Wesley Anne, former Wesleyan chapel and school

Behind the shopfronts and zinc roofing of the Wesley Anne are two buildings made of bluestone and brick, with sloping gabled roofs. Attached to them on the southern side is a curiously narrow shopfront next to an even narrower walkway that takes you through to Frederick Street. These buildings, established by the Wesleyan Methodist congregation of Northcote in the nineteenth-century, have played a key role in the life of the local community, serving as centres of educational, spiritual and civic activity, and as premises for many local businesses.

Serving the community

Completed in 1854, the first structure on the site consisted of a single, twenty-two foot square, bluestone (coursed rubble) building with a timber picket fence. Around 55 students attended this first Wesleyan school, taught by Robert S. Bunn. The building was extended to twice its length in 1855 to accommodate the growing number of students as the local population expanded, and the school was open to local students as a common school. A new head teacher, Richard Tobin began at the school in 1863. Newspaper advertisements hint at other staff at the school including this one placed in 1864 for a ‘female assistant, Northcote Common School’, and in 1865 for a ‘certificated drawing master …, for Northcote Common School 60 pupils’. In 1870 the Wesleyan congregation moved into their new church, built across the road at 251 High Street, now the Northcote Uniting Church.

As well as its use as a school and chapel the building was a regular meeting place, including for this fund raising evening on 7 February 1861:

‘A lecture by Mr. W.J. Thomas, on astronomy, was delivered in the Wesleyan school-room, Northcote, on Thursday night last, for the benefit of the Northcote Mechanics’ Institute. Children attending the schools were admitted free. In the introduction the lecturer adverted to the tendency of the science to produce feelings of reverence and humility toward the Creator of the universe. … The exhibition of a number of revolving views and illustrations in the magic lantern [an early form of slide projector] formed a pleasing and instructive feature of the lecture.’

In 1873 people met at the school room to discuss education in the local area:

‘At a meeting of the joint committees of the two common schools at Northcote, held in the Wesleyan school-room, on the 20th of March, it was unanimously resolved: — 'That it is desirable to establish a State school at Northcote.' A sub-committee, consisting of four members of each committee, was appointed to take the necessary steps to get this accomplished as quickly as possible. The sub- committee to be Messrs. McLintock, Mitchell, Page, and Weaver, for the English Church school, and Messrs. Wimble, Bastings, Morris, and Dennis, for the Wesleyan school. Both of the Northcote common schools are denominational, and have been temporarily brought under the operation of the 10th clause of the new Education Act [1872]; but the committees have agreed to sink all sectarian differences and act in unison for the benefit of the district at large.’

A state school was opened on its current site in Helen Street in 1874, and Richard Tobin from the Wesleyan school was its first headmaster. In 1883 the borough council of Northcote was formed, and their inaugural meeting was held at the Wesleyan school room on 26 July 1883. One of their first resolutions was for ‘… tenders be called for revaluing the property in the borough, with a view of striking a rate on the earliest occasion.’ Also reported by the Argus, was an agreement to rent the ‘schoolroom and offices’ from the Wesleyan trustees for £15 per year. The lease continued and the Wesleyan school was used as the municipal chambers and offices of the borough until the opening of the Northcote Town Hall in 1889.

A second wing, built in brick and facing High Street, was added to the north side of the school room in late 1888. A celebration held in the new building was reported by the Age on 31 January 1889:

‘Mr Richard Tobin, the head teacher of the Northcote State school, was the recipient on Tuesday evening of a complimentary soiree, in commemoration of the completion of the 25th year as head teacher [of the Wesleyan Sunday school], and in recognition of his valuable services in the borough of Northcote. It was held in the recently erected Wesleyan school room, which was well filled in the occasion by Mr. Tobin’s friends, among whom were many of his former pupils, who have made their mark in society. Mr. C. Yeomans, the mayor of Northcote, presided. Besides the musical numbers, which were well rendered by amateurs, there were many speeches delivered, the most prominent being that of Mr. Tobin, who described in glowing terms the rapid rise the borough had made during the past few years. Light refreshments were partaken of during the evening.’

By 1890 the Sands & McDougall directory listed the premises as occupied by three entities; a private school run by Miss South, Council Chambers (W.G. Swift, Town Clerk) and the Wesleyan Sunday School. In 1900 the Sands & McDougall directory listed the Wesleyan Sunday School as the sole occupant, and the Northcote rate assessment for 1900 recorded Miss Holt, a teacher, as the occupier of the building. Another school, known as Northcote College was run on the site and held a speech day there on 31 December 1901:

‘Northcote College. This seminary, which, since it has been under the management of Miss Davidson, the principal, has increased in a single year from 10 scholars to 35, closed for the Christmas vacation on Friday evening, 20th December. The demonstration and distribution of prizes took place in the Wesleyan schoolroom, High-street, and was witnessed by a crowded audience, consisting of the parents and friends of the pupils … An entertainment was given by the pupils, the items including songs, piano solos and duets and gymnastic exercises, and afterwards a collection was made in aid of the Children’s Hospital …After presenting Miss Davidson, on behalf of her pupils, with a Russian leather jewel case, the chairman distributed the [students’] prizes … Each of the other scholars who were not placed on the honor [sic] list received a Christmas box.’

In the early 1900s the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (MMBW) surveyed streets and buildings in the local area for connection to water and sewerage. A lithograph of the 1907 MMBW survey shows the ‘Sunday School’ located at 232-236 High Street. The narrow shop front to the south has not yet been built, but the drain reserve (below the current walkway) is visible. At the rear of the property are two sets of two toilets, known at the time as closets, and the whole property is surrounded by a fence. 

A place of business

In 1908 not long after the MMBW survey was printed, the Wesleyan congregation moved their Sunday school and day school to a new building constructed next to the Wesleyan Methodist church across the road. The old school rooms at 232-236 High Street were leased out, and by 1910 Ernest Lees, an auctioneer and estate agent had set up his auction rooms and office at 234 High Street. David B. Masson, an ironmonger, occupied number 236 High Street. The narrow building on the southern side, possibly numbered 232, may have been constructed around this time.

By 1915 High street was renumbered and we find 248-250 occupied by Maurice Collins PL, a furniture seller, and 252 by D.B. Masson, listed as a house decorator. In 1915 the first certificate of title was issued for the property. Unusually, it listed twenty-one joint proprietors, all apparently members of the Wesleyan Methodist congregation of Northcote. One of the owners was David Borthwick Masson who had run his business on the property since at least 1910. In 1916 Masson became its sole owner until his death in 1925, leaving the property to his brother George. The inventory of assets from Masson’s probate documents recorded the weekly rent he received from tenants, including Miss Pocock (a draper) at number 248 paying £1-7s-6d, E. Symons (a music shop) at number 250, paying £3-10s, and J.W. French (a house decorator and ironmonger) at 252 who paid £4. In 1935 the property was transferred to Mary Masson, the widow of David Masson. The property was advertised for auction in 1940, but was not sold until 1946, when it was purchased by the City of Northcote for £3,600.

Between 1925 and 1960 the shops were the premises of a range of businesses. These included Miss Pocock’s draper shop and a number of hairdressers at number 248, while the larger premises at 252 and 250 were leased by a music shop, furniture makers, house decorators, tailors, and an electrical goods retailer. By 1960 the property was occupied by the Exotic Aquarium & Pet Supplies, who purchased the property jointly with Nicholas and Stavroula Zigouras in 1962. The property was sold to its current owner in 1984 and by the early 1990s the buildings at 250-252 were occupied by Northcote Furniture Auctions, with the small shopfront at 248 the office of Globe Discounts. All three shopfronts are currently the home of the bar and music venue, named Wesley Anne, in homage to the buildings’ founders.

Butler, Graeme, Northcote Urban Conservation Study, Vol. 1.
Chalice – Northcote Uniting Church, viewed 8 April 2020, <https://www.chalice.org.au>
Index to Victorian Births, Deaths and Marriages, viewed online 15 April 2020, <https://my.rio.bdm.vic.gov.au/efamily-history/5e96be7d648862236dcc1591>
Lemon, Andrew, 1983, The Northcote Side of the River, Hargreen, pp. 52, 75 & 104.
PROV, VPRS 28/P3, Probate and Administration Files, Unit 1578, 204/157, David Masson. 
Rate Records, City of Northcote, 1900, Darebin Local HistoryCollection.
Sands and McDougall’s Melbourne and Suburban Directory, 1883– 1974, State Library Victoria.
Span-Keeble, Willys, 1991, High Street Urban Conservation Zone Heritage Information and Recommendations for Individual Buildings, City of Northcote.
Ward, Andrew, 2001, Darebin Heritage Review, Vol.2, Datasheet 75. 

Newspaper and title records 

The Argus, Wednesday 13 February 1861, p. 4.
The Herald, Friday 17 June 1864, p. 1.
Northcote Leader, Saturday 29 March 1873, p. 12.
The Argus, Saturday 28 July 1883, p. 10.
The Age, Thursday 31 January 1889, p. 6.
The Age, Tuesday 31 December 1901, p. 6.
Certificate of title, Volume 3862 Folio 358, Landata.
Certificate of title, Volume 5947 Folio 256, Landata.
Instrument 2028657, Transfer of land, Landata.  

22 April 2020