(FORMERLY WESLEYAN METHODIST)
PLEASANT STREET, BALLARAT
A reminder of Methodism’s onetime vitality.
Another Ballarat church – but there were so many. Pleasant Street is an unpretentious but well-designed building notable for the excellence of its Gothic detailing and the rich colours of the brick used in its construction.
Ballarat’s population has a strong Cornish element, a legacy of the gold rush. This made the city a stronghold of Wesleyan Methodism (Wesleyans and other Methodists amalgamated in Australia in 1902 to form the Methodist Church). The historian Geoffrey Blainey records in his memoirs that when his father went there as a minister in 1941, the Ballarat Methodists had more churches – eleven – than the Anglicans and Roman Catholics put together. That remained the case until forty years ago. But in 1977 Methodist congregations in Ballarat were subsumed into the new Uniting Church, which has since proceeded to sell off many of the former Methodist buildings, partly at first because of “duplication” in combined parishes and more recently as part of a “consolidation” of Uniting Church assets. The Pleasant Street church is one of the recent sales in Ballarat, along with former Barkly Street Methodist church on Bakery Hill in East Ballarat.
Pleasant Street was built as a Wesleyan church and opened in 1867. The architect was J. A. Doane, who also designed the church in Barkly Street and all but two of Ballarat’s other Methodist churches. The cost of building, indicative of Methodist prosperity, was ￡1,700, about ￡234,000 today. Additions for choir accommodation were made in 1886 to designs by C. D. Figgis (1849-1895), architect of the adjoining but much plainer Sunday School hall and of such Ballarat landmarks as the East Ballarat Fire Station with its very handsome tower and the tower and spire on St Andrew’s Kirk. Figgis, a sometime mayor of Ballarat, was at one point in partnership with H. R. Caselli (see St Thomas Aquinas’s, Clunes).
The completed church in Pleasant Street is slate-roofed and of five bays divided by unusually elaborate buttresses with triple coping. The style is Early English Gothic, with a touch of Tudor in the notches on the front and rear gables. The façade is imposing for a church of its size, with a group of five handsome lancet windows set in a freestone panel. The quintuple theme is repeated in the five blind arches beneath the window. The arches and lower part of the lancets so fill the lower part of the façade that the entrance doors seem a bit cramped beside them. The flanking buttresses presumably terminated in pinnacles, since removed. A triangular oculus below the summit of the gable records the year of construction.
The Pleasant Street congregation declined over time and the church was sold a year or so ago. As one past attender told the Ballarat Courier when closure was announced in 2018, “Quite a number of our people have now gone into aged care.”
This was a good example of a local church as centre of social life as well as worship. A fourth-generation Pleasant Street member reminisced in the Courier that in her youth “so much … activity was church based. There were church dances and there was a very strong Ballarat churches tennis association which was the main tennis association in this area. It was such a social hub [with] all year round activities.”
The church is now described as privately owned. No external changes are yet apparent but if the usual fate of conversion to someone’s house is in store for it the original interior will be ruined.
PHOTOGRAPHS FOR THIS POST BY ANTHONY BAILEY