Written by Dr Graeme Starr (1941-2021)

About the author Starr, Graeme (c. 1941–2021)

Just after completing the book Dr Graeme Starr, former Director of the NSW Liberal Party, Research Officer at the Federal Liberal Secretariat, chief of staff to a senior federal Coalition cabinet minister and John Howard, and highly regarded academic and author including for the Menzies Research Centre, passed away, unexpectedly. He was 80 years old. Graeme leaves behind his wife Bev (who he married in March 1964. ) , his daughter Kimberley and son Sam and grandchildren whom he cared for deeply.

The Parish of St Paul's, Burwood was originally part of the Parish of St Thomas', Enfield. St Thomas' was consecrated in 1849 and had been the place of worship for Burwood Anglicans since that time. By 1871, however, parishioners of St Thomas' had decided to form a building committee in order to construct a church specifically for the Burwood area. The Rector of St Thomas', the Reverend Richard Young, together with a committee of Burwood laymen, commissioned the renowned church architect Edmund Blacket to design and build the church that was to be dedicated and known as St Paul's Church, Burwood.

For over 145 years, the Parish Church of St Paul's, Burwood has been a place of committed Anglican worship and ministry, housed within one of the architectural landmarks of Sydney's inner west.

Read a more detailed account of the history of St Paul's

St Paul’s Anglican Church is situated within that part of Sydney that was granted to Captain Thomas Rowley in August 1799 by Governor Hunter. Thomas Moore became Rowley’s Executor, selling the 750 acres of the Burwood estate for 520 pounds in 1812. Alexander Riley, a free settler erected a house, Burwood Villa, near the Parramatta Road boundary of the estate. When Riley returned to London in 1817, Burwood Villa was rented out. After Riley’s death in 1833, the Rowley children were successful in claiming their inheritance of the 750 acres. The site of St Paul’s Church was within the portion allocated to John Lucas, husband of Mary Rowley.

It was in 1872 this site was purchased by the Parish, from Richard Rouse Terry, for 100 pounds after work on the building of the church had commenced. The church was opened in 1872.

Until then the Anglicans of Burwood had been required to travel to Ashfield, Enfield or Concord. Of these, St Thomas’, Enfield had the closest association with Burwood, for its rectors resided in Burwood prior to 1882, and it was the decision of the Burwood-domiciled parishioners of St Thomas’ to form a separate parish and erect a church for their community.

The Burwood Road site was selected for its elevation and convenience: the site was at the geographical centre of the parish and set above the commercial centre of the village that was emerging around the railway station. The site provided for the orientation of the church on a liturgically correct east/west axis; that is the congregation faces east where the altar is sited.

Other purchases around this time included 195B Burwood Road for the construction of a Sunday School Room (March 1872) designed by Edmund Blacket. which was opened in May 1874 and sold in 1953.

The first Rector of St Paul’s was the Rev. Richard William Young (1833-1886). He was born and educated in England in county Durham. It was he who selected the location for the church based on the fact that it was above and removed from but still close to the commercial hub of the suburb and close to transport. He was also responsible for determining the plan and orientation of the church and the use of sandstone. Thus a solid foundation for the future growth of the parish was established. Apart from the bell tower all major components of the building were completed during his ministry: the nave in 1872, the first organ from 1881, the transept, chancel and vestry in 1882 and the choir vestry in 1883.

The second Rector was the Rev. Arthur Robert Bartlett (1851 – 1923). He had served as locum tenens at St Paul’s from February 1886. He was inducted in April 1887. Bartlett was part of the Anglo-Catholic wing of churchmanship that sought to recover the style and liturgy of the pre-Reformation English Church.

He was an efficient organiser and as a preacher he drew large congregations. He made improvements to the physical appearance of the church. In March 1886, he introduced a monthly paper for parishioners. This was an early example of its kind. He changed the ceremony by requesting that parishioners stand on entry of the choir and the clergy and during the offertory. He introduced the weekly meeting of communicants. The introduction of parish papers was a phenomenon of the 1880s usually associated with High Church parishes.

In 1887 the chancel and sanctuary were tiled, the 1882 organ was rebuilt in 1887 and again in 1893. The eastern window was filled with stained glass in 1888 and the furniture and ornaments of the altar were enriched and beautified.

The third Rector was the Rev. Harry Bryant, 1896-1928. Born in Tonbridge, England the son of a headmaster, his ministry began in the Durham coalfields in 1890. He retained a life long association with the working classes. Bryant was inducted at St Paul’s in April 1896. The debt on the church was cleared within a year of Bryant’s arrival which opened the way for the consecration of the church in July 1897.

The Rectory was completed in 1896 and the tower in 1924. But Bryant was more concerned with reaching out into the community and enriching the church life of the parishioners. In 1897 he introduced the Mothers’ Union and later in the same year he reconvened the Men’s club and established the Communicants’ Guild, not to mention the infamous smoking concert of 1896.

Installed during Bryant’s ministry were the oak altar c. 1901, the oak pulpit, c. 1910, the iron pendant rood cross in 1911 and the reredos in 1919. The Sunday School room in Burwood Road was leased by the Rev. H. Powell to house his St Paul’s College. After the closure of the college in 1898, Bryant opened a church day school using the Sunday School room. The school closed in 1923.

As with Bartlett, Bryant promoted the work of the overseas missions in Papua and Melanesia. The Children’s Home, 23 Weldon St opened in 1912 was associated with the broader Church of England. It was promoted by Bryant.

The fourth rector was the Rev. Gilbert Montagu Searcy (1883-1933). He was the first Australian born minister of St Paul’s and also the first to have been appointed to the parish by the diocese owing to the loss of nomination rights. Born in Adelaide, he came to Sydney in 1919 as assistant minister at St Andrew’s Cathedral, principal of the Cathedral Choir School, and was master at Shore prior to his appointment to St Paul’s. Searcy died during his ministry in October 1933 and his ashes were interred beneath the floor of the sanctuary of St Paul’s in 1936.

The fifth rector of St Paul’s was the Rev. George Augustus Sanders. (1885-1966)
Born in Derby, England he arrived in Australia in 1909, was made deacon in 1912 and priest in 1914 in the Diocese of Armidale. From there he went to the diocese in Goulburn in 1918. Ten years later he was made curate at St John’s Darlinghurst.
Most of his ministry coincided with the years of the Depression, followed by conflict. With the return of peace and prosperity the parish hall was completed in 1954. This meant that the property on which the Sunday School in Burwood Road was sold in 1953 as was the mission church in Wentworth Rd in 1939. In 1956 the columbarium was built securing an additional source of income for the parish. By 1951 the practice of collecting pew rents was abolished.

The sixth rector was the Rev. Ronald Arthur O’Brien, 1908 – 1998. He was a graduate of Moore College, deaconned in 1931 and priested in 1932. He was appointed to St Paul’s by the Archbishop of Sydney. The church bells were installed in 1960 and the neighbouring property, 203 Burwood Road was purchased in 1963. (Now known as Blacket House) The church grounds were landscaped in the mid 1960s. George Vicary Cardinal, churchwarden during O’Brien’s ministry began writing the history of St Pauls. O’Brien and his wife Cicerly completed this history, having it published in 1971.

Since 1977 there have been three priests, the Rev. John Holle (1926-2011), between 1977 and 1993; the Rev. John Maxwell Kohler (1944-20 1) between 1993 and 2009 and the current Rev. Dr James Anthony Collins, (1959- ) from 2011.


Due to limited funds the building was built in stages as previously outlined. The architect for all the earlier work was Edmund Thomas Blacket. By the mid nineteenth century Blacket had become the ecclesiastical architect in NSW, working almost exclusively for the Church of England.

The foundation stone was laid on 28th July 1871. The Herald described it as:
….in the Second Pointed or Decorated Style of English Gothic architecture, built of stone throughout, and covered with an open roof, shingled. It will have a tower at the north-west angle, intended for a peal of six bells ….. the tower will be furnished with a flat roof. It will also have a prominent mural staircase turret …. The doors and windows are furnished with ornamental shafts and carved caps, and the arches with mouldings, dripstones, and carved terminations. The fittings will be of polished silver, and the roof is to be painted in bright colours, and pierced here and there with a due regard to ventilation. The aisles and chancel will be prepared for encaustic tiles. …31/7/1871, p.4
The building reflected contemporary thinking in Anglican circles both in the colony and in England. The development of an ‘architecturally correct’ Gothic style of architecture originated in England in the awakening of interest in medieval architecture by Augustus Pugin (1812-1852) and the contemporary reform movements such as the Oxford and the Cambridge Camden Society, founded in 1839, which promoted the building and furnishing of churches in an archaeological correct Gothic style. New early-Victorian era English churches came to resemble parish churches of the Middle Ages, replacing the longstanding tradition of classicism in church architecture.

The particular phase of English Gothic used at St Paul’s is Decorated, roughly the period 1270-1350. The distinctive features provided the opportunity for the revivalist architects to be expressive in the treatment of window tracery, window and door mouldings. The use of authentic materials such as stone and timber crafted from their natural state by skilled artisans was highly valued. The open timber roof structure with its hammer beams, curved braced and collar beams provided an enhanced impression of height and a sense of space.

The 1870s and 1880s were decades of remarkable growth, so much so that the first assistant curate was appointed in 1884.

The enlargement of the church, which included the transcepts, chancel and base of the tower with porch were completed in mid 1882. There was a special service to celebrate their completion on 1st July 1882, with the Rev. William Cowper, Dean of Sydney, attending.

Dating from here the stone baptismal font was installed, believed to be designed by Blacket, and inscribed as ‘a gift of the children’. The children of the parish had raised the funds for it.

1881 saw the appointment of a paid organist and choir master. Shortly thereafter, (1882) Blacket and Son were engaged to design a choir vestry. (Probably done by Cyril Blacket). Many of the liturgical and other furnishings of the church were installed during the ministry of the Rev Bartlett, including the chancel as it is today.

Prior to 1886 the chancel and sanctuary had a wooden floor and step. In January 1887 the encaustic tiles were laid on the floor and the marble steps inscribed with “Send out Thy Light and Thy Truth”, were laid. The wooden rail was placed in front of the altar. Around 1901 a new altar, made by Mills Bros, Sydney and designed by Cyril Blacket was installed. The existing pulpit was installed in 1913 as a memorial to Robert Speir Austin and his wife. It was made by Beard, Watson & Co. Ltd. Two brass lecterns were gifted in 1888 by Mrs Forrest and Mrs William Morris.

The first stained glass window was installed in November 1886 when Bartlett was the locum. The second window was the East Window, installed in 1888. The remaining memorial windows were installed between 1888 and 1967. Prior to 1900 there were only five memorial windows, but the frequency of installations increased markedly between, 1900 and the mid 1930s. This reflected the passing generation of the founding parishioners.

During the first decade of the twentieth century the church was altered by the extension of 15 feet on the vestry, completed in March 1905. This work included the provision of a lavatory. The organ bellows were then installed over the vestry extension and the gas engine for the organ blower over the lavatory.

In 1909 the entire roof of the church was re-shingled and other repairs such as those to the guttering and downpipes were undertaken. The existing slate roof tiles on the church were laid in 1945 at a cost of 1,400 pounds.

The tower was completed and dedicated in October 1924 representing the final stage in the building of the church. Edmund Blackett’s drawings for the tower had been lost so the work was entrusted to the architect Edmund Lindsay the construction is not known.

Originally designed with a side chapel, in 1937 the Sendall family engaged Leslie Wilkinson (1882-1973), then professor of architecture at the University of Sydney to prepare the plans. It was to be built in memory of Miss Alice Dora Sendall who died in 1937. The refurbishment included fitting the iron grill, stone flagging, altar and re-table, and altar rail of dark oak. It was completed in early 1940.


When the bell tower was completed in 1924, the bell that had been hung in the church grounds in a wooden belfry was removed to the tower. That bell had been cast in 1889 by J. Warner & Sons of London for the Sydney importers F. Lassetter & Co. The existing peel of 8 bells was installed in 1960. The bells and a set of 16 hand bells, were designed and cast specifically for St Paul’s by John Taylor & Co of The Bell Foundry, Loughborough, England. Today it is considered the largest bell foundry in the world. The installation of the bells was overseen by the engineer Brian Nicholson of Enfield.

The Foundation Stone of St Paul's was laid on 29 July 1871. The first section of the church to be completed was the Nave, which was opened for worship in April 1872. Ten years passed before the chancel and transepts were brought to completion and opened on 1 July 1882. In 1883, a small choir vestry was added, which was later enlarged in 1904.

The structure of St Paul's was completed in 1924 with the addition of the bell tower, designed by Ernest Lindsay Thompson, the tower base having been in place since the 1880s. The tower remains the home of a peal of eight bells that were dedicated on 3 April 1960. Thompson also designed the stone fence along Burwood Road, constructed one year after the tower in 1925. The columbarium wall was built after World War II.

The fabric of St Paul's is Sydney sandstone, rendered into a decorated Gothic style building. The church is cruciform in shape, aligned east west, and stands on the highest point in Burwood. Its windows sport a variety of tracery and provide the framing for a spectacular array of beautiful stained glass. The tower stands out as a landmark of the Burwood district, and the building as a whole is very much part of Burwood's heritage. [Acknowledgement: St Paul’s Church, Burwood, Sydney <stpaulsburwood.anglican.asn.au>]