|Historical notes: ||St John's Church is situated on the south-east edge of Camden town as laid out in 1835 at the direction of James (1798-1867) and William (1800-1882) Macarthur, the sons of John Macarthur of Camden Park.
Central to the town plan was the siting of the church of St John's as the Sydney Herald of 14 February 1840 noted that 'on the greatest elevation of the adjacent hills it is proposed to erect a church, the situation for which will be highly picturesque and commanding'. By the time of the sale of the town allotments, the church was under construction and was the main feature of the incipient township prominently sited on the highest point overlooking the principal street, John Street.
At the same time as clearing land for the new township in 1835, James and William Macarthur appealed to their neighbours and employees for help in founding a church (Anglican). By September 1835, 644 pounds had been collected, with the majority (500 pounds) coming from the Macarthurs.
The Macarthurs' plans for their church in the town coincides with the passing of Governor Bourke's Church Act of 1836 which promoted 'the building of Churches and Chapels and to provide for the maintenance of Ministers of Religion in NSW.' This Act placed all the major denominations (Anglican, Catholic and Presbyterian) and approved minor denominations on an equal footing in providing state funding on a pound-for-pound subsidy. This aid was available for churches and rectories/parsonages costing between 600 pounds and 2,000 pounds. To be eligible for the subsidy, all proposals had to be referred to a central ecclesiastical authority, and a professional person was required to supply the necessary plans, specifications, etc. The Macarthurs applied for a subsidy of 1,000 pounds toward a total cost of 2,500 pounds. The appointed trustees of the new church were Rev Thomas Hassall, Charles Cowper of Wivenhoe, James and William Macarthur, and George Macleay of Brownlow Hill. James and William Macarthur and George Macleay were subsequently elected the first wardens of the church on completion in 1850.
In May 1841 the land grant for the church of 5 acres 3 roods and 24 perches was registered between James and William Macarthur and Bishop Broughton. The deed reserved the land for the purposes of 'the erection of a church or chapel for the performance of divine worship according to the rites of the United Church of England and Ireland (and) for the erection of a residence for a clergyman in holy orders and for a burial ground according to the use of the said United Church.' The church grant was bounded on the east and south by a road from Elizabeth Street to Camden House, and on the west by a road leading from Broughton Street to Camden House. The grant deed also included 2 perches of land that is the Macarthur family burial vault.
The site was levelled and footings laid over the winter months of 1840. The foundations followed in September. The Bishop of Australia, Right Rev. W.G. Broughton, laid the foundation stone of the church on 3 November 1840. Despite the fact that the church was to be consecrated as late as 1849, progress in the initial stages of the construction appears to have been rapid.
The architect for the church is not known, and it may be the cumulative work of Mortimer William Lewis, John Cunningham and Edmund T Blacket, Bishop Broughton had instructed James Hume (?-1868) to design the proposed church in the 'Classical style'. This design was accepted and work commenced, but abandoned in favour of a new design for the church in the 'Gothic' style preferred by James Macarthur's wife Emily.
Hume's role as supervisory architect was replaced by the then Colonial Architect Mortimer William Lewis, however Edmund T Blacket oversaw the final stages of the construction of the church. The actual designer of the church, however, is believed to be John Cunningham, an English architect known to the Macarthur family. Cunningham (1799-1873) received his training in the Edinburgh City Works Department, although he mostly practiced in Liverpool. A number of English churches in Gothic and Romanesque styles are known to have been by Cunningham.
There is no doubt as to the identification of the builder: Richard Basden, whose brickyard (situated on the south-west junction of Argyle Street and Oxley Street) supplied the 386,000 bricks used in the church's construction. Basden also built two other prominent buildings in Camden, the post office and the inn. Basden was subsequently appointed a church warden in 1856.
The roof framing of ironbark was given by the Macarthur brothers, being cut from the forest at Mount Hunter by Jonathon Wheeler. The brick spire, the framing and other timberwork were constructed by John Le Fevre, also a church warden, in 1854.
Bishop Broughton consecrated St John the Evangelist's Church on 7th June 1849. A good description of the church at the time of the consecration was published in the Anglican newspaper The Sydney Guardian of August 1849. The correspondent reported that:
"St John's consists of a nave, chancel and western tower and spire, all including the spire, being of brick, and at some future time to be covered with plaster. The spire is already stuccoed. The windows, which are of the 'decorated' period, are exceedingly well wrought in the stone procured from the neighbourhood, which is of greyer colour and closer grain, though softer in the cutting, than the sandstone around Sydney. The flagging of the interior is the very best piece of work of the kind in the country. The roof is open, with tie-beams and spandrels. The windows are filled with fancy patterns of octagon and square glass, the former being ground, the latter coloured set in copper frames. The altar rail is carved with cinquefoil arches, on small shafts, with caps, bases and bands, in the style of the Church, and is of very effect. There is a want of porch and vestry, and the chancel is far too short."
In 1857 Sir William Macarthur commissioned the great English Gothic Revival architect Sir George Gilbert Scott to provide plans for a brick chancel and vestry addition. Some time later, Edmund Blacket was also asked to provide the same. The design for the chancel extension is believed to be a mix of Scott and Blacket's work. The extension was completed in 1874. The bricks used in the construction came from demolition of Thompson's former steam flour mill and store in Camden. The mill was constructed circa 1843.
The brick rectory (including stables and coach house) was erected in 1859. The cost of the construction, 1,000 pounds, was donated by James and William Macarthur. It has been speculated that Blacket may have been the architect for the rectory. The rectory and associated lands remained in the ownership of the Macarthur family up to November 1905, when 3 acres 2 roods and 3 perches were transferred from the Camden Park Estate to the Church of England Property Trust.
The former St Johns Parochial School located at the intersection of Hill and Broughton Streets was founded in 1850 as a denominational school. This very neat brick building was erected with aid from the Denominational School Board. The school closed in 1879 when the Camden Public School was opened. Following its closure, the schoolhouse was retained by the church until its sale, together with 1 acre and 11 3/4 perches of land in early December 1906. The proceeds of the sale were used to erect the extant church hall at the intersection of Hill and Broughton Streets.
First Church Hall:
The first church hall was constructed in 1906. The architects for this building were Sulman and Power. Sulman and Power's plans were approved by the architect Cyril Blacket, the Diocesan building surveyor in February 1906. The foundation stone of the hall was laid by the Bishop of Goulburn on 29 July of that year, that is prior to the sale of the old school building and associated 1 acre of land.
Second Church Hall:
The second church hall was completed in 1973. The hall was opened and dedicated on 25 March 1973 by the Archbishop of Sydney Most Rev Marcus Loane. Part of the funding for this new hall came from the sale in 1968 of the Parish's 20 acres of glebe land situated between the Rectory and the Nepean River. The architects were Martin and King of Willoughby.
The church cemetery forms part of the original Macarthur family endowment of 1841 of about 5 acres. The cemetery is about 1 1/4 acres in area. The first burial is believed to be that of Thomas Budd of Narellan made in March 1843. An early road used to run through the lower portion of the cemetery. This road had been used extensively by the Macarthur family but was closed some time after c1849-1850, possibly at the same time as the church was completed and consecrated. A new general cemetery for the town, at Cawdor, was dedicated in 1898, and by 1906 the church cemetery had been closed except for burials for those who had purchased the right to burial or family vaults. The cemetery however, continues in use, in particular the eastern end. A plan of recording the grave locations was initiated in 1977 and completed in 1987. The total number of recorded grave sites is approximately 1540.