Pitt Street Congregational Church

In the early 1830s, in New South Wales, that Congregationalists, or Independents as they were also known, sought to form a church in Sydney by calling a minister, the Reverend W.M. Jarrett. They also obtained a site for a chapel, in Pitt Street in Sydney City, a little further north and on the other side of the road, from the present site, where the Arthouse Hotel now stands. The congregation bought the present site to expand and a new church was opened in 1846. It became the ‘Mother Church’ of Australian Congregationalism. There was an air of respectability about that early congregation, for it included amongst its membership men who had become prominent in the commercial life of Sydney—John Fairfax, proprietor of the Sydney Morning Herald, Ambrose Foss, a wealthy pharmacist and David Jones, of the department store. A number of them were also involved in colonial politics, either the Sydney Municipal Council or the colony’s Legislative Council. The building was extended twice in the nineteenth century, in 1857 and again, most significantly, in 1868. Both at the time of its opening and later people spoke of the ‘simple, chaste beauty’ of its Classical Revival style, a simplicity and a chasteness which was seen as peculiarly suitable for Protestant worship. It was also seen as a ‘temple’ to the separation of Church and State and to liberty of conscience; to the right of men and women to worship as they wished. In 1877 the congregation built a school hall, to the north of the church, comprising a hall, an infants’ section, a library and ten large classrooms.

The proposed redevelopment  of the Pitt Street site in the early 1970s placed the church in the very middle of one of Sydney’s most significant political debates of the time—the nature of urban development and the associated questions of quality of life. The proposal, which provoked much concern and criticism in the press and the wider community, was not supported by the entire congregation. Some of those opposed to the plan approached the Builder’s Labourer’s Federation, led at that time by the communist Jack Mundey, to impose a Green Ban on the project. This they did and the project was finally abandoned, due to lack of financial support. The church was subsequently classified as a significant heritage building by the National Trust and registered as part of the National Estate. Source: A Brief History of Pitt Street Uniting Church, accessed online April 2021.

During the 1960s the organ and church were allowed to fall into disrepair, but the loss of the building altogether was prevented by a ban imposed by the Builders’ Labourers’ Federation in 1973. Some basic work to bring the organ back into use was carried out in 1974 by Pitchford & Garside: in 1982 the firm commenced a staged restoration project with Kelvin Hastie as consultant and this was assisted by a NSW Heritage Grant. The prepared-for stops were added by the firm between 1987 and 1996 based upon Hill models, a generous donation by a member of the congregation enabling this to occur. The instrument today is remarkably intact, with the original mechanisms preserved in their entirety and the open metal chorus work retaining cone tuning throughout.

MP3 file (5.2MB) of Michael Dudman playing the Toccata from "Suite Gothique" by Boëllmann (recorded 1983)


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