The inspiration from this post came from a trip to Orange a few weeks ago. I was looking at an interpretative panel that was on Summer Street talking about how the main street of Orange had been changed from Byng Street to Summer Street. That’s when I realised there were no churches on Summer Street; they were on the wrong street.
The relationship of churches and particularly the Church of England with the main streets of towns is a reflection of a whole range of social factors and government policy in the early colony.
But let’s leave Orange and head down towards the southern part of the state to Braidwood. Braidwood is a beautiful town situated between the coast and Canberra. The annual rodeo is heaps of fun and the town was used for filming the 1970 version of the Ned Kelly story with Mick Jagger. The main street running through town is Wallace Street. On Elrington Street, a block back from the main street at the northern end of town, is the former location of the first Church of England church built in 1850. This church was replaced with the current, much grander stone building commenced in 1881. Also on Elrington Street, it is built at the top of a hill, the highest point in Braidwood itself. If you drive through Braidwood you have to take a detour to find this gem of a church.
What I find really interesting is why these churches are where they are. The early colony of NSW was not just a Christian colony it was a Church of England colony. This bias is reflected in how the Church of England was treated. It received one-seventh of all land in each county as a means to ensure funding for Church of England religion and education; the Church and Schools Corporation established by Governor Darling in 1826. You can see this if you look at old parish maps. The Church of England received the majority of funding in the early colony and it was not until the passing of the Church Act in 1836 that a reasonable degree of equality of funding for the other denominations was guaranteed. In fact it was only after the passing of this Act that the Roman Catholic Church was able to ask the colonial government for the establishment of church reserves in each town and parish.
Now this is the bit that I love. The early colony of NSW reflected in its legislative and town planning an important ecclesiastical principle. In pretty much every religion it is important to make sure that churches or places of worship are dominant in the landscape. This could be somewhere that has some social significance (such as the reuse of Roman royal sites in Anglo-Saxon England); sites of significance to other cultures or religions (the Temple Mount or just about any early Christian site in Celtic Britain); or on the top of hills or prominent locations within towns (such as main streets).
So in both Orange and Braidwood the Church of England was given precedence by being given the prime land on main streets. This served two purposes. It reflected an underlying ecclesiastical principle, but more than that it made it clear to everyone that NSW was a Church of England colony.
However, history had other ideas. Transport and business concerns changed the main streets from that set by the government to one that suited the real world. The effect was that these churches, that were once symbols of one denominations dominance, are now relegated to, in the case of Braidwood, a minor backstreet. In fact the Catholic Church in Braidwood that was once at the bottom of a hill a block away from the main street, the worst location for a church, is now the most prominent in town. Where churches are located, their architecture and form is fascinating and can give us major insights into the development of the colony of NSW.
By the way the title for this post comes from a quote by Bishop Mesac Thomas, (Bishop of Goulburn 1863-1892) commenting on the locations of a large number of the early Church of England churches in the colony (established by William Broughton the first Church of England Bishop of Australia) noting that they were generally built in hollows rather than in the proper locations such as on hills.
Coming up next on Heritage Gest….
Anthocyanins or Red velvet cake and that armadillo.