1888: James Urie lays the Foundation Stone of the Flemington and Kensington Presbyterian Church.

James Urie was not only a much respected public figure as a Councillor, Mayor of Flemington and a principal partner of the Ferguson & Urie stained glass firm; he is also credited with being one of the lead instigators for the erection of the Flemington and Kensington Presbyterian Church.

On the afternoon of Monday 25th June 1888 he was bestowed with the honour of laying the foundation stone of the new church in Norwood Street. The ceremony was reported as a grand affair and prior to him laying the foundation stone there was a procession by the Sunday school children after which he generously presented each one of them with a specially struck medallion as a memento of the historic occasion;

“…Prior to the commencement of the ceremony, about 450 Sabbath School children, nicely dressed, and with flags flying marched in procession from the new hall to the ground in Norwood street. Before leaving the mayor presented each child with a neat medal with a design of the church on one side commemorative of the event…”

– Images from private collections, the Melbourne Museum and the State Library of Victoria.

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The medal included a picture of the proposed church on one side with the words:

“FLEMINGTON AND KENSINGTON PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH.”

On the reverse are the words:

“TO COMEMORATE THE LAYING OF THE FOUNDATION STONE. 25 JUNE 1888. BY JAS. URIE ESQ. J.P. MAYOR OF THE BOROUGH.”

An example of one these historical medallions can be seen at the Melbourne Museum in Carlton. [1] The Downies Numismatic Auction House also sold one of the medals at auction 308, item 945 for $200 circa 2012.

The Presbyterians originally intended to erect a smaller church costing only £1,400 but James Urie was adamant that it was worth the cost and effort to construct a more substantial building that would serve the congregation for many years;

“…Mr. Duguid, the architect for the building, stated in a brief speech that originally it was intended to erect a church costing only £1400 but Mr. Urie was so desirous of seeing a really good building worthy of the district put up, that at length it was agreed to adopt his advice, with the result that eventually the present design was accepted….”

“…Mr Thomson introduced the Mayor (Cr. Urie), who had been connected from the first with the church in the district, and had done all in his power for its advancement. He presented Mr. Urie amidst applause with a very handsome silver trowel, and invited him to lay the foundation stone of the church he had always advocated should be erected…”

“…He always believed in building a good church when they did build one, as it would serve all requirements for a long time to come, which a smaller one would not do. The design, he thought was most appropriate and suitable in every respect, and when completed they would have a church to be proud of. The height from the ground would be 10 feet to the spire, and with the seating the church would cost £2,500. He expressed his thanks for the silver trowel presented to him, and it would be a fitting souvenir of the important ceremony he was about to perform…”

James Urie exhibited the time capsule box, containing the newspapers of the day and undoubtedly many other artifacts. He then placed the box beneath the stone and declared the foundation stone “…to be well and truly laid amidst loud applause…”

His subsequent speech referred to their need to pay off the building as quickly as possible so they could be free of debt. He pointed out the collection plate and once again, as he done so liberally over the years, displayed his generosity;

“He set a most excellent example by placing what looked like two ten pound notes into the plate, and invited those present to follow suit…” [2]

It could be reasonable assumed that the windows for the church would be manufactured by the Ferguson & Urie stained glass company. It’s probably even reasonable to suggest that the designs for the windows would have been the suggestion of James Urie himself and that, as he’d so generously demonstrated in his contribution to the collection plate during the foundation stone ceremony, the windows were probably donated by the firm without cost.

The only obscure clues as to the stained glass windows were published in the North Melbourne Advertiser on the 7th July 1888 where it was stated;

“…The church will be lighted by ten double-light stained glass windows in the side walls, besides a large gable window…”[3]

On Monday the 10th of March 1889 the church was officially opened but very little detail was recorded in the tabloids about the occasion, except for the mention that they had purchased a – ‘”powerful’ bell, whose tones will no doubt remind the people of the borough of the ‘decent church that tops the neighbouring hill’.” .[4]

The Presbyterian Church in Norwood Street Flemington was only a short walk around the corner from James Urie’s house “Glencairn” in Wellington Street. Undoubtedly he would have been proud of the church they had constructed but he would not share long in its history.

James Urie died seventeen months later, on the 21st of July 1890 aged 62. His funeral was recorded as being one of the most imposing ever seen in the Borough of Flemington and Kensington;

“…The employės of Messrs Ferguson & Urie marched in front of the hearse, then came four mourning coaches and upward of fifty vehicles. Immediately following the mourning coaches came a hansom, in which the Hon Alfred Deakin was seated, then next in order a buggy containing the deceased gentleman’s council colleagues…”[5]

The last known mention of additional stained glass windows occurred in 1924 when the congregation decided to erect a memorial to the fallen WW1 soldiers from the parish [6]. If the memorial window was actually created as intended then it would most likely have been created by the Brooks, Robinson & Co., stained glass company of Melbourne.

The church survived 81 years before unfortunately being destroyed by fire on the 24th April 1970. It’s not known if any significant historical artifacts survived the fire and there is nothing further known of the stained glass windows.

The whereabouts of the silver trowel presented to James Urie to lay the foundation stone remains a mystery.

 

Significant Transcriptions:

North Melbourne, Advertiser, Vic, Saturday 30th June 1888, page 4.

“FOUNDATION STONE CEREMONY

The foundation stone of the new Presbyterian Church, at Flemington, of which the above drawing is an excellent representation, was laid on Monday afternoon, by the Mayor (Councillor James Urie), in the presence of a very large assemblage of residents and visitors amongst whom were the Rev. G. D. Buchanan. S. Robinson and James; Professors MacDonald and Rentoul, and other prominent divines. Prior to the commencement of the ceremony, about 450 Sabbath School children, nicely dressed, and with flags flying marched in procession from the new hall to the ground in Norwood street. Before leaving the mayor presented each child with a neat medal with a design of the church on one side commemorative of the event. The proceedings were commenced by the choir singing the hymn “Brightly gleams our Banner,” and afterwards the Rev. John Thomson offered up an earnest prayer for the success of the undertaking.
Professor Rentoul, who was briefly introduced by the Rev. John Thomson, said it gave him very great pleasure to be present at the laying of the foundation stone of such a magnificent church, but especially so because he had the deepest regard for their worthy pastor, the Rev John Thomson, whom he had known years ago as a most earnest worker in the ministry in England. It was a great blessing to a congregation to have such a good and able pastor who took so deep an interest in the welfare of his flock, and it was also a boon to have a good church. Referring to the past career of the Presbyterian Church, Professor Rentoul pointed out that it had never been afraid to stand up for God’s truth when necessity arose, as history proved. It was the church of the people, as it was free to all and fell in more with their ideas of Christianity. Dr. Martineau had even advised his Unitarian congregation in England to embrace the Presbyterian form of Church government, and, in fact, he (Professor Rentoul) considered the Presbyterian Church of Scotland came nearest the beau ideal of what a Christian church ought to be. The grand old German Emperor who so recently passed away was a Presbyterian, and from the rapid manner in which the church was everywhere progressing, it would be, he thought, the church of the future. The foundation stone they were about to lay, was he was glad to say, a proof of the advancement of the Presbyterian cause in the district of Flemington and Kensington. He eulogised the efforts and liberality of the congregation in subscribing toward the erection of such a beautiful church, and referred particularly to Mr. Urie, as being worthy of special thanks for the part he had taken in the movement. He urged all to continue their exertions, and no doubt they would soon succeed in clearing off the remaining portion of the cost. If it had been the proper place, he should have felt impelled to call for three cheers for Mr and Mrs Thomson, and also for Mr. Urie who had been mainly instrumental in having such a splendid edifice built, but as at the present time he could not do this, he would conclude by congratulating the congregation on the success already attained, and urge them all to work in harmony for the good of the church.
Mr Thomson introduced the Mayor (Cr. Urie), who had been connected from the first with the church in the district, and had done all in his power for its advancement. He presented Mr. Urie amidst applause with a very handsome silver trowel, and invited him to lay the foundation stone of the church he had always advocated should be erected. Cr. Urie, who was well received, said that about five years ago the Presbyterians agreed to hold their services in the Flemington and Kensington Hall. They had been exceedingly fortunate in securing the services of their respected pastor, the Rev. John Thomson, and through his excellent capabilities and energy n the cause, the congregation became so numerous that it was thought advisable to take steps for the erection of a suitable church. The congregation were not at all backward in coming forward with donations, and the present site was accordingly purchased at £6 per foot. He always believed in building a good church when they did build one, as it would serve all requirements for a long time to come, which a smaller one would not do. The design, he thought was most appropriate and suitable in every respect, and when completed they would have a church to be proud of. The height from the ground would be 10 feet to the spire, and with the seating the church would cost £2,500. He expressed his thanks for the silver trowel presented to him, and it would be a fitting souvenir of the important ceremony he was about to perform. He then proceeded to mix the mortar, and after exhibiting a box, in which he had stated the periodicals of the day were encased, placed it under the stone, which he then, with great care and in a most workmanlike manner, declared to be well and truly laid amidst loud applause. The Mayor next drew attention to the collection plate, pointing out that paper money, sovereigns or silver would be thankfully received in aid of the building fund, which it was most desirable to pay off as quickly as possible so as to be perfectly free and clear from any encumbrance. He set a most excellent example by placing what looked like two ten pound notes into the plate, and invited those present to follow suit, with the result that for the next few minutes there was a decided rush of well wishers of the church and the Sunday school scholars were very conspicuous with their offerings, in fact it was pleasing to see the eagerness of some of the children to part with their money. At length the funds of the onlookers ‘having been well and truly laid,’ the Rev. John Thomson announced that several gentlemen would like to make a few remarks.
Duguid, the architect for the building, stated in a brief speech that originally it was intended to erect a church costing only £1400 but Mr. Urie was so desirous of seeing a really good building worthy of the district put up, that at length it was agreed to adopt his advice, with the result that eventually the present design was accepted. The land on which the church was to be erected was 80 feet by 180, and had been purchased at £6 per foot. The building would cost £2500, of which sum £900 had been subscribed, and another £150 was promised, provided that an additional £50 was collected by six months.
The Rev. Samuel Robinson, of St. Kilda, said he was pleased to say he been present at the initiation of the movement for the erection of the church, and he could assure them that Mr. Urie deserved the greatest credit for the interest he had taken in the matter throughout, while the Misses Urie, by their exertions in aid of the funds, were entitled to equal praise. Both Mr. and Mrs. Thomson had also by their untiring efforts brought the church to its present state of prosperity, and were deserving of the most hearty thanks of the congregation. He earnestly hoped all would continue to work together without and heartburnings, not only for the erection of the church, but for its after prosperity.
Professor McDonald expressed his pleasure at being present on such an eventful occasion, as it proved that Mr. Thomson had not laboured in vain for the district. The congregation were most fortunate in having Mr. Thomson as their pastor, as there were few superior or more devoted and earnest men in the service of God and man. His thought and scholarly attainments were well-known and appreciated, in fact, he possessed qualifications that entitled him to seek higher places, but he had chosen instead to cast his lot with them. He was truly happy to see that Mr. Thomson’s labours had been so successful and borne such good fruit.

 TEA AND PUBLIC MEETING.

 In the evening a very successful tea meeting was held in the New Hall, and was followed by a public meting and concert, at which there was a very large attendance. The Mayor (Cr. Urie) presided, and on the platform were the Revs. Alex Marshall, Buchanan, Burchett, James and Smith. The meeting having opened with prayer.
The chairman gave an interesting address, in which he described the past history of the Presbyterian Church at Kensington, and the difficulties that at first had to be contended with. Five years ago the congregation commenced to hold services in the new hall, and after some time the Rev. John Thomson was persuaded to cast in his lot with them, and accept a call to the church. The congregation largely increased under his ministration and it was then decided to make an offer to purchase a block of land on which to erect a suitable church. Subscriptions came in the most liberal manner, and a very successful cake fair was also held which materially increased the funds, and with other donations, they were at length in a position to purchase a valuable site in Norwood street at a cost of £520. Designs were then invited for a church to cost about £1400, but the congregation ultimately decided to erect a more imposing building, and the present design by Mr. Duguid was accepted. He believed in erecting a good church while they were about it, as the extra cost, he thought, would be subscribed without very much difficulty, and it was far better to have a building with which they would all be quite satisfied instead of a smaller one, which would not so well answer requirements. He thought if they all did their best the balance of the building fund would soon be collected and then they would have a church free of debt of their own, which they could be proud of (Applause.) The choir then sang the anthem ‘Then wilt thou show’ with excellent affect and Mr. Boreham followed with ‘Nil Desperandum.’
G. D. Buchanan next gave a spirited address, and congratulated the congregation on being able to erect such a splendid church, which proved that they appreciated the efforts of their worthy pastor, who was entitled to their hearty thanks for the energetic manner he had worked to bring the church in the district to its present prosperous state. He urged them all to stick together and do their best to pay off the remaining debt on the church, and if they remained united there was no doubt they would succeed in surmounting all difficulties, and become a strong congregation.
The Rev. Alexander Marshall, of Scot’s Church, the Rev. Jas. Burchett and James also addressed the meeting, and wished the congregation success in their undertaking.
The singing of the choir under the able conductorship of Mr. Townsend was much appreciated, the anthems – ‘Arise and shine’ and ‘I will wash my hands’ being particularly well rendered. A trio – ‘Thou shalt love the Lord’ by Miss Clayton and Messrs. Clayton and Townshend was very nicely given, and a song ‘Calvery,’ by Miss Gray was most successfully rendered. The meeting, which was most enjoyable and successful, closed with the benediction.”

North Melbourne Advertiser, Vic, Saturday 7th July 1888, page 4.

“FLEMINGTON PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH.

The following is a description of the above building. The church when finished will form a handsome and conspicuous addition to the architecture of the borough. In plan it is an amphitheatre in form; the pews radiating from the pulpit in five blocks, and providing accommodation for 360 worshipers. The extreme internal dimensions are 54 ft. wide, 48 ft. long. The width is arranged in a central nave 36 ft. wide, and side aisles 9 ft wide for three fourths of the length. The roof of the nave is supported on cast iron columns, and consist of four massive curved principals, giving a clear height of 28 ft. from floor to ceiling. Running along the top of the columns are heavily moulded beams, supported by curved gothic brackets springing from the caps of the columns, and similar beams and brackets run from the columns to the walls, to carry the roof of the side aisles. The whole of the ceiling will be finished in stained and varnished kauri pine, and the side walls will have a dado of same all round. The principal entrance are by the tower door on the right hand side, and a similar door in a porch on the left, these being connected by a commodious vestibule outside the main building. Besides these doors, there are four others intended more as a means of egress, and those arrangements have met with the fullest approval of Central Board of Health. The church will be lighted by ten double-light stained glass windows in the side walls, besides a large gable window. The main feature of the design externally is, of course, the spire, which rises in graceful proportions to the height of 100 ft. above the floor level, the upper part being slated and surmounted by a handsome cast iron finial. The main gable rises to a height of about 45 feet, and contains the large window before referred to. It is well balanced in effect by a flanking buttress carrying a small pinnacle, and the apex is filled in by coloured tiles. The back gable is filled in with wood and lath and plaster at present, to permit of future extensions, but the rest of the walls are all of brick, tuck-pointed, and having bands, arches, &c., of coloured bricks. It is no discredit to the other churches in the neighbourhood to say that when finished it will be beyond question the most handsome church in the borough, and reflects great credit on the skill and economical planning of the architect that a building of such proportions and style could have been undertaken for the very modest sum of £2150, which is the amount of the contract. The sum does not include fittings, but it includes an ornamental front fence, and a good deal of asphalting in the grounds.”

North Melbourne Advertiser, Vic, Saturday 8th September 1888, page 2.

“In connection with the Flemington and Kensington Presbyterian Church, it has been decided to substitute Victorian patent stone for timber and seating in the erection of the spire of the above building. This will add greatly to the appearance, and also to the durability of the structure. In spite of the scarcety of bricks the erection of the building is making good progress, and it is intended to open it about the middle of December.”

North Melbourne Advertiser, Vic, Saturday 2nd February 1889, page 3.

Summary – On the evening of Thursday the 31st January 1889, the wife of the minister, Mrs. J. Thompson was entertained on the eve of her intended journey to return temporarily to the old country for the benefit of her health. The going away party was organised by the Flemington congregation at which time she was presented with a small token of sovereigns. After some refreshments many songs were sung, including James Urie’s rendition of ‘Oh, steer my bark.’

North Melbourne, Advertiser, Vic, Saturday 23rd February 1889, page 2.

“It has been decided that the opening services in connection with the new Presbyterian Church at Flemington will take place on Monday 10th March. The denomination has purchased a ‘powerful’ bell, whose tones will no doubt remind the people of the borough of the ‘decent church that tops the neighbouring hill’.

The Argus, Melbourne, Vic, Wednesday 30th April 1924, page 9.

“It has been decided by the congregation of the Flemington and Kensington Presbyterian Church to have a memorial window placed in the church in memory of fallen soldiers of the parish.”

Related posts:

23-07-1890: James Urie (1828-1890)

18-09-1885: James Urie’s house “Glencairn”, Wellington Street, Flemington.

Footnotes:

[1] Museum Victoria, Carlton Gardens, Melbourne (accessed 14-08-2014).

[2] North Melbourne, Advertiser, Vic, Saturday 30th June 1888, page 4.

[3] North Melbourne Advertiser, Vic, Saturday 7th July 1888, page 4.

[4] North Melbourne, Advertiser, Vic, Saturday 23rd February 1889, page 2.

[5] The North Melbourne Advertiser, Friday 25th July 1890, page 2

[6] The Argus, Melbourne, Vic, Wednesday 30th April 1924, page 9.


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