Showing posts with label Carols in Gregson Park. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Carols in Gregson Park. Show all posts

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Gregson Park

As a gift, it wasn’t  quite all it seemed. It was probably the worst piece of land in Hamilton. That’s hard to imagine today, as we absorb the colourful expanses of spring flowering annuals and roses, wander the meandering paths, or watch kids in a playground protected by ancient fig trees.

A big deal was made of it in 1889, when Mr Jesse Gregson, Superintendent of the AA Company, gifted 3.8 hectares of land to the Hamilton Council. The Council had to guarantee to Mr Gregson that the land would be devoted solely to the recreation of workers and their families, and promise to allocate funds for improvement. Was the Council so grateful for this generosity that the reserve was named Gregson Park, in Jesse Gregson’s honour, or was that a condition too?

Entrance gates to Gregson Park commemorate Hamilton’s first Councillors, 2015
Photograph by Craig Smith

For a start, a stream that was part of Styx Creek flowed right through the reserve, and often flooded. Gregson Park was, after all, within the Hunter estuarine system. The lower south west corner harboured a swamp. It was rough, low lying land covered by ti-tree scrub and weeds.

In 1890 Alfred Sharp of Newcastle - artist, architect, draftsman and landscape designer - won the £10 prize for his design for Gregson Park.[1] However, for reasons unknown, not all his ideas were implemented. Sharp envisaged that the stream would be developed into a ‘serpentine lake with islands’.[2]

Instead, in 1891, Council began filling in the waterway with garbage and street sweepings, taking care to cover each layer with ‘clean material’. The creek was eventually drained and filled in. In a local example of land reclamation, thousands of tons of earth and other material were, over time deposited in Gregson Park. [3]

John Goodyer was appointed gardener, with authority to travel to Sydney and buy shrubs and trees. Two bridges were proposed - ‘one over the creek at Samdon Street and one bridge at Lindsay Street.’[4]

Bridge over flood waters in Gregson Park, 1908
Photograph courtesy of Newcastle Region Library

As Gregson Park began to take shape as an urban Victorian park, it quickly became a popular recreational area for the people of Hamilton, as well as a focus for civic monuments.

One of the earliest built structures in Gregson Park was the Hamilton Bowling Club, formed in 1896 – with separate bowling greens and clubhouses for ‘ladies and gentlemen.’ In 2013, almost 120 years of history came to an end when it closed. It is likely the site will be leased for adaptive re-use as a child care centre. [5]

When the tennis courts were built, one court was for residents, the other for teachers and senior scholars at the public school.[6]

Before World War I, in 1905, two 1840s Walker cannons from Victoria Barracks, Sydney were shipped to Newcastle at considerable expense. They were erected in Gregson Park, near the Bowling Club. Later, when this central position was needed for a War Memorial, the cannons  were moved to to the  entrance facing James Street.

One of the cannons in its original position, Gregson Park, early 1900s
The bridge and an early version of the bowling club are clearly visible, with Hamilton School in the background
Photograph by Dr John Turner, courtesy of Newcastle Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, Australia

After the sudden death of Hamilton businessman Ramsay Gow, his wife Fanny and family presented a set of iron gates with stone posts in tribute to him. The gates would formalize the James Street entrance. Not far away, in Lindsay Street, the former Gow family residence – 'Fettercairn' - still stands. 

Opening of the Gow memorial gates, Gregson Park, 1908
Lynn family photograph, courtesy of Newcastle Region Library

Ornamental public drinking fountains were often a feature of nineteenth century recreational areas. The ubiquitous water bottle wasn’t carried in those days! Often the erection of a fountain would be linked to an important event or eminent individual.

George Donald  was a well known Hamilton businessman, deeply involved in the Scots Kirk, and Hamilton’s first Mayor. The Donald family gifted the fountain in recognition of George Donald’s contribution to the social and political life of the community. 

Opening of the Donald Fountain, Gregson Park, 29 July 1908
Drinking taps were located on either side; the stonemason did not record his name
Photograph courtesy of Newcastle Region Library

Gregson Park was the place to be, and to be seen, especially by the well-to-do families of Hamilton.

Promenade in Gregson Park, 1908
Lynn family photograph, courtesy of Newcastle Region Library

When the gates at the Tudor/Steel Street entrance were installed, Gregson Park was near-complete. These gates commemorated the members of the first Hamilton Council, which had been incorporated in 1871.

Opening of the Tudor and Steel Street gates of Gregson Park, 1912
Ellen/Helen Tudor, wife of the late publican Thomas Tudor, opened the gates
Tudor Street is named for Thomas Tudor
Photograph by Ralph Snowball, courtesy of Newcastle Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, Australia

In 1918, visitors to Gregson Park could enjoy ‘19 large flower beds, several lawns, one mile of walks and two of edging.’ [7] A year or so later, a War Memorial was built in a premier position within the park. Dawn services continue to be held in Gregson Park on Anzac Day.

Dawn service, Gregson Park, Hamilton,1957
Floodlighting the memorial for the first time in 1937 attracted a crowd of 7000 people
Photograph from the Hood Collection, State Library of NSW
No known copyright restriction

By 1929 Gregson Park was very well established, and considered ‘the prettiest resort in the suburb and…unequalled for beautiful surroundings in any other part of the Newcastle district.’[8]

Horse drawn lawn mower in Gregson Park, 1920s
Photograph from the collection of Mrs M Dolahenty
Courtesy Fairfax Syndication

Better equipment was needed for children to enjoy the park. In 1938, a pavilion and children’s playground was opened by the Lady Mayoress, Mrs J E Wiggins. She declared this was money well spent; the area would be reserved for women and small children. She also suggested the novel idea of the Council employing a (paid) female caretaker who would watch the children in the playground while their mothers went off shopping.[9]

Other installations over the years included a fernery, which seems to have disappeared, and a rotunda. This was demolished in 1940.

By 1966, Gregson Park had ‘three times won its class in statewide competitions,’ tended by head gardener Jim Duck, who farmed near Dungog in his spare time.

Now the children’s playground draws in parents, grandparents and carers throughout the day; the tennis courts are occupied; sometimes you’ll find a band practicing beneath the trees. Anyone can join a casual soccer game on Sunday afternoons - that began in 1989.

Gregson Park puts on her best for the big events like Carols in Gregson Park, Anzac Day services, or May Day celebrations. She will embrace a candlelight vigil for refugees, or a boisterous picnic; she will offer us peaceful spaces to stroll, to soak up some sunshine, or laze on the lawns and drowse. She’s there, for everyone.

Gregson Park, Hamilton – Spring, 2015
Photograph by Craig Smith

[1] In the same year, 1890, Alfred Sharp also won a competition for his design of the Upper Reserve, Newcastle, which from 1911 became King Edward Park. Alfred Sharp also designed parks in Islington, Wickham and Lake Macquarie
[2] Official Souvenir of the Municipal Jubilee of Hamilton: 1871-1921.
[3] Peter Murray 2006, From Borehole to Hamilton Jubilee 1848-1921, Peter Murray Newcastle, p. 76
[4] Newcastle Morning Herald, 26 June, 1889
[5] Update from Newcastle City Council, September 2015.
[6] Peter Murray 2006, From Borehole to Hamilton Jubilee 1848-1921, Peter Murray Newcastle, p. 76
[7] Newcastle Morning Herald, 8 October, 1912.
[8]  Official Souvenir of the Municipal Jubilee of Hamilton: 1871-1921, p.29
[9] Newcastle Herald, 14 February, 1938

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Hamilton Baptist Church

It seems only natural that the early Hamilton Baptist Church would conduct its Christmas Day service on a summer evening in the much-loved Gregson Park. After all, the Church is directly opposite, at 108 Lindsay Street, where it has been since 1929. Historical church records refer to this as ‘our tradition.’

Fast forward to December, 2014. Hundreds of people are surging into the same park with their rugs and picnic baskets to celebrate Christmas in what is becoming a modern day tradition - Carols in Gregson Park.

When Andrew Dodd became Pastor of Hamilton Baptist Church in 2003, he immediately saw the potential of the park. The event he created would engage the whole community, growing and evolving over a dozen years. Still hosted by Hamilton Baptist Church, with local sponsorship, it is a vibrant, colourful celebration with appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds.

Protective branches of an ancient fig frames the area being prepared for Carols in Gregson Park, 20 December 2014
Photograph by Andrew Roberts (LivingStone Images)

The Church’s beginnings are shrouded in something of a mystery, with shades of dissent.

We have to go to the Church of Christ, Merewether, to find the pioneers who planted the seeds of Hamilton Baptist Church.

At first it seemed to be a story of growth and development. Hamilton had a population of more than 10,000 in the early 1920s, and some Merewether members from Hamilton thought it was time that suburb had its own church. The first Church of Christ service for Hamilton members was held in the home of Mr R T Creek[1] at 1 Pokolbin Road, Broadmeadow, on 16 September, 1923.

Before long, this enthusiastic group had purchased land in Gordon Avenue, and with the dedication of volunteers, a new building took shape. It was opened on 22 December, 1924. The building has not survived: Klosters envelops the site today, north east of the intersection of Tudor Street and Gordon Avenue.

Just two years later, in 1926, the Hamilton Church of Christ was divided. The Minister Reverend A G Martin and the majority of the congregation left their denomination and sought Baptist affiliation. This was granted by the Baptist Union of NSW. At first they held services in the Masonic Hall, Beaumont Street, and later, the Mechanics’ Institute, in Tudor Street.

The reason for the division of the original Hamilton Church of Christ congregation is glossed over in the reports and official history of Hamilton Baptist Church[2] but it is believed to be doctrinal. Both Church of Christ and Baptists practice adult baptism by total immersion, and it is thought that a difference of opinion arose over its meaning.

Whatever the reason, it must have been a decision reached reluctantly and only after much discussion and soul searching. It would not have been easy for those separating to leave behind their new building, after all the fund raising and hard work that had gone into that first Hamilton church. Yet one change often generates others, and this may have been what happened.

Then, perhaps because they’d built a church once, this group must have felt they could do it again. Land was purchased at 108 Lindsay Street, opposite Gregson Park, and in 1929, work commenced on the building.

Volunteers made up the workforce building the Baptist Church, 108 Lindsay Street, Hamilton, 1929
‘Having a bit of a spell’ is written on the back
Photograph from the collection of Hamilton Baptist Church

Hard working and determined, Hamilton Baptists achieved their goal.

Hamilton Baptist Church, c1930s
Membership began around 50 at its inception, and grew to a consistent 100
Photograph from the collection of Hamilton Baptist Church

Like any individual or organization wanting real estate, the Hamilton Baptist Church obtained a mortgage. A ‘Blessing Box’ was considered a successful initiative – members participating gave a halfpenny a day towards reducing the building debt, making a pleasing dent in it.[3]

A church is a community whose members are connected through shared values and beliefs. As I read through the historical records, year by year from 1934, what emerged was a picture of a community continually reinforcing those bonds of belief through a multiplicity of activities and sub-groups.

Sunday School was a core activity – in 1939, there were 98 children attending classes, with 15 teachers – and exams!

Sunday School anniversary picnic – the boys wear ties c1930
Photograph from the collection of Hamilton Baptist Church

Over the years, there was an ever-changing procession of groups – the Christian Endeavour youth leadership group, men’s groups, Bible study groups, Boys and Girls Brigades, a Ladies Guild, a choir, a cricket club - but the aim did not. It was to meet the spiritual and social needs of all the members, creating a cohesive community.

And so there were picnics, hikes, BBQs, social gatherings, fellowship teas, sports days, Christmas parties, film evenings, and talent quests. Before the era of television, these social activities were entertainment. A self-contained world within ‘the world’ was created, so members could conduct and experience much of their social lives within the church.

What is this activity? Serving afternoon tea outdoors, and looking at those frocks,
it has to be the 1930s
Photograph from the collection of Hamilton Baptist Church

Hamilton Baptist Cricket Club (n.d.)
Standing (L-R) Ron Pavey, Burnie Scott, Stan Geiese, Dick Ratcliffe, Tom Oates, Neill Anderson, Dick Laidler
Seated (L-R) Alan Davies, Neill Dunn, Alec McMurray, Bill Oates, Bruce Davies

The evangelical impulse of the church found expression in open air rallies, crusades, and campaigns. Funds were raised to assist missionaries serving overseas.

The Northern District Gospel Open Air Campaigners c1930s
The unidentified men in this photograph may be visiting campaigners 
alongside local Church members
Photograph from the collection of Hamilton Baptist Church

On Christmas Eve 1955, at the annual service of films and carols in Gregson Park, Mr Arthur Stace was the guest speaker. A reformed alcoholic, Mr Stace was inspired to write the word ‘Eternity’ in his perfect copperplate writing on Sydney footpaths over half a million times between 1932 and 1967. Mr Stace was reported to have given ‘a very fine testimony’ of his conversion to Christianity. [5]

Sign with ‘Eternity’ written in white chalk on cardboard by Arthur Stace
The Eternity symbol has become an Australian icon
Part of the Stan Levitt Collection, courtesy of the National Museum of Australia

In the years following World War II, Australia experienced a severe housing shortage. The Church leadership was concerned about how best to provide accommodation for their Pastor, eventually buying a brick cottage five doors along from the Church in Lindsay Street, Hamilton.

Through the 1950s and 1960s the Church continued to improve its facilities. In 1956, the church front was altered with the addition of a new vestry and porch.

In 1969 a cottage and land at 101A Cleary Street, adjoining the back of the church, was purchased. The cottage was used for Sunday School classes. As the need for separate Sunday School premises waned over the ensuing years, the cottage became a rental property, generating income for the Church.

Hamilton Baptist Church congregation and Pastor D Woodward, early 1970s
Photograph from the collection of Hamilton Baptist Church

The establishment of the Hamilton Baptist Community Pre-School Kindergarten in the Lindsay Street premises during the tenure of Pastor D Woodward in the 1970s provided a valuable service not only for Church families but also for the broader community. Now, the service continues under the auspices of the independent not-for-profit Hamilton Community Pre-School.

By the early 1980s, the church leadership realized something had to be done to regenerate the church and attract more young people. Thus it was that 23 year old Richard Morrison was appointed as Pastor of Hamilton Baptist Church.

‘They knew that change was needed,’ Richard explains, ‘but perhaps they didn’t appreciate how much.’

Richard would face many challenges as he sought to bring about cultural change within the Church without alienating the older members.

One of the concessions Richard asked for when he was being interviewed was that he would he would not wear a tie at every service – or meeting, as he says. After the interviewing committee was reassured that he would definitely wear a tie to funerals, that concession was granted.

Most of the group activities that had flourished in the decades before had fallen away, although there was a very small Sunday school, and a Boys Brigade.

The pulpit from which the Pastor conducted the service and delivered a sermon each Sunday was originally a large, imposing structure. By this time, there were three pulpits in place, each successive one smaller than its predecessor, reflecting a gradual move towards a more informal and egalitarian relationship between pastor and people.

Installation of pews and a high pulpit gave the Hamilton Baptist Church
a formal aspect, 1930s
Photograph provided by Cynthia and Lynne Dalton, from the collection of Hamilton Baptist Church

In 1995, all three pulpits were removed, along with the choir platform, most of the timber pews and the baptistry. Part of the baptistry remains hidden under the floorboards.

Where are the ceremonies of total immersion conducted now, I wonder?

Richard, who is still actively involved in the Church, answers: ‘The beach.’

Merewether Ocean Baths and private pools are also used.

And what is left inside the church?

Mainly, open space. A few pews along the walls. Stacks of chairs. At one end, a kitchenette and a church office. In this setting, no newcomer need feel intimidated, or that they don’t know what to do. Chairs can be configured to suit the event. Drama and music groups hire facilities during the week.

People often say, ‘It’s homely.’

In 2001 the Church decided to sell the manse. This not only consolidated the Church’s financial position, but it also gave its Pastor freedom and independence to choose where to live.

In 2003, Andrew Dodd succeeded Richard Morrison as Pastor. Andrew had come to know the Church while undertaking his pastoral training there in 1984-1986. He’d seen the Church as it was early in Richard’s 20-year ministry, and the significant changes that had been achieved as it transitioned into a contemporary church.

‘I benefited from the work that Richard did,’ says Andrew.

In 2006, the Church was refurbished. The general upgrade to the building included a new kitchenette and church office.

Hamilton Baptist Church congregation gathered for a group photograph after the refurbishment, 2006
Photograph by Glyn Thomas, from the collection of Hamilton Baptist Church

Not long after the refurbishment was completed, in early June 2007, the Hunter region was battered by torrential rain and strong winds and declared a disaster area. Flooding was widespread and the MV Pasha Bulker famously ran aground on the reef at Nobby’s Beach.[6] As Pastor Andrew Dodd wrote:

‘In true baptist fashion Hamilton Baptist Church was “immersed in water” in last week’s deluge. Nearly 40cms of water left its trail of destruction through the church.’ [7]

Not only was the smart new refurbishment badly damaged, but the church was unfit for use in the short term. The Church had to look for another venue for the congregation – half of whom were under the age of eleven. In a spirit of cooperation typical of what was happening in the broader community at this time, the recently vacated Salvation Army church in Cleary Street [8] was offered.

That congregation had merged with two others, and all three were for a time meeting on neutral ground at the Seventh Day Adventist Church (SDA) in Steel Street. Andrew led his congregation ‘on a journey,’ symbolic, he said, of ‘finding hope in the midst of hardship and ruin.’ The group first viewed the damage in their own building, then crossed the street to the SDA building to briefly join ‘the Salvos’ and collect the keys to Cleary Street, and finally, walked to their new temporary home.

A Church building is only one part of its life. When I ask Andrew how Hamilton Baptist Church has changed in recent times, he speaks enthusiastically of the Church being ‘engaged in the local and wider community.’ There are chaplains in two local public schools; a drop in centre – Café Estate – in a local social housing area; the StreetCare Food Van for the homeless; fundraising for community development projects in Nepal, and of course – Carols in Gregson Park.

These days, flexible seating enables the congregation to gather in a semi-circle, the Pastor in their midst. Instead of a pulpit, a lectern stands discreetly to the side.

A contemporary arrangement – Hamilton Baptist Church, 2014
Photograph by Andrew Roberts (LivingStone Images)

And if you bump into Andrew Dodd in Beaumont Street, or when you roll up to Newy parkrun where he volunteers on a Saturday morning and is known affectionately as ‘Doddy’ or ‘The Doddfather,’ you’d hardly guess he was a minister of religion. He’s just part of the community with which his church is engaged.

Andrew Dodd celebrating his 50th parkrun on 26 October, 2013
The 25 Minute Pacing Group includes ‘The Doddfather’ Andrew Dodd, ‘The Godfather of the Region of Runners’ (‘Gentleman Jim Beisty’), and ‘The Grandfather of Running in Newcastle’ (Alan McCloskey)
Taken by Newy parkrun volunteer photographer Jo Kent Biggs


Thank you to Pastor Andrew Dodd for providing access to historical documents and photographs, and to Richard Morrison for sharing his recollections as a former pastor.

Arthur Creek (1910-2005) left a written and oral account of the history of
Hamilton Baptist Church
He was one of many volunteers who helped build the Church at 108 Lindsay Street, Hamilton
Photograph from the collection of Hamilton Baptist Church

[1] Mr R T Creek’s son Arthur Creek was a long standing member of Hamilton Baptist Church and left brief written and oral accounts of its history. The written account has been used as one of the resources for this story.
[2] Souvenir Golden Jubilee Anniversary Celebrations 1926-1976 Hamilton Baptist Church Lindsay Street. Brochure held by Pastor Andrew Dodd, Hamilton Baptist Church.
[3] Secretary’s Annual Report, Hamilton Baptist Church 1934
[4] Secretary’s Annual Report, Hamilton Baptist Church 1950
[5] Secretary’s Annual Report, Hamilton Baptist Church 1956
[7] Andrew Dodd, Press release for the Hamilton Baptist Church, 14 June 2007.
[8] The Salvation Army Church in Cleary Street has since been demolished to make way for the Salvation Army Regional Headquarters.