Monthly Archives: December 2021

Exploring Canberra: St John’s Church, Reid

St John the Baptist Church, Reid, Canberra, Australia

Having visited the one building in Canberra I’d specifically come to see, All Saints’ Church, Ainslie, I looked for the obvious tourist sites like the National Gallery and the National Museum of Australia and the obscure, unlikely places that often prove to be more interesting.

I enjoyed, for instance, the National Museum of Australia, not least for the excellent salmon sandwich and pot of tea overlooking the West Basin of Canberra’s enormous artificial lake.  Like the National Maritime Museum in Sydney, entry is free and the standard of presentation is top-quality.  It supplemented my learning in a number of ways, not least because it displays an example of the gold-diggers’ wooden cradle which I’d read about and couldn’t visualise.

I’d decided to pursue my trail of buildings by the architect Edmund Blacket (1817-1883), who had built, amid much else, St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney the Necropolis Receiving Station and the Cemetery Station no 1 that became All Saints’, Ainslie, and some of the minor churches I’d spotted in Sydney and around Maitland and Morpeth, New South Wales.

I spotted that Edmund Blacket built the 1864 tower to the older Church of St John the Baptist, Reid, consecrated in 1845, sixty-odd years before Canberra was even thought of. 

There’s a photograph of it c1864 with an earlier tower, surrounded entirely by flat fields.  It’s the oldest building in the area, with a narrow nave and chancel because the original cell was small and has been three times lengthened.  It has the warm, modest atmosphere of an English parish church.  Edmund Blacket’s tower and spire of 1864 sits neatly at the end of the 1841-45 nave, and the chancel is 1872-73. 

The walls are worth reading.  One panel alerted me to the existence of an abortive St Mark’s Anglican Cathedral project, for which the federal government provided a site at Rottenbury Hill in 1927, though nothing has yet been built. 

There is also a monument to the first minister of St John’s, Rev G E Gregory, who was drowned on August 20th 1851 “while attempting to swim across the Queyanbean [River] on his return from ministering to the scattered colonists on the banks of the Murrumbidgee”. 

Outside in the churchyard, the so-called ‘Prophetic Tombstone’ to Sarah and George Webb has as its inscription Hebrews 15:14 – “For here we have no continuing city, but seek one to come”.

The Wright stuff

St Pancras Station, London

An embarrassingly long time ago, one of my school contemporaries gave me a book that had belonged to his late father – Roy Christian’s Butterley Brick:  200 years in the making (Henry Melland 1990).  The title misled me.  It sat for far too long on my pile of unread books because I’m not particularly interested in brickworks.

Roy Christian was one of the most lucid and knowledgeable Derbyshire local historians of his generation, and he named his book after only one of the three divisions into which the old Butterley Company had been divided in 1968 – Butterley Brick, Butterley Engineering and Butterley Aggregates.

Brickmaking only emerges in Roy Christian’s book at chapter ten, and much of his text is a masterly account of a now-vanished major industrial complex, based on a 1950 company history aptly entitled Through Five Generations and subsequent researches by Jean Lindsay and Philip Riden.

Bricks had been made around Butterley since William Jessop (1745-1814) and Benjamin Outram (1764-1805) engineered the Butterley Tunnel on the Cromford Canal in the early 1790s, and the two canal engineers founded Benjamin Outram & Co, in conjunction with a lawyer, Francis Beresford (1737-1801), and a banker, John Wright (1758-1840), to mine coal and iron and to manufacture iron goods.

The company was renamed the Butterley Company sometime earlier than 1809.

Of the descendants of these four founders, William Jessop’s son, also called William (1784-1852), led the company for forty-six years, and then its long-term success was directed by five generations of the Wright family, who owned 100% of the company’s shares from 1888 and remained in control until 1966. 

They established an ironworks literally above the canal tunnel at Butterley and a forge further along the canal at Codnor Park, and purchased limestone quarries at Crich and elsewhere, so that they were fully in command of the necessary raw materials and the means of transporting them cheaply.

The district was not populous so the company built housing at locations along the canal – Ironville, Golden Valley and Hammersmith.

The most prominent memento of the company’s engineering prowess is the magnificent trainshed at St Pancras Station (1867), which bears the name “Butterley Company, Derbyshire” repeatedly cast into the ironwork.

But their handiwork is evident in so many other places, from the elegant Hospital Lane Bridge, Boston, Lincolnshire (1811), the surviving winding-engine on the Cromford & High Peak Railway at Middleton Top (1829) in Derbyshire and London’s Vauxhall Bridge (1906) to the Falkirk Wheel (2000) and the Spinnaker Tower, Portsmorth (2005).

In contrast, Roy Christian explains the Butterley habit of espousing unlikely, ill-starred inventions, ranging from William Brunton’s Steam Horse (1813) [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jffVbuUhblc] to the Simm-Wulpa vertical car park (1962) [https://www.rdht.org.uk/all-things-local-august-2017].

There was a time in the early 1970s when Butterley could have become a tourist asset comparable with the Beamish Open Air Museum in co Durham and Blists Hill at Ironbridge, Shropshire. 

Derby Corporation acquired the Britain Pit site, midway between Butterley and Golden Valley, to establish an open-air museum around the railway line from Pye Bridge to Butterley:  https://www.midlandrailway-butterley.co.uk/history-of-the-midland-railway-butterley.  Though the local authority stepped back quickly, the rail museum developed into the ambitious Midland Railway Butterley, but much of the industrial archaeology associated with Butterley Ironworks and Codnor Park Forge has been lost.

The Butterley Company was sold to the Hanson Group in 1968 and split up.  The engineering works closed in 2009 and the ironworks site was sold in 2015.

To ensure that the memory of this once mighty enterprise isn’t completely lost, the Butterley Ironworks Trust has been formed, led by former company employees, with ambitious plans to make the most of what’s left:  https://www.rdht.org.uk/butterley-ironworks-the-future.

Petre Street Primitive Methodist Chapel

Petre Street Primitive Methodist Chapel, Sheffield (1977)

In 1977 I made a point of photographing the demolition of the magnificent All Saints’ Church, Ellesmere Road, Sheffield (1869) and, incidentally, took one image of the nearby Petre Street Primitive Methodist Chapel (1869).

I knew nothing of its history;  I simply thought it looked attractive, surrounded by boarded-up terraced houses that were clearly going to disappear.

Petre Street was the largest Primitive Methodist chapel in Sheffield:  its main hall seated 1,250 and its site on a steep slope provided room for a schoolroom, institute and classrooms in addition.

It had a troubled inception.

Sited on what was then the outskirts of Sheffield, it stood on a bleak hilltop overlooking the burgeoning steelworks in the Lower Don Valley below.

During construction a storm blew away the roof in November 1867, and the contractor repaired the several hundred pounds’ worth of damage.  This was completed on Friday February 7th 1868, when the beginning of another storm obliged the workmen lash themselves to the scaffolding to avoid being blown off.

This second storm over two days and nights caused considerable damage over a wide area, including two fatalities in the centre of Sheffield.

Overnight a section of the gable end of the partly-constructed chapel fell away, and at three o’clock the following afternoon the side wall collapsed, bringing with it the roof and its timbers, filling the interior with debris and weakening the remaining side wall so that it too collapsed. 

This time the repair bill, estimated at £1,200, was the direct responsibility of the trustees, who immediately set about fundraising. 

The church was opened at an eventual cost of £5,000, with a remaining debt of £2,400, on Friday March 27th 1869.

As a community, the Petre Street Methodists lost no time.  Newspaper reports in 1869 show a relentless programme of events in addition to services – Band of Hope meetings, a sale of work, a bazaar, the oratorio Babylon and, immediately after Christmas, a tea for a thousand in two sittings, for which eight hundred tickets were sold.

The trustees’ courage and determination in surviving not one but two storms at the outset is remarkable.

At the start of the twentieth century this congregation was described by the Primitive Methodist Magazine as leading one of the most “aggressive and prosperous” Primitive Methodist circuits in Sheffield.

For a century, the two congregations, Anglicans at All Saints’ and Primitive Methodists at Petre Street, came and went each Sunday within sight of each other.

As the houses were cleared in the mid-1970s both congregations diminished.  All Saints’ had gone by the middle of 1977, and the Petre Street chapel was closed and quickly demolished in 1980, when the two churches moved together into a new building, St Peter’s,designed by the G D Frankish Partnership.

It’s an attractive design, though it lacks the impact of All Saints’ or the quieter dignity of the Petre Street chapel.

St Peter’s Church, Ellesmere, Sheffield