Church: Anglican Church of St Eanswythe, Altona

St Eanswythe Anglican Church

Brief History

On 27 April 1926, 23 people met to appoint wardens, a vestry and also to arrange for rental of the Progress Hall for use for church services. The group included Mr & Mrs AC Turner, Mrs Tyrell, Mrs A Woodward and Mr & Mrs R Harvey. Services in the Progress Hall commenced the first Sunday after the initial meeting and continued there for about two years.

Prior to this, the Venerable Archdeacon RHB Williams in 1917, as the young vicar of Newport, started the services when he travelled from Newport by steam train on Sundays to conduct Divine service on the shore end of the old Altona pier.

In the early years, Reverend FG Hughes was the vicar and inspiration for growing the church and organising events. Mr RW Hammond, one of the church congregation, volunteered to play the organ at one of the services and remained the organist for the next 33 years. He also served on the Altona Community Hospital board of management and was recognised with the Queen’s Medal on the occasion of her coronation.

The 1933 building that was St Eanswythe

Through the efforts of Mr AC Turner, a building formerly used by the Methodist Church in Newport was acquired and moved to the church site in Queen Street. This served as the church until a further building could be purchased from Laverton on 13 October 1933. This building was dedicated as a church by the Venerable Archdeacon Hancock on Sunday 17 December 1933.

The Reverend Edwards was in charge of the church from April 1928 and it was he who gave the church the name of St Eanswythe. He had commenced his ministry at the church of St Mary and St Eanswythe in Folkestone in England 40 years earlier. This together with his desire to emphasise that the Church of England was in existence long before Henry VIII was his reason for dedicating the new church to St Eanswythe.

St Eanswythe was the granddaughter of King Ethelbert of Kent, the first Anglo-Saxon to become a Christian. She refused to marry a pagan prince and finally her father permitted her to form an order of nuns and establish a monastery on the coast of Kent near Folkestone. She spent the rest of her life there and gained a reputation for prayer and good works. She died on 31 August 640. It is believed that St Eanswythe, Altona is the only St Eanswythe outside of Kent, England.

Reverend Edwards officiated at the first wedding in the parish when Miss J Everingham married Mr J Vost. The first wedding in the second church building was Mr & Mrs R Stuber of Mount Street. Reverend Edwards served the church well for some years in difficult times. On his departure it was necessary to merge the church into the parish of Newport.

For the next 25 years the ministry of Altona was provided by the most by lay readers who spent a part of each week in the district. In August 1954 the Venerable Archdeacon RHB Williams returned to Altona for his first visit since 1917, when he had began Church of England services on the shore end of the old Altona pier.

A Separate Parish Again

St Eanswythe became a separate parish again when Reverend JR Walton was inducted as vicar on 6 February 1959. He served the church for the next 3 years. Reverend WW Moriarty was inducted to succeed him in November 1962. In February 1961, a block of land that was owned by the church fronting Blyth Street was leased under a very favourable agreement to the Ampol company for the construction of a service or petrol station. The finance which became available through this lease allowed for the extension of the church property. Towards the end of 1962, with the aid of a bank loan, two blocks of land bordering on the church property were purchased. Plans were then started for the erection of a vicarage on the block at 7 Bent Street. The house on the other block at 113 Queen Street served as a temporary vicarage until the permanent building was completed, occurring in June 1963.

On 3 March 1963 nearly 200 people attended the special service of thanksgiving at St Eanswythe and witnessed the laying of the foundation stone of the new vicarage. At the conclusion of the service, the congregation proceeded to what was to be the front entrance of the vicarage and the Archdeacon of Essendon, Venerable RH Dann laid the foundation stone.

St Eanswythe

The last service of thanksgiving was held in the old church on 9 November 1969. This was the building that had been transferred from Laverton in 1933. Demolition of the building commenced on 11 November and all services were then conducted within the Salvation Army hall, on the opposite side of Queen Street. On 16 November the first sod of turf, in the building of the new Anglican Centre, was turned by Venerable RH Dann after Sunday service concluded. The new centre planned to include some unusual features including the narthex (gathering area), vestry, hall, a shop and kitchen as well as the church itself. The design was intended to be in line with church building in England.

The new church centre was officially opened on 12 September 1970 by the Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Frank Woods. The congregation on this special occasion included past clergy of St Eanswythe, clergy of other denominations, clergy from other Anglican churches within the area, the Mayor and Councillors.

In December 1979, the Most Reverend Archbishop Robert Dann returned to the Anglican parish of St Eanswythe to dedicate the new modern three panel stained glass window that was dedicated to the memory of Coral Lavenia Jarred nee Ingwersen (1941-1978). The memorial widow was designed and crafted by David Wright, a glass sculptor from Bellingham Washington, in four equal parts and depicts, in symbolic form, of the Creation. September 2020 celebrates the 50th year of the new Church Centre.

Research: Graeme Reilly (ALHS 2020)


  1. Archives – Altona Laverton Historical Society Inc.