History Matters: A towering heritage

A later addition: The bell-tower of St Peter’s Anglican Cathedral was dedicated on May 3, 1939.
A later addition: The bell-tower of St Peter’s Anglican Cathedral was dedicated on May 3, 1939.

Armidale, Friday, October 19, 2012: Eight hundred people have gathered for a service to celebrate the 100th birthday of Armidale’s Catholic Cathedral of Saint Mary and Joseph.

Among those in the congregation is 91-year-old Peggy Becke, the only surviving daughter of George Nott, the cathedral’s builder. She wore a gold chain, part of a gold chain and watch set presented to her father by the grateful parishioners.

George F. Nott was a devout Anglican, but his relationships with all of Armidale’s groups were good at a time when sometimes bitter sectarian divides were still a fact of Australian life. He had built with care and even donated to the building fund.

The cathedral was designed by John Hennessy from the Sydney firm of architects Sherrin and Hennessy. Hennessy was a prominent Roman Catholic architect and a good friend of Cardinal Moran. His buildings include St Patrick’s College Manly and St Joseph’s College Hunter’s Hill.

Cardinal Moran laid the foundation stone for the new cathedral on February 5, 1911. This had been a major build involving 1.1 million bricks with up to 30 men on site at any one time. Its completion in barely 20 months was a major achievement involving close liaison between builder and architect.

Twenty-seven years later and just before his death, George Nott was involved in another church build that also left a major impression on the Armidale streetscape.

On May 3, 1939, the bell-tower of St Peter’s Anglican Cathedral was dedicated. The tower had been in the original plans by architect John Horbury Hunt, but had not been completed. 

This time George Nott’s role was honorary supervisor. He also donated the 150,000 bricks used in the construction.

Newcastle architects Castleden and Sara had been commissioned to build the tower, following as faithfully as possible Hunt’s original plans and specifications. The difficulty was that the builders and other tradesmen of the 1930s Art Deco period were inexperienced in the techniques Hunt prescribed.

This is where George Nott with his long experience came into his own. He knew how to do things that had been forgotten, how to explain to the builders and craftsmen involved.

George Nott died on June 16, 1940. Over his career, he had built many of the iconic buildings in Armidale and Inverell. He had built a business empire. His donations of material and money had played a critical role in bringing community projects to success. His legacy surrounds us today.

Jim Belshaw’s email is ndarala@optusnet.com.au. He blogs at newenglandaustralia.blogspot.com.au/ and newenglandhistory.blogspot.com.au/