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Saintly aura

By PATSY HOLLIS | Slicing like an arrowhead where Forest Road splits left from Goulburn Street in West Hobart, Pendragon Hall is outwardly a church, with mind-blowing leaded windows, a steeple and tall lancet-shaped heavy wooden doors.

Inside, the 150-year-old former church has been adapted for private living, though still retaining charming ecclesiastical detail. And it is now on the market again [see below for more information].

pendragon hall at dusk

Many are the Hobartians who were baptised or married there, or who made up the congregation over the years since St John the Baptist was consecrated on May 22, 1856 in the presence of Governor Sir Henry Fox Young (who had been appointed as the first governor of the newly named Tasmania the year before) and his wife.

Back in 1850 the Reverend FH Fox of the Parish of St John the Baptist in the still youthful town of Hobart, Van Diemens Land, opened a public subscription to build a fitting church to serve the needs of the parish, which since 1844 had been making do with services in the schoolhouse on the corner of Goulburn and Crane Streets.

Two years later the drive had amassed $2,000, sufficient for Cox, who had already designed St Johns at Buckland, to give drawings to the architect, George Edmund Street, to make into final plans.

Cox’s choice of architect was grandiose. A distinguished London architect, Street was an enamoured with Gothic design, and was already known for the nave of Bristol Cathedral, the choir of the cathedral of Christ Church in Dublin and, above, all, the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

but owing to something politicans today would appreciate — insufficient funds — the proposed 130-foot steeple had to be modified

Street had equally grandiose plans for St John the Baptist, but owing to something politicans today would appreciate — insufficient funds — the proposed 130-foot steeple had to be modified. However, as the Reverend Cox reminded his flock, the church was to be built ‘for bringing souls to Heaven’ rather than ‘satisfying architectural fancy’.

As time went on some repairs were needed, but this gave the chance to lengthen the chancel for a superb pipe organ, pictured below. And fancy or otherwise, the result was the magnificent sandstone building you see today.

In 1998 the church was deconsecrated and the building sold. Since then it’s been known as Pendragon Hall.

A cornerstone of history

Today, standing in the nave of the former St John the Baptist with its soaring ceiling and colonnade of interior arches you have a feeling of space, light and air. It’s not at all overpowering, despite the spaciousness and traces of ecclesiastical grandeur.

The original font still stands, but the massive pipe organ, made by Bevington and Sons of Soho, London was removed — for more of its fitting fate, see below, while the beautiful stained glass windows remain in all their glory, along with the ‘Reredos’, a stone sculpure designed and made by Richard Patterson.

The master bedroom, at one end of the nave, is lit by a four-panel stained glass of historic importance, under which is the ‘Reredos’, which was gifted by Richard Patterson to the congregation in 1873; its inspiration was a drawing of the Mosaic picture of the Last Supper that formed part of the Reredos in Westminster Abbey.

It has been the scene of elegant candelit dinners, of relaxing days while the warm spring sunshine streams in confetti-like colours through the stained glass windows

Today, of course, the building has been modernised to take in such facts of everyday life as the need for smoke alarms, and with a large Saxon glass and steel fan-forced slow-combustion stove.

It has been the scene of elegant candelit dinners, of relaxing days while the warm spring sunshine streams in confetti-like colours through the stained glass windows, and as a peaceful spot for visitors (usually a couple) to come back to, after exploring what southern Tasmania has to offer, in one of its latter-day guises as accommodation for tourists.

Many people ask, is there a resident ghost? Not yet recorded, although there’s no doubt that this beautiful and peaceful piece of history has ‘good energy’. In fact, it could be said that Pendragon Hall has three outstanding attributes: architecture, ambience and acoustics — the latter having been put to the test by members of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra who have been known to have memorable jamming sessions there. ¶

Today, Pendragon Hall is for sale again. Click here to get more information.

pendragon interiror

What happened to the organ?

Pendragon organ

In 2006 the beautiful pipe organ built by Henry Bevington & Sons, Rose Street, Soho, London in 1880, was removed to allow work on the sandstone and roof.

It was inspected by the Organ Historical Trust of Australia and found to be not only of great importance but also in danger of deteriorating simply because it wasn’t being played enough.

So it was listed in the OHTA’s redundant organ magazine, and subsequently has found an appreciative new audience.

First two organ restorers flew down from Sydney to remove the organ precious piece by piece, which took a week, get it packed into a shipping container and off to Sydney, where the entire process was reversed.

The organ, fully restored by Mark Fisher of Pipe Organ Reconstructions, is now been installed at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Bonnyrigg, NSW.