ALBERT PARK METHODIST CHURCH, ALBERT PARK

(FORMERLY METHODIST)
CARDIGAN PLACE, ALBERT PARK

The post-Christian era in plain view.

Main façade of the former Albert Park Methodist church. No stained glass remains in the clear-glazed windows.

If you want to see what the post-Christian era looks like, Bridport Street in Melbourne’s rich respectable seaside suburb of Albert Park is a one-stop exhibition. At each end of this thronged street stands a large and imposing brick church. At the eastern end is St Silas’s, a soaring building with the loftiest nave of any Anglican church in Victoria apart from St Paul’s Cathedral. It was designed to have an octagonal tower and spire 55 metres high and would have been the masterpiece of the great church architect Louis Williams (1890-1980). But the spire wasn’t built and the church itself was only two-thirds finished when money ran out in the Depression and work stopped. The raw edges of its incomplete state were unsympathetically smoothed off in the 1970s with a patched up south transept and modernistic west end utterly out of harmony with the original design. At the same time the interior proportions were ruined by the insertion of a mezzanine floor to form a church hall below the nave, the original separate hall having been pulled down to make money for the parish with a service station on the site. 

Side view of the former Albert Park Methodist church showing the main façade and north transept. The “quarter aisle” with three windows makes the nave five-sided in plan with a straight sixth side formed by west wall and organ and choir gallery. An unencumbered view of the church is hard to get with so many mature street trees.

At the western end of Bridport Street is the also imposing if less lofty Albert Park Methodist church. It is red brick (with yellow stripes) instead of the brown brick of St Silas’s and in a conventional Neo-Gothic instead of Williams’s trademark Modern Perpendicular as exemplified in St Silas’s, but there is a more important difference. St Silas’s, though it hardly appears flourishing, is open for services, its parish having been expanded some years ago to incorporate that of St Anselm’s, Middle Park, now turned into apartments. The Methodist church, on the other hand, is shut and has been unused for religious purposes since 1970.

Imposing in its size though unfinished to the original design, St Silas’s, Albert Park, begun in 1925, is at the opposite end of Bridport Street from the former Methodist church.

Methodist churches suffered sorely with the formation of the Uniting Church in the 1970s. In the union of congregations many of their churches were made redundant and in most cases sold, usually to be carved up into flats, as was the Methodist church in Albert Park’s adjoining suburb of Middle Park. But the Albert Park church had closed even before that, partly because the Anglo character of the district began to fade after the war when European immigrants settled in the inner suburbs – the inner-suburban chic of today was still far in the future – and partly because Methodism was already in decline.

One of the twin turrets on the main front of the church.

Until the 1950s Methodists were a denomination prominent beyond their numbers for their sense of identity, their social conscience and their good works. They were serious in the practice of their religion, and many Methodists went to church twice on Sunday and perhaps attended or taught in the Sunday School as well. But in the years after that their numbers dropped away as younger members of Methodist families gave up churchgoing. In due course those that were left were absorbed into the Uniting Church, and Methodism in Australia all but disappeared.

The south-east turret. Note the unusual corbel on a column, itself supported by a corbel, that carries the projecting brickwork of the turret.

Sunday morning is the time to stroll from St Silas’s to the Methodist building to see how things have changed since those churches were new. A sprinkling of worshippers files out of St Silas’s at the end of Sung Eucharist while at the other end of the street, down in Cardigan Place, the Methodist church is empty. In between, the streets are packed with crowds of Sunday morning coffee-drinkers and brunchers cramming the footpaths at outdoor café tables. Their predecessors in Albert Park would have been in church, and the shops and cafés – such as there were – shut in respect for the Sabbath. No longer. Instead it is the worship of coffee that fills some of the function of a sacrament in the daily life of the contemporary urban Australian, transporting the drinker into communion with an imagined world of cosmopolitan sophistication, and nowhere is this better illustrated than in Bridport Street, Albert Park.

The foundation stone of the Albert Park Methodist church was laid on 10 December 1889 by John Danks (1828-1902), proprietor of the well-known plumbing firm, a devout Methodist and Sunday School teacher. His name is commemorated in a local street. The church was built as the Wesleyan Methodist church, Wesleyans being the principal branch of the denomination until Australian Methodists united in one church in 1902. It opened for services on 27 July 1890. There were people in Albert Park – some of them Methodist churchgoers no doubt – who were infants then and still alive to see the church closed eighty years later and sold to a private owner.

Patterned brickwork in buttress and wall.

The architects of the church were Oakden, Addison & Kemp. They designed a capacious building with simple Gothic detailing against plainish brick walls. The red brick is relieved in places by herringbone patterning and bands of yellow, a typical motif in brick churches of the era. The church is cruciform in plan with wide transepts and connecting lean-to pavilions in the manner of side aisles in the angles of transepts and nave. Roofs are of slate and there is no central flêche, as might have been expected on a building on this scale.

The main front, facing east, has tall octagonal turrets at the corners and a group of three lancet windows above a projecting central porch. The lancets are framed with an ornamental inset arch in cement. The western arm of the cross is short and square-ended. Clad in weatherboards, it was intended to be temporary. It housed a raised choir gallery and organ with pulpit in front.

The foundation stone, laid on 10 December 1889.

The church and its site have been incorporated into the grounds of the Albert Park Primary School which stands adjacent to it. At some time the church was renamed the David Hatherell Hall, after whom I do not know. The building has been emptied of its original fittings and is used at present for child-minding outside school hours.  

Overall the church seems in good repair. Children’s voices in term time give it a kind of life but on Sundays it is an empty shell, as eloquent a symbol as you could find of a suburb’s slide into sterile secularism.

The church seen from the schoolground. The timber “chancel” is at the left. It housed the organ and a choir gallery.  

PHOTOGRAPHY FOR THIS POST BY ANTHONY BAILEY

ST ANDREW’S, WILLIAMSTOWN

(PRESBYTERIAN)
CECIL STREET, WILLIAMSTOWN

A fine tower on an historic church.

St Andrew’s, Cecil Street, Williamstown, with its handsome tower.

St Andrew’s is a substantial church with a tower of great dignity and noble proportions. It stands in well-kept grounds and looks, if one can say this of a building, rock solid. But the correspondent who suggested that I write about it told me that St Andrew’s is not in a healthy state in terms of attendance. He was at a service, he said, in pre-pandemic times when the congregation consisted of the minister’s family – in a church that would easily seat 200.

St Andrew’s, Williamstown, in an earlier photograph.
Picture: Sarah Chinnery 1887-1970 https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-144450120 (15112020)

Perhaps that particular Sunday was an exception, but Williamstown is just the kind of place where church attendances decline as the economic status of the residents moves up. It was always quite well-to-do, but in a respectable nineteenth-century God-fearing way. These days the religion of the people who move into the expensively remodelled, enlarged or new-built houses would seem to be that of the body, worshipped through yoga, attendance at the gym and endless cups of coffee at tables in the street. It is not Christianity, and certainly not the Presbyterian variety.

So one must hope for the best. For now the church remains, and maintains a website, which is some indication that it is not yet moribund.

Foundation stone of the 1870-1871 rebuilding of the church.
The nave of St Andrew’s, Williamstown, looking back towards the tower.

St Andrew’s is two buildings. The first is a long rectangular nave, slate-roofed, with lancet windows, prominent buttresses and cement dressings built of rough-cut bluestone in 1870-1871. This replaced a bluestone church of ten years earlier, which had to be demolished because of defects in the masonry. The architect of the rebuilding was Lloyd Tayler (1830-1900), a name that could be relied on for an imposing design in the Melbourne architectural world of his day: his other works include the South Yarra Presbyterian church, the former Free Presbyterian (now Salvation Army) church in East St Kilda, St Mary’s Anglican church in North Melbourne, and grandest accomplishment of all, the great Renaissance dome of the former Commercial Bank of Australia in Collins Street, an interior which it’s not too fanciful to compare with the Pantheon in Rome. Tayler designed it in partnership with Alfred Dunn in 1891 and it was well restored in 1990 when it was incorporated into a new building.  

The nave of St Andrew’s is of six bays with a plain south end. The end wall is pierced by a single stained-glass roundel. A temporary-looking concrete vestry with tiled roof abuts it.

Detail of a buttress on the nave wall. The roughly worked bluestone is in pleasing contrast to the smooth cement dressings.
Doors at the base of the tower. That on the left leads into the church. The doorway on the right leads to the stairway in the turret.
This mullioned and traceried Gothic window at the front of the tower’s lowest stage is in English Decorated style.

The second building at St Andrew’s is the tower, added to the front of the church in 1934 (when the congregation must have been flourishing). The architects were Taylor, Soilleux and Overend, of whom Best Overend (1909-1977) was known as an imaginative modernist. While with Taylor and Soilleux he designed a modernist landmark, the Cairo flats in Nicholson Street, Fitzroy. The firm also specialised in designing cinemas, for which there was then much demand, though only their Rivoli in Camberwell still exists.  

The tower of St Andrew’s, Williamstown, from the north. Note the three stages and the varied and highly original window treatment.

There is nothing modernist about the tower on St Andrew’s. It is an inspired design in Late Gothic idiom, dramatically detailed, with white cement dressings against the dark bluestone structure. It is square in plan, with buttressed corners, and rises through two stages above a porch with side entrances. A traceried window that lights the porch stands out for its English Decorated detailing, complete with hood moulds, a decorative device with the original practical purpose of deflecting the rain. This window is whimsically unlike the windows of the upper levels of the tower or those on the body of the church.

Detail of the arcaded tower windows in the middle stage at the front. The arches and transoms have moulded decoration and hood moulds with corbels. Beneath is a row of blind quatrefoils.

The stages of the tower are separated by wide cement bands. Each upper stage contains windows. Those of the middle stage are in the form of an arcade with moulded arches with transoms, corbelled hood moulds above and a row of blind quatrefoils below. Those in the upper stage are plainer and louvred. There are four windows in each group on the north (the front of the church) and the east, and two on the west, where the side of the tower is narrower on account of the stair turret that fills the angle between the tower and the nave. The turret has a door at ground level and Gothic slit windows at each upper stage. Inside, a winding stairway leads to the top of the tower. The battlemented top of the turret is taller than the tower, which has smaller turrets at the other corners, linked by a pierced parapet with another row of blind quatrefoils below it. A single pinnacle divides the parapet at the front.

View up the tower from the church entrance
Tower and turret of St Andrew’s Williamstown, from the west.

All in all, the tower is a rich and satisfying structure to which the body of the church, less detailed, acts as a foil. It would be tragic to see this fine piece of architecture hacked up into apartments, or whatever use closure would have in store for it.

St Andrew’s, Williamstown, in its pleasant well-kept grounds.

ALL PHOTOGRAPHS BY ANTHONY BAILEY (unless otherwise noted)

ST AGNES’S, GLEN HUNTLY

(ANGLICAN)
BOORAN ROAD, GLEN HUNTLY

An echo of Ravenna in a 1920s suburb.

Tower and west front of St Agnes’s, Glen Huntly, a fine design in Neo-Romanesque. (The obtrusiveness of power lines in the Australian streetscape is often underestimated.
In countries with a higher sense of public aesthetics they are underground. The parked cars are an obstacle to architectural photography everywhere.)

It never augurs well for a church’s future when it loses its parochial autonomy. St Agnes’s, Glen Huntly, is now administered from St John’s, East Malvern, a parish which is returning to its nineteenth-century extensiveness, having several years ago had part of the demolished All Saints’, East Malvern’s parish attached to it as well. St Agnes’s has been at risk of closure more than once. Whether the new arrangement will keep it open remains to be seen.

Let’s hope it does, because this is a very fine and unusual church. The foundation stone was laid in 1924, when the brick and stucco villas and villa pairs were expanding over the market gardens of the new suburb of Glen Huntly (sometimes written Glenhuntly). Parish and church grew up together, but now that the demographic character of Glen Huntly has become less Anglo the link is weakening, the congregation has shrunk and the parish can no longer run to its own vicar.

The tower is built in three levels with a lower stage with three openings, blind middle stage with cross in relief and louvred bell chamber below a low pyramidal roof.

St Agnes’s was designed by the firm of Grainger, Little, Barlow and Hawkins, of which Marcus Barlow (1890-1954) is best known for the Manchester Unity Building in central Melbourne, a splendid essay in what might be termed Perpendicular Gothic Moderne. For St Agnes’s, the style selected was a simplified Neo-Romanesque. This is most evident in the tower with its louvred upper stage – the bell chamber – and low pyramidal roof and in the projecting apsidal baptistery at its base. The general effect is reminiscent of the architecture of Ravenna.

Another view of the tower with the church’s name in elegant incised lettering on an inset cement panel.

Entrance to the church is through lateral doors in the porches beside the base of the tower. These open into a narthex that runs the width of the church, past the baptistery and the bell rope that hangs down through a hole in the boss of the plaster vault under the tower. On Sundays you could hear the tinkling note of the bell all over Glen Huntly.

The southwest porch, one of two on either side of the baptistery, which can be glimpsed at left. The scalopped cornice continues across the front of the church.

St Agnes’s is built of red brick, beautifully laid, with cement dressings. In plan it consists of porch, nave and apsidal chancel, large enough to have once contained choir stalls, and transepts housing vestries. The architects intended that side aisles should be added later to accommodate a larger congregation. If you look closely you can see that around the paired windows of each bay of the nave is an arched layer of cement. This was designed to be easily removed, along with the windows and section of wall beneath the window, to reveal the arches – already in place – of what would have been the arcades separating the nave from the side aisles. The upper lunettes above a corbelled string course that would have become the clerestory.

The apsidal baptistery, reminiscent of Ravenna, projects from the base of the tower.

Inside, the walls are of exposed brick, except in the chancel where they have been rendered and painted off-white. The contrast is dramatic, and made more so by the grand brick arch that divides the two spaces. The polygonal apse is attractive for its discreet use if colour, with a fine representation of the Last Supper in opus sectile on the east wall and stained glass in the simple arched windows of the lateral walls standing out brightly against the chaste off-white background.    

The north wall of the nave, beyond the kindergarten that occupies the parish hall. Note the form of the brickwork surrounding the cement infill. This would have been, with the infill and window removed, one of the arches of an arcaded side aisle.  Lunettes above the corbelled string course would have become the clerestory.
The foundation stone with its beautifully incised inscription.
Detail of a wrought-iron door hinge.

There is good use of timber in the church, especially in the ceiling linings, which are varnished v-jointed timber in faceted and diagonally opposed panels between the exposed curved lower chords of the trusses. There used to be a fine pulpit and tester but they were removed by a vicar who carried out an unnecessary and insensitive re-ordering in the 1980s. Their fate is not known. The carved eagle lectern lost its base at the same time and the font was brought into the nave from the baptistery, which was thereby reduced to a purposeless alcove. The wrought iron cancelli at the entrance to the chancel and the choir stalls had been dismantled in an earlier reordering and the cancelli are now outside enclosing a garden for ashes. The Anglican Church used to pride itself on the care of its churches and faculties were necessary for alterations to fabric and furnishings to guard against aesthetically blind renovations of this sort. Was a faculty given for any of the tinkering and worse that went on at St Agnes’s?

A side door to the nave with unfinished brickwork on the pier at the left and eave of the choir vestry to the right. The architects of St Agnes’s made provision for the church to be extended laterally with aisles in the expectation, probably justified in 1924 as the suburb grew, that the congregation would also increase.
Detail of arch, cement infill, and window in the nave wall. The brick notches to the right show where the east wall of the projected side aisle would have been joined to the nave. A low sloping roof would have abutted the wall at the level of the string course with the lunette exposed as part of the clerestory. 

The 1980s reordering represented one stage in the building’s liturgical history, which has been consistently Anglo-Catholic ranging from the mildly High in earlier years via the ultramontane and the 1960s “Parish and People” movement (nemesis of the choir stalls and cancelli) to the liberal modern in recent years. At one point the church was promoted as a place for gays and lesbians to rejoice in their God-given “diversity”.

In its earlier days St Agnes’s was something of an anomaly, a thriving parish with busy Sunday School, many vocations to the ministry and much social activity in the form of tennis club and missionary teas yet poorly attended services. The services are still poorly attended but the social life has gone, the tennis courts have long since been built over and the parish of Glen Huntly is itself in need of mission. Yet the church survives and should be kept at all costs.

The apse of St Agnes’s with vestry, and above the chancel roof, the east wall and eaves of nave and the tower.  

PHOTOGRAPHY FOR THIS POST BY ANTHONY BAILEY

DROMANA UNITING CHURCH

(FORMERLY METHODIST)
NEPEAN HIGHWAY, DROMANA

Welcome, but not to church.

Dromana Uniting church with the hall on the left linked by a porch. The white-painted house beyond formerly belonged to the family who gave the land for the church.

When a church ceases to be used for the primary purpose for which it was built you start to wonder how long it will continue to exist as a building. I don’t mean that it will be instantly torn down, or sold on the sly (to forestall parishioners’ protests) to become a Heavenly Pizzas franchise. But if it is no longer needed for church services, any use to which it is put will almost invariably be one that could be just as conveniently fulfilled by an entirely secular building. And if the church has a hall beside it, designed for all those other things that take place in a parish apart from liturgical worship, what use is the church itself when closed for services? What is the point of keeping it?

This risks being the case at the Dromana Uniting church. The complex of buildings still carries that label, in large letters on the front, but the church has not been used for services since 2014. It is now known, at least verbally, as the Dromana Uniting Welcome Centre. In normal times, i.e. before the China virus pandemic, the buildings welcomed children to a playgroup during the week and “seniors” to free lunches. But not to church. Church services are held at Rosebud, five kilometres away, at what is now called the Southern Peninsula Uniting church. The other principal denominations have active churches in Dromana, but the Uniting Church has pulled out.

The Dromana Uniting church was built as a Methodist place of worship on land given by the Rudduck family, local store owners and keen Methodists. Their imposing house, now in other hands, is a landmark next door. The existing church is the successor to a small timber church on the site, now demolished.

The foundation stone of the new church and hall was laid on 29 May 1965, about the time that the Peninsula crescent from Mornington around to Rye was beginning to acquire a large permanent population of retired folk to augment its summer holiday influx. The Dromana Methodist congregation was subsumed, along with the rest of the Methodist Church of Australasia, into the Uniting Church in 1977.

The group of buildings is a good example of the ecclesiastical modernism in vogue in the latter part of the twentieth century. The design is simple and rational.  Church and hall are linked by a blank-walled porch which gives access to both. The low pitched roof of the hall yields primacy to the church with its higher, steeper pitch. The main façade, that of the church, is pierced by a single window finishing in the gable and emphasising the verticality of the design. The hall has clerestory windows which, together with the shallow roof, emphasise its horizontality and subordination to the church as the principal element in the group.

The hall and church seen across the car park.

On either side of its central window the church façade is slightly canted inwards, away from the window. Wide hoodlike frontal eaves project progressively further as they rise higher towards the gable. These partly screen the window when the sun is the east and create a pleasant matutinal chiaroscuro as the shadow moves up the wall.

Church, porch and hall are faced with pinkish tapestry brick.

I have been unable to find the name of the architect. A curiosity is that the church has a certain resemblance to the Anglican church of All Saints’ at Rosebud, particularly in the projecting gable and eaves. That church was built about two years earlier than that at Dromana and was designed by Wystan Widdows (see St Stephen’s, Highett) and David Caldwell. Could they have designed the Dromana Uniting church as well? If not, could it be the work of Chancellor & Patrick, who were prominent on the Mornington Peninsula for their domestic designs?

Set on its large and prominent block on the Nepean Highway, looking across to the sea, the Dromana Uniting church and hall, together with the imposing house next door, add interest to a dreary stretch of streetscape, the fag end of the Dromana shopping strip. One must hope that the function of “welcome centre” remains sufficiently appreciated for the owners to resist the  temptation to cash in on the value of the site. It would be a pity to see church and hall pulled down to make way for yet more shops or holiday flats.


The lower roof of the hall emphasises the primacy of the church in the architectural composition. Notwithstanding the lettering on the porch, the church has not been used for services since 2014.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN MILLER

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)

ST FRANCIS XAVIER’S, PRAHRAN

(ROMAN CATHOLIC)
HIGH STREET, PRAHRAN

Melbourne’s first “Vatican II” church, now much altered.

St Francis Xavier’s, Prahran, now converted into the John Pierce Centre for the deaf. The For Lease sign refers not to the church but to the former parish school in a side street.

Here we have a classic illustration of the principle that drives the wheel of fashion, at least in the realm of architecture. Forty or so years after its zenith of popularity, a building that was admired and lauded by all is dismissed and derided as unattractive and out of date, and therefore at risk of “modernisation” or worse.

St Francis Xavier’s in Prahran is one of Melbourne’s best post-war churches and ought to have been protected and preserved in its entirety. But it was built in 1964, and by the end of the twentieth century its virtuosity appeared jaded to postmodern tastes. Its parish had fallen away from it and the church building was evidently regarded as dispensable.

The interior of St Francis Xavier’s, Prahran, as it was in 1964. Note the massive stone altar on four blocks. The whereabouts of the sculpture on the right, by Leopoldine Mimovich, is not known.
(Picture: Smith and Tracey, Architects.)

Why the church was built at all is something of a mystery. Prahran is one of those inner-city suburbs that in a generation were transformed from working class to yuppiedom. It is an axiom of this website that “gentrification” drains a district of its churchgoers, and that this was happening in Prahran must have been at least distantly glimpsable when St Francis Xavier’s was planned.

Sure enough, by the 1990s the parish could run to only a part-time priest and by 2003 it had ceased to exist independently and been divided between two neighbouring parishes. The church, which had been shared for some time between the parish and the Catholic deaf association, was taken over entirely by the association, renamed the John Pierce Centre after a former chaplain to the deaf, and “refurbished” in a manner that was wholly destructive of its integrity.

The open roof of St Francis Xavier’s before insertion of a false ceiling, with the two rows of clerestory windows still visible.
Picture: Peter Willie. https://www.slv.vic.gov.au/pictoria/gid/slv-pic-aab56146/1/a23246 (04082020)

St Francis Xavier’s was designed by the firm of Smith & Tracey, which continues to maintain a long tradition of work for the Archdiocese of Melbourne. It was the first church in Melbourne – perhaps in Australia – to conform to the liturgical recommendation of the Second Vatican Council that the altar of a church should be closer to the congregation, who should be seated around it rather than in rows of pews looking towards a distant altar at the far end, as in a traditional “linear” church plan.

St Francis Xavier’s is therefore a rotunda, octagonal in plan. Its European Modernist style reflects the architectural preferences of the Liturgical Movement, which since the 1930s had been seeking to promote the changes in design and ritual which ultimately influenced the Vatican council’s liturgical prescriptions.

The interior of St Francis Xavier’s, Prahran, as it is now, reduced in area and with partitions and new furniture. The upper of the two clerestories is hidden above the false ceiling.  

The church is built of brown brick, exposed on the lower walls inside and out. A side chapel, baptistery and sacristies cluster around the octagon. The main entrance is in a long projecting porch. Over the doors, to indicate the building’s new use, a sign has now been added which would not look out of place on a white-goods warehouse.

The upper walls of the rotunda are rendered and painted white. Two horizontal clerestory stages run around the eight sides, the lower broader than the upper. They are the church’s best feature and eliminate the need for any applied ornament. The rotunda is capped by a shallow tented tiled roof concealed behind the parapet, with a prominent cross.

Stained glass in the lower clerestory at St Francis Xavier’s, Prahran. 

The clerestories are filled with intensely coloured glass in abstract designs. This, and various paler stained glass in chapel and other lower windows, is probably, though no record survives, the work of John Ferguson (1923-2010) and his contemporary Nick Papas, two artists whose designs were generally used by Smith & Tracey for their church commissions.

The “refurbishment” of St Francis Xavier’s included the blocking of an entrance externally and the installation of air conditioning units on the former baptistery roof which make the baptistery look as if it were about to take off vertically. Inside, several partitions have been inserted, reducing the nave space. But the most regrettable alteration is the insertion of a false ceiling at a level between the two clerestories. It hides the upper clerestory and the beautiful open roof with its exposed beams inside an artificial roof cavity. This is a great loss and it is hard to imagine what advantage was supposed to be gained from it.

Stained glass designs in St Francis Xavier’s. The glass in the church is thought to be the work of the Ferguson and Papas partnership.

Smith & Tracey designed most of the furniture and fittings for the church, now largely dispersed. Their massive stone altar has been replaced by a trite wooden table. The mensa of the stone altar sits outside as part of a “garden of memory”.

Though compromised, the design of this graceful building was completely successful for its purpose. How unfortunate that the same cannot be said for the English-language liturgy it was built to house, which can now be seen as jejune and linguistically drab.

The mensa of the original altar turned on its side as part of a memorial garden. The brick building with its handsome loggia is the former parish school.

Unless otherwise credited, all photography is by Fiona Basile (www.fionabasile.com).

ALL SAINTS’, BLACKWOOD

FORMERLY ANGLICAN,
(BYERS ROAD, BLACKWOOD)

A mine of history shut down and sold.

The former All Saints’ church on its rise overlooking Blackwood.

Another plain and simple country church transformed into a house. This one had quite a history behind it.

Melbourne was but thirty years old when All Saints’ was consecrated on 29 October 1865 by Victoria’s first Anglican bishop, Charles Perry (1807-1891). It is one of the few churches he consecrated that survive. The bishop’s journey to conduct the ceremony must have been something of an endurance test. The two roads into Blackwood were rutted cart tracks in 1865 and even today require cautious driving as they wind up and down through the hills and gullies of the western stretches of the Great Dividing Range.

The former All Saints’ church from the south. The iron roof has been replaced. Some windows are boarded up with works going on inside to convert the building into a house. A shrub blocks one of the porch doors.

About ninety kilometres from Melbourne though it seems much more, Blackwood today is a hamlet of scattered houses in and around the deep valley of the Lerderderg River. Dense forest surrounds it and many of the houses are submerged among the trees (how the township has not succumbed to bushfire must be considered a miracle). Blackwood sprang up during the gold rush, and at one point had a population estimated at 30,000 as well as the usual proliferation of banks, pubs and so on. One pub remains.

All Saints’, Blackwood as it was in 1949. The pretty bellcote on the roof has since been removed.
The façades of the church and porch are enlivened by the graceful corner pilasters,
Picture: Colin Caldwell. http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/72906/(21072020)

According to a detailed account on a local history website, Anglican services were held not only in Blackwood but in schools and other premises on the surrounding diggings at Simmons Reef, Golden Point – where there was a Chinese congregation – and later at Barry’s Reef. Barry’s Reef eventually acquired its own church, now long gone along with the rest of the township, its three hotels and 1000-volume Mechanics’ Institute library. The church at Simmons Reef has likewise vanished.

Repainting of the former All Saints’ church is under way.
The side walls have long been propped up to counter the outward thrust of the roof. 

These were all part of the extensive parish of the new All Saints’, which from 1866 had its own rector. He was helped out from time to time by clergy and lay readers from Bacchus Marsh. One of the readers, George Andrew Scott, a candidate for the Anglican priesthood, was scarcely a model of ecclesiastical virtue. He augmented his stipend by bushranging under the name of Captain Moonlight, in which capacity in 1869 he held up the bank at Egerton, another mining township. He was jailed, released and eventually hanged for killing a policeman in New South Wales.

The Gothic glazing bars of the windows are the building’s only ‘ecclesiastical’ detail.
The blue glass was added when the church was used in the film The Man from Snowy River.

Scandal reared its head again in 1877 when Mrs Harriet Turnbull, wife of Blackwood’s then rector, had an affair with a local bank clerk while her husband was away on his distant peregrinations around the parish. She and her lover eloped and the rector obtained one of the very rare divorces of those days. In 1908 another lay reader, Harold Robinson, was shot and killed at Blackwood while walking on his verandah reading a doctrinal work entitled On Faith and the Creed. The assailant was a “mentally disturbed” neighbour (perhaps of different theological views). The bullet went through the book, which years later turned up, still holed, at a church bazaar. It was bought and presented to All Saints’ where until the church closed it could be seen on request. It is now with the Blackwood Historical Society (see comment).

The site selected for All Saints’ was one of the higher points in Blackwood. The new church, built of timber with an iron roof, was described when opened as “exceedingly neat and well-constructed”. It is rectangular in plan with a short chancel at the east and porch at the west with side entrances. The façades of church and porch are relieved by corner pilasters with curved brackets in place of capitals. Originally there was a square bellcote on the front gable but this has gone. So workmanlike is the design that All Saints’ could be a village hall apart from its pointed windows with their pretty Gothic glazing bars. The blue window glass is not original. It was put in place in 1993 when All Saints’ was used as a set in the television series The Man from Snowy River, in the course of which it was “burnt down”. The church celebrated its century and a half in 2015 and is registered by the National Trust. Well-constructed though the building may have been, its sides are now buttressed with timber props.

No longer a hill of prayer.

The later history of All Saints’ is a familiar one. As Blackwood declined in population it lost its parochial independence and was attached first to the parish of Trentham then to Bacchus Marsh. Weekly services became fortnightly until regular services ceased with perhaps a service at Christmas and Easter and the occasional wedding and funeral. By 2016 there were only two practising parishioners. The Anglican diocese decided the church was “surplus to requirements” and put it on sale in 2018.

Blackwood had two other churches, similar in style and construction to All Saints’. The Uniting church is closed and – naturally – in process of being turned into a house. The Roman Catholic church, St Malachy’s, has Masses “by arrangement” according to a notice on the door and on Sundays at 4pm according to a notice by the gate and the parish website. It might be well to phone (03 5422 1261) before turning up.

Chancel and nave of the former All Saints’, Blackwood.

For some of the information in this post I wish to acknowledge historical researches by Margot Hitchcock of the Blackwood & District Historical Society, author of The History and Pioneers of Blackwood, Penny Garnett, and the website Blackwood Publishing, a “Genealogical and early history of Blackwood Victoria”. 


COLOUR PHOTOGRAPHY FOR THIS POST BY ANTHONY BAILEY

ST MARK’S, GORDON

(FORMERLY ANGLICAN)
CORNER OLD MELBOURNE ROAD and BROUGHAM STREET, GORDON

Arts and Crafts touches on a cottage-like church.

The former St Mark’s, Gordon in winter through the leafless silver birches.

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.

The porch with its decorative brick piers.
Brick piers frame the upper and lower chancel windows on the north..

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 foundation stone, laid on 23 November 1936. The new church replaced one burnt down.

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.

The cottage-like west front of St Mark’s, Gordon. The apse with quadripartite window was the baptistery. Note the unusual jerkinhead roof projecting from the gable.
The east end of the church has a three-light window framed by brick buttresses, which terminate in cement-topped pylons. The window has a tile-hung hood and projecting gable with eaves over it.

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.  


Brick and cement chimney with a hooped pot above the vestry.

The timber bell frame still stands beside the former church.

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.


The former St Mark’s from the north-east.

PHOTOGRAPHS FOR THIS POST BY ANTHONY BAILEY

PLEASANT STREET UNITING CHURCH, BALLARAT

(FORMERLY WESLEYAN METHODIST)
PLEASANT STREET, BALLARAT

A reminder of Methodism’s onetime vitality.

The former Pleasant Street Uniting church, Ballarat, a fine design in richly coloured brick with freestone dressings.

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.

Façade detail: five blind arches set in freestone.

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).

Side wall of the former Pleasant Street Uniting church, Ballarat: five bays with buttresses and the Sunday School hall beyond.

The former parsonage of the Pleasant Street Uniting church is across the forecourt beside the church.

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.”

Five fine Early English Gothic lancet windows distinguish the façade. Note the Tudor notches on the gable parapets.

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.  

Richly coloured brickwork and buttresses with triple coping on the nave of the former Pleasant Street Uniting church. The corner buttresses presumably terminated in pinnacles, now lost.

PHOTOGRAPHS FOR THIS POST BY ANTHONY BAILEY

HOLY TRINITY, BALACLAVA and ELWOOD

(ANGLICAN)
CORNER BRIGHTON ROAD AND CHAPEL STREET, BALACLAVA

Palms give this substantial church the exotic air of an
English expatriates’ church in the Mediterranean.


Holy Trinity, Balaclava: an imposing church built for a large and well-to-do congregation.

“We’re asset-rich but people-poor,” announced an elderly lady I encountered when I looked inside Holy Trinity, Balaclava, and asked what the attendance was like on a Sunday. She might have spoken for many an old-established church all over Melbourne. The older the building the more likely the church will have substantial assets, usually in built-over land that was part of its original grounds (what is called in England the glebe). Rents from land and invested income from land that has been sold can keep large churches going when their congregations are small. This is evidently the case with Holy Trinity, Balaclava.

The main façade of Holy Trinity, Balaclava. The parish hall is beyond the conical-roofed baptistery, in red brick.
The towering west window of Waurn Ponds freestone set into Barrabool Hill stone walls.
A belltower and spire were to be have been built in front of the green door. The bell now hangs from a timber frame. 

This capacious, rather cavernous church is certainly not in imminent danger of closing but its long-term prospects don’t look exactly rosy. It stands on a triangular island site cut off from residential areas on two sides by busy roads and tram lines, and with no houses, only a state school, across the road on the third side. It is a difficult parish for an Anglican church, not least because half the parish is flats, and flat-dwellers, notoriously, tend not to be Anglican churchgoers. The eastern part of the parish is historically Jewish and Eastern European, in other words, ethnically not white Anglo-Saxon Anglican. The large parish hall has been let for years to various tenants, among them a plant nursery and a used-car dealer. Such halls were built for Sunday Schools and other parish activities; letting them out brings in income but usually signifies that parish life is at a low ebb. It might also be inferred that the future of Holy Trinity is not made safer by the presence a few blocks to the north of another Anglican church, the huge All Saints’, East St Kilda, to which its congregation could migrate if it were closed.

On the other hand, the parish of Elwood was added to Holy Trinity when its pretty little church, St Bede’s, was sold some years ago (and suffered the indignity not only of being turned into “town houses” but of being swallowed up into a “development”, thus losing its structural individuality). The closure of St Bede’s means Holy Trinity is probably safe for the foreseeable future because of its strategic value. If it closed too there’d be no Anglican church between St Kilda and Gardenvale.

Gothic Revival detail on the south wall of the nave. Above the side aisles are circular clerestory windows with quatrefoil lights.

Holy Trinity was designed by the well-known firm of Reed & Barnes, architects of, among much else, Scots’ Church in Collins Street, the Royal Exhibition Building and St Mary’s, Caulfield, east of Balaclava and now also a ghost of its former self because of demographic change. Joseph Reed (1823-1890) travelled in Italy before returning to Melbourne as a pioneer of local versions of the polychromatic brick architecture of Lombardy, as in his design for the Collins Street Independent (now St Michael’s Uniting) church. But he designed Holy Trinity as a straightforward exercise in Gothic Revival.

Baptistery, south transept, vestry and chancel of Holy Trinity, Balaclava.
Freestone dressings of windows and doorway.
Apse, buttress and corbelled parapet.

The foundation stone of this imposing and substantial church, built for what was then a large and prosperous congregation, was laid in 1882 and construction was complete by December the following year. The building materials were Barrabool Hill stone with Waurn Ponds freestone for the dressings. They make a nice change from the ruggedly Australian bluestone, so widely used for nineteenth-century churches in Victoria.

Holy Trinity is cruciform in plan with nave, chancel, transepts, organ chamber and vestries. The nave has arcade aisles above which are circular clerestory windows with quatrefoil lights. There is a wide three-sided apse with a three-light east window with English Decorated tracery in the upper section. This window is set into its own gable which rises above the wall level like a dormer, as at St Martin’s, Hawksburn. On the south-western corner of the façade there is an apsidal baptistery with an elegant conical roof. At the north-west corner there was to have been a soaring tower with a tall intermediate belfry stage and a spire. It is a pity this was never built: apart from completing the church it would have been the tallest spire in southern Melbourne and a striking landmark in a flat section of Brighton Road.  

Apse detail, with east window and its dormer roof.  

Palms around the east end give Holy Trinity a touch of exoticism, as of an English expatriates’ church in a Mediterranean city, an effect reinforced by the warm-coloured stone walls. Inside, a marble reredos frames the lower part of the east window. The original Fincham organ installed in 1883 and rebuilt in 1960 has pipefronts opening onto the north transept and the chancel (see Organ Historical Trust of Australia gazetteer entry on Holy Trinity for further details and some good interior photographs of the church). The chancel itself looks rather empty without the choirstalls, long since removed, but the interior is very well maintained, in part, no doubt, by the lady I encountered. Holy Trinity has some good stained glass, both recent – there are windows by Alan Sumner and Hungarian-born Bela Kozak – and nineteenth-century. Among the older glass is a Crucifixion window in the south transept given by officials of the Victorian Post and Telegraph department in memory of Samuel Walker McGowan, the pioneer of Morse telegraphy in Australia, who died in the George Hotel, St Kilda, in 1887. He was a member of the vestry at Holy Trinity and a distant relative of mine.

Holy Trinity, Balaclava, from the east. The palms give a touch of exoticism, as of an English expatriates’ church in a Mediterranean city.

PHOTOGRAPHY FOR THIS POST BY ANTHONY BAILEY