HOLY TRINITY, GREENDALE

(FORMERLY ANGLICAN)
NAPOLEON STREET, GREENDALE

Less than half a church, rescued from ruin.

An early photograph of the abandoned Holy Trinity, Greendale, standing forlornly in a paddock.
Picture: Churches Australia Holy Trinity Greendale/(010920)

This church is not at risk, nor was it ever a completed church, but I include it as a curio of rural architecture. For 86 years it was one of the few genuine ruins accessible from Melbourne.

Holy Trinity, or the “half church”, as it is locally known – though it is less than half of what was planned – was built for the Church of England between 1875 and 1877. Building stopped abruptly once the apse and a lateral structure on the south, intended as an organ chamber and vestry, were ready for use. The completed church would have been handsome and substantial. Perhaps in those days Greendale, which also had a pub, a primary school and a now utterly vanished Roman Catholic church, showed signs of greater growth than eventually came to pass. (The cemetery opposite the church is an indication: it’s only ten per cent full.)

The former Holy Trinity, Greendale once restoration had begun.
Picture: Churches Australia Holy Trinity Greendale/(010920)

Greendale is literally a green dale, a pretty valley with clumps of native and European trees giving cool shade in summer. The pub is still there but apart from the “half church” not much else from those early days. The population is growing again, as evidenced by showy new houses, each replete with decks and picture windows, that now encrust the hills above the township. The Victorian government, too, which cannot abide unspoiled countryside, is planning to do its bit to wreck the prospect, with a proposed series of towers and powerlines striding across the landscape. Local opposition is strong and wants the power lines underground but one fears that Spring Street philistinism will turn out to be stronger, as, combined with climate credulity, it has already with its construction of endless “wind farms” all over the hills and valleys to the south of Greendale.

The apse from the east. The once empty windows have been glazed. The buttress on the right is new and was built as part of the restoration.

This fragment of a church was designed by Frederick Wyatt, architect of the imposing Anglican church at Bacchus Marsh, 22 kilometres away (also Holy Trinity and built concurrently) and the country mansion Greystones, south of that town. At Greendale he had planned a Gothic building to accommodate a congregation of more than 200, an ambitious undertaking even by the standards of those more devout days. About a third of the £582 it cost to build the apse and organ chamber was raised by a three-day bazaar in nearby Myrniong (which has a diminutive and pretty Anglican church) and the rest locally; but then the funds ran out.

Wyatt was a promising architect who died at the age of 35 the year after the Greendale church was consecrated by the Bishop of Ballarat on 23 August 1877. The local magistrate, Mr Charles Shuter of La Cote homestead (now demolished) took over as honorary architect but in the event Holy Trinity progressed no further westwards than the graceful chancel arch, where a “temporary” timber wall was put up, and is still there. What would have been the capitals of the chancel pilasters project on either side of the arch.

The fragment of Holy Trinity in profile. The completed church would have been at least twice as long. The new buttress can be seen at the right.

The five-sided apse, with lancet windows in three sides, is distinguished by its rough elegance, an impression reinforced by the slight concavity of the iron roof. The walls are of local golden-brown freestone blocks and were built by stonemason David Pierpoint of Ballan. 

During the half-century that the church was in use, up to fifty people were able to crowd in and there were seldom fewer than eighteen attenders. But Greendale declined, the congregations thinned, and services ceased in 1924. Furnishings were removed and the building fell into disrepair. In 1964 the Anglican Church sold the land and the unfinished church became a hayshed. For many years it was a ghostly ruin with crumbling walls and rusty roof – just the place to get a creepy thrill if you explored it at night by torchlight.

The property was sold again in 2010 and bought by new owners who began the task of restoring it. By this time the stonework was much deteriorated. Storms caused further damage and the owners were able to obtain a grant of $66,000 from the federal (Labor) government to help with the project. Decayed and missing stone blocks in the walls have been replaced, the exterior walls have been repointed and a buttress added at the north-west corner. A blocked door into the vestry has been reopened and the chancel windows filled with clear glass. The restoration was completed in 2013 and the building is available for use again – not of course as a church but as a “community space”.

The steep iron roofs of the former Holy Trinity, Greendale, rising above the farmyard.

PHOTOGRAPHY FOR THIS POST BY ANTHONY BAILEY UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED.

One thought on “HOLY TRINITY, GREENDALE

  1. Such an interesting description of the building and its history. We must have a look when our Ptremier-for-life allows us to escape Melbourne. Thank you.

    Like

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