by the Rev. Christopher Gray
The actual beginnings of the church at Macclesfield have not been recorded, but it is obvious that the congregation existed for a considerable time prior to the erection of the original building. Evidently the building of a church had been mooted as early as 1848, for in The Register of 4th March of that year there appeared a letter from a very irate non-conformist, signing himself Old Inhabitant, who complained that as there was already one non-Roman Church in the District there was no necessity for another unless it was for the practice of Pusseyism (High Churchmanship). Evidently his views were shared by the Editor, who in comment at the bottom of the letter rather supported the writer, though he did add that he was sure the Bishop Short in wise spending of money would not sanction the erection of a building where it was not warranted. Obviously the writer had no understanding of the distinctive nature of the Anglican communion as part of the Catholic Church, and like so many people today imagined that the Church is simply the gathering together of like-minded people who believe in Jesus Christ, rather than that of a Divine Institution founded by our Lord Jesus Christ himself.
However, the letter proves that a number of Anglicans already lived in the district and that services were being held from time to time. Mr. John Holtham, who was Sunday School Superintendent from 1899 to 1907, says that prior to the completion of the building, services were held in a large stone shed in the Main Street that was a carpenter's shop and belonged to Lord Robinson's father and his grandfather before him. He says that his information was given to him by Mr. Albion Bartlett, the then Minister's warden, and his sister Mrs. John Cummins. Although the original Church was not licensed by the Bishop until 31st March, 1858 some licensed by the Bishop services had been held in the building from 8th November in the previous year. A report in the Adelaide Observer of the following Saturday 14th November said:
The new building recently erected for Public Worship according to the rites of the Church of England was opened on Sunday, 8th November (1857). The Rev. Mr. Fulford, Minister of St. James, Blakiston conducted the service. The building, which is computed to hold 100 persons, was completely filled. At the close of the service a collection was made which was liberally responded to, the amount being £11-16-6. The sum still required to finish the edifice is about £30. Truly the voluntary principle flourishes here, this being the fourth place of worship built in Macclesfield by voluntary subscription.
It is assumed that the other buildings referred to were the Congregational, Roman and Methodist Churches. Evidently neither the Anglicans nor the Non-Conformists themselves took too much notice of the Old Inhabitant.
In spite of the above report, the building evidently was not completed and services appeared to have been irregular. The Diocesan Year Book for 1860 said Building commenced, but suspended for want of funds, in spite of the fact that Year Books for the two previous years had shown that the district was being ministered to by the Rev. W.B. Andrews and in 1861 the district was shown as being under the care of the Bishop's Missionary Chaplain. It must have been during this latter year that things began to move again for on the 20th February, 1863 Bishop Short wrote in the Church Chronicle (his own Diocesan paper) of Macclesfield:
By the perseverance of the inhabitants of this Township the little church has just been finished and put into a state of thorough repair. The building can boast no architectural beauty, and it is small, but now that it is ceiled, plastered, painted and fitted with crimson hangings, blinds for the windows, and matting for the aisle, the interior has a very neat and complete appearance. By presents of laths, paint, loads of sand and lime, and a considerable amount of free labor the whole work has been accomplished at a reasonable cost. After gathering in subscriptions, some small amount being still required, a special re-opening service, followed by a collection, was held by the Rev. B.T. Craig on January 25th and on the Wednesday following, a lecture was delivered by the same gentleman in the School Room, kindly lent by Mr. Winter for the purpose, on "Mary, Queen of Scotland". At the latter there was quite a crowded attendance, the Chair being filled by the Rev. Mr. Harris (presumably the local Congregational Minister), and with several pieces of sacred music sung by the village choir, the evening passed off as a great success. After the lecture the offerings of those present were gathered and the amount raised, with the re-opening service, was considerably more than sufficient to pay off all the remaining costs. (The Rev. B.T. Craig was the Bishops Missionary Chaplain).
Towards the end of the century the Church was closed for several years, but there is no information as to why. However Mr. Howard Ross reports that:
In about 1899 Mr. Albion Bartlett, Senior, called on all Parishioners with a petition for resuscitation. It proved successful and the day arranged for the re-opening was January 2nd, 1900 or 1901, I'm not certain, but it was the day of Macclesfield's largest bushfire which was begun by a spark from a charcoal kiln near Flaxley (O'Toole's Kiln). By one o'clock everyone was racing to save stock and belongings as the Church opening was postponed for another week. I'm not clear on the leading personnel but from then on the Rev. H.H. Wyllie (spelling cf last page?) conducted the services from Strathalbyn: laymen at times filled in, there were Messrs. Taylor and Kemp (or Kent), I believe they were connected with a Bank and School at Strathalbyn! ( Mr. Ross could have been a little out in his dates, for 2nd January fell on Sunday in 1898.)
Mr. John Holtham also said of this time that the re-opening was due largely to the efforts of Messrs. A Bartlett, S & J Ross, J Calaby, J Cummins, John Lemar, their wives and grownups in their families, together with Mr and Mrs Mott, Miss Pidge Mott, Mr and Mrs Lenke, Miss Webb and others.
The late Mrs. Mustard was organist and choir practices were held each Thursday with good attendances. Mr. Howard Ross says that he was voted official bellringer at the remunerative sum of 12/6 p.a. just to make me realise the responsibility of my appointment. He also says that a Mr. Cobb was responsible for the mowing of the Antoliza (Watsonia) bulbs that have become a menace in the Church Yard.
At this time, in addition to regular services, a Sunday School was opened with Mr. John Holtham as Superintendent. Soon after the Sunday School had increased its attendance to over 30 scholars. In the Adelaide Diocesan Year Book of 1902/03 it was reported that Macclesfield Church was the most flourishing mission in the Strathalbyn Parish to which it was then attached. The same year 14 candidates were presented at a Confirmation. Due to the increase and regular attendances, suggestions were being made for the addition of a Chancel to make more seating available in the Nave. Evidently this idea of adding a Chancel was kept in mind until about 1910 when the Church was part of the Coromandel Valley Mission under the Rev. E S Jose. During the Jubilee Celebrations £115 had been collected for enlargements, and then after considerations the matter was then decided to not spend the money on the old Church, but instead to seek a central site for the erection of a new and larger building. At this time, reported Mr. Jose, there was a clerical service every Sunday, and once a month Mr J Lovelock drove over from Bull's Creek for an afternoon service. By 1911 the annual number of acts of Communion had increased from 172 as compared with 46 only three years before.
In 1911 it was suggested that 5 acres of Church land should be sold and the money used towards the cost of a new building. Like all such moves it took time and it was 1916 before it was discovered that the land could not be sold without an Act of Parliament or an order of the Supreme Court. As the price being offered for the land was only £40 the suggestion was dropped. Some years later the laws concerning such properties were amended and the land was sold for a comparatively small amount which was invested in the Endowment Fund. The income which would come through the renting of this land at its present value would far exceed the income received from the Endowment Fund, even though the original sum was subsidised by £2 for £1. The moral, of course is never sell your land.
Although the period between the suggestion for a new building and its erection is much nearer our own time, little information is available about the life of the church. After being absent from the district from 1912 to 1924 Mr. Howard Ross returned and found that many of the old faithfuls had passed on, though others had come. Many of the older ones were finding it difficult to climb to the old church, and the building itself was becoming very dilapidated. As a result he and his wife brought fresh enthusiasm to the move for a new Church in a more convenient place. He was backed by the Moran, Scott, Handke, Bartlett, Calaby, Anderson, Pope and McDonald families who were later supported by the Lane and Peterson families, and the congregation began in earnest to raise the required funds.
In April 1925 tenders were received and that of Mr. S H Ross for £685 was accepted. The foundation stone of the new building was laid by Archdeacon Clampett on 20th March, 1926 when £22 was placed on the stone during the service. In addition to local people there were visitors from Mt Barker and Echunga present. The building was completed and dedicated on 14th November in the same year.
It is most unfortunate that this second and rather lovely Church should have been erected on one of the lowest and wettest sites in the Town, and that no damp course should have been included in its walls. Within three years of its erection the foundations were found to be faulty and it was necessary to carry out extensive repairs, including underpinning and the rebuilding of one wall at a cost of approximately £300 pounds, or nearly half the cost of the contract price for the new building. Even now the walls still become fretted through dampness and every few years the interior has to be repainted. The church is built of Macclesfield marble which makes one of the few completed marble Churches in existence. Again it is unfortunate that the marble has been left to resemble lime stone and so much of its possible beauty has been lost.
None of the furniture from the old church was used in the new building, and the altar rails and Prayer Desk which had been given back to Strathalbyn to the old Church were offered back to that parish. Due to the efforts of Mrs. Bessie McDonald new pews were procured and the Marble Font was the gift of Mr. Edgar Peterson in memory of his wife. Later a Ewer for the font was given by the Calaby family. After the old Church was closed, little attention was given to the building which fell into disrepair, and extensive damage was done by white ants. In about 1936 repairs were carried out and now for some years the Boy Scouts have the use of the building for a low rental of 10/- per annum, and the responsibility for caring for the property.
During those repairs the old records, which had been kept in the cupboard, were thrown out because some of them had been damaged. It is from these records which detailed information would have been available for this historical sketch had they not been discarded. Office bearers and Church people generally should realise that records are of tremendous value and importance, especially as the years go by, and they should do all within their power to keep accurate records and preserve the books in which they are recorded. At the moment consideration is being given to the possibility of a larger room or a small hall on the Church property for use as a Sunday School and for other small Church activities. It is estimated that such a structure will cost at least £900 to £1000. Already a sum of approximately £400 is available for this work and it is hoped that generous donations during the Centenary may bring its erection into the bounds of possibility. Enquiries are being made to see if a damp course could be added to the Church Walls.
The church was built in 1857 mainly to serve an area extending to Watergate and Bugle Ranges, with the hills on the Strathalbyn and Meadows sides as the limits in those directions. At first it was attached to the Blakiston Parish whose Rector was the Rev. John Fulford. After a short time the Bishop's Missionary Chaplain appears to have been responsible for the oversight of the District until it was attached to the Strathalbyn Parish. Early in the century it became part of the Coramandel Valley Mission which was worked by the Rector of Belair. Several times the people asked that the Church and District should be attached to the Mt. Barker Parish but out of success. In about 1917, when the Belair Parish was vacant the congregation asked the Rev. James Welsh, Rector of Christ Church, Mt. Barker, whether he would take over the district. He replied that such a request was made to the Bishop. He, the Bishop, would probably refuse, but that if they asked the Bishop to allow Mr. Welsh to Minister to the District during the vacancy he would probably agree. This was done and Mr. Welsh became responsible for the work at Macclesfield.
Although Macclesfield now appears to be part of the Mt. Barker Parish it is difficult to discover when, if ever, it was finally declared part of the Parish, but as late as 1929 the congregation was still trying to have it permanently attached to that Parish. The present Parish now consists of Christ Church, Mt Barker; St. Mary's Church, Echunga; St. John's Church, Macclesfield; together with the original Parish Church of St. James' Blakiston.
Owing to the absence of any records whatever it has been almost impossible to work out a list of Priests who have Ministered to the District. The following list is very incomplete, therefore, and possible inaccurate in some ways. [e.g. Wyallie has been spelt two different ways, and some research (D. Stevenson Jan 2014) cannot find a Wyallie (sic) in Strathalbyn at this time.]
1857 John Fulford from Blakiston
1858 W B Andrews from Blakiston
1860 The Bishop's Missionary Chaplain
1875 J W Gower from Blakiston
1880 W J Bussell from Strathalbyn
1895 approximately church closed
1899 H H Wyallie from Strathalbyn
1904 A J C Young from Belair
1908 E S Close from Belair
1912 Uncertain, but it seems probable that until 1917 services were irregular and arranged through the Bishop's Home Mission, Society.
1917 James Welsh, from this date the Church was attached to Mount Barker.
1918 A H Reynolds
1925 R V S Adams
1935 J A Rowell
1940 R R Harley
1943 H H Woolnough
1956 Christopher Grey (NOTE SPELLING compared to the start of the text)
As far as records show there have been no, so-called, notable Church people connected with the church, but, on the other hand, there has been a continuity of faithful and devoted Christians who have laboured through the local Church to the Glory of God and for the establishment of Christ's Kingdom on Earth. In all ages the greatness of the few, but by the faithfulness of the many.
The observance of a Church has advanced, and is not simply to look over the past and to thank God for all His Blessings and for all the ways by which he has led us, but a time for the re-dedication of ourselves to the Church's task which still lies ahead. The work of Christ's Church on earth will never be completed until His return in triumph. What has been true of the past must always be true, that God expects us to give as much as we can in His Service; no more and certainly no less. Those who have gone before have laid a true and lasting foundation: it is up to our congregation to build as wisely and as faithfully as they did. They looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
To that goal we must strive as we enter the second hundred years in the life of St. Johns Church Macclesfield.