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Paterson River history

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Paterson School of Arts

At a public meeting in the Oddfellows Hall in early September 1868 it was decided to form the Paterson School of Arts and consequently the organisation held its first official meeting and election of office bearers on 16 September 1868.[1]


Schools of Art, Literary and Mechanics Institutes were prominent in the lower Hunter from the mid 1800s until the early 1900s as they were in other parts of Australia and Britain. They began in Britain as an attempt to address social and education issues arising from the upheaval of the industrial revolution. They aimed to educate sections of the community previously little educated, namely the craftsmen, artisans and skilled tradesmen collectively known as 'mechanics'.

These institutes throughout Australia went through distinct phases of activity. Initial emphasis was placed on technical and scientific education via lectures and classes but the focus soon changed to humanities and literature. In the later period the institutes adopted a recreational and social focus, with activities such as music recitals, debating, chess and billiards. The library was a vital part of most institutes and over time fiction comprised the bulk of the holdings.

At Paterson

opening bazaar

Above: a bazaar to celebrate the opening in 1884 of the first Paterson School of Arts Hall.

former School of Arts Hall

Above: the former Paterson School of Arts Hall, built in 1884 and now a private residence.

Support for the Paterson School of Arts waxed and waned in the early years after its formation in 1868 and at times it struggled to continue. In February 1875 a meeting was called to 'resuscitate our School of Arts' but the meeting was cancelled when very few turned up 'caused by the inclemency of the weather'.[2]

From 1868 until 1876 the School of Arts used the Oddfellows Hall for its activities. During 1876 it moved to the Church of England schoolhouse on the corner of King and Duke Streets where the CBC Bed and Breakfast now stands. The half-yearly report of the organisation explained the reason for the move as follows:[3]

During the half-year it was found necessary to remove the Society from the Oddfellows Hall, owing to that building being tenanted by the Public School. The desks and other material indispensable to the school, were found to be an hindrance in conducting the business of the institution. Therefore it was decided to remove. The sanction of the general meeting having been obtained, the Committee procured, at a favourable rent, the building lately occupied by the Church of England Denominational School. This premises has been found in all respects adequate to the requirements of the members. The central and more accessible situation which it obtains over that of the Hall, has been found very convenient to the members, and has no doubt materially enhanced the welfare of the Institution.

In April 1881 the School of Arts met to select a suitable site on which to build its own hall. The first site it considered was a block of land adjoining the Court House Hotel, offered by the proprietor of the hotel. Initially the meeting strongly rejected this option, saying that although it was centrally situated it was close to the hotel 'and the evil influences which would result therefrom'. The favoured option was to secure a small parcel of land adjoining their current meeting place in Duke Street, owned by the Church of England. The bishop was approached and reacted favourably but said it was necessary to confer with the Rev. Mr Adams. It turned out the Rev. Adams objected vigorously because he used the block as his horse paddock.[4] This is why the hall was eventually built beside the hotel.

In April 1883 the NSW Government approved a grant of £250 for the erection of the School of Arts Hall on the condition the society raised an equal amount by private subscription.[5] A series of fund-raising events was organised but by early November 1883 no decision on letting the tender for construction had been made.[6] In April 1884 the Mercury reported that construction had started:[7]

A start has been made with our new School of Arts, and the walls have risen about a foot or two, but its progress is very slow, and a little quicker move will have to be made, we think, to complete it in contract time; but I suppose that we shall have to continue to add to our spirit of ambition, patience. A great hindrance to the progress of the buildings [the other being the Post and Telegraph Office] has been, and is, the insufficient supply of bricks, the local kilns being unable to keep up the supply; but now we notice that large numbers of bricks are being brought from Maitland.

The building was designed by Maitland architect JW Pender although a planned ornate facade was not constructed (see plans). The building was completed in September 1884 and a grand bazaar was held in October to mark its opening.[8] The building was used until 1935 when the current School of Arts building in Duke Street was completed (it was also a Pender design, see plans). The old hall is now a private residence (slight modifications were made to the front of the building during its conversion).

Paterson School of Arts c1898

Above: The first Paterson School of Arts building, about 1898 (photo: Paterson Historical Society).

current Paterson School of Arts

Above: the current Paterson School of Arts, opened in 1935.

Coronation Ball 1945

Above: invitation of a ball at the Paterson School of Arts in 1945.


1. Maitland Mercury 10 September 1868 p4.

2. Maitland Mercury 16 February 1875 p3.

3. Maitland Mercury 12 October 1876 p7.

4. Maitland Mercury 21 April 1881 p6.

5. Maitland Mercury 7 April 1884 p5.

6. Maitland Mercury 6 November 1883 p6.

7. Maitland Mercury 19 April 1884 p14s.

8. Maitland Mercury 4 October 1884 p12s, 11 October 1884 p1 and 28 October 1884 p2.


Heaton B, Preston G and Rabitt M. Science, Success and Soirees - the Mechanics Institute Movement in Newcastle and the Lower Hunter. Newcastle: Newcastle Regional Library, undated (c1999).