• Pictures Paul Caleo - text Tony Bosworth

$200,000 for St Matthews – Windsor’s oldest church gets refresh thanks to generous donation

Just under a hundred years ago, a young girl and her family went to live in Windsor’s grand St Matthews Church Rectory.

They had fallen on hard times and in a moment of church grace, the Reverend Jenkyn recognised this, allowed the family to move in, and settled himself for some years at the Hawkesbury Hotel.

There’s no word on how the Reverend found living in the drinking establishment during a period when Windsor was considered unruly and very much a frontier town, but the Campbell family moved in to the Rectory and stayed there until 1936, so it can’t have been too bad for the man of God.

That moment – quite a long moment really – of Church Grace made its mark on that young girl, leading to Lorna Campbell’s lifelong devotion to St Matthews.

Happy home for many years for Lorna Campbell - St Matthews' 1825 Rectory today

When she grew up, Lorna was the church’s choir mistress for many years and even when she handed that baton over she could often be found arranging fresh flowers in the church.

And when it came time to depart this world aged just over 100, Lorna well and truly paid that debt she felt to St Matthews with a bequest of $150,000, a gift which is allowing a $200,000 renovation of some of the church’s most striking features.

“Lorna Campbell was a leading light in the restoration of the church precinct stables in about 2000,” current Rector Chris Jones told the Post, “and without her generous gift we just wouldn’t have been able to do the work we need now. We would have been in fundraising mode and it would have taken some focus off our ministry work, so it’s gratefully received.”

St Matthews - day and into the night...

The church was able to get a $95,000 government grant which was contingent on the church matching it, so Lorna’s bequest worked perfectly. All up they will have $220,000 to spend on the much-needed work.

“We’re very grateful to a number of people who have helped along the way with the grant process,” said Rev Jones, who thanked Macquarie MP Susan Templeman, State MP Robyn Preston, members of Hawkesbury Council’s Heritage committee, and Deputy Mayor Mary Lyons-Buckett who wrote a letter of support, praising Rev Jones’s commitment and dedication to St Matthews.

The view from the Rectory's landing window hasn't changed much in 200 years

Inside it's a beautiful period house and home to the Rector and his family

The 1825 rectory - not much has changed since it was built

Some $20,000 of the funding will go on tree work and guttering, two of the church’s tower windows will cost $40,000 each to repair and while that is going on, some $20,000 worth of scaffolding will need to be erected.

The money will also go towards a new front fence for the 1825 Rectory – making it similar to the period-sympathetic one that used to be there - and that will cost $17,000 for the hardwood alone and even that is below the $50,000 that would have been the cost of an exact rebuild which Rector Jones calls, “the Rolls-Royce option.”

The work includes:

· Restoration of the two remaining original windows in the St Matthews Bell Tower, for safety and weatherproofing of the building. This follows earlier attempted measures that have now failed.

· Rectory front fence – after fully painting the exterior of the Rectory in 2018 a new fence will be built which will enhances and support the iconic nature of the Rectory frontage and its importance to the Hawkesbury.

· Repair of the stonewall in Greenway Crescent with the addition of a palisade fence.

· Replacement of guttering and drainage at the stables.

· Tree trimming to protect the fabric of the precinct and to enhance visibility of the assets.

· Replacement hardwood fencing to aid in the security of the site.

“Our heritage architect would like to redo the Rectory fence to something akin to photos going back 120 years,” says Rev Jones. “but that’s a hard sell because it would be expensive, but we also understand the desire to get it back to how it originally was, but we would like to do it as economically as possible. So we got Richmond Mens Shed to price the wood if we used good quality hardwood and they came in at $17,000 for the wood alone, but that’s a better figure than the one originally quoted and we can probably live with that.

St Matts' interior

“We have quite a small congregation but we have these really big buildings which we are responsible for and when I first came we reactivated our National Trust appeal so we can receive donations which are quarantined from the ministry, so there is separation. Some people will want to give because of the church’s history but not have any interest in the ministry. If we can draw money like that it helps the congregation because we don’t have to stump up the money to try and maintain the buildings.

“These types of restoration works are always expensive,” says Rector Jones, “but what we have here in Windsor is a unique piece of Georgian architecture and along with the graveyard dating from the earliest days of the colony, we have something very special.”

Indeed we have. The oldest government-built church in Australia dates from its 1817 foundation stone by Australia’s most feted Governor and the man literally responsible for putting Windsor on the map, Lachlan Macquarie.

And from England in 1822 came gifts for the new church from King George IV no less. A clock, a silver paten – a plate used for holding the bread during the Communion and sometimes as a cover for the chalice – a silver chalice, a bell for the tower which is still there, and a clock which is also still in place, though currently turned off because it needs a bit of a service to keep proper time.

One of the tower's north facing windows

The original bell, sent over by King George IV , made by the same company that fashioned the world famous Big Ben

A view of the intricately convict-constructed bell tower

In a uniquely Australian nod to colonial history, St Matthews - affectionately known as St Matts to locals - was designed by the great Francis Greenway, who was transported to Australia as a convict in the First Fleet following his fine artwork designing forged English banknotes. That ability to look at the finer details and put them to paper saw Greenway become the colony’s premier architect. Perhaps sometimes crime does pay…

The original church was actually built by architect and builder Henry Kitchen, the commission signed off by Macquarie in June 1817 with a required build time of 18 months. Unfortunately before the building was finished it was considered poor quality and was taken back down to the foundations before eventually being unveiled in its current form.

Enter Mr Greenway who modified the original design and oversaw the St Matts we see today, built by ex-military captain William Cox and his team of mostly convict builders who constructed several other fine buildings in Windsor.

Interestingly, Sydney’s Hyde Park Barracks – one of Greenway’s keynote achievements - was also convict-built around the same time.

Another present from George IV - the inner workings of the late 1800s clock, made by the same company that made the clock in London's Big Ben tower

Another interesting fact is, bricks which were considered not quite up to the expected grade for the church were taken up the road to make the walls for the Macquarie Arms public house and hotel.

Inside it’s a simple enough church with seating for 250, though these days the congregation is smaller than it would have been a century ago, only swelling substantially when it comes to major Christian events like Easter and Christmas, or for weddings and some funerals.

But it is also – importantly – and always has been, a centre, a sanctuary, for the community in times of despair or emergency.

In the most recent floods back in March, St Matts was a haven for several locals who had been forced from their homes by rising waters, and it was also a centre for relief staff and community organisations who came to help. As usual its doors were opened and everyone was welcome.

From the Rectory - which we got a tour of thanks to Reverend Chris - one of the large upstairs landing windows frames a beautiful view towards the river which hasn’t changed much since the early Colonial days.

“During the latest floods it was just like a sea out there all the way to Freemans Reach, “ said Reverend Jones, and it’s a view which has barely changed over the last 200 years.

Paul Caleo, who took the pictures for this piece, and who’s a mine of information about Windsor’s history, told us in those early Colonial days the local Aboriginals warned the newcomers from across the seas how dangerous the river could be.

“They told settlers at Pitt Town it wasn’t a good place to set up but they ignored them, ignored that local knowledge, and of course come the floods they lost everything, some of them even their lives.”

The church is surrounded by one of the earliest Colonial-era graveyards where many of the area’s European pioneers found their last resting place, as did local Aboriginal people too.

Andrew Thompson – after whom Thompson Square is named – came to Australia as a convict but rose to become the local magistrate – it could only happen in Australia where convicts were given tickets of leave after contributing to the growing colony.

Glowing brick work - the back of the rectory

The old stables on the church grounds were restored some years back

Thompson was the first burial in the new graveyard in 1810 and his monument was placed on the grave by Governor Macquarie himself in 1813 – they were firm friends.

There are also graves for the Kable family. Henry, Susannah and baby Henry came over on the ship Friendship and the couple were among those first married in the new colony on February 10 1788 by the Reverend Richard Johnson.

Henry Kable was a successful merchant in the colony and the family graves lie alongside other well-known ex-convicts who became pillars of the community. In all, there are more than 25 graves to First Fleeters at St Matthews.

The graves have also been visited by current Prime Minister Scott Morrison whose staff called one summer day in 2019 asking if the PM could visit.

The Rector was in shorts and t-shirt ready for a trip to the beach with his family but it didn’t seem to phase the PM, said Rector Jones.

“He spent quite a bit of private time there with his family. He came with his wife and two daughters and laid some flowers and he hadn’t seen the grave before of William and Keisha Roberts. I think he said she was a fifth great grandmother.

“He’d done his Australia Day speech in Canberra in the morning and made mention of them so I think he was flying to Richmond for an event at Governor Phillip Park and so he was passing through, so I got a photo of me there with my shorts and shirt out alongside the Prime Minister.”

That’s the thing about St Matts - grand though it may appear, this iconic church is for everyone, whoever they may be, past, present and future.

A really big thank-you to Windsor's Paul Caleo for not only taking all of the most excellent pictures but alongside Rev Jones being such a fount of knowledge about the church, the graveyard and Windsor's history.

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