by Bernard Wallace
Wednesday, November 11, 1992)
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
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.
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.
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
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.