Social life revolved around churches and associated schools or Sunday schools. By 1900 there were six: Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational. All struggled as people left and public schools developed.
Cooperation was possible: the architect for St Bede’s was Presbyterian. In 1901 and probably in other years, employers made their premises available for a week of revival meetings conducted by all Protestant ministers. The most divisive issue was the State’s funding of schools: Protestants were content but Catholic schools protested loud and long against their neglect.
St Bartholomew’s Anglican Church was built on high ground granted by Edward Macarthur in 1849. It added a manse, a hall and a school. Anglicans prospered faster than others, and moved away sooner. Land was also lost to railway extensions. After a long decline, the church closed in the 1970s and the building was demolished.
A Presbyterian Kirk had opened on a ridge in Mount Street in 1842, serving Scots stonemasons and patronised by the Harris family. After intense argument, in 1883 the congregation moved to the ‘Pyrmont Presbyterians in Ultimo’ in Bulwara Road. The Manse and the hall were added by 1902. But by 1936 the congregation had shrunk and the parish was no longer independent. After World War II the church was leased to Dutch immigrants – until they aged and moved away. In 1977 the church joined The Uniting Church of Australia.
The MustardSeed germinated in 1966 when a group began meeting in St Bede’s Church. When the Ultimo church fell vacant, MustardSeed gained access and became a Uniting Church Faith Community. After extensive repairs, the building was rededicated in 2006.
On low ground on Pyrmont Street, St Bede’s Catholic Church was hand-built by stonemasons and mainly poor and Irish residents, and dedicated in 1867. In the 1960s as families moved away, the hierarchy closed St Francis Xavier Church (in Ultimo) and threatened the same for St Bede’s. By the 1990s the crisis had passed and the parish once more flourished.
The Pyrmont Congregational Church held services in the 1890s until at least the 1920s. Despite the Harrises’ support, this congregation also faded from view.
The Primitive Methodist Church flourished in Harris Street until 1902, when the congregation united with other Methodists and disappeared.