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 stain 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 Hassall’s established themselves in the Cowpastures district in the early days of the colony of New South Wales. The church has taken a central part in place making and the development of community identity in the village.
The presence of the church is the reason the village exists and is closely reminiscent of a pre-industrial English style rural village. The village even had its own blacksmith, who was an essential traditional trade in all rural villages. Working over their hearth with hammer and anvil making and crafting the tools of the farmers to making decorative work for the church graveyard.
The Hassall’s 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 first chapel was built in the area by Thomas Hassall, called Heber Chapel and opened in 1827, with Thomas as rector. It was named after the Bishop Heber of the Calcutta Diocese, in which Cobbitty was located at the time.
Heber Chapel became the centre of village life as its first school and church. The chapel was used as a school building during the week and religious purposes on the weekend. Schooling at the chapel continued until 1920.
The Heber Chapel was constructed of hand-made bricks with a shingle roof. It is a 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 was carried out in 1993.
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 with the oldest dated to 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 panes of glass, in the style of the period.
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 strong support by the local community to relative neglect. During the 1980s the graveyard became overgrown and graves hidden under bushes. John’s images showed numbers of past symbolic trees, mainly cypress, that were planted grew into large trees. Sometimes these were planted too close to the church building endangered its safety and stability. They were removed.
When you look at the church you see a slate roof and automatically assume that this was original. It is not. The slate roof is a recent addition in 2014 and installed as part of the church restoration when work was done to roof trusses, bargeboards, and guttering. The church originally 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 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 music was originally provided by violin then harmonium.
The Anglican story of Cobbitty continues to evolve around the Heber Chapel, St Pauls, the Rectory and 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.