12-07-1877: St Matthew’s Anglican Church, Prahran, Victoria.

St Matthew’s Anglican Church in High street Prahran was built to the designs of architects Terry & Oakden, the contractors were Purves and Rankine[1], and local Prahran Councillor William Harrison was the clerk of works. Building commenced in July 1877[2] and the foundation stone was laid by Bishop James Moorehouse on Saturday the 1st of September 1877[3]. It was formally opened by Bishop Moorehouse on the afternoon of Friday 28th June 1878[4].

Just over a century later, in May 1982, a fire destroyed the majority of langthe centre section of the Nave. Rather than rebuild to its original state, the burnt out centre section was converted to an open court yard. The front section, (liturgical west) facing the street, was reconstructed with mezzanine floors and converted to three levels of office accommodation. The rear of the church (east), comprising the original chancel, remains as the congregation’s portion of the church for worship. Each section, either side of the central court yard is separated by modern glass walls. Many of the stained glass windows in the centre of the nave were destroyed by the fire but some of the original Ferguson & Urie stained glass survived. The main main five light west window facing High street is extant, as well as most of the simple stained glass bordered windows in the west end, and the triple light William Harrison memorial window in the north wall near the chancel.

Other surviving stained glass windows in the church are by the artists/studios of, Christian Waller (the Penitence, Pardon, & Peace window) and the five light chancel window to the memory of “Arthur Granger Langmore” (c.1839-1886) , which is possibly the work of Lyon & Cottier of Sydney (John Lamb Lyon being a former partner in Ferguson & Urie circa 1866-1873). The Granger window has many design elements that look to be the work of Ferguson & Urie, but the darker more sombre coloring and some of the smaller detail in the design lead me to believe that it is more likely that it is the work of Lyon & Cottier. Coincidentally, Daniel Cottier’s daughter Elizabeth married Dr. Arthur William Marwood in this church in 1890 and reasonable evidence concludes that Daniel Cottier’s movements indicate that he was present at the wedding at Prahran.

The triple light window in the south wall, east end, is by by Ferguson & Urie and was the gift of the church clerk of works, William Harrison, erected during the building of the church in 1878. William Harrison was an architect by profession and a local Prahran Councillor who had represented the rate-payers of Prahran for a period of nine years. A glowing tribute to his memory is unlikely to ever be written though. As a Councillor he was labelled with the unfortunate nickname of “Terrible Billy” [5]. At a church service in St Matthew’s in April 1878 he was the first on the scene to assist the dying Reverend Barnabas Walker who had collapsed during the Sunday service [6] .  After Harrison’s electoral defeat in August 1886 his life began its eventual downward slide with effects of acute alcoholism and he eventually lost contact with his friends and family and he slipped into obscurity. A sad, but inevitable set of circumstances saw him eventually buried as an UN-identified ‘john-doe’ after being found intoxicated and near death in a local park circa late 1886, but, sadly this was not realised until 1889 [7].

The centre lancet of the Harrison window contains the figure of a character looking like a saint but with no saintly Nimbus. Who it is, is a matter for debate. The character could be male or female and in his/her left hand is the bible and in the right hand is an engineering instrument identified as a “Geophysical Governator”[8] orCentrifugal governor, which was primarily used to regulate the speed of steam driven equipment or timing devices. The text below the character gives the impression that he maybe St Bennedict, but the lack of Nimbus around his head probably precludes him as any form of saint. The engineering “Governor” in his hand also adds the extra mystery as to whom the image is supposed to represent. The text below the figure reads:

ORA ET LABORA“, from the Latin: “Pray and Work”, (which is the “Rule of St Bennedict“).

A shield appears at the base of the window with the text:

“THE GIFT OF WM HARRISON CLERK OF WORKS

AT BUILDING OF THIS CHURCH 1878”

Photos taken: 13th November 2011.

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The Argus, Melbourne, Vic, Thursday 12th July 1877, page 5.

“After some delay, the new church of St. Matthew’s, in High-street, Prahran, has been commenced. The contractors are Messrs. Rankin and Purvis, whose tender amounts to £6,150. The church is to be built of bluestone, with Waurn Ponds freestone dressings, and will accommodate 800 persons. It is to be ready for opening next Easter. The bishop of Melbourne is to be asked to lay the stone.”

The Argus, Melbourne, Vic, Monday 3rd September 1877, page 6.

“ST. MATTHEW’S CHURCH, PRAHRAN.”

“The ceremony of laying the memorial stone of the new St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, High-street, Prahran, took place on Saturday, in the presence of a large concourse of people. This church has been in existence for the last 25 years, and during that period no fewer than three others have sprung from it, viz, St. John’s, Toorak; Christ Church, South Yarra; and All Saints’, St. Kilda. Singularly enough, however, while the children have enjoyed a large measure of prosperity, and built for themselves structures in keeping with the positions to which they have attained, the mother has hitherto continued in rather humble circumstances. The history of St. Matthew’s Church commenced in the old school-room in Chapel-street, and when the new school-room was erected in High-street, at the rear of the site of the new church, they proceeded thither, and have occupied that building ever since. During the past few years, and especially under the pastorate of the present incumbent, the rev. B.S. Walker, there have been symptoms of fresh vigour amongst the members, as well as a desire and necessity for a larger and more appropriate place of worship. Hence the present undertaking. The church is designed by Messrs. Terry and Oakden, architects, and is in the early decorated Gothic style of the 13th century…”

“…Mr. Black presented Dr. Moorhouse with a silver trowel, bearing the following inscription:- “Presented to the Right Rev. Dr. Moorehouse, Bishop of Melbourne, on the occasion of his laying the memorial stone of St. Matthew’s Church, Prahran, September 1, 1877…”

Laying of the foundation Stone of St Mathew’s Church, Prahran, 1st September 1877 (in-line image from Picture Victoria)

The Australasian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil, Saturday 11th May 1878, page 23.

“…the porch containing the main entrance to the nave, and a bold west (or rather south) window of five lights with rich geometric tracery. The side windows – with the exception of the first window on the east side of the nave, which is a four-light tracery window, elevated in a gable to rise above the gallery – are plain three-light windows with segmented pointed enclosing arches…”

The Argus, Melbourne, Vic, Saturday 29th June 1878, page 5.

“OPENING OF ST. MATTHEW’S CHURCH.”

The new church of St. Matthew, which is situated in High-street, Prahran, was opened for divine service last night by the Bishop of Melbourne. The church supercedes one that has been in existence for many years near the same site, and it has been erected by the parishioners in consequence of the wooden building formerly occupied having become too small for the wants of the congregation. The building has been completed with the exception of stuccoing and painting inside, and last night it was thoroughly crowded, about 1,000 persons being inside it, although it has been designed to seat only 700…”

Star, New Zealand, Issue 6470, 13th February 1889, page 3.

“A SENSATION.
EXTRAORDINARY DISAPPEARANCE OF A PROMINENT CITIZEN.
[FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT.]
{Per s.s. Waihora, at the Bluff.)
MELBOURNE
, FEB. 7.”
“A sensation has been created at Prahran by a disclosure which last week made concerning the disappearance of a prominent citizen, named William Harrison, who has been missing for a period of two years. Harrison was an ex-Councillor of the city, and always took a keen interest in the public affairs of the district. He was an architect by profession, and his peculiar temperament, coupled with the enthusiasm he at all times displayed on public questions, gained him the title of “Terrible Billy,” and it is under this sobriety that he was generally known by the residents of the municipality. For a period of nine years Mr Harrison represented the ratepayers on the Council Board, and after remaining a private citizen for some years he, during the month of August, 1886, contested another election for a seat, and was defeated. This was probably due to his having given way to excessive drinking in conducting his candidature and it is about this time that he was lost sight of by his friends. A few days after the election he gave his relatives to understand that he purposed visiting Queensland, and since then he was not heard of until a few days ago, when his family connections placed his photograph in the hands of the detective police, who recognised it as the picture of a man who, about two years ago, died in a Melbourne hospital from the effects of drink. Deceased was discovered lying in one of the public gardens in a dying condition, with two brandy bottles at his side. He was never identified, and was buried as an unknown man. The police are fully persuaded that the deceased man was none other than Harrison. His relatives have been greatly distressed at the unfortunate man’s terrible fate.”

Excerpt from Prahran  Conservation Review document, HO126.

“In May 1982 part of the nave of the church and the south-west corner was destroyed by fire. Some reconstruction was carried out at this time but the original structure of the church was retained. The western transept has been replaced with a bluestone wall with brick quoins finishing the buttresses. An external steel staircase provides access to three levels of offices in this section of the church. The entry on the eastern side of the façade, with its ornate shafted jam has a new mirror door. A courtyard is a feature of the recent alterations to the church. The offices which occupy the front section of the church are separated from the rear section by the courtyard which is enclosed by the original nave walls. The rear walls of the church, including sanctuary and vestry are intact.”

Footnotes:

[8] Email from Dr. B. D. Hughes 7 Dec 2012.

External links:

Other historical images from Picture Victoria of St Matthew’s, include historical images and from the 1892 fire damage and reconstruction:

http://www.picturevictoria.vic.gov.au/site/stonnington/miscellaneous/11267.html
http://www.picturevictoria.vic.gov.au/site/stonnington/miscellaneous/13183.html
http://www.picturevictoria.vic.gov.au/site/stonnington/miscellaneous/13206.html
http://www.picturevictoria.vic.gov.au/site/stonnington/miscellaneous/13186.html
http://www.picturevictoria.vic.gov.au/site/stonnington/miscellaneous/13188.html
http://www.picturevictoria.vic.gov.au/site/stonnington/miscellaneous/13189.html

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