History 1 - St John's   
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History Chapter 3: The Building of St John the Baptist Church
Edited e
xerpts from the unpublished research 'St John the Baptist. A Parish School and Church in suburban Melbourne, Clifton Hill 1875-1988'
With kind permission of Lucy Cirona.

     The few people concerned with the commencement of St John's, Clifton Hill formed a committee which met weekly at Verga's house opposite the site, to receive subscriptions and make arrangements for carrying out the work. Tenders were called for the first stage of the building, F.J.P. O'Sullivan in charge. By February 1876 the stonemasons are busily at work.

     The (original) patterned walls have been painted over, the Minton floor tiles in the central nave have been covered over with carpet and the Minton tiles on the front porch were either replaced or covered with other tiles at some stage in renovation. The timber lined ceiling with hammer beams at St John the Baptist were particularly liked by Pugin who also used Hardman's metalwork in his churches. John Hardman and Company worked for Pugin. Hardman's, Birmingham furnished hundreds of churches with its stained glass. St John the Baptist has one of the finest collections in any local parish church.

     St John's was fortunate in having the Reverend Dr Bleasdale acting on the Bishop's behalf witnessing a fine neo-gothic church rising from the Melbourne skyline. John Sallery was the first contractor responsible for the laying of the foundations of St John's. On the 27th of February 1876 the foundation stone was formaly laid by Archbishop Goold in the presence of about four hundred people and mass was celebrated on the hill for the first time by Fr O'Sullivan. The original church committee was responsible for collecting together as much funds as possible and had already collected two hundred and twenty pounds and an additional sum of thirty-five pounds was subscribed on that day.

     St John's was to be a large church on a prominent site and it proved possible to appeal successfully for funds beyond the parish. In fact, the building of St John's illustrated to what extent a local enterprise could be seen as a diocesan enterprise and claim wider support. It was the beginning of boon times in Melbourne and a more general prosperity must have assisted fund-raising. Population was growing in the inner north-eastern suburbs. However, the task ramained difficult. The usual means of concerts, art-unions and special sermons in various churches were employed. Between November 1875 and November 1882, approximately four thousand two hundred and fifty pounds were spent (3330 had been raised and 950 remained in debt) on the church building. Unusual means were also used to raise mney such as the great Bazaar which was opened by Archbishop Carr on Easter Mondsy 1888. It was entitled 'The South Sea Exhibition' because nine of the ten stalls were named after South Sea Islands, and aside from the usual items, curiosities from the South Seas were also exhibited. Four of the stalls were run by ladies of the Clifton Hill parish. The exhibition was held at the Melbourne Town Hall (for three weeks) and later at the Albert Hall, Clifton Hill (for two weeks). It raised one thousand nine hundred and sixty pounds one shilling and nine pence.

     By July 1876 the walls were already being erected. A concert was announced to be held in Fitzroy Town Hall in November to help raise money. By September, the tender of a Mr Runland (one thousand three hundreda and forty three poinds) was accepted for completion of the walls. Up to that date, three hundred and fifty pounds had been expended on the foundation. An Art Union for a block of land, was also being promoted. Walls were now raised to a considerable hight (of the first stage)  ... Indeed if the (whole) church had been erected then it would have been of use not only to the Catholics of Clifton Hill, but to those of Northcote and Preston and the northern parts of Collingwood and Fitzroy. The Church Committee received one hundred and thirty two pounds from the Art Union in 1877.

     By July 1877, the sacristy was up to the roofing stage and the walls of the church up to the window-sill level. A third contract was about to be entered upon which would include the pillars up to the spring of the arches and the walls level with them. By the end of November that year with the walls nearly twenty feet in height, funds ran out and the committee made an "appeal to Catholics of Victora for a means of completing the structure". Fr J O'Malley SJ gave a lecture on Pius IX for the Church Fund and the annual fund-raising took place in the Fitzroy Town Hall and was led by members of the Yarra Bend Musical Society. The Art Union and Appeals held in City churches amounted to seventy three pounds; one thousand pounds had already been spent so far, one thousand five hundred more pounds was still required.

     A fresh contract was issued for stonework of one aisle at the cost of one thousand five hundred and twenty pounds. The Lady Chapel was ready for roofing, also the N-E porch. The pillars and arches on one side had been carried up to the clerestory windows. By carrying out the work as described, it would have been possible to open a portion of the church for Divine Service much sooner than by following the original intenition to finish a portion of the nave, chancel and the two side chapels and a portion of each aisle. The whole length of the aisle is 88 feet by 15 feet including the thickness of pillars. It was reasoned that the "Lady Chapel is seventeen feet by thirteen feet, and should this space not be found adequate to the number of worshippers, a portion of the nave could be temporarily closed forming a church one-hundred and seventeen feet by twenty six feet. This work can be carried out without interfering in the least with the erection of the remaining portion of the church".

     The annual concert was announced in the Advocate on the 19th April and again on the 26th April, 1879. Also a State-wide appeal for funds was launched. By this time the walls were nearly twenty feet high and priests like Rev M Watson SJ gave meny sermons in aid of Church funds. On 24th June 1880, St John's Day, "the first cross upon the church was erected over the principal porch". By July that year two traceried windows were inserted: "one in the N-W front opposite the Heidleberg Road, and the other in the N-E aisle. The aisle just named is progressing far towards the wall plates. An Art Union ... is to take place in three months".

      By September, the second division of the last contract was in hand. It comprised constructing the N-E aisle and the Lady Chapel to the height of the wall plate including the tracery and arches to six windows. The arch at the entrance of the Lady Chapel and eaves cornice of the aisle were also included. Five of the tracery windows were already fixed at this stage and the northern porch was ready for the roof. The row of the nave pillars had been erected. A temporary roof was erected over a portion of the nave which could now accomodate five hundred to six hundred persons. To that stage two thousand one hundred and fifty pounds had been expended on the building.

[To be continued p31 ...]


Postcard - School, Church, Presbytery


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