PARK AND LANGRIDGE STREET, MIDDLE PARK
Closed and subdivided after a century of worship.
St Anselm’s is a neat little church on a tight street-corner site in the bayside suburb of Middle Park. On a stormy day you can hear the rumble of the breakers on the beach several streets to the west – and the scream of motor racing from several streets to the east when the Grand Prix requisitions Albert Park each March.
Middle Park is a solidly red-brick Edwardian suburb with a few surviving Victorian villas. After the Second World War, at a time of housing shortage and building restrictions, it became a district of landladies and furnished rooms. Its houses have since been elaborately refurbished and Middle Park is now one of Melbourne’s most expensive and smartest places to live. But as already observed in this blog, when the upwardly mobile move in, church congregations decline; which is not a very flattering reflection on the persuasiveness of religious educators in the nominally Christian schools that most of these prosperous residents will have attended and to which they send their children.
This was the trajectory with Middle Park’s Methodist church in Richardson Street, where a diminished congregation saw the sale (and subsequent conversion into maisonettes) of their handsome cruciform brick building after the formation of the Uniting Church. But St Anselm’s managed to retain some loyal attenders, attracted in part by its High Church services, right up until 2001 when the diocese declared it surplus to requirements and amalgamated it with the larger St Silas’s, a towering half-built masterpiece by Louis Williams (1890-1980) a kilometre or so away, to form the “Parish of the Parks”.
The foundation stone of St Anselm’s was laid on 7 March 1922 by the dashing Harrington Clare Lees, a sporty Englishman who’d been appointed Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne the year before. The architects were Sale and Keach, of whom I can find no information beyond their names on the foundation stone. Their building replaced a timber church on the site.
St Anselm’s is a simple rectangular hall with an entrance at the south-west corner and a short chancel added later to a design by Louis Williams, judging by the style. He also added the pert little spirelet on the roof, very typical Williams, similar to the one he placed on St Stephen’s, Darebin (now also a house). Williams designed some furniture for St Anselm’s (some of it now at St Silas’s) and must have made alterations to the original church as well, such as adding his characteristic square-headed widows with tracery at the top – though the tracery disappeared from all but the chancel windows during the conversion of St Anselm’s into flats, or should I say, “town houses”. The narrow two-storey vicarage beside the church was retained as a single house. Last year someone paid $3,350,000 for it.
St Anselm’s was closed in 2001 and sold – though one suspects for nothing like that amount. The interior was carved up and partitioned, a spiral staircase was crammed in and skylights cut in the roof leaving nothing ecclesiastical about the building except the cross on the gable and the desperate attempts at wit of the estate agents’ spiel whenever a flat inside St Anselm’s comes on the market – a “heavenly conversion”, “divine living”, even “praying for a seven-figure sale”. Oh yes, the spirelet was suffered to remain, as was the plaque on the front placed there in 1991 to commemorate “100 years of Anglican witness and worship in Middle Park”. Ten years later the witness and worship stopped.
This being a website about churches at risk of demolition or alteration, it must be admitted that St Anselm’s has undergone its time at risk and survived as a building, though completely altered inside. But prices being what they are in Middle Park, the church remains vulnerable to “redevelopment” of the site for a block of many more flats than the shell of St Anselm’s can contain.