In the heart of Melbourne, opposite the State Library in Swanston Street, stands the former John Knox Free Presbyterian Church built in 1863 and it contains many original Ferguson & Urie stained glass windows that are now over a century and a half old. The three light Gothic decorated window facing Swanston Street is also one of a rare few windows known to have the company name on it.
Photos taken 16th January 2011.
This is the second church erected on the site for the Free Presbyterians; the foundation stone of the first church was laid on Wednesday the 17th November 1847 on the corner of Little Lonsdale and Swanston Streets, Melbourne and opened on the 8th May the following year.
Vandalism was a common occurence in Colonial Melbourne and the Swanston Street Church was not immune. Four days after Christmas day in 1848 the windows of the church were the target of a supposed band of drunken bushmen who demolished the windows. A reward of three guineas was offered by the trustees for the apprehension of the sacrilegious perpetrators. Fortunately there is no historical attachment to these windows as there is no record of any historic stained glass this early in Melbourne’s history.
Twenty six years later the church was deemed unsafe and at a public meeting circa 1862 it was resolved to build a new church on the same site, the foundation stone of which was laid on the 13th February 1863.
The new church was reconstructed to the Neo-Gothic designs of architect Charles Webb and built by contractor Peter Cunningham and opened a mere six months later by the Reverend William McIntyre on the 26th of July 1863.
At a public meeting three days later the treasurer’s report was read:
“…Mr WILLIAM M. BELL, merchant, treasurer to the congregation, then read the report of the managers on the opening of the new church, which was as follows:- “The church built in 1847 having become unsafe, it was found necessary either to repair it at great expense, or build a new one. At a meeting duly called, it was resolved to build a new church, and we procured plans and specifications which were laid before, and approved of, by you. The foundation stone was laid by our pastor, on Friday, the 13th February last.…”
This new church was decorated throughout with ornamental stained glass windows by the historic Ferguson & Urie stained glass company of North Melbourne and were described as follows:
“The stained glass for the ornamental windows was supplied by Messrs Ferguson and Urie, Curzon street, North Melbourne, and is of such a character as will not fail to secure for the firm a high position among the producers of this style of art manufacture….”
All the stained glass windows are likely to have been installed at the time of the church construction in 1863 and the three light window facing Swanston Street is a rarity amongst the early ecclesiastical windows created by the company as it is one of a rare few found to this date that has the company’s name on it, located in the lower edge of the centre light.
Since 1879 the church has been the home of the Church of Christ congregation and in 1883 the Presbyterians sold the building at auction which the Church of Christ took possession of at £4,500.
Significant tabloid transcriptions:
“JOHN KNOX CHURCH, Swanston-street.- The NEW CHURCH will be OPENED for Divine Service upon Sabbath, the 26th inst. The Rev. WILLIAM MCINTYRE, of Sydney, will preach in the morning, at 11 o’clock, evening at 6.30; and the rev WILLIAM MILLER, Minister of the congregation, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. A special collection in aid of the building fund will be made at these services. A public meeting of the congregation and friends will be held in the church upon Tuesday, the 28th, at 7 o’clock p.m., which will be addressed by several ministers and gentlemen.”
“JOHN KNOX FREE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, SWANSTON STREET.
A public meeting, in connection with the John Knox Free Presbyterian Congregation, was held yesterday evening, in the new church, which has been built by that body, in Swanston street. The new building, as our readers are aware, was opened for public worship on Sunday last. This edifice, if not of a most imposing character, is an exceedingly neat and elegant erection, and forms an addition to the architectural ornaments of the city, for the design of which Mr Charles Webb deserves much credit. It is in the early decorated style of Gothic architecture; the basement story is constructed of bluestone, the superstructure being of brick, which is already partially, and will be wholly finished with Portland cement. Internally, the church is 76 feet in extreme length, and 41 feet wide. The height of the walls is 21½ feet. The roof is of one span, and is open to the ridge so as to show the construction, and has a very fine effect, the trusses being ornamented with Gothic tracery and pendants. The timbers are stained in a light oak color. The pulpit and precentor’s desk are placed on a platform at the west end of the church, and are constructed of polished cedar, as are also the seats. In the basement story there are erected a vestry, session-house, and rooms for the residence of the beadle. The principal front of the building, facing Swanston street, presents the chief architectural features, consisting of a large “entrance doorway,: approached by a flight of nine steps, and enriched with Gothic columns with foliated capitals; and a handsome three-light window with Gothic tracery, and glazed with ornamental glass. The centre of the front projects so as to form the entrance lobby, and has at each angle an octagonal turret, of very handsome design rising to the height of 62ft. In the rear or west end of the building there is a handsome wheel window, glazed with ornamental glass, and the apex of this gable is surmounted by a neat bell turret. As we have already mentioned the architect was Mr Charles Webb, Collins street, and the contractor was Mr Peter Cunningham, Nicholson street, whose work has been performed most creditably. The stained glass for the ornamental windows was supplied by Messrs Ferguson and Urie, Curzon street, North Melbourne, and is of such a character as will not fail to secure for the firm a high position among the producers of this style of art manufacture….”
Note: This building was classified under the Historic Buildings Act 1974.
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Article updated: 6th Oct 2014.