Beecroft-Cheltenham History Group

Early days of the Beecroft School of Arts 1902 - 1921

Early residents in Beecroft quickly established a community life for the new village. Churches were built. An area which became the Village Green was set aside for recreation. By 1997 some of that land had been leased for the establishment of Beecroft Tennis Club, which began with two courts.

The Village Green was a popular site for picnics, fetes and soon for fundraising events for a School of Arts, which was to be the community’s social centre. In 1902 the New South Wales Governor, His Excellency Sir Harry Rawson, came by train to attend an open-air sports day, held on the Village Green which was also decorated with streamers between ‘innumerable stalls’ staffed by fancy-dressed stallholders. The local newspaper reported that 2000 people attended. Profits went to the building fund and in 1903 a foundation stone was laid by sixteen-year-old Doris Tucker, daughter of one of most active of the community organisers, Charles Churchill Tucker. The first stage was opened in 1904 by the Premier of New South Wales, the Hon. Charles Wade. By 1910 sufficient funds had been raised for extensions so that there was more space for the library, a new billiard room, a classroom and reading room, a caterer’s kitchen and four cloakrooms.

Community activities in the early 20th century

The Literary and Debating Society met monthly. Issues of the day were debated: trade unions, compulsory military training, breach of promise laws, the mental differences between men and women, ‘Should Australia have a navy?’, ‘The Yellow Peril’ and ‘White Australia’. As well as billiards and snooker, locals met to play euchre and whist. When ladies took part in a debate for the first time, the local paper reported that ‘they were seldom at a loss for words’.

A ‘smoke concert’ was held in 1904. The Amateur Musical and Dramatic Society staged regular performances of operettas. Parties and wedding receptions were held. Balls included an annual ‘bachelors and maids dance’. Each year there was a fancy dress party for the local children. One early resident reported that usually the doctor’s children won the prize for the best costume until one year the policeman’s child won.

World War 1

At the outbreak of WW1 in 1914 the School of Arts became the focus for local residents’ support for the war effort. Fundraising events were held. For an early event the hall was decorated with wattle and ferns. Recitations and songs were part of the entertainment. Patriotic concerts continued throughout the war and there were ‘sendoffs’ for local men who joined up. Mr Vicars, owner of Vicars Woollen Mills, presented a woollen rug to each of them.

Ten days after war was declared, ladies met in the supper room to organize ‘comforts’ for the soldiers. They formed a branch of the Red Cross and all agreed to knit socks. Mr Vicars donated a hundredweight of knitting yarn to the knitters. The ladies met on Tuesday and Friday afternoons to collect knitted and sewn garments. They held a sock knitting competition in 1915, won by Miss Sherring, with 26 pairs knitted. Sadly, she lost her fiancé in the fighting and never married. In 1916, 260 pairs of socks were knitted and sent to the men serving in the Camel Corps in the Middle East. About fifty ladies attended the Red Cross meeting on Thursdays to sort old linen into nursing packs of pads, swabs and bandages.

After War’s end in 1918 fundraising functions continued in the School of Arts to raise money for a war memorial, designed by local architect William Laurie of Hannah Street, one of the first three graduates in Architecture from Sydney University. Two-thirds of the required sum was raised by April 1920. The committee decided to erect his design ‘at the cross roads opposite the School of Arts, if that position was decided upon by a public meeting’. The memorial was completed in 1921.







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