I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I used it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria, especially in the first part of the year. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone. But I am also working on quite a few other projects and a big grant application, especially now I am on research leave. I'm working mostly from home, then, for six months, and will need online sociability for company!

Thursday, February 05, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: "cheap" but "utilitarian"

I am researching on a number of very different topics this month, but the thrill of finding what you are looking for in the archive NEVER diminishes.

When looking for material on St Luke's Anglican church (now the Hungarian reformed church in Fitzroy), I came across an Architecture thesis by Deborah C. McColl from 1967, deposited in the University of Melbourne's library: a history of St Luke's and St Mark's Anglican churches, both in Fitzroy. I'll blog about St Mark's another day: I've been to several music concerts there...

The thesis is fantastic: an immensely detailed account of the social and physical history of both churches. It's scanned from a typescript that's been corrected by hand; the page numbers and captions to the many illustrations are hand written too.

The text isn't searchable, so it took me a while just now to find the right sections, and here they are. Curiously incomplete, but this section suggests that bluestone was not always perceived as the most appropriate stone for all kinds of grand buildings. "Though [previously] bluestone had [generally] been considered as a utilitarian material [in Melbourne] not suitable for a House of God, St. Mark's was not the first bluestone church in Melbourne."   And from the second  page here, a note about St Enoch's in Collins St, "also a bluestone Blackburn design". "Due to criticism against the bluestone, portion of its facade was stuccoed."

I can't find much yet about St Enoch's (it's after midday and I *have* to get back to my other essay, though here is a blog about colonial stained glass that feature St Enoch's), and here is a link to a sketch from 1864: http://www.slv.vic.gov.au/pictoria/gid/slv-pic-aab38503/1/b28381,
but I did find this note about St Stephen's in Richmond from the Heritage Victoria website:

St Stephen's Anglican Church is of architectural significance as one of Melbourne’s earliest bluestone churches. St Stephen’s is remarkable as a very early example of the use of bluestone, which was until this time not considered acceptable for face work – virtually at the same time as St Stephens was being built, the bluestone facade of St Enoch’s United Presbyterian Church in Collins Street Melbourne was being stuccoed to make it more acceptable to the parishioners. The colour of the stone was initially not favoured by local tastes, but with the disappointing weathering properties of local sandstone, bluestone was beginning to be used on important buildings from around 1850. The highly durable but comparatively cheap bluestone also began to win favour at the time of the gold rushes when building costs were escalating rapidly. 
I suspect this is one of those things that will become a given in my work. I knew there was a debate about Victorian versus New South Wales sandstone, but I hadn't understood about the cultural associations of bluestone. "Cheap", but "utilitarian" and therefore not always the first choice for a church. I also predict this will be one of those things I come to read about in many different contexts, but for the record, this is the first day this has become a "thing" for me, and a really useful point of orientation. 

Archival work is a huge time-suck, and the world of architectural history is just opening up to me. Lots more to do!


Andrew Lynch said...

Fascinating. There are striking bluestone churches in Clunes: Catholic, Anglican and Methodist. So for a regional parish it was the way to go when you had the money to move up from wood and brick. See https://www.google.com.au/search?q=clunes+church+image&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&gws_rd=cr&ei=z_PSVMDyCMTZ8gXU4oCoCg

Stephanie Trigg said...

Excellent. I'll add them to my itinerary! There are a few lovely ones just east of the Grampians, too, as I recall.

Meanwhile, as if to prove my point that my "new" discovery will soon become commonplace in my sense of this project, I went to the Melbourne Museum today and read this:

"By the 1880s bluestone was considered "gloomy" and was out of fashion as new Victorian quarries opened, and imported stone appeared in quantity.

Andrew Lynch said...

Makes sense. I think those Clunes churches are about 1870s.