154-160 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy (Fitzroy Methodist Church & Mission Hall)

“The Fitzroy Methodist Church was constructed on this site in October 1860. This was an imposing bluestone structure with a grand organ, and during the late 19th century it was home to a large congregation of up to 1500 people. By the mid-20th century this had declined considerably, and by the 1960s, the church’s main function was in anti-poverty activism and social outreach. This area of southern Fitzroy had long been considered a “slum”, and had been extensively catalogued during the 1930s by the influential Methodist social reformer F. Oswald Barnett. This area was therefore a key target for regeneration by the Housing Commission of Victoria, which had been formed partly in response to social activism by figures such as Barnett. In order to build the Atherton Estate which now stands on this site, the HCV demolished the church in 1969. This led the National Trust to increase their efforts to preserve the Mission Hall which stood behind the church, and which was also constructed from bluestone. Despite the campaign to save the hall, it was demolished in the same year; as historian Miles Lewis has described it, “one of Fitzroy’s most interesting buildings disappeared.”” (Lauren Piko, Yarra Libraries PassPort)

Methodist Church, Fitzroy, c. 1861-1862, by Davies & Co Photographers. held at State Library of Victoria http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/320770
MMBW Map 1899
The Wesleyan Church Brunswick Street, by Crouch & Wilson, 1860-1, demolished by the Housing
Commission of Victoria, 1969. Exterior photo by John Collins, c 1969: State library of Victoria H96.210/4;
The Wesleyan Chapel, later Mission Hall, by George Wharton, 1849, and Wharton & Burns, 1852,
demolished by the Housing Commission of Victoria, 1971. Photo by Dawn Lumley c 1971. Photo from
Wesleyan Methodist Church [Mission Hall], Brunswick Street, Fitzroy by Mario Cotela – held at Fitzroy Library [FL181] and at Picture Victoria http://www.picturevictoria.vic.gov.au/site/yarra_melbourne/Fitzroy/6978.html

Brian and Renata Howe, recall in the interview conducted by the Fitzroy History Society as part of the Oral History Project in 2015-2017, that “The Fitzroy Methodist Church as a huge church in Brunswick Street, and the congregation were mostly homeless men” and elderly people. It was a small congregation. Brian arrived in Fitzroy in 1969 and the church was demolished just after they arrived. They talk of trying to save it, not so much the church which was ‘a lots cause’ but to save the bluestone building immediately behind the church, being the Mission Hall, shown above”. Even at this time the building was recognised as historically important being one of the oldest buildings in Fitzroy. The community had tried to save it, but Brian and Renata recall that while there “was support”, “there wasn’t a lot of organisation”. This move sparked the beginnings of the Fitzroy Residents’ Association in 1969 of which they were involved.

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