Holy heritage: Castlemaine church listing ripe for residential conversion

Two churches and a manse in the heart of Castlemaine have hit the market, offering renovation-ready owner-occupiers and investors a project with a point of difference.

The properties, all in original condition and located 11-13 Lyttleton Street, are being offered to market on behalf of the Presbyterian Church.

The Georgian-styled original church dates back to 1856, the six-room manse homestead to 1861 and the larger church, in Italian Gothic style, to 1894. Each is subject to heritage overlays.

Listing agent Rob Waller of Waller Realty said that he had received around 100 enquiries on the property over the past two weeks, with the majority of prospective buyers considering a residential conversion.

Inside the Castlemaine church. Photo: Supplied

Inside the Castlemaine church. Photo: Supplied

Church sales weren't particularly uncommon in this part of Victoria, with Mr Waller having sold eight or so in his 30-year career, but having two churches as part of the same listing was.

"The rarity of this one is there are two churches on the one site [and] they are both substantial old solid brick buildings," he said.

It was also relatively rare to secure a church in original condition, pre-conversion.

The Castlemaine branch of the Presbyterian Church was selling as part of a "longer term move to go to a smaller, simple site," he said.

The Church is still conducting services from the site, with the end of services subject to negotiation with the new owner, as is the inclusion of any furniture or other effects, he advised.

Possible conversions for the residential-zoned site, which sits across two titles, could include a residence with short-term holiday letting or conversion of the larger church building into apartments.

Demand for a boutique apartment conversion project close to Castlemaine's centre would be high, according to Mr Waller.

"There's a big appetite for people to live centrally in a downsized living arrangement," he said.

"Normally the biggest apprehension that downsizers [in Castlemaine] have is if they've always had a character house then going to a generic, brick built townhouse is not appealing."

Whether holiday letting or permanent accommodation, it's important that a new owner do their best to incorporate the building's rich history into any conversion project.

That's according to Tim von Ess, who owns the Church at Lyonville with wife Sasha and currently lease it out as holiday accommodation.

The pair purchased the property already converted in 2017 but have put extensive work into transforming it into a luxury accommodation offering.

Tim von Ess and wife Sasha own the Church at Lyonville. Photo: The Houses Daylesford

Tim von Ess and wife Sasha own the Church at Lyonville. Photo: The Houses Daylesford

"It's a 1927 church and it's timber clad like a country church. It was deconsecrated in the19 50s and it lay vacant for 40-plus years and then a couple who lived in the area purchased it and converted it, and lived there for around ten years," Mr von Ess explained.

Doing a church conversion the right way meant keeping an open mind to the opportunities such a purpose-led design presented.

Inside the Church at Lyonville. Photo: The Houses Daylesford

Inside the Church at Lyonville. Photo: The Houses Daylesford

"Whether a church is heritage protected or not, they are 'quiet' buildings. They've been around for a long time and you actually have to understand and feel what they are about. There is just so much opportunity to retain original elements and use them and make them into real points of interest," he said.

"For instance, our place has still got a timber clad confessional with engravings and the confessional has been turned into a pantry. And one of our sleeping areas is in a loft upstairs that's been put into the top of the nave, so that you're looking into the church where everything is happening when you're in the bed.. It's not simply another bedroom," he added.

If the new owners of the Castlemaine church did decide to offer their property for rent, they'd likely find no shortage of interested guests, judging by the popularity of the Church at Lyonville.

"Who doesn't love the sense of history and purpose and place? Everyone wants to tick it off, to say they stayed in a church or an old schools and all those sorts of places," Mr von Ess said.

"It comes back to this idea of it being all about the sense of space. The tall, soaring ceilings, the stained glass windows which all afternoon spread beautiful hues through the place. What better a place to relax and connect with your family than in a church? They are just awesome spaces."

11-13 Lyttleton Street, Castlemaine is on the market by expressions of interest closing July 14.