St Francis of Assisi Church Group including buildings and their interiors and grounds | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


St Francis of Assisi Church Group including buildings and their interiors and grounds

Item details

Name of item: St Francis of Assisi Church Group including buildings and their interiors and grounds
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Religion
Category: Church
Primary address: 459A-463 Oxford Street, Paddington, NSW 2021
Local govt. area: Sydney
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
459A-463 Oxford StreetPaddingtonSydney  Primary Address

Statement of significance:

The site and buildings making up the St Francis of Assisi group are historically significant because of their associations with the Roman Catholic Church and its presence within Paddington. The Church and associated buildings have been a continuous part of the life of the Catholic community within Paddington since the end of the nineteenth century. The original section of St Francis of Assisi Church demonstrates characteristics of the Victorian Romanesque and Academic Gothic styles in a distinctive manner, while later additions to the Church and the School building both demonstrate representative characteristics of the Inter War Free Classical style. The buildings within the group are a highly significant component of the streetscape in this section of Paddington

St Francis Church has strong associations with the significant late nineteenth/early twentieth century architect John Bede Barlow.
Date significance updated: 08 Jun 07
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: John Bede Barlow; Bart Moriarty; W Gilroy
Builder/Maker: W B Proud; Bignell and Clark; J Redmond
Physical description: The site of St Francis of Assisi contains several buildings, not all of which are considered to have heritage significance. They include the Church and associated extensions, the Parish Hall to the west of the Church, the large School building to the south west of the Church and the Friary, which is oriented to Gordon Street. The Friary is not considered to have heritage significance.

The Church, which has a Latin Cross plan, clearly demonstrates the phases of construction that have taken place. The original northern portion is constructed of brick with stone dressings on buttresses and forming finials. The roof is covered with slate. The façade of the Church shows an understanding on the part of its architect of Italian Lombard Romanesque church architecture and features a large rose window above an arched portal. Statuary is placed in hooded niches on either side of the portal. Areas of white cement render or paint indicate where mosaic panels were originally located. The sides of the original section of the Church are Gothic in character, with regular bays of pointed windows, above which are circular windows, alternating with buttresses. Decorative elements include the label moulds above window openings and the brick dentils below the eaves line.

The architectural expression of the Church changes at the transept. The crossing is a simple structure with a pitched roof and walls lined in metal sheeting. The eastern and western transepts are constructed of brick and feature gabled roofs and stucco trimmings such as quoins and label moulds. The architectural expression of the transepts is characteristic of the Inter War Free Classical style, as is the semi circular brick sanctuary at the southern end of the building. Both transepts and sanctuary have been designed with round headed windows and door openings.

The two storey Parish Hall is a brick building with a gabled roof that does not demonstrate affinities with any particular architectural style. The Oxford Street façade is characteristic of post World War II architecture and features extensive areas of glazing interspersed with pre cast cement panels organised by an expressed structural frame. The façade is recessed behind the roof line, allowing a planter box next to the Oxford Street footpath. The sides of the building, which are constructed of brick that has been painted, have regularly spaced window openings. Those on the ground floor level have square heads; those at first floor level have arched heads. The openings contain timber framed window sashes that appear to be early if not original.

The School is a large and unadventurous essay in the Inter War Free Classical style. It, along with a detached amenities block, is three storeys high. The amenities block is only accessible from each level of the building. The School has a flat roof with a distinctive, if simple parapets; different coloured bricks indicate modification in the past. The amenities block has a hipped roof with exposed rafter ends and is covered with terracotta tiling. Walls are generally constructed of dark toned face brickwork and lintels above window openings are emphasised by stucco. There are four distinctive porches on the eastern side of the School, two of which are distinguished by pediments.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
The buildings are generally in good condition and have been well maintained.

There may be the possibility of archaeological remains within the confines of the property.
Date condition updated:08 Jun 07
Modifications and dates: The following modifications are confirmed by documentary evidence:

The mosaic panels in the Oxford Street façade had, according to documentary sources, all but disappeared by 1945;
• The statues of saints on either side of the northern entrance to the Church were installed at some time after 1910;
• The parapet of the School was modified by the removal of distinctive pediments, copings and decorative piers at some time after 1945.

The following modifications are included in Council’s building application records:

• Alterations and additions to the Parish hall, which were documented by Fowell Mansfield & Maclurcan in 1952.
Further information: Heritage Inventory sheets are often not comprehensive, and should be regarded as a general guide only. Inventory sheets are based on information available, and often do not include the social history of sites and buildings. Inventory sheets are constantly updated by the City as further information becomes available. An inventory sheet with little information may simply indicate that there has been no building work done to the item recently: it does not mean that items are not significant. Further research is always recommended as part of preparation of development proposals for heritage items, and is necessary in preparation of Heritage Impact Assessments and Conservation Management Plans, so that the significance of heritage items can be fully assessed prior to submitting development applications.
Current use: Religious and education.
Former use: Religious and education.


Historical notes: The "Eora people" was the name given to the coastal Aborigines around Sydney. Central Sydney is therefore often referred to as "Eora Country". Within the City of Sydney local government area, the traditional owners are the Cadigal and Wangal bands of the Eora. There is no written record of the name of the language spoken and currently there are debates as whether the coastal peoples spoke a separate language "Eora" or whether this was actually a dialect of the Dharug language. Remnant bushland in places like Blackwattle Bay retain elements of traditional plant, bird and animal life, including fish and rock oysters.

With the invasion of the Sydney region, the Cadigal and Wangal people were decimated but there are descendants still living in Sydney today. All cities include many immigrants in their population. Aboriginal people from across the state have been attracted to suburbs such as Pyrmont, Balmain, Rozelle, Glebe and Redfern since the 1930s. Changes in government legislation in the 1960s provided freedom of movement enabling more Aboriginal people to choose to live in Sydney.

(Information sourced from Anita Heiss, "Aboriginal People and Place", Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City )

The first Mass to be celebrated in Paddington took place in a private house in Underwood Street. During 1866 a timber building was erected in Gordon Street and in May that year the Parish of Woollahra was separated from that of Darlinghurst. The Church was later closed and the building used as a school, thus forcing the residents of Paddington to travel to Edgecliff or Darlinghurst so that they could attend services. This caused sufficient fuss to result in the re-opening of the church during 1873.

In February 1876 The Most Reverend Rodger Bede Vaughan, then Coadjutor Archbishop, the Reverend George Leeming, and Andrew and Michael Cummings received two separate and unequal sized grants of Crown land on the South Head Road as the sites for a Roman Catholic Church and for a “Dwelling House, Garden, and other Appurtenances, for the Clergyman duly appointed to officiate in the Roman Catholic Church erected at Upper Paddington and known as St Joseph’s”. The two grants were located on the eastern and western sides of that section of the present Church property defined by Watson Street and Church Place. The land was formerly part of the Sydney Common, which was proclaimed on 5 October 1811 and dedicated on 5 October 1866 under the Sydney Commons Improvement Act, which appointed the Municipal Council of Sydney trustees. The Act empowered the Council to sell a portion of the Common lands. The money raised was to go towards improving the remainder of the Common, renamed Moore park in 1871. The affected land was (and is) contained by Oxford Street, South Dowling Street and Moore Park Road.

In 1879 the parish of Woollahra was handed over to the jurisdiction of the Franciscan order. Paddington only became a separate parish in 1887 and by 1890 about a quarter of the population of the suburb was Roman Catholic. Paddington was both more “Irish and Catholic” than many other parts of metropolitan Sydney.

On 23 March 1889 Cardinal Moran blessed the foundation stone of St Francis of Assisi Church (also called The Church of Strangers). The completed nave was blessed and opened on 22 June 1890, again by Cardinal Moran. It was reported that "The new church of which the nave only has been built, is constructed of brick, with the exception of the main front, which is faced with various coloured marbles and Venetian glass mosaic, after the manner of the churches of Northern Italy, the style of the building itself being an adaptation of Italian Gothic. The mosaics, the first of their kind ever used in Australia, fill the spandrels round the great rose window and those over the main entrance arch, and represent the symbols of the four Evangelists and the arms of the Franciscan Order. The whole design, if it strikes the eye familiar with more subdued tones as rather florid, is still tasteful, harmonious and attractive". The brick and stone masonry was constructed by the contacting firm of W B Proud, carpentry and “finishing trades” were the work of Bignell and Clark, and the mosaics were supplied by Signor C Fontanna.

The building was designed by architect John Bede Barlow. Barlow established his practice in 1887 after an extended tour of England and Europe. Amongst his early works was St Canice’s Church in Kings Cross (1888). Barlow was “ardent in revolt” against the Victorian propensity to embellish architecture and in 1892 pleaded for intelligent use of colour in architecture by means of the colours inherent in materials. He was President of the Institute of Architects of NSW between 1897 and 1902.

Work commenced in November 1895 on the ground floor of St Francis’ School-Hall, which was originally only one storey high. The completed building was blessed by Cardinal Moran on 9 February 1896. The hall also served as a girls’ school. A second storey was added in 1903 that resulted in relocation of the girls’ school onto the first floor and installation of a boys’ school on the ground floor. In 1901 further building activity on the site took place when a Presbytery designed by architects Sheerin & Hennessy was constructed. The tender received from M J Ward for its erection was accepted during September 1901.

In 1912 a grant was made to the trustees for the purposes of building a school. It consisted of the land lying between the two blocks granted in 1876.

By 1915 additions to the Church were badly needed to cope with the pressures of the congregation. Plans for rebuilding, prepared by Bart Moriarty, were accepted but lack of funds resulted in a staging of the works. The foundation stone for additions comprising a transept, sacristy and sanctuary, was blessed and laid by Archbishop Kelly at the end of July 1917 and the completed works were blessed and opened by Bishop Dwyer on 16 June 1918. It was intended to replace Barlow’s nave and façade and “complete’ the neo-classical additions, but this scheme never eventuated. However, altar rails were erected during 1924 and the High Altar during 1928.

The old timber school building near Gordon Street was demolished at the end of the 1920s and a substantial brick school building erected in its place. Work began on the new school in August 1929 to the design of an architect by the name of Gilroy and the completed building was blessed by Archbishop Sheehan, Coadjutor Archbishop of Sydney, on 6 July 1930.

The title to the St Francis site was conveyed to several individuals, including the Reverend Michael Kelly, Archbishop of Sydney, in June 1932, and then some twenty years later (in May 1952) was made over to the Association of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor. The property was affected by the widening of Oxford Street around this period. Additional land was acquired to the west of the three major grants during 1958, situated along Oxford Street. It comprised Lots 5 and 6 of Block B of the Sydney Common Lands and provided much needed playground space.

At the end of 1968 or beginning of 1969 the title to the Church and associated buildings and grounds was transferred to the Trustees of the Roman Catholic Church for the Archdiocese of Sydney. The Presbytery was demolished around this time and a two storey building designed as a Friary erected in its place (circa 1970).

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Land tenure-Activities and processes for identifying forms of ownership and occupancy of land and water, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal (none)-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Towns, suburbs and villages-Activities associated with creating, planning and managing urban functions, landscapes and lifestyles in towns, suburbs and villages Community facilities-
6. Educating-Educating Education-Activities associated with teaching and learning by children and adults, formally and informally. (none)-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Religion-Activities associated with particular systems of faith and worship (none)-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The site of St Francis of Assisi has been associated with the Roman Catholic Church in Paddington since 1866.

The buildings making up the St Francis church group are historically significant because of their associations with the Roman Catholic Church and its long presence within Paddington.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The original section of St Francis of Assisi Church has associations with the significant late nineteenth and early twentieth century architect John Bede Barlow.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
St Francis of Assisi Church demonstrates characteristics of the Victorian Academic Gothic style and Victorian Romanesque style in a distinctive manner.

The 1918 additions to the Church and the 1929 School building demonstrate characteristics of the Inter War Free Classical style.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The Church and Church Hall have been a continuous part of the life of the Catholic community within Paddington since the second half of the nineteenth century.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
This criterion is not applicable.
SHR Criteria f)
The combination of the Victorian Academic Gothic and Victorian Romanesque style in the architecture of St Francis of Assisi Church is a distinctive characteristic of the place and may demonstrate a level of rarity.
SHR Criteria g)
The 1918 additions to the Church and the 1929 School are representative of the Inter War Free Classical style
Integrity/Intactness: The original section of the Church appears to have retained a large amount of original and early fabric, despite the loss of mosaic embellishments on the Oxford Street facade.The School has retained a relatively large amount of original fabric although its parapet has been diminished. The Parish Hall has been affected by road widening and replacement of its facade.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Recommended management:

• All conservation, adaptive reuse and future development should be undertaken in accordance with the Australia ICOMOS Charter for Places of Cultural Significance (The Burra Charter). • A Conservation Management Plan should be prepared for the entire site to ensure that future change is managed in a coordinated fashion. • All intact original internal fabric and later fabric identified as having heritage significance and movable heritage items should be retained and conserved. • Retain and conserve all intact original external and internal building fabric and the external appearance of the buildings. • Detailing of new fabric should respect the integrity and existing character of the building and its original fabric. • No new development on the site should be permitted that obscures the important physical and visual relationships between the buildings and their important contribution to the streetscape. • Consider reinstating the decorative pediments, copings and piers on the School building. • Consider reconstructing the mosaics on the northern façade of the 1890 Church. • Further investigation into the fabric of the Parish Hall to determine its integrity and contribution to the heritage significance of the group. The building should be retained and conserved. A Heritage Assessment and Heritage Impact Statement, or a Conservation Management Plan, should be prepared for the building prior to any major works being undertaken. There shall be no vertical additions to the building and no alterations to the façade of the building other than to reinstate original features. The principal room layout and planning configuration as well as significant internal original features including ceilings, cornices, joinery, flooring and fireplaces should be retained and conserved. Any additions and alterations should be confined to the rear in areas of less significance, should not be visibly prominent and shall be in accordance with the relevant planning controls.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental PlanSydney LEP 2012I109314 Dec 12   
Heritage study     

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Written 1964Certificate of Title Volume 8493 Folio 145
Written 1930The Freeman’s Journal
Written 1929Certificate of Title Volume 4248 Folio 123
Written 1919Certificate of Tile Volume 2902 Folio 24
Written 1918The Freeman’s Journal
Written 1912Certificate of Title Volume 2219 Folio 90
Written 1901The New South Wales Contract Reporter
Written 1890The Australasian Builder and Contractor’s News
Written 1876Certificate of Tile Volume 442 Folios 199 and 200
Written  CRS South Sydney Street Cards
WrittenAnita Heiss Aboriginal People and Place, Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City View detail
WrittenGodden Mackay Logan1999St Francis of Assisi Parish, Oxford Street, Paddington: heritage impact statement
WrittenL G Norman1961Historical Notes on Paddington
WrittenMax Kelly1978Paddock Full of Houses: Paddington 1840-1890
WrittenMorton Herman1964The Architecture of Victorian Sydney
WrittenUnknown – attributed to a parish priest1945History of the Paddington Parish, appended to St Francis of Assisi Parish, Oxford Street, Paddington: heritage impact statement

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Local Government
Database number: 2421072

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