Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Frazer Memorial Church, Springwood

Frazer Memorial Church c.1910
the jacaranda tree in front is newly planted

In the early 1890s Springwood's Presbyterians were on the pastoral fringes of their Church. Few in number and without a building, they had been worshiping God for a number of years in a variety of makeshift locations - in the open air beneath a clump of turpentine trees, in the lounge of the Oriental Hotel, and on the screened verandah of Braemar, the private home of one of their congregation.

By 1896, however, things had changed. A picturesque church fronted the Western Road in the centre of town, its solid sandstone construction proclaiming to all the permanent position it would henceforward occupy in the evolution of Springwood's townscape.

The key to this sudden improvement in the circumstances of the town's Presbyterians was a man whose original profession had been the same as that of the Galilean founder of his faith: John Frazer, a carpenter and joiner, migrated to Australia from Ireland in 1842. He was one of those men who, arriving with little, prospered on the colonial scene, becoming, by the 1880s, an influential figure in the business and political circles of Sydney.

Like many of his social class in the colony, he viewed the Blue Mountains as the ideal summer retreat from the heat and stench of the city. To this end, in 1882, he built his country residence, an imitation Swiss-styled villa he named Silva Plana, on the elevated north side of Springwood. However, his enjoyment of the mountain climate was to be brief and he died at his Woollahra home in October 1884 at the relatively young age of fifty-seven. His death, nevertheless, was to prove of great significance to Springwood's Presbyterians for John Frazer bequeathed them five hundred pounds and three and a half acres of land in the centre of town to help provide a church worthy of their faith.

Unfortunately, the trustees of the Frazer estate showed considerable reticence about granting the bequest to what they considered at the time an inadequate congregation. Indeed, more than a decade passed before they were sufficiently convinced of the strength of the Springwood faithful to release the funds.

When the foundation stone was laid on 17 August 1895, construction, using locally quarried sandstone, then proceeded with relative speed. Four months later the first stage of the church was opened, while the following year the project was completed with the addition of the spire and a rear section incorporating vestry, chancel and organ recess.

The Church in 2010

While expressing a quiet elegance the building complied appropriately with nonconformist aesthetics. Thus, the Nepean Times’ assessment was in the following terms: "The building, which is chaste in appearance, is designed in a simple treatment of Early Christian architecture, effect being obtained rather from the general lines and grouping of the features than from any undue richness in ornamentation or detail."

With a sermon preached on the theme of the building of King Solomon's temple, and to the strains of a thirty strong choir who sang their praises to the accompaniment of an American organ, the new church was officially opened on Sunday 8 December 1895. The regular minister to the Springwood congregation, the Rev. James McKee of Penrith, swapped his pulpit for the day with the Rev. John Walker of the Frazer family's home church of Woollahra.

The church was classified by the National Trust in 1978. It had, said the Trust, "an architectural quality rare in buildings in the area".

Source: Historic Blue Mountains, text by John Low, paintings by Richard Smolicz, Blue Mountains City Council, 1987.

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