No. 550 - Preston Methodist Church - "Rallied to the Call"

Preston is a small rural settlement on the banks of the Leven River approximately 18 kilometres south of Ulverstone. It was once a thriving community on the Ulverstone Nietta Railway line which boasted a sawmill, a post office, a State school, a general store, a public hall and two churches; St Alban’s, an Anglican [see No. 345] and a Methodist church.

Preston’s Methodist Church was established as an outreach from the Primitive Methodist church at North Motton. However the church was only built after Methodist Union in 1902. Before this services were held in a room in the house of Mr James Peebles where “on a favourable Sunday…[it was] inconveniently crowded”.

In 1903 a church was built and opened in December of that year. The North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times’ report on the opening service reveals some details about the church:

“The opening of the new Methodist Church took place on Sunday last when the Rev W. Johns preached morning and afternoon to good congregations….The musical part of the services was greatly aided by the North Motton choir, which was well represented. On Monday a tea and public meeting took place. A delay on the part of the contractor, which brought the opening celebration well into Christmas week, greatly affected the attendance, this specially busy season keeping many away; still Preston and district were well represented and a most enjoyable meeting was held. The Rev W. Johns presided and explained the steps leading to the establishment of the church there and of their great indebtedness to Mr [William] Delaney for the gift of the splendid site they occupied. The financial statement revealed that with the amounts collected and the results of the opening celebration there would remain only a debt of £20. The building is a very neatly designed one, erected from specifications prepared by Mr B. Lloyd, whose services have been gratuitously rendered…..”.

A parsonage was acquired in 1920 but a hall was never built as the Methodists were able to make use of Preston’s public hall which stood alongside the church.

Disaster struck in November 1935 when the church was completely destroyed in a fire. The Advocate reported on the incident:

“The Methodist Church at Preston, about 12 miles from Ulverstone, was completely destroyed by fire during Thursday night. About 11.30, Mr. Vern Smith, who lives nearby, noticed that the building was on fire and summoned help. A window was broken in an attempt to gain entrance, but the smoke was so dense that it was found impossible to enter the building. The fire had gained such a strong hold that any attempt to save it was considered futile, and those present concentrated on saving the hall adjoining, and in this they were successful. The main church building was constructed of weatherboards, with an iron roof, and was about 40 feet by 24 feet. It was erected about 30 years ago, but had recently been reconditioned. Mr. R. H. Murfet, the missionary in charge of the church, was in Ulverstone on Thursday evening, and on his return the building had been completely demolished. The contents, which included an organ, a number of seats, hymn books, Bibles and crockery as well as memorial photographs of several deceased persons who had been prominently associated with the church, were destroyed. Early yesterday morning the matter was reported to Sergeant W. R. Taylor, of Ulverstone, and he spent the day in the district. The building was insured for £250, but there was no policy on the contents”.

A decision was made to rebuild the church and some consideration was given to replacing it with a concrete building. In the interim services well held in the public hall as well as St Alban’s Anglican church. The new church, which was also a weatherboard structure, reopened on Saturday 30 May 1937. The Advocate reported:

“There was a large attendance at the opening, of the new Methodist Church at Preston on Saturday. This to to replace the one destroyed by fire some months ago. Visitors were present from as far away as Bracknell, Burnie and other centres,…A short ceremony was held prior to entering the church, when Mr. R. H. Murfet, local home missioner, in a short address of welcome, requested Rev. F. C. Bremer, chairman of the Mersey district, to open the church, the key to which was presented to him by Mr. B. Robertson, secretary of local church trust. The key, in a jewelled case, was suitably inscribed. Before entering the church Rev. Vineer gave the call to worship, followed by short prayer by Mr. Sydney Russell, a former local missioner. On behalf of the Methodist Assembly Rev. Bremer thanked the Anglican Church and rector for the use of their building during the time the church was destroyed….Mr. Chamberlain congratulated those responsible for such a beautiful building, and the spirit in which supporters had rallied to the call. The dedicatory service was conducted by Rev. Bremer, assisted by Rev. Vineer”.

The Advocate’s report concluded with a list of donations of items made to the church which provides a who's who of Preston’s Methodist congregation and also the extent to which the community rallied to rebuild the church.

*200-gallon tank, Mr. J. J. Devlin
*Logs for timber, Mrs. J. H. Lee, who also gave a beautiful blackwood pulpit, in memory of her late husband, who was a trustee of the church
*Bricks for chimney, Mr. J. F. Wright
*Pedestal and jardiniere, Gawler Ladies' Guild
*Coir matting, Don Store
*Carpet, Messrs. G. and A. Ellis
*Door mats, Mr. T. Piper and Mr. E. A. Cleaver
*Silver vase, Mr. E. J. Row
*Ornamental vase, Mr. W. I. Ellis
*Cushion for pulpit, Mrs. T. C. Ewington
*Mantelpiece, Mrs. I. Peebles
*Collection plate, Mrs. J. R. Peebles and family (in memory of the late Mr. J. R. Peebles, who was superintendent of the Sunday School)
*Pulpit chair Mr. R. H. Murfet
*Music hymn book, Mr. E. T. Vertigan
*Tasmanian Methodist executive, seats for church
*Pulpit Bible, Rev. F. C. Bremer
*Lining for Guild room, Mr. M. E. M'Culloch
*Hymn ladder, Mr. A. Wellard
*Blackwood communion table. Mr. B. Stratton
*Hymn books Preston Badminton Club
*Blackwood railing and platform Ladies' Guild

In 1977 the church became part of the Uniting Church and services continued for about a decade before its closure in the 1980’s. I have yet to establish if the church was demolished or removed to another site. I have also not managed to find a photograph of the church and have instead included several early photographs of Preston which would be contemporary to the first church built in 1903.

Public notice - North Western Advocate and Emu Bay Times, Saturday 19 December 1903

The home of Mr James Peebles where service were held before the church was built - source: Craig Broadfield - Post in Ulverstone and District Pictorial History Face Book Group February 2014

The house and family of Mr William Delaney of Preston who donated the land for the church. Source: Weekly Courier 1906

Preston State School - source: Weekly Courier 1906

The Preston Post Office - Source: Weekly Courier 1906


The location of the Preston district in North west Tasmania. Source: Placenames.gov.tas.au

Sources:

North Western Advocate and Emu Bay Times, Saturday 19 December 1903, page 3
North Western Advocate and Emu Bay Times, Saturday 19 December 1903, page 2
North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Thursday 24 December 1903, page 2
Weekly Courier, Saturday 7 April 1906, page 23
Advocate, Tuesday 10 February 1920, page 2
Advocate, Thursday 13 February 1930, page 4
Advocate, Saturday 9 November 1935, page 2
Advocate, Thursday 14 November 1935, page 6
Advocate, Thursday 4 June 1936, page 9

Stansall, M. E. J and Methodist Church of Australasia Tasmanian Methodism, 1820-1975 : compiled at the time of last Meeting of Methodism prior to union. Methodist Church of Australasia, Launceston, Tas, 1975.

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