The Mystery of the Missing Church

It is not often that a church goes missing, but at Otford, the tiny community in the Bulgo valley beside Helensburgh, that’s exactly what happened to the Anglican Church. Records tell us that it existed, but when it was built and when and why it disappeared, remains a mystery.

The church was full brick and was built on what later became Mr Jame’s farm next to the present Otford primary school. Services were held in the building and the records of these services are retained at the Bulli Anglican Church, since in the late 1800s Otford (Bulgo) was in the Bulli Parish. The rector at the time was Rev Taylor and it is recorded that he even conducted services at Heathcote (Bottle Forest), another farming village at the time. The Bulgo valley was cleared and settled long before Helensburgh was developed.

The general view is that the church was built by the railway tunnel brick layers during the construction of the Illawarra Railway Line around 1884/6. Otford became a hub of activity at the time with the “Grenadier” hotel, holding a local record of six fights in two hours, a butcher, baker, tailor, billiard room, post office, general store, and police station…. The post office general store, the last shop in Otford village, closed in the 1990s. It seems reasonable that the church was built during the boom days of railway construction. The only problem with this theory is that the actual site is littered with bricks of an earlier crude design. Otford had been used as a local brick making site before the arrival of the rail line and it is possible that the local farming community had built the church at an earlier time.

Some years ago, Mrs Vardy, Mr Jame’s daughter, a local of Otford all her life, remembered that one wall of the church stood in her time and that her parents’ house was built onto that wall. Her bedroom used the wall and her bedroom window, was a church-like window. She remembered the wall was always damp and was later demolished by her father to solve the damp problem. Anyway, by 1892 there was no church.

Interestingly, when Mr James subdivided his farm he gave the Helensburgh Anglican church one of the blocks to build a new church on. The parish later sold the block because the rates were too dear and invested the money to purchase another block in the future. Wise thinking! At last account the investment was worth $8,000 when a block of land in Otford was worth $200,000. A good lesson to all, never sell real estate.

Anyway, there it is, the missing church of St Hallow’s.