of the church’s history.

This charming image shows the current usage of the former St Mark’s church in 2022 is now in private hands and used as a residence. The character and integrity of the former church building are still intact, with the belfry, entry porch, and church building with sash windows clearly shown here. The addition of a picket fence adds to the rustic nature of the original building. This image illustrates adaptive reuse that is outlined in the Burra Charter guidelines for heritage sites within Australia. (IWillis)