Anglicans keep the faith in archbishop’s grand residence

The 0.8ha Bishopscourt must ‘be up there with the best landholdings in Melbourne’, a real estate agent says. Photo: Simon Schluter Dr Phillip and Joy Freier. Photo: Simon Schluter
Nanjing Night Net

Real estate agents can stop salivating because the Anglican church has ruled out selling or subdividing the Archbishop’s stunning East Melbourne residence, Bishopscourt.

Last year the church voted to sell Sydney’s Bishopscourt, in exclusive Darling Point, estimated to be worth more than $25 million.

One local agent valued Melbourne’s equivalent at $20 million to $25 million. He said the 0.8ha overlooking Fitzroy Gardens with its grand 18-room, combined Italianate and arts and crafts house, ”has got to be up there with the best landholdings in Melbourne, or anywhere really, with its location and garden”.

But despite Anglican factions pushing in the 1990s to offload such an asset to fund church ministries, Melbourne Archbishop Dr Philip Freier says the place isn’t for sale.

”There’d undoubtedly be a wealthy person who’d be very happy to have it,” he said, but like St Paul’s Cathedral in the centre of town, ”the value isn’t just the monetised value”.

Aside from heritage overlays that would make development difficult, it had been purpose-built for the diocese’s first head, Bishop Charles Perry, in 1853, and was still a physical and spiritual centre.

”It’s very helpful to have a place with some flexibility for a range of interactions and a range of hospitality and a place where people can be welcomed,” Dr Freier said.

Since arriving with her husband in 2006, Dr Freier’s wife Joy was curious about past occupants of the residence behind the high fence on Clarendon Street – the 12 other bishops and archbishops of Melbourne and their families.

She initiated a social history book – Bishopscourt Melbourne: Official Residence and Family Home – to be launched by historian Geoffrey Blainey on October 7.

”You live in a place like this and you cannot help but think about the people who’ve lived here,” said Mrs Freier, singling out Bishop Perry’s social justice advocate wife Frances Perry, a founder of today’s Royal Women’s Hospital.

The book, funded by grants and donors including Professor Blainey, a local resident, details tragedies including the suicide of two daughters of 1940s archbishop Joseph Booth.

Written by historian Elizabeth Rushen, the book has few scandals but in 1928, handsome Archbishop Harrington Lees received a frosty welcome home to Melbourne.

While visiting his native England, he had married the much-younger Joanna Linnell, 15 months after his first (older) wife, the popular Winifred, died. Eyebrows were raised that Ms Linnell had visited the Lees at Bishopscourt twice while Winifred was alive.

A recurring theme is archbishops’ heavy workloads. In 1941, the day Japan invaded Pearl Harbour, Archbishop Frederick Head died when his car crashed into a telegraph pole en route to a confirmation in Mt Eliza squeezed between two city services. He was a former World War I army chaplain prone to depression, and there was talk that it wasn’t an accident.

In 1989, Archbishop David Penman revealed in an interview he worked 16-hour days and advocated relaxation. Within days he had a heart attack, and died 10 weeks later.

The book dispels the idea that Bishopscourt is awash with servants: at present the Freiers have one employee two days a week to cook and clean, and hire caterers for large events.

They expect 2000 members of the public for an open garden weekend on November 9 and 10. Mrs Freier once called for an endowment for the upkeep of Bishopscourt, otherwise, it could ”become a burden to the church”.

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