The 1857 former stone church and the 1869 former Sunday school building.
The first Methodist services in Beechworth were held in the open air by a local Methodist miner and lay preacher, and later services were conducted by visiting preachers in a tent. The first permanent Methodist minister was appointed in 1854, when a timber schoolhouse was erected (on the site of the present Sunday school building), which was used on Sundays for services and Sunday school classes. The construction of the present stone church, which was the first permanent church building on the Ovens goldfields, was initiated by Rev John Christian Symons, who came to Beechworth as minister in 1856. He was later to make important contributions to the Methodist Church in Victoria. The foundation stone of the church was laid in January 1857 and the building was completed in April of the same year at a cost of £2105/14/6. The architects were Powell & Clarke and the builder was Benjamin Jarvis of Collingwood. Small extensions were made to the church in 1858. The Sunday School had been active from 1854, when 35 children were enrolled, and numbers rose to 497 in 1867. In 1869 a new brick Sunday School building replaced the 1854 building. The church was made redundant following the amalgamation of the Methodist and Congregational Churches in Beechworth in 1966, after which the church and Sunday school buildings were purchased by the Shire, serving a number of public purposes before becoming a neighbourhood centre in 1985.
The Former Methodist Church is a simple Gothic style building of local granite rubble, stuccoed on the front and rear gabled facades, and with a corrugated iron roof. The front facade has angled corner buttresses with stylised pinnacles, a quatrefoil and blind lancet in the gable, drip moulds over the windows and central door, and an Irish cross at the head of the gable. The building is notable for its use of local granite, giving it a character peculiar to the Beechworth area. The delicate Gothic glazing bars on the windows appear to have survived intact. A timber extension has been made at the rear of the building to accommodate a commercial kitchen, associated with the building's use as a neighbourhood community centre. The former Sunday school building is a red brick gabled Gothic style building on a similar scale to the church. At the front is a small entrance porch with decorative bargeboards in the gable. Between the two buildings is a large elm and on the street corner outside the brick building is a large oak tree.
How is it significant?
The Former Methodist Church, Beechworth is of architectural and historical significance to the State of Victoria. It satisfies the following criterion for inclusion in the Victorian Heritage Register:
Criterion A Importance to the course, or pattern, of Victoria's cultural history
Criterion D Importance in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a class of cultural places and objects
Why is it significant?
The Former Methodist Church, Beechworth is significant at the State level for the following reasons:
The Former Methodist Church, Beechworth is historically significant as one of the first permanent churches built on the Victorian goldfields, and the first on the Ovens goldfield. It demonstrates the rapid development which occurred in the goldfield towns following the discovery of gold in the early 1850s. It reflects the importance of Methodism in Victoria at this time, and the early activities of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in taking their religious message to the gold miners. The Sunday school building demonstrates the importance of the religious education of children during the nineteenth century. [Criterion A]
The Former Methodist Church, Beechworth is architecturally significant as a demonstration of the simple church buildings constructed on the goldfields in the 1850s. It demonstrates the Wesleyan Methodist precept of simplicity in form and economy of construction for their church buildings. Its primitive Gothic design relates directly to the church's origins in Scotland. [Criterion D]
The Former Methodist Church, Beechworth is also significant for the following reasons, but not at the State level:
The Former Methodist Church is significant for its association with the early history of Beechworth. It is the oldest surviving church building in the town. The construction of the church is notable for its use of local granite, giving it a character that is peculiar to the Beechworth area. The simple composition, decoration and distinctive stone construction is typical of Beechworth's early buildings. It is historically significant for its association with the Rev John Christian Symons, who initiated the construction of the church and made important contributions to the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Victoria.