National Trust Hunter Baillie Memorial Church Conservation Appeal
Things are moving! The work is progressing!
Bit by bit, over the last few years, the huge enterprise of preserving the beauty and structure of the Hunter Baillie Church for future generations has crept forward. Stained glass windows have been expertly reconstructed, the cast-iron fence has been repainted and missing pieces have been re-forged, the historic organ has been gradually put back into the state it ought be (with much more to go). But at the same time the clock has been ticking on the need to combat our biggest enemy – decay of the stonework.
But, thanks to many of our faithful donors, who have continued their support through times when nothing big seemed to be happening, we are able now to do some substantial work despite the absence of government grants. Our architects and stonework consultants called for tenders for the most urgent stonework – the upper Western gable of the church.
Their recommended tender was from Heritage Stonemasonry for the sum of $132,192.50. Acceptance of the tender had to go through three levels of church authorities, not to mention a certificate from the Leichhardt Council. The work could be done only by reason of the gifts of many supporters over the last few years. Heritage Stonemasonry commenced in June 2016.
In January 2015 the Hunter Baillie Church submitted an application to the NSW Heritage Office for a grant of $150,000 in order to continue the conservation (one might say “rescue”) of the great church. The application was drawn by Sydney’s leading Heritage Architects, Clive Lucas, Stapleton & Partners, and on the advice of those Architects and of our excellent stonemasonry consultant, Jasper Swann. Windows and roof will both need attention in their turn, but this application addresses our most pressing problem, deteriorating stonework. If our application succeeds, we will be commissioning some $326,000 of works. Stonemasons will at last be repairing - and where necessary replacing - the most badly weathered stones and mortar, which are in the Western gable of the church. To play our part we will need to raise at least a further $26,000 in the next year.
When the church was built in the 1880s, no one expected the onslaught of car exhausts and other city fumes.
We are continuing with the restoration of the large Clerestory windows in the church, and Sean Hardingham of Renaissance Stained Glass is working on the second of these windows. They contain steel as part of an original system for opening them. After 126 years the steel is showing signs of corrosion and bowing. If the windows are left as is, there are likely to be dangerous consequences to the surrounding stonework and the windows themselves.
If you want to assist and have your name or that of a family member memorialised on a particular window or stone, please ring (02) 9969 8071.
A Landmark Building
For over 127 years, the Hunter Baillie Church has been towering over the Annandale and surrounding area of inner-western Sydney – the slender and elegant spire pointing to heaven above, and a worshipping, living congregation in the classical sandstone Gothic building below.
It is visible from the Anzac Bridge and from the main railway line .
The Church, opened in 1889, was erected by Mrs Helen Mackie Baillie as a memorial to her late husband, John Hunter Baillie, who died at the age of thirty-five years after becoming the first Inspector of Branches and then Secretary of the Bank of New South Wales (now known as Westpac).
The Architects were Cyril and Arthur Blacket, sons of the great Edmund Blacket, who designed the Great hall and Main Building of Sydney University. The architectural historian, Morton Herman, in his book “Architecture of Victorian Sydney” speaks of the church “with a pure and delightful silhouette when seen from any angle” and says. “ Edmund Blacket ... built many beautiful towers and spires in his time ... none of them quite equals the dramatic delicacy of Hunter Baillie Church.”
The continuation of the church at Annandale is a vital matter to those who worship there, to most Presbyterians and to the large number of people who were baptised or married there or have other associations with “the Hunter Baillie”. But many people who have moved to Annandale in recent years, and have little or no church association, would be desolated if this extraordinary building disappeared from their lives.
It would be a tragedy for Sydney as a whole if this icon were lost.
Age and inner-city pollution have taken their toll, so a lot of the exterior sandstone has deteriorated to the point where it must be replaced;
Some minor pieces of stone have fallen and, last year, after a “make-safe” operation by stonemason Jasper Swann (part-funded by the NSW Heritage Council), revealed the danger, a mason, crane and cherry picker had to be hired to lift down a decayed pinnacle which was taking part of the strain from the tower.
The time to act is now, and it seems the National Trust Appeal is the only way to save this national treasure for future generations. The amount that is needed is a tad under $4.5 million, Fortunately, gifts are tax-deductible.
The National Trust Appeal was formally launched by the Governor, Prof Marie Bashir, AC CVO, in a ceremony in the Church on Sunday 29 April 2007. Clive Lucas OBE, the renowned Heritage Architect spoke, as did Hon. Barry O’Keefe, AC QC, the former President of the National Trust.
There was a pipe band in attendance, the Chamber Choir of PLC Sydney sang in the church, and a Clarinet Quartet from the RAAF Air Command Band entertained those who stayed for afternoon tea. In addition, the historic and majestic Wm Hill and Son organ were being played.
To get the Appeal moving, the Heritage Council has kindly agreed to a special “Kickstart” grant. That means that if the church raises $30,000 by 28 May towards restoration of the façade around the front entrance, and a larger sum later, the Heritage Council will kick in another $10,000 to get the job done.
Once the launch is over, serious fund raising must begin in earnest. It will probably continue over more than four years.
At some stage of this mammoth task the organisers are hopeful that government – Federal or State or both – will supplement the efforts of private donors, but this is a possibility only if there is substantial public support.
The work of conservation will begin as soon as funds begin to be available. It will involve the replacement of many stones and include
A compehensive make-safe, especially of pinnacles, flying buttresses, spire & parapet stones;
lower sandstone work, especially on parapets, plinths & projecting stone;
restoration of the historic Wm Hill & Son organ;
repair of the wrought iron & sandstone fence;
repairs to the stained glass windows;
conservation of the terra cotta floor tiles;
interior painting of the Hall.
There is a dedicated band of people committed to preserving this gem of the inner west.
To quote the Secretary of the Appeal Committee: “We are determined to see that ours is not the last generation to enjoy the beauty of this place.”