COMMUNITY OF THE HOLY NAME AND RETREAT HOUSE SOHE 2008
Statement of Significance
Last updated on - February 19, 2003
What is significant?
The religious complex at 32-44 Cavanagh Street, Cheltenham comprises an area of approximately 17 acres of partly landscaped grounds and two major buildings, being Retreat House (formerly the House of Mercy) built in 1892 and the Community House built in 1936, plus related chapels and other buildings.
In 1885 the Melbourne Diocese of the Church of England formed the Diocesan Mission to the Streets and Lanes. The Mission, overseen by a Council, provided Christian outreach and welfare as an Anglican response to urban poverty and was initially based in Little Lonsdale Street, Melbourne. The Bishop of Melbourne commissioned deaconesses to be attached to the Mission, and the first Sister was Emma Caroline Silcock (Sister Esther) appointed in 1888. The Sisters adopted an English model that was influenced by the nineteenth century Oxford Movement, and when their Charter was given in 1912 established themselves as the Community of the Holy Name.
Soon after establishing the Mission, the Mission Council raised money to build a country home for 'fallen and friendless women'. Eight acres in Cheltenham, then a rural area of market gardens, were purchased in October 1889. The two storey red brick building completed to a design by architects Hyndman and Bates in 1892 was called the House of Mercy. It provided accommodation for two sisters and twelve women. Extensions were added in 1908 and 1938. Supervised by Sisters, the women worked in the laundry and ironing rooms, which provided a major source of income. Elementary teaching and religious instruction was provided. The operation finally closed in 1946 and the house became a spiritual centre and retreat for the Diocese of Melbourne, known as the Retreat House, administered by the Sisters of the Community of the Holy Name. In 1963 Blyth and Josephine Johnston designed a distinctive coloured glass memorial chapel addition. The 1892 building became known as Retreat House.
By the 1930s the Sisters needed a headquarters of their own, a place for novices to be trained as well as a retirement place for older sisters. Four acres adjoining the House of Mercy were acquired by the Community of the Holy Name in 1934. The Community House was built from funds raised by the Sisters to a 1935 design by architect Louis Williams. The two storey Spanish Mission style building has white stucco walls, metal frame arched windows, tiled roof and a campanile. The chapel added in 1940, also by Williams, was finished in a similar style. Later additions, by Williams and Blyth and Josephine Johnston, include extensions added in the 1950s and 1960s, and a chapel and infirmary in 1968.
The Community House is approached by a sweeping gravel drive. Two rows of closely planted Monterey Cypress along the driveway serve to frame the building, enclose the garden space, and provide an important windbreak and screen. A large centrally positioned Pin Oak dominates the front garden, and this deciduous tree, displaying red autumn foliage, is a contrast to the dark evergreen cypress planting.
The landscape of the Retreat House is an apparently random mix of native and exotic species of a mixed age enclosing the House. The planting is dominated by a stand of five large Pepper Trees on the south side of the House, which together with the straight drive running along the south boundary gives a rural landscape character to the property. A small circular flower bed opposite the front entrance is bordered by a path which extends across the front and connects to the drive. A large spreading English Oak is planted in the centre of the rear courtyard and is an important landscape feature.
How is it significant?
The Community of the Holy Name is of historical, architectural and aesthetic significance to the State of Victoria.
Why is it significant?
The Retreat House, formerly the House of Mercy, is historically significant as an example of an Anglican extra-parochial welfare facility, providing a female refuge and reformatory, and from 1946 a centre for retreats and spiritual opportunities for groups and individuals.
The Community of the Holy Name was the first Anglican order to be founded in Australia, and made a significant contribution to social welfare in Victoria. It remains one of only four such communities in Australia. The establishment of Community House was lauded as the first religious house of the Church of England in Australia, purpose built as the headquarters of the Community, and for the training of novices.
The Community House is architecturally significant as a major example of Louis Williams' religious work. The Mission style incorporates an Arts and Crafts approach that was a familiar part of Williams' prolific output for the Anglican Church. The Chapel added in 1940 is a wonderfully restrained and reposeful building, and is one of Williams' finest works. The Retreat House is architecturally unexceptional, but contrasts dramatically to the progressive design in coloured glass for the Chapel added in 1963.
The landscape setting contributes to the significance of the site. The mixture of some formal elements with informal planting and apparent organic development provide a landscape response to the lives of the Sisters. The contrasting sheltered areas and wider lawns provide for meditative seclusion, and contemplative spaces. The semi-rural aspect to the landscape at the Retreat House is a reminder of the original use of the site as a country refuge away from the city.