Wesley Place restoration bringing best out of stained-glass, stone conservators


June 15, 2019 07:00:12

Nothing sends a chill up Bruce Hutton’s spine quite like the sound of glass being shattered.

Key points:

  • Major restorations are taking place on a church precinct that dates back to the 1800s
  • Work on stained-glass windows and sandstone carvings are being painstakingly done by hand
  • The $1.2 billion redevelopment is set for completion in 2022

In Mr Hutton’s line of work, one mistake could cause a piece of history to be lost.

“Glass doesn’t give you a second chance,” he said.

“It’s a touchy subject. It’s nothing to celebrate. It does happen every now and again.”

In a workshop in Oakleigh in Melbourne’s south-east, Mr Hutton’s team of glass restorers is nearing the end of an 18-month project to return a 160-year-old city church to its former glory.

They were assigned the delicate task of cleaning, conserving and restoring dozens of stained-glass windows by hand, as part of a $1.2 billion redevelopment of the Wesley Place precinct on Lonsdale Street.

Some of the leadlight windows are eight metres tall, featuring glass that dates back to the late 1880s.

“They all need to be packed up, transported here, re-leaded and then re-fitted back into the church,” Mr Hutton said.

“An eye for detail is really important.”

Much of the one-hectare Wesley precinct, owned by the Uniting Church, is set to be transformed into multi-storey towers for commercial office space.

Some elements of the original site will be restored, including the church and caretaker’s cottage.

Keeping heritage buildings ‘pure’

Through his company, Almond Glass, Mr Hutton has worked on several major restoration projects around Melbourne, including at Flinders Street Station and State Parliament.

Part of his workshop is lined with shelves containing large sheets of glass, carefully catalogued with smaller coloured shards.

It is, in effect, a glass library filled with items from around the world.

Mr Hutton said older styles of glass that were out of production were becoming a sought-after commodity for restorers, who had no shortage of work in cities like Melbourne which were filled with heritage buildings.

The secret to a good restoration, Mr Hutton said, was not to go over the top.

“It’s important to look after the heritage buildings we’ve got and keep them as pure as we can,” he said.

“If they’ve got a bit of patina of age, they look better than a perfectly pristine over-restored product or building.”

No cranes in the 1860s

The Wesley redevelopment is also one of the largest stone conservation projects in Australia.

Martyn Lambourne, the construction manager with HSR, said more than 60 cubic metres of sandstone had been imported from Germany because it best replicated the church’s original materials.

Part of the stonework involves recreating decorative pinnacles that sit 50 metres above the ground.

“Back in the 1860s, there were no cranes. It would have been pure effort and numbers of men,” Mr Lambourne said.

Simon Stockfeld, a director with developer Charter Hall, said the company worked closely with Heritage Victoria and the City of Melbourne on the design.

Part of the new precinct would include green space, restaurants and a wellness centre that would be open to the public, Mr Stockfeld said.

“Instead of trying to demolish a lot of heritage on the site, we kept as much as we could,” he said.

“We tracked down the original slate roof for the church from Wales, and through a contact we were able to buy Welsh slate and replace what was originally ordered for the building.”

The first stage of the project is due to open next May, with construction expected to be complete in 2022.












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