CORNER OF BALLARAT ROAD AND MAY STREET, WEST FOOTSCRAY
A fine example of 1960s “contemporary”.
This church, ultra-contemporary for its time, seems to have escaped the notice of heritage consultants and architectural historians. Possibly that is because of its locality, on the corner of one of the most dispiriting suburban roads in a shabby part of Melbourne’s west. Yet it is a striking and original design, and with the demolition of St Stephen’s, Highett, one of the few examples of a non-traditional building associated with the architect Wystan Widdows (1912-1982).
Widdows was born and died England but worked most of his life in Australia. In that time he designed more than thirty Anglican churches, which makes him second only to Louis Williams in terms of ecclesiastical output. For eight years until 1966 he was in partnership with David Caldwell, with whom he designed All Saints’.
Widdows and Caldwell planned All Saints’ in conformity with the principles of the Liturgical Movement, a loosely grouped association of mainly German and French architects, artists and clerics who had been advocating churches “in the round”, with the congregation gathered around the altar, since at least the 1930s. Like the Ecclesiologists in the nineteenth-century, whose criteria of “correct” Gothic Revival, as applied to (mainly) Anglican churches spread all over the English-speaking world, the Liturgical Movement acquired international influence in just a few decades. Its success was largely on account of the Second Vatican Council, the architectural and liturgical decrees of which were – not wholly accurately – interpreted as mandating Mass at an altar “amongst the people” instead of at an altar at the far end of a nave in a church built on the conventional “linear” plan which had been the custom since the Roman basilicas were converted into churches in the fourth century. By the end of the 1960s there was scarecly one newly built Roman Catholic church that didn’t in some way conform to Liturgical Movement prescriptions, and Anglicans, needing churches for a revised rite not dissimilar to the Roman Catholic, in some places followed suit. All Saints’ at West Footscray is among the notable examples of this phenomenon.
The foundation stone was laid on 21 June 1964. The church consists of a hexagonal drum rising through two storeys and containing nave and sanctuary with attached vestries, narthex and baptistery at ground floor level. Windows, wide and tall, rise to the eaves to light the interior of the drum. The roof is of shallow gables and has two additional angles formed by the eaves of cantilevered gables, each with an aperture to allow light to the windows in the wall beneath. One sees the point, but from certain viewpoints this makes the building rather jagged in appearance.
The principal entrance is through a porte-cochère, also with an open roof supported on metal columns. Below the opening in the roof is a small tropical garden in a raised concrete bed, like the entrance to a resort hotel in somewhere like Fiji though not as well maintained. A spacious narthex gives access to the church proper.
The walls of the church are of cream brick with concrete used for fascias and some lintels. The unusual ventilators in the walls are formed of rows of brick tiles laid sideways. Of particular merit is the slender flêche, with its graceful openwork metal structure.
Concrete discolouration and other signs of wear have dulled the avant-garde sharpness this church undoubtedly had in its earlier days. Its parish, too, has gone and All Saints’ now functions as a chapel-of-ease to the older Anglican church in central Footscray. A third church in the combined parish, St George’s, also built in the 1960s, was demolished several years ago. Its fate suggests that the future of All Saints’ is not as secure as this interesting building deserves.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANTHONY BAILEY