The project to save the spire of Sydney’s oldest church — St James’ King Street, consecrated in 1824 — has been completed at a cost of $1.3 million.

The spire was the tallest building in Sydney for most of the 19th century — and as such was a key navigational aid to the tall ships as they made their way up the Harbour.

It is being formally rededicated by the Bishop of South Sydney, the Right Reverend Robert Forsyth, at a Ceremony of the Bells tonight, Wednesday, 20 October.

The celebration will mark the end of Phase 1 of the $3 million conservation plan for essential works to the historic Francis Greenway designed, convict built church, constructed under the sponsorship of Governor Lachlan Macquarie.

British architectural historian and BBC television presenter, Dan Cruickshank, nominated St James’ as Australia’s contribution to the world’s greatest man-made treasures in his ‘Around the World in 80 Treasures’ TV series.

Work to replace the 100 year old copper plating on the spire and reinforce its water-damaged structure started two years ago alongside a fundraising initiative to pay for the project.

The original Orb and Cross, which sit atop the Spire, were also taken down and conserved for the first time since the 1820s. These items still bear the convict arrow marks that show the copper to be government property.

The Rector of St James’, The Reverend Andrew Sempell comments: “The completion of the work will ensure that St James’ retains its rightful place as an icon in the City of Sydney and in the history of our nation.”

The project was guided by Design 5 Heritage Architects and approved by The National Trust.

Mrs Fiona Balfour, Chair of the fundraising committee, says:” Conservation work of this scale and importance can only happen when the community works together.

“I am delighted with the response and would like to especially acknowledge The Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation for its very generous gift to the project.

“We would not have completed this initiative without their support. Additionally, important donations were also received from The Heritage Council of NSW, The Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, The City of Sydney, The Macquarie Foundation, The AMP Foundation and a large number of private donors drawn from the Parish of St James’ and members of the adjacent business community and legal fraternity.”

Phase 2 of the conservation program will replace the church’s slate roof and repair the convict-made brick walls at a cost of $1.1 million.

Fundraising efforts are now underway to ensure this “once in a century” project is achieved.

Donations to the National Trust of Australia (NSW) St James’ King Street Conservation Appeal are fully tax-deductible and can be made by contacting the Parish Office on: (02) 8227 1300.