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Home sweet church

One couple turned a historic church into a humble abode for their family

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All Saints Anglican Church as it now appears as the home of Wendy and Al Marsh. Photo: Al Marsh

All Saints Anglican Church as it now appears as the home of Wendy and Al Marsh. Photo: Al Marsh

Whenever I pass by a church that obviously is no longer being used or is for sale, I feel wistful. I know for many years the solitary building was once the site of truly memorable events such as christenings, marriages, and funerals.

I always think this now forlorn place would be a fascinating location for someone’s home.

But a couple named Al and Wendy Walsh who have actually achieved this captivating situation.

“It was in 2001, after we had renovated a Hydrostone house and had a toddler and another baby on the way, that we decided to look for a larger home,” says Wendy Walsh. “What happened was we came across an advertisement for a former church for sale in Bedford. We fell in love with it and, in 2001, we bought it.”

That church, All Saints Anglican, has a captivating history.

It dates back to 1864 when George Lister, a wealthy bachelor from England who then owned hundreds of acres in Bedford, gave both land and financial aid to settlers who wanted to build an Anglican Church in their community.

Around 1869, the church was built at the corner of Perth and Wardour streets. It had its first service in February 1869.

The All Saints Anglican Church in Bedford flourished. By 1905, its congregation had grown so large the church was replaced with a new one that cost $5,600.

Rather than destroy the historic church, it was sold and moved on log rollers to the opposite side of Perth Street where it became a private residence.

An undated historical photo of the church.

An undated historical photo of the church.

Today, the former church is where Al and Wendy and their sons, Liam, 14, and Jack, 16, live. The building retains a number of original features that preserve its historic charm. For example, its foundation walls are built with large fieldstones and there is a huge boulder, the size of a sofa, under their basement steps.

Wendy assumes it must have been too large to move so they worked around it and it left it there.

“When we were doing some renovation we discovered the rough framing and cut outs for the original church windows, but the glass had been removed,” Wendy says. “The original wood panelling and hand-hewn thick beams still make up the ceiling of the original part of our upstairs.”

Also impressive is that the pine floorboards also still remain in the original part of the house. The widest board is 35.5 centimetres across.

The floor boards in the church are engraved with a "broad arrow," which was use to designate what trees in the forest were to be used for the masts on ships in the Royal Navy.

The floor boards in the church are engraved with a “broad arrow,” which was use to designate what trees in the forest were to be used for the masts on ships in the Royal Navy. Photo: Al Walsh

Also intriguing for the Walsh family was to find “broad arrow” marks, which were once cut in the shape of an arrow in the bark of trees. It was once against the law to forest those trees for any other purpose than for masts on ships in the Royal Navy. Al and Wendy discovered two broad arrows on the upstairs ceiling beams.

One feature that is especially appropriate for the renovated church is that they have an original pew in their home.

According to Wendy, the pew has been passed from owner to owner and will stay with the house whenever it’s sold. She believes it’s a wonderful reminder of its original history.

“It isn’t as comfortable as the church pews that exist today and this certainly makes it obvious to us that there would be no drifting off to sleep during a long sermon because you had to sit up straight,” Wendy says.

As in the case of very old buildings, invariably, one can’t resist asking if there are any mysterious aspects that have been associated with the house.

“There is some folklore that has continued in the Bedford community about the old church,” Wendy says. “Some people believe secret passageways or tunnels run to nearby Bedford Basin and/or Scott Manor. We, however, haven’t discovered any evidence of such man-made excavations. But, we are, of course, also curious about the stories that allege a ghost resides in the residence.”

“We’ve never seen it, or sensed anything ghostly here,” she continues. “But if it did exist, I’m sure it must be a kind and gentle ghost as the house has a very warm and inviting character about it.”

**The online version of this story was updated to correct a fact checking error. 

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