Written by Carol Carruthers
St Matthew's was actually the fourth building to be used as a church in Windsor between 1803 and 1817. Prior to the arrival of Governor Macquarie there was very little government assistance for public buildings and the London Missionary Society provided the money for the first church.
In a Government and General Order issued from Government House, Sydney, dated 15 December, 1810, Governor Macquarie "marked out the district of Green Hills, which he ... called Windsor" after Windsor on the Thames in the United Kingdom. Whilst in Windsor, Macquarie ordered the outward signs of settlement to be erected, such as a church, a school-house, a gaol and a "commodious inn". Of these the most imposing was Greenway's St Matthew's Anglican Church for which Macquarie chose the site.
The first building begun on the site of St Matthew's was to be a two-storey building constructed by Henry Kitchen to a design by Francis Greenway who is acknowledged as the architect, but whose name does not appear on the original plan. On Saturday, 11 October, 1817 Macquarie deposited the rim of a Spanish dollar (worth 6/-) under the sandstone cornerstone of the building declaring "God prosper St Matthew's Church". This was stolen later that night so the next evening Governor Macquarie deposited another coin and re-laid the cornerstone. The same thing happened again and it was supposed that the money was stolen by an "indigent convict" employed at the Public Works.
Work on the new church proceeded very slowly and eventually Macquarie sent architect Greenway to investigate Greenway found the work of inferior quality and the bricks below standard. Of what we now know of Greenway this could have all been sour grapes as he was not involved in the originalconstruction. The building was razed to the ground and Kitchen sacked. The rejected bricks were used to build a wall next to the Macquarie Arms hotel in Windsor and 178 years later are still there even surviving the big flood of 1867, so one wonders about their inferiority as stated by Greenway.
Greenway designed a totally new structure and directed the building of the new church himself, overseeing the stonemasons and construction workers. He was a master craftsman and the building was completed with speed and skill. The building was sufficiently advanced to be available for church services in September, 1821 and was consecrated the next year by the Reverend Samuel Marsden, the Principal Chaplain of the Colony.
Francis Greenway, whose sentence of death was later commuted to 14 years transportation as a result of forgery, arrived in the colony two years after Macquarie. As an individual Greenway was an extremely difficult personality, making many enemies throughout his life. However as an architect and builder he was knowledgeable, thorough and imaginative. Greenway brought with him a letter of introduction from a previous Governor of the colony, Hunter. Although Macquarie was rather hesitant of employing the conceited Greenway, whom Freeland describes as coming from the "penal scrap heap", he realised that with very little to choose from, this architect was the best of the bunch. Greenway soon proved his ability by designing and erecting some sensitive and beautiful buildings such as the Court House at Windsor and St James' Church in Sydney. For these achievements Greenway received a free pardon.
Greenway, who Max Dupain acknowledges as a genius, died a pauper and is buried in a forgotten grave in East Maitland. However he left behind a magnificent architectural heritage. St Matthew's remains virtually untouched and a beautiful landmark set on an eminence overlooking the Hawkesbury River and the Blue Mountains.
St Matthew's Anglican Church at Windsor is the oldest Anglican Church in Australia and the second oldest of any denomination, after the small Uniting Church nearby at Ebenezer. Governor Macquarie who ordered the building to be erected believed that religion was an important element for all classes of people and for the betterment of the nation.
The structure of the building, with the exception of the south porch, which was on the original plans but not added until 1857, has remained virtually untouched since its construction. The church was architecturally far superior to any of the essentially utilitarian buildings already constructed in the colony which were haphazard, uncontrolled and "cobbled up by amateurs".
Southernside of the church taken in 1879 by the Government Printer showing very little change between then and now. (Photograph Windsor local Library)
The style of the church is Georgian though Morton Herman classes it as "pure Greenway". The building is simple, clean and uncomplicated because society at the time of the construction was uncompromising and undergoing a vehement evangelical revival in which there was no place for elaboration.
The windows and doors are round-topped resembling Norman arches. A pepper-pot clock tower adds variety to the well-proportioned, simple, box-like body of the church. The tower which is "a slightly attenuated double cube" was typical of the English parish church. Atop the tower is an octagonal cupola which was capped with a cross and ball in 1840 and since that time has been used as a government trigonometrical survey mark for the district. The ball and cross were replaced with the aid of a RAAF helicopter from the nearly Richmond base in 1963.
Greenway designed a large church when one considers the "number of souls in the settlement" of the whole Hawkesbury area in the March 1810 census was 2389. 23
After an inauspicious beginning and the removal of the first lot of bricks and a change in design, the second lot of bricks have weathered the years reasonably well. The bricks are hand-made sandstock and range in colour from red and orange to brown and pink. 24
They are uniform 8-3/4" x 4-1/4" x 2-1/2" and set in wide, white, lime-mortar. Morton Herman describes the brickwork as a "delightful rosiness". In colonial times bricks were soft and porous and of poor quality because of the low burning temperature of the wood and too short a burning time.
The bricks stand on sandstone footings up to 18" high. This was common in colonial Australia even on domestic buildings to stop the weathering of the bricks and mortar from the rain and the splash-back on the ground. Salt marks have appeared where the bricks have weathered over the years but the sandstone foundations have never moved. The lower 4' of the building on the weather side has been covered by oxided concrete supposedly to protect the brickwork and to keep out the dampness, though it has sealed it in, but both are now crumbling. Architects and so-called experts are at loggerheads as to what is the best approach for this problem.
The wooden floor, which was attacted by white ants, was replaced by concrete in 1964. It was realised that the concrete was a mistake and this has been covered by sandstone paving, some 2-1/2' square. This paving is covered by lengths of carpet down the two aisles. At a cost £320 (pounds) in 1857 an ornate wooden ceiling was erected to cover the rafters of the inner roof and to soften both the heat of summer and the cold of winter. The coffered ceiling timber boards are 6' wide and loudly painted in a black, blue and cream design.
Shingles, which lack durability and only have a life of about 30 years, originally covered the roof. At the time the church was built shingles were readily available locally. They were replaced in 1857 by slate and then in 1919 shingles were again used to reduce the weight. These were replaced in 1958 by copper.
The church is oriented awaiting Christ's coming from the east. On the eastern perimeter is a beautiful apse dome. Unusually for an Anglican church the shape of the building is not a cruciform. Two main aisles lead from the western door and vestry to the sanctuary through the nave and intercepted on the right by an entrance aisle from the south porch. Between the congregation and the sanctuary there is a clear division with a low turned-wooden fence and two marble steps.
Initially the floor plan was different with the seats facing the northern wall, where opposite the present porch there was a three-tiered pulpit housing in descending order the minister, his assistant or a church elder who was literate and read the scriptures and on the lowest level the parish clerk who made the responses on behalf of the largely illiterate congregation.
Initially there was no music at church services as Governor Macquarie felt parishioners were there to hear the word of the Lord, but later local militia sat in the back three rows of the centre block and provided the music. In 1916 Rev. James Steele wrote that "a portion of the old music stands in the back three rows can still be seen". But in 1963 the cedar pews were sanded back and consequently there is no longer any indication of the old music stands.
The pipe organ, the first built in Australia at a cost of £320, was installed in 1840 in the gallery that was erected to accommodate it. Against the advice of architect John Sulman the organ was later moved to the south east corner of the chancel but is now back in its original position in the gallery. The chancel or choir stalls followed the organ, initially being upstairs in the gallery, then in the south east corner and now back in the gallery again.
The top of the cross on the tower is 94'6" above the ground allowing nothing to compete with the church in height . The bell tower is a sister to the one at St. James' Church, Sydney. The belfries were cast in the same foundry in London and came to the colony on the same ship . The sound-carrying qualities of the ringing bells were an ideal way of summoning the parishioners to church from the village over a kilometre away. The clock in the tower was a gift from King George IV as was the Bible still held in the church and used until 1937 when it became too fragile for constant use . The clock, was wound every week, heralded the time in the days before wristwatches, alarm clocks, telephones and radios. The clock has old-fashioned weights and required considerable strength to wind it up. It now has an electric motor.
The walls are broken into seven bays by pilasters, which support the roof trusses. In line with Greenway's well-proportioned design the walls are four times longer than their height.
The different courses of bricks can be seen where the older brick of the church joins the newer work on the porch which was erected in 1857.
Macquarie had a propensity, like most empire builders, to glorify himself by having a plaque with his name inscribed, mounted on the wall. This caused a later furore amongst the parishioners who naturally felt the building was erected to the glory of God and not for the glorification of Macquarie, and plastered over the plaque when the porch was built in 1857. Church authorities at the turn of the century were baffled by the fact that there seemed to be no commemorating stone on the building. Whilst work was being done on the porch in 1919 the stone was rediscovered and is now on show above the porch.
A foundation stone was placed at the base of the tower about 60 years ago though the correct placing of the original coins and foundation stone is not known.
Inside the building the most magnificent feature is the beautiful reredos. For many years this was covered by curtains as there was difficulty in finding the fine craftsmen to restore the painting.
The beautiful reredos are a most magnificent feature
The reredos, on the eastern side of the church, is semi-circular. It has five arches in which are painted four scrolls and contain the Lord's Prayer, Exodus XX, the Ten Commandments and the Apostles Creed. The ceiling of the apse is painted in graduating colours of blue with gold stars representing the night sky. John Tebbutt, the local Windsor astronomer who is commemorated on the $100 note, lay on the floor and drew the stars on the ceiling where they would appear that particular night. Naturally the stars in the sky have moved a few degrees since that time. The apse was able to be restored when some fine craftsmen came out from Europe to restore the Queen Victoria Building and furthered their talents at Windsor.
The church contains many memorials to local parishioners, in fact they almost present a who's who of early Windsor, such as John Terry, Edwin Rouse, the Fitzgerald family and the retailer, Horderns who still own a shop called Hordern Bros. in Windsor. Many memorials are small and unobtrusive, but the biggest and ugliest is the Blake Memorial Plaque that was erected in 1874 amidst much controversy. Many members of the congregation felt that with its large cross, anchor and chain, it suggested the introduction of idolatry within the church.
The Blake Memorial is copiously worded and inconsistent with the rest of the memorials in the church. Another very large plaque is the tribute to Rev. Samuel Marsden erected 100 years after his death at the Rectory.
There is a Roll of Honour board for World War I and World War II representing the close association between the state and the church. The banner of the now disbanded Officer Training Unit of National Servicemen from nearby Scheyville is held in the church and there is a plaque in memory of graduates who were killed in Vietnam. The graduation services for the Unit were held in St Matthew's church.
Almost every moveable article within the church has a plaque in memory of someone, including the vases, choir stalls, the pulpit, the organ, doors and windows. The communion table at the back of the apse is small and does not dominate. The table is centred within the apse with a large pulpit to one side and the lectern to the other emphasising a balance between communion supported by preaching on one hand and Bible reading on the other.
The pulpit replaces an earlier three-tiered pulpit which ensured that the parishioners could see the preacher over the top of their high boxed pews which were as tall as a man. The new pulpit designed by Sir John Sulman in 1892 dominates the transept by its mere size. It is beautifully carved including some trefoils in American oak and cost £l00 (pounds) at the time.
The tall pews were cut down in 1857, their doors were removed at this time and the pews were arranged to face the east. The Rev. Henry T Stiles, the incumbent in 1857 must have been something of a mover because so much happened within the church that year. Apart from the pews, the ceiling and new porch were added and a vestry built under the tower. Stiles was a friend of Rev Samuel Marsden and it was Stiles that Marsden came to visit when he died at the Rectory in 1838. Stiles was also responsible for giving refuge within the church during the great flood of 1867 and as Steel explains it was during the flood that Stiles "passed away to his reward". Steele also noted in 1916 that "old hinge marks can be seen on the pews" where the doors were removed. The seats of the pews are very narrow obviously to encourage the congregation to kneel in prayer rather than sit in contemplation. Apart from farming the church glebe, the current Clarendon racecourse, the only other form of income was the pew rentals. Rental was charged for the pews, varying in 1837 from £1/10/- to £5 for a family pew or 6/- to 12/6 for a single sitting . In 1843 the offertory, a totally new concept in Australia, was introduced. This innovation was viewed with suspicion with some church members leaving when the plate was handed around, but it is feasible they simply could not afford to pay. In 1956 the pew rental system was abolished making St Matthews the last church in Australia to retain this ancient system
The lectern is a large brass structure in the shape of an eagle on an orb. The lectern sits on small russet quarry tiles, which have been laid in the transept.
There are many brass vases in the church and a simple brass cross sits on the altar. The font is in the centre of the church in the nave. It is near the south porch door representing the way in to becoming a Christian. When life was hard and uncertain early baptism was considered important
The large sandstone font replaced in 1840 the original wooden one. 44 The font which stands in the baptistery is the traditional octagonal shape - eight being the symbol of re-creation of birth. 45 It is also raised on a large sandstone pedestal giving the parishioners a good view of the new baby.
St Matthew's contains 16 windows. The three in the tower were white-washed over to reduce glare. There are seven stained glass windows in the front half of the church all memorials to local people. All were made at Newcastle-on-Tyne between 1862 and 1890. Because of the church's proximity to the RAAF base in 1942 all the stained glass windows were dismantled and stored at Rouse Hill House about 15 kilometres away. They were re-erected in 1945.
Six windows of coloured glass were installed in 1910 and again are memorials to parishioners, with two of these coloured glass windows being partially covered by the vestry and crying room which were built under the gallery in 1957.
There is very little use of symbols evolving from an era of strong no-nonsense evangelicism. Within the church there is a simple, angular brass cross on a small beautifully carved communion table. There are no statues nor a crucifix in line with Anglican belief of individual relationships with God through prayer and faith that abhorred all intercessors.
The cemetery is the resting place of many. It is older than the church having been ordered by Governor Macquarie in 1810. The fifth burial was that of Andrew Thompson, a successful emancipist, who left half of his large estate to Macquarie. The grave is still maintained by the local historical society.
Other famous people are interred in the graveyard, such as First Fleet surgeon, Thomas Arndell, the builder of the road over the Blue Mountains, William Cox, and possibly the most interesting is that of John Tebbutt, the astronomer. He had his family tomb built in 1910, six years before his death and in line with his hobby it is surmounted on four corners by celestial spheres, made of marble, depicting the celestial co-ordinates.
In front of the church and the centrepiece of the driveway is a huge Victorian monument of imported Carrara marble erected in 1882 by McQuade, the local mayor, in memory of his daughter. It was intended that this monument be under cover so consequently is deteriorating. It is surrounded by a brick columbarium housing the ashes of cremated parishioners. In Victorian times a fence had to be erected around the graveyard to stop straying cattle from eating flowers off the graves.
Throughout any church are many allegories to ships and water with Jesus and some disciples being fishermen. Baptism was considered the first plank of safety on a sea of many shipwrecks on the way to salvation. 40 Nave means a ship in Latin. Peter was regarded as the rock on which the church was founded and the church was Peter's boat carrying Christians across the stormy seas of life. 41
Man devoted his finest creative talents to the service of God. 42 This is particularly apparent at St Matthew's showing the strength and solidarity of Christianity and the aspirations of the local community. This message would not have been lost on many early arrivals in the colony who have may expected a godforsaken wilderness but instead found this beautiful structure as a symbol of the future of this country.
St Matthew's Anglican church at Windsor stands alone in stately simplicity, having overseen the growth of the Hawkesbury from the clanking of chain gangs to the age of screaming jets flying overhead to the nearby airbase. The doors of the church have been opened to shelter the flood victims of an earlier age and finally gathered them to rest within the shadow of her walls.