Sunday, November 30, 2014

An Ancestor a week for 20 weeks–Week 19–Farrer Middlebrook – Religion by Design



Narrated by John Farrer Middlebrook , Sydney NSW Australia
November 2014

My father was an Anglican clergyman for all the time I knew him and our family life was in many ways shaped by the needs of each Parish he'd been appointed to. After leaving St. John's College at Remuera, the theological training college, and being ordained, first deacon then priest, he assisted at Taumarunui, Gate Pa, Tauranga, and at St. Matthews, Masterton where he met and married my Mother (Eleanor Hope Dillon).  Dad was sent as Vicar to Ormondville, a small country town and a farming and railway centre, and as WW2  loomed they set up house in a large, draughty Victorian vicarage on a hillside, with a main rail line just across the road, and began a family.
In 1945 we moved to Gisborne, then Ruatoria, on the East Coast, from 1952 until 1957 when we moved to New Plymouth. Dad's last move took him back to Gisborne again where he remained until his passing on 21st Mar. 1968, just a few months before he would have retired.

Dad was born in Opua on 28th Oct. 1903, to a widowed schoolteacher, Julia Sullivan, who already had five children, and her new husband, James Middlebrook, a carpenter, recently divorced and without children, who had lived some seven years in the town.

He left Auckland Grammar school with a passion for drawing and design and perhaps in the early 1920's was articled to Griersons, Architects, or an associated firm, and began study at Auckland University School of Architecture. He described some of his work at the architects, who were designing the Auckland War Memorial Museum, where he prepared both full-scale drawings of the large WWI battle names to be carved into the Portland-stone frieze of the Museum and also the large watercolour drawings of the proposed façade. He had become skilled in classic Roman lettering and was able to produce tracings, for transfer to the stone, with the exact lines needed by the stonemason to cut the complex angles and curves within each letter and for it's spacing from the next. The work stands perfect to this day and in contrast  to the similar WWII battle names on the later section.   Other commissions he worked on included the old Auckland Power Board building near the waterfront, now gone I think, the Elephant House at the Wellington Zoo, the Wintergarden glasshouses in the Domain and others.  It is interesting that his younger brother, Russell Middlebrook, made the models from which the classic oxidised-bronze wreaths and swags that ornament the Museum upper floor were cast. Those fulfilling times were not to last; the Museum had hardly been finished when the Great Depression began to bite.  All public works ceased, businesses failed and work was not to be had.  We think that his mother, Julia, may have had Russell, Eva, Perhaps Bart, as well as Dad, still living at home in Burch St, Mt. Albert. Her husband, James, had died in 1930 and Dad had lost his job when his employer closed the office..
Dad had experience of the Relief Work scheme offered by the Government; he told me of workers, at railway yards, moving great piles of coal or ballast metal with shovels and wheelbarrows and then moving it all back again!  He saw much poverty around;  single mothers with children, and without work and no means to buy food, forced to seek charity; the elderly and the disabled the same.  The effect of his experiences  in the early 1930's convinced him of his calling to the Ministry and his entering St. John's College.

For all the years I remember, he would begin his day at about 5am, or earlier, taking tea and toast into his study. His many books, both theological and architectural, were kept there along with the large table he used for his drawing board and T-square. Sometimes he'd be working on his sermon for the coming Sunday, but mostly drawing and designing.  He designed churches at Waitara, Te Puia,  Makaraka, Ruatoria and a girl's college chapel, among others. Quite often he was called on, by a church somewhere, to supply  a drawing for a fitting or ornament; sometimes a banner or candlesticks or pews. Many of his drawings survive and show the great skills he had.

He was popular with the parishioners and spent much of the week in visiting; no one was missed either at home or in hospital.  It was often mentioned to me how good a listener he was, and by others how he never brought religion into a conversation unless asked about something.
Being a friend was often more help than being a Pastor.

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