CORNER OLD MELBOURNE ROAD and BROUGHAM STREET, GORDON
Arts and Crafts touches on a cottage-like church.
This attractive little church, half-hidden behind silver birches, has the lattice-windowed charm of a Hansel and Gretel cottage. It has not been used as a church for seventeen years and is now a hat shop.
St Mark’s was one of the later commissions of the father and son firm of Percy Selwyn Richards and Geoffrey S. Richards, well known in Ballarat and in the Western District of Victoria for their public and private work. Percy, who was born in New Zealand and arrived in Australia in 1887, practised in Ballarat for half a century. He originally specialised in Art Nouveau designs, the Provincial Hotel in Ballarat being a particularly flamboyant example. He taught architecture at the Ballarat School of Mines from 1918 to 1921 and was in partnership with his son from 1933 to 1940, when he retired, and again when Geoffrey was away on war service. He retired for the second time in 1950.
Geoffrey Richards, practising on his own, was the architect of the chancel added in 1956-1957 to Christ Church, Hamilton, the grandest Anglican church in the Western District and of St John’s, Horsham, built in 1958 and the biggest.
At Gordon, a straggly township 24 kilometres east of Ballarat, St Mark’s replaced a church destroyed by fire. The foundation stone was laid on 23 November 1936 and the church built by G. Ludbrook & Sons at a cost of ￡659. It must have been just the right size for a country congregation in the days before country congregations fell away to next to nothing.
The church is rectangular in plan with a four-bay nave, short square-ended chancel, vestry on the south side and small porch at the north-west. The roof is of flat terracotta shingles. The exterior walls are roughcast plaster above timber cladding to wainscot height. Red brick is used decoratively in the form of piers to emphasise verticality on the porch and at the junction of nave and chancel. It is used structurally on the corner of the vestry and for the vestry fireplace and chimney and for the buttresses on the east wall. The buttresses rise above the roof to terminate in cement-topped pylons. The design is unusual: between the upper part of the buttresses is a tripartite east window high up in the wall with a tile-hung hood and projecting gable with eaves over it – a very Arts and Crafts touch.
Of similar inspiration is the west front. Here, a baptistery in the form of a shallow three-sided apse with tiled roof and a quadripartite window in the middle projects from the main wall. Above it are three small windows, two lower and one higher, and a shingled two-planed version of a jerkinhead above them.
The church bell still hangs in the detached wooden belltower in the grounds.
The Anglican congregation at Gordon had declined when the church was closed. It stood empty for a year until sold to its present owners. Gordon has suddenly begun to grow again and Anglican services have been re-started and, until the Covid pestilence, were being held in the pub across the road from the former St Mark’s.
Since this website is about churches at risk, I should point out that as a building this church, for now, is no more at risk than any country business in these uncertain times.
For information about the Gordon Hat Shop go to the website gordonhatshop.com.au.
PHOTOGRAPHS FOR THIS POST BY ANTHONY BAILEY