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Portland and District Series

by Bernard Wallace

(Portland Observer, Wednesday, November 11, 1992)


St Peter's, Bridgewater

   The church of St Peter's at Bridgewater is an attractive piece of religious architecture and a building with a rich history. St Peter's was constructed for the Anglican denomination in 1884 and is still a functional building albeit in a temporal rather than a religious banner. Our early pioneers were generally religious folk and always keen to worship in appropriate surroundings. The Bridgewater pioneers were no exception, and several churches were built in the district over time.


First Church

   The Methodist faith predominated in early Bridgewater and this denomination constructed the district's first church in 1858. Bridgewater's Anglican community was relatively small and a church for this  group could not be justified. The Anglicans of Bridgewater in fact held their services in the Methodist Church on a monthly basis for many years. There was obviously no bigotry or strong sectarianism in early Bridgewater! In time the Anglican community at Bridgewater grew and with this growth came a strong desire to establish a church of its own.


Land acquired

   A suitable site was purchased in 1882. Archdeacon Allnutt of St Stephen's Portland was a driving force behind the venture and it was he who received the deeds to the land in May of 1882. Solicitor Henry Butler forwarded the appropriate deeds to Allnutt with his bill for five pounds and instructions to "...kindly retain one pound, my contribution to the church at Bridgewater". Others within Portland and at Bridgewater no doubt made similar gestures.

Allnutt was to act as the secretary of the church fund to construct St Peter's whilst another prominent Portland citizen, Thomas Must, acted as treasurer.

Fundraising and the planning of this noble venture had commenced in the late 1870's. The project gained momentum and St Peter's Church of England, Bridgewater, was constructed and completed by the builder, John Hardie in mid-1884. It was an impressive structure; austere yet functional and attractive.


First Service

   Bishop Samuel Thornton, the Bishop of Ballarat, performed the first service on August 5, 1984. The first service was well attended, some 170 souls participated in this first service, many of them being well-wishers from the congregation of St Stephen's in Portland or from other denominations in the Bridgewater district. St Peter's was served from Portland over the next two decades. Then, in 1904, responsibility for providing services at Bridgewater fell to the clergy of Heywood. St Peter's was run from Heywood until 1908, whereupon services lapsed until 1919. A new and energetic vicar had arrived in Portland in 1918 and he was determined to xxx Bridgewater. The Reverend Stillwell was successful in this cause but he was going against the tide.



   Change was under way across the land and Bridgewater was not to be immune to a number of developments which serves to reduce rural congregations and see many small country churches close. The Great War had taken its toll of the young men of the district, and improved roads and road transport, the drift to the towns and the consolidation of smaller rural holdings all took their toll of the population of Bridgewater. The overall population of the Bridgewater population- and the Anglican population- gradually declined.

By the 1950's, attendance at St Peter's had diminished to less than ten people and the decision was made to cease services. The central parish in Portland had other pressing needs and was unable to maintain the church at Bridgewater which gradually fell into disrepair. At this point in time Portland members of the National Trust of Australia decided to work towards purchasing St Peter's for this organisation. Much energy and effort went into the venture but in due course the church was purchased on behalf of the National Trust of Australia (Victoria).



   The church was restored, refurbished, and put to use as a holiday-guest house. This venture went well but the burdens fell upon a few and the fate of the building was again in question. In 1991, the National Trust indicated a desire to divest itself or a range of properties and it was feared that St Peter's would be one of these. This was not to be so! A decision was made midway through this year not to sell this fine old church. Instead it was leased to a group of Bridgewater and will continue to provide holiday accommodation to those visiting the historic Bridgewater areas. Those who know St Peter's are pleased that this delightful district landmark will continue to play an important part in the life of Bridgewater.





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