Sydney Architecture Images-The Inner West

St. John's Ashfield


Edmund Blacket


81 Alt Street, Ashfield




Old Colonial Gothick Picturesque




The first service on this property was held in 1840, and the building which was designated as St John’s Ashfield was opened in 1845. St John’s was the first church between Sydney and Parramatta, and planted numerous churches in the area in its early years, including at Balmain and Enfield.

On this page you can find out about: Aboriginal Inhabitants, European Settlement, Land Division, St John's Establishment, Early Ministry, Building, Cemetery, Memorial.

Aboriginal Inhabitants
Prior to white settlement this area was heavily wooded and a fantastic habitat for the local aboriginal tribes. The local Eora group ranged from the coast to around Parramatta, predominately south of the river down to Botany Bay.

With the coming of white man came the introduction of diseases, especially small pox. They think that about half of the Sydney aboriginal population was killed mainly through disease within the first 2yrs of the white colony being established.

European Settlement
The first recipient of land in Ashfield was the colonies first pastor. Richard Johnson. Johnson was a good faithful man who worked really hard at preaching the gospel. But as you can imagine the early settlement was a rough show. Johnson had a tough time, with his church burnt down and despised by many. But he had a deep passion to tell people of the fantastic grace of God. Even though he was young, newly married, hated and abused and able to get a cushy job back in England he stayed in Australia, farming here in Ashfield to make a living and telling people about the great new of Jesus where ever he could.

The first European to actually live in the area was Augustus Alt. He owned most of the property from around about Bland St down to the canal beside Croydon Ave. He was the surveyor general for the city (the senior town planner). The town plan that he and Governor Phillip devised was quite impractical. It contained 60m wide streets and enormous block sizes. The early colony was struggling just to feed itself and had no time to put into grand infrastructure, they needed something quick and easy and practical. As a consequence of the lack of resources Alt’s plan was shelved and the town grew in a haphazard manner.

Some of the other early land owners around Ashfield were not such nice chaps. Henry Kable, and Simeon Lord were both originally convicts but ended up being heavily involved in the NSW Corps. You may or may not know that the NSW Corps were supposed to be the law enforcers but were basically the strong arm bullies of the early colony. They were made up of soldiers not good enough to get a half decent posting and ex-convicts. They controlled supplies and where almost entirely corrupt. They made huge profits through corruption and extortion. Governor Bligh tried to oppose them. Yes the same Governor Bligh from Mutiny on the Bounty. Bligh however was a bit of a tyrant himself and all he managed to achieve was a stand off with the NSW corps and rebellion.

Land Division
In those early days the Ashfield area was carved up into small packets of land. These were bought up and consolidated by a bloke called Campbell, and were eventually bought by Joseph Underwood in 1817. Underwood owned most of the land between Liverpool Rd and Parramatta Rd and the railway line. He came from Ashfield in England and called his property “Ashfield Park”.

Joseph’s brother James, of less noble character to his brother, bought Summer Hill from Kable in 1821 and the 2 brothers had adjacent properties. James was a convict and was involved with the ill reputed NSW Corps. At his death his will left money and property to children of 3 marriages and 2 extramarital affairs. He left behind a fractured family with poor relationships who in their greed had protracted legal battles over the will for almost 30 years. It required an act of parliament to resolve this bitter dispute.

In 1838 after Joseph Underwood’s death, his widow, Elizabeth subdivided a large portion of the Underwood estate. This original township of Ashfield extended from Alt Street to Liverpool Road and comprised of just 70 blocks.

St John's Establishment
Elizabeth Underwood donated a portion of the subdivision to the Anglican Church. Prior to this church services had been held in the Underwood home.

The church wasn’t completed for around 7 years. But in 1845 it was opened as the first church between the city and Parramatta.

People would come large distances in order to get to church. Church Street was originally a track formed by people walking from Burwood to come to church. They came up that way through the Underwood estate because a tree had fallen across Iron cove creek, providing a convenient footbridge. Over the years the foot track was consolidated into a roadway.

Image courtesy of the Ashfield & District Historical Society, used with permission.

Early Ministry
Mr Wilkinson, the minister who opened the church was a man of incredible energy. In the 11 years that he was here at St John’s he built 3 churches, this one, St Mary’s in Balmain and St Thomas’ in Enfield. At the same time as this he ran a school in his home in Enfield. This school called “The Meads” had a very good reputation and many of the posh families sent their kids there. Just prior to the church being opened he purchased for the church an additional 2½ acres, over and above that given to the church. He paid the considerable sum of ₤100.

On top of this, Mr Wilkinson was a keen wood carver, he carved the interior decorations for the church out of cedar.

This man of great industry was succeeded by his nephew Thomas. This second Wilkinson married into the local royalty (so to speak) by marrying Julia Underwood, daughter of Elizabeth. Thomas did ministry in a number of parishes around the area, but died at the early age of 55 y.o. and is buried in the graveyard here.

It was during Thomas ministry at St John’s in 1858 that Elizabeth Underwood died. Her family subdivided the remainder of her land, (approx. 200acres) which enabled much of Ashfield to be developed.

Image courtesy of the Ashfield & District Historical Society, used with permission.

Building History
St John's church building is a stone and brick cruciform church with five bays to the nave, two to the transepts and one to the chancel. There is a north and south porch to the central bay of th enave, and a choir vestry to the north of the chancel. A tower marks the west entry. Every external wall except for rthe face stone transepts and chancel are in rendered brickwork.

Stages of Development
The nave section of St John the Baptist Anglican Church, Ashfield is of very early construction dating from 1840-45 and designed by a Mr Williams. Edmund Blacket took over the supervision of the building after his arrival in the colony in 1843. The transepts and chancel were added to the design of Edmund Blacket in 1874-75. His sons Cyril and Arthur trading as Blacket Bros added the choir vestry and west door porch (now demolished) in 1885 shortly after Edmund Blacket’s death. The tower to the west door was added to the design of Cyril Blacket in 1901-04... continued here.

St John's has a cemetery dating back to the time the church was first built. It includes the graves of a number of notable people:

One of the original First Fleeters, convict John Limebourner who died at the ripe old age of 104 y.o.

The Wilkinsons and the Underwoods were significant families here for many years. Many of Wilkinson family are buried over at the rear of the cemetery toward Church Street. Some Underwoods are buried over beside the side entrance to the church.

Mr Lumsdaine, who was also one of the rectors here had the great misfortune to have both of his children die on the same day. He is buried beside his children, you can see the white cross next to the door of the church.

The Walker family used to own all the land where Concord Hospital now is, apparently they left their land to the people of Concord, so there is a huge undeveloped area over in Concord.

And we are informed that one of the original Grace Brothers has his grave here as well.

This memorial was donated by Mr Whitehurst whose son was a fighter pilot during WWII. We are informed that Mr Whitehurst owned quite a substantial mechanic workshop down on Liverpool road.

The significant thing about these memorials is that they show us just how much wars have affected communities. There are 22 names here, all of them were members of the church here and they all died fighting for their country. Can you imagine the kind of heartache that would be felt amongst a small church community when these 22 friends were killed in action? Even more than the heartache of the church, you might notice here 3 Chapman brothers. Five brothers from this family went to the war and 3 of them died.

St John’s has a special annual memorial service that is run by members of the Air Force each year in August to remember the sacrifices that were made in the war.