Exploring New South Wales: Newcastle Cathedral

Cathedral Church of Christ the King, Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

Cathedral Church of Christ the King, Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

Every major Australian and New Zealand city possesses at least one, usually two, fine cathedrals, many of them started in the Gothic Revival style in the early years of settlement.  Some, such as St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, Perth and Holy Trinity Cathedral, Auckland, were completed to newer, cheaper, more practical designs;  others such as William Wilkinson Wardell’s magnificent St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne, and St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, were eventually completed as the original architect intended.

The Cathedral Church of Christ the King, Newcastle, New South Wales, begun in 1869, is a superb essay in Gothic Revival style by the Canadian-born architect John Horbury Hunt (1838-1904), who designed (among much else) Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton (1881-4), St Peter’s Anglican Cathedral, Armidale (1871) and rebuilt the charming little church of St James, Morpeth after a fire (1874-7) – all three in New South Wales.

The original design by the architects Leonard Terry (1825–1884) and Robert Speechly (1840-1884) proved unworkable, and John Horbury Hunt provided a new design in 1882.  It has the signature of this talented, often controversial architect – an uncompromising choice of materials, in this case brick, and a forthright acceptance of asymmetry.  The building as it stands is not exactly as John Horbury Hunt intended:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/uon/4128635375/in/photostream.

Construction stalled in 1893 in a flurry of litigation over contracts and costs, and resumed in 1900 under the supervision of the Sydney architect John Hingeston Buckeridge (1857-1934), so that the nave and crossing could be brought into use in 1902.

Thereafter, a succession of architects progressively extended the building:  Frederick George & A C Castleden designed the Warrior’s Chapel (1924) at the east end, using Buckeridge’s plans, and the nave was completed with a roof unlike Hunt’s intention in 1928.

E C Sara of the practice Castleden & Sara added the Columbarium in 1955.  Eventually, in 1979, the transepts and tower were completed, largely according to Hunt’s intentions, by E C Sara’s son John.

The only omission from the spirit of Hunt’s design was the spire, which is almost certainly for the best, because the Cathedral was damaged in the 1989 earthquake, and the repairs that took place in 1995-1997 were only practicable because of the quality of the original structure:  http://www.newcastlecathedral.org.au/earthquake.html.

The result is a magnificent, remarkably harmonious essay in Gothic architecture, completed in the 1970s and rescued in the 1990s.  At the time of its consecration in 1983 it had been in use for eighty years.

I was fortunate to be shown round by Bronwyn Orrock, who has inventorised the cathedral’s many treasures, including sixty stained-glass windows by Kempe & Co and one, the Dies Domini window of 1907, by Edward Burne-Jones and Morris & Co.

The font and the bishop’s throne are by William Douglas Caroe (1857-1938);  the pulpit is by the German-born artist Frederick Burnhardt  Menkens (1855-1910);  in the Warriors’ Chapel are fourteen terracotta panels designed by the Doulton ceramicist George Tinworth (1843-1913).

The Cathedral is the parent church of Toc H in Australia and is rich in war memorials, from Gallipoli, Flanders, Singapore, Korea, Malaya and Vietnam.

Newcastle is, perhaps, off the tourist beat, yet Christ Church Cathedral is one of the most memorable buildings I’ve so far seen in this vast and varied country.

The Cathedral website is at www.newcastlecathedral.org.au.

Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Gothic Down Under:  English architecture in the Antipodes explores the influence of British architects, and British-trained architects, on the design of churches and other buildings in the emerging communities of Australia and New Zealand.  For details, please click here.

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