The Sport of Kings become Property Developers

One of the biggest transformations of this decade is where the major Horse Racing venues – Flemington, Caulfield, Mooney Valley and Sandown Racecourses are all earmarked for, or have recently undergone significant re-development projects. The principal clubs – the VRC, the VATC and the MVRC are all financially healthy. However the industry is well aware of the challenges of remaining relevant in a myriad of sporting entertainment choices for the public. And they have land! This week we look at Flemington and what the Victorian Racing Club has done to both modernise and capitalise on its existing holdings.


Flemington saw its first race meeting on the rough, flood prone river flats of the Maribyrnong River in March 1840. The City of Melbourne was just 5 years old. The first race meeting had been held on the site of the current Southern Cross Station two years earlier. Flemington Racecourse was first known as the Melbourne Racecourse. The original property in the area was owned by James Watson. The main Melbourne approach road transversed the property which was called Flemington – named after his Wife’s Elizabeth’s hometown in Scotland. You may recall this property was the forerunner of Travancore – the estate we have looked at earlier. This is where the name Flemington was derived.

The finish of the Melbourne Cup 1885, credit State Library of Victoria.jpg__760x480_q85_crop_subsampling-2_upscale

Flemington, as the name and location of the Racecourse, was in common usage by the late 1850s.


Originally the land was acquired from the ‘Lang Brothers’ by the then NSW Governor and was regarded as Crown Land. It was decreed that 352 acres be considered a ‘public racecourse’ in 1848. The Victorian Colony was established in 1851, and up until 1870 the site was administered by six Government appointed trustees. In 1871 the Victorian Racing Club was legislated to be the trustees of the racecourse.

The Victorian Racing Club had formed in 1864 with the Victorian Turf Club (1852) and the Victorian Jockey’s Club (1857) both disbanding to form the new club.

Originally racing was scheduled for Autumn. It was in 1854 that the then Victoria Turf Club decided to run a Spring Meeting as well. The First Melbourne Cup was run in 1861, and the rest as they say is indeed history.

Flemington and the Melbourne Cup are deeply ingrained in Melbourne’s psyche. Mark Twain, CJ Dennis, Adam Lindsay Gordon, all were great admirers and ‘aficionados of the turf’ and are now perpetually linked to the great festival that has become the Melbourne Cup.

The public were admitted free to the inner paddock of the track in the early days – it was known as ‘The Flat’.

The first Grandstand was constructed in 1873. It was exclusively for members (and only men could be members!). It was known as Bagot’s Cowshed – named after the then secretary of the club Robert Cooper Bagot. It was at the base of the ‘Hill’ and supplemented this main viewing area of the Hill.

When Henry Byron Morgan became secretary in 1882 he commissioned four more new grandstands, incorporating elegant vice regal facilities. He also was the driving force behind the creation of the lawns and gardens, including the famous rose gardens. William Salway was the original architect who provided much of Flemington’s unique design, under Morgan’s period as secretary.


In 1922 the VRC embarked upon a major redevelopment of the racecourse. Bagot’s old stand became a public stand and Architects Roberts and Marks designed and built a superb new members stand (this stand was recently demolished to make way for the new Grandstand). New Tote buildings were constructed in 1930 to house the complicated gadgetry which supported this type of on-course betting. Several of these buildings still remain today (although substantially altered). The racecourse was utilised by the Defence Forces during World War II with racing suspended.

The ‘Old Hill Stand’ was constructed in the 1950s. This period saw many of the older structures demolished to make way for the somewhat bland construction style of that period. A new Hill stand was constructed in 1978-79 and the new ‘Prince of Wales’ stand was constructed in 1984 with a new members stand above it.

There are all sorts of treasures located at Flemington. ‘It is of aesthetic architectural, historical and social significance to the State of Victoria’ – The Heritage Register. From the odd 1930s tote buildings, the 1920s style Men’s toilets, the chronographic clock in the VRC committee room to the 1870s Brass Bell near the Racecourse manager’s office, it is a place richly steeped in history and a living history at that. The former 1924 stripped Grandstand was significant in that is was one of the last 1920s interwar stripped classical grandstands still intact… It is now gone.


There are some very major changes occurring at Flemington right now. The Old Member’s Grandstand and the Tote buildings at the rear of the grandstand have been demolished to make way for what will be known as ‘The Club’ Grandstand.


‘The dynamic design by award winning architects Bates Smart is superior in quality and innovation’ – says the VRC website. The new stand is scheduled to open in time for the 2018 Melbourne Cup Carnival in November of that year. The construction is now ahead of schedule.


The new stand is part of a $135 million ‘upgrade’ of the Flemington layout. It will be in addition to the track rebuild and flood mitigation works completed in 2006.


The track and its surrounds have subsequently been rezoned which now permits a variety of new developments that previously were not possible.

It would appear that the club has won its battle with Victoria’s Heritage Register. The compromise was to feature many historic features of the old Grandstand in the new Grandstand and to auction off material not used for memorabilia. Wood panelling, iron features and door knobs will make their way to the new ‘Club’ Grandstand. These components formed part of the older 1924 Member’s Grandstand. “There is precious little at Flemington that isn’t of Heritage importance, right down to the track with its long straight” said Paul Roser, Heritage Victoria’s senior conservation manager.

Funding has come from selling off two land parcels adjacent to the track to Chinese developers Greenland Holding Group. The group plan to build four high-rise apartment blocks adjacent to the track. The towers – at the rear of the Grandstand complex on the other side of the railway station were to be 31, 25 and 14 storeys high respectively. The land was the old asphalted members car park. A separate land parcel on Epsoms Rd where the proposed Tower was to be 31 storeys high has been reduced to 15 storeys, and the three buildings in Ascot Vale behind the Grandstands can be no higher than 10 storeys.

The planning proposal and subsequent rezoning of the properties has been approved by the Government Planning Minister not withstanding that the Epsom Rd building was outside any designated renewal area and that there would be no commuter use of the existing Flemington Racecourse Railway Station by the thousands of new residents occupying the towers.

In short, the character and feel of this historic precinct will be changed forever. You be the judge as to whether it is for the better.

From my perspective, I actually like the new Club Grandstand, but I sometimes wonder whether it would not be possible to disassemble the older buildings such as the former Member’s Grandstand and move them somewhere else – either at the racetrack or perhaps a site like Werribee Racetrack which sorely needs such facilities. The State Government contributed $10 million to the Club Grandstand development – enough to cover such a relocation.

Putting it in perspective the club generated well over $160 Million in revenue in 2015-16 and retains equity of over $203 million.

Til next week when we move to another similar location with a very different history.

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Balance Architecture recognises the importance of the preservation of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.

Escape to Pentridge

‘Escape to Pentridge’ says the Developers website – it continues ‘Pentridge is unique. Built on solid bluestone, its foundations are firmly rooted in Melbourne’s History. New and Historical architecture will sit side by side. The heart of Coburg is to be reborn, transformed into a vital hub of creativity and commerce interlinked with residential opportunities. Escape ordinary. Escape to Pentridge.’

Oh just not so funny – what a very sorrowful place, what a history! But indeed there has been a transformation and now its new residents do live with, well – with the ghosts of the past.

Pentridge Prison commenced as a stockade made of log huts on wheels surrounded by a 1.2 metre fence. The original stockade held 16 prisoners marched to the site from the Melbourne Gaol – at that time overcrowded with the huge population influx beginning to occur from the Gold Rush.


Prison Hulk

At the time Prisoners were held in hulks (decommissioned ships) anchored off Sandridge (Port Melbourne) and Williamstown and at the Melbourne Gaol located on Russell St in the city’s north.

Local residents of Coburg were totally outraged and so the prisoners, who were seconded to work on the new Sydney Rd, toiled in chains, eating, sleeping and working in chains – 24 hours per day. These were very harsh times, with floggings, solitary confinement and ever heavier chains being the order of the day. Bread and water – and for the very worst, shipped back to the floating prison hulks on the bay.

Pentridge prison, 25 May 1955.jpg

This original stockade was replaced with what has been described as a Pentonville style prison between 1857 and 1864. High external bluestone walls and guard towers provided the sought after higher levels of security.

a division

 A Division

A women’s prison, ‘A Division’ was designed and built then utilised until 1871 – when the women were again transferred back to the Melbourne Gaol – or as we know it now – the ‘Old Melbourne Gaol’. A new three storey building was constructed in 1894. It was to accommodate the then 195 female prisoners held at the Governor’s pleasure – on fixed prison terms. This 3 storey building was vacated in 1956 when Fairlea Women’s prison was opened at Fairfield and all women prisoners transferred. It then became known as ‘D Division’ and housed male prisoners.


D Division

But for a second let’s get real. Known as the ‘Bluestone College’, ‘Coburg College’ or the ‘College of Knowledge’ this place for inmates was a ‘hellhole’.

Our old friend Hugh Linaker had a hand in developing the grounds of Pentridge, landscaping them in his familiar grand English parkland style.

There were 10 Divisions in the prison. These were as follows:

  • A – Short and long term prisoners of good behaviour
  • B – Long term prisoners with behavioural problems – a very mean and dangerous place open up until the late 1980s
  • C – Vagabonds and short term prisoners – where Ned Kelly was imprisoned
  • D – Remand prisoners
  • E – Prison Hospital – later dormitory division for short term prisoners
  • F – Remand and short term
  • G – Psychiatric problems
  • H – High Security, discipline and protection
  • J – Young offenders group – later long term prisoners with a history of good behaviour
  • Jika Jika – Maximum security risk and for protection – later renamed K Division

Pentridge in architectural terms has many unique features, but the most outstanding of these were what were known as Panopticons. These followed the design of Jeremy Bentham’s 1791 Prison Design. There were three of those Panopticons. The feature was a wedge shaped structure that opened onto ‘airing yards’ where Prisoners were permitted access for one hour per day. Jeremy Bentham was a ‘social reformer’ of his time. These Panopticons fell out of use and were demolished due to prison overcrowding in the early 1900s.

A number of iconic heritage buildings or landmarks are located at the Pentridge site. These landmarks and heritage buildings have been retained and are incorporated in the Pentridge Village Masterplan which formed part of the Moreland Planning Scheme. The then Victorian Minister for Planning the honourable Mr Mathew Guy, approved the Masterplan in 2014.


Development plans may destroy the character of this heritage site

The National Trust has expressed ‘strong concerns’ about the nature of these masterplans with the complex interplay between maintaining historic divisions and the building of high density high rise buildings on the original prison site. The current developer Shayer Group has made significant commitments for example investing several million dollars to restore the roof of the old A Division building, restore the Seven Guard Towers and the rock breaking yards. These works are scheduled for 2018 completion. The Pentridge Masterplan calls for ‘up to 20 new buildings designed to compliment the existing heritage landmarks with numerous community spaces and public amenities such as an open piazza, forecourt areas and public open space including landscaped gardens’ (Hugh Linaker would be pleased or would he?)


To quote form the Pentridge Prison Heritage Report:

“The former HM Prison Pentridge is of historical and social significance as the largest prison complex constructed in Victoria in the nineteenth century, which operated as the central establishment in the wider prison system from the 1860s. The complex of buildings, which remains on site, demonstrates a number of phases in the development of the penal system, including the separate system, which dominated penology in Victoria in the nineteenth century. Pentridge is also significant in the history of child welfare in Victoria. It was the location of reformatories for both girls and boys established following the findings of the Stawell Royal Commission of 1870. The prison complex includes a purpose-built reformatory of 1875 (G Division), constructed as the Jika Reformatory for Protestant Girls, which operated between 1875 and 1893.”

“The principal elevation of the former Entrance Building at Pentridge Prison faces west and is of a medieval style with a crenellated parapet, a large pointed arched gateway and octagonal towers. The east elevation is of a simple classical style with a central pediment, quoining, and semi-circular and rectangular headed windows. The central pavilion and the corner turrets of the west elevation are of ashlar bluestone; the remainder is of rock-faced bluestone. A series of regularly spaced, narrow windows on the ground and first floors are located on either side of the central pavilion. Two octagonal towers with cross-shaped slit windows and corbelled crenellated parapets flank the entrance, one of which is surmounted by an octagonal bluestone clock tower.”

“The former HM Prison Pentridge is of aesthetic and architectural significance because of the monumental scale and austere Classical style of the remaining nineteenth century prison buildings. The complex of buildings and walls are important for their expression of the requirements of containment and order and are typical of other prison buildings constructed in Victoria in the 1850s and 60s. The grim and imposing bluestone walls and towers are important landmark features.”

Be you young or very old this was not a place to start or end your life. It was one of the cruelest, darkest places you might find yourself.


Ned Kelly

And as one very famous internee was said to say moments before he departed this mortal coil…

“Such is life”



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Balance Architecture recognises the importance of the preservation of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.

Willsmere Estate – A grand building with a chequered past

“Willsmere – a fully gated residential complex. It’s tranquil, serene and friendly living at its best.”

A transformation indeed, from Melbourne’s most well known Lunatic Asylum – the Kew Lunatic Asylum, the estate now offers “luxury living with swimming pool, tennis courts, bowling, gym, BBQ areas/rotundas and function room”.

Its history is somewhat less salubrious. The magnificent Italianate style buildings were commissioned by the then Victorian Government in 1854. It became operational in 1871, situated on a prime site 100 feet above the level of the Yarra River on 400 acres. It was built to replace the overcrowded and inadequate Yarra Bend Asylum and the Carlton lunatic Asylum.

It reflected a change of attitude in Victorian times whereby such establishments were considered a place where the mentally challenged could best deal with their affliction with the comfort of a healthy location, light, airy, with good drainage in “fertile and agreeable country”.

“The site chosen is of primary importance. On it must depend the comfort, happiness and health of the inmates” said the then New South Wales Inspector of Asylums, Frederick Norton Manning in a report commissioned by the new Victorian Government of the Colony.

Designed by Architects GW Vivian and Frederick Kawerau of the Victorian Public Works Department, it was expected to be ‘elegant, beautiful yet substantial’, yet viewed as a ‘magnificent asylum for the insane’. It was believed entirely necessary to house and contain the ever expanding numbers of ‘idiots’, ‘lunatics’ and ‘inebriates’ troubling those in the new colony of Victoria.

With the use of ‘Haha’ walls and sumptuous, well planned and extensive landscaped grounds, it was intended that inmates and the public would sense the enlightened thinking of the colony’s forward thinking officialdom, recognising the benevolence and civilisation of its capital, Melbourne, and its generous kind people.


However this was somewhat juxtaposed on many fronts by the rather simple and somewhat sad perceptions of the times. Kew Cottages, originally attached to the Asylum, were opened in 1887. They were actually known as ‘The Idiot Ward’ then and later became a separate institution known as ‘Kew Idiot Asylum’ – it only admitted children. Children suffering developmental delay (mental retardation), Down’s syndrome and other mental health afflictions.

It wasn’t that hard to find yourself admitted in the first fifty years. According to the wisdom of the day you could gain entry if you were diagnosed as suffering from:

  • Delusional Insanity
  • Dementia (this covered Schizophrenia, Catatonia and severe depression)
  • Epilepsy
  • General Paralysis / paresis of the insane (whoa! what’s that?)
  • Idiocy (ditto)
  • Inebriation (No drinks for me!)
  • Melancholia
  • Puerperal Mania (Now known as postnatal depression)

This would occur on the request of a ‘friend, relative and acquaintance and confirmation by two medical practitioners in writing’ (Easy peasy).

A person wandering at large (being considered of unsound mind – a lunatic) upon the order of two justices could be removed to an asylum. Prisoners considered lunatics could be sent to an asylum upon the order of the Chief Secretary and then you could be a voluntary boarder from 1915 onwards.

The Asylum operated for over 120 years. Changing its name a number of times, from 1903 onwards ‘Asylums’ became known as ‘Hospitals for the Insane’.

Originally reduced to 340 acres with the sectioning off of Kew Cottages, the establishment was intended to be self sufficient. But over time with treatment methods changing and large land parcels being sectioned off for Kew Cottages, the straightening and widening of Princess St in 1939-40 (which also saw the gatehouses demolished) and the earlier Boulevard Construction in the 1930s seeing the Asylums river frontage being assumed by the Roads Department the original holding was greatly diminished.

58 acres were sectioned off in 1958 to establish Talbot Colony, now known as Royal Talbot, a rehabilitation facility for seriously injured patients of the Austin Hospital. The Guide Dog Association of Victoria was granted further Asylum land in 1962 and the creation of the Eastern Freeway cut a swathe through the remaining land in the 1970s.

The buildings housed barrack style accommodation and used the Colney Hatch Asylum in England as its template. It was still perceived to resemble a stockade or a gaol with Sunbury Mental Asylum considered a more humane advance in accommodation of the mentally ill. Oversize clay bricks were made on site from quarried local clay, then rendered with cement. A central Administration Block is three stories high topped with mansard roof and cupola. There are two two-storey wings to each side, one for each sex. Each had a four storied mansard roofed tower containing water tanks. The wards were surrounded by courtyards and verandahs. The dormitories had 4.3m ceilings, purpose built timber flooring and brightly coloured walls. Entry was via a grand carriageway, tree lined with an elliptical front driveway at the main entrance.

Architecturally the Mansard roofs and prominent towers make the building one of Melbourne’s most prominent, rivalling Government House five miles distant to the South.

The tree plantings were supervised by Baron Von Mueller, the original curator of the Botanical Gardens, and were meant to mimic an English country park. In 1913 Hugh Linaker again took responsibility (he was also charged with developing the Sunbury Asylum grounds as well as the grounds of other Lunatic Asylums in the state).

The Central Equity Corporation developed what became known as Kew Gardens project, a residential estate in 1995. The Walker Corporation have redeveloped Kew Cottages, however historic buildings have been set aside and maintained.


And although it may well now be gentrified with wonderful amenities, just stroll across the bridge at the Kew Boathouse to Fairfield’s Thomas Embling Hospital located on Yarra Bend Rd. There practically opposite the site of the old original Yarra Bend Asylum is situated today’s most secure psychiatric facility for the criminally insane. Rest easy up there at Willsmere – history remains bound to the area one way or another, even if it now only 8.4 hectares. Sleep well fair denizens of Kew. The past is never far away.

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Balance Architecture recognises the importance of the preservation of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.

Looking East to Government House

This week we look across from the summit of what was then Emerald Hill to the nearest hilltop to the East. There we could see, back in 1876, the completed Italianate style mansion sitting atop of that far hilltop – Government House.

Government House had a sweeping and commanding view of Old Melbourne across the Yarra to the North-west, Richmond a little closer and to the West the thriving new estate of Emerald Hill. Even today if one looks from Bank St in South Melbourne directly East, you could see Government House – if not for the Shrine of Remembrance being placed directly in its line of sight.

Victoria was originally founded as the Port Phillip District of New South Wales. It became a separate colony in 1851.

Victoria’s first Government House was a prefabricated timber dwelling erected in what is now known Jolimont. ‘Latrobe’s Cottage’ as it came to be known was eventually transported to its current site on the corner of Dallas Brookes Drive and Birdwood Avenue. It was originally erected in Jolimont in 1839. Located between the Shrine of Remembrance and the Botanical Gardens now, the building still holds many of Latrobe’s personal possessions.

In 1854 Toorak House was leased by Sir Charles Hotham and became the second residence to be occupied by the Governor. It was built in 1849 by well known Melbourne Merchant James Jackson. The suburb of Toorak took its name from this house which is now owned by the Swedish Church. Mr Jackson is believed to have developed the name from local indigenous dialects from words meaning ‘black crow’ or ‘reedy swamp’ – hardly likely to please today’s well heeled ‘Toorak’ denizens. The design was, as was popular at the time, Italianate and its designer was said to be a Samuel Jackson. The property was home to 5 Victorian Governors up until 1874 when a new residence was leased – Bishopscourt in East Melbourne – until today’s Government House as we know it was completed in 1876.

‘Bishopscourt’ was and still is located in Clarendon St, East Melbourne and is largely of bluestone construction in a style or gothic architecture. Designed by Newson and Blackburn it was completed in 1853, and apart from its brief stint as Government House (1874-1876) it has always been the residence for Melbourne’s Anglican diocesan bishops and Archbishops. It has always been considered ‘ugly’ and most unattractive.

The area now known as ‘The Domain’ which includes the Domain Gardens, Government House and its grounds and the Botanical Gardens was ‘set aside’ in 1841. Construction of first rendition of Government House commenced in 1872 and as stated was completed in 1876.

The building was purpose designed for the Governor of Victoria – unlike the previous properties. Architects, William Wardell engaged JJ Clarke to supervise its design and construction. William Wardell Architects also designed St Patricks Cathedral (Catholic) and JJ Clarke designed the Treasury Building.

Reflecting prosperity and sophistication, the building was said to be the largest Government House in the then British Empire. With the economic boom provided by the Gold Rush of the times, the fledgling colony was transformed into a glamorous and breathtakingly beautiful city for the nineteenth century.

The Victorian Government House was the initial residence of Australia’s first governor General after Federation in 1901 up until 1930.


The grounds were originally landscaped as one parkland that included the Domain, the Botanical Gardens and Government House. Horticulturalist Joseph Sayce offered a design as a gift, which was accepted and commenced development of in 1873.

With meandering paths, curved carriageways and exotic plant varieties contributed by William Guilfoyle, the Director of the Botanical Gardens and curator of the project, the lush semi-tropical foliage and exotic plant varieties still exist today.

The building itself is immense and consists of the State Apartments, the Grand Ballroom, the State Drawing Room, the Conservatory, the State Dining Room and the State Hall.

The Ballroom holds upwards of 800 people, cocktail style. In it is placed the State Chair for the Monarch or Monarch’s representative. A mezzanine level to the South end of the Ballroom is designed to hold musicians playing at State functions. With its ornate ceiling of 27 separate sections and its original chandeliers converted from gas to electricity this is truly a Grand Ballroom.  The State Dining Room features Belgian etched glass windows. A Spanish mahogany table seats 54 guests, and with the high, very ornate ceiling this is a spectacular dining setting.

The State Hall completes this spectacular building with its unique barrel vaulted arched design. The Conservatory is an extension of the Drawing Room providing a view of the west lawn and the Melbourne City skyline. The State Drawing Room itself holds 100 people and is used for community and small award ceremonies.

Combined tours of Government House and Latrobe’s Cottage are undertaken on Mondays and Thursdays from 10am until 12.15pm. Tours are specifically for 30 plus people and must be booked through the National Trust website.

As can be seen all of ‘Old Melbourne’ is linked – in architecture, in vision and in prosperity. Walk the Domain and look across to Emerald Hill and the Yarra, to the MCG – 100 years ago your view would have been uninterrupted. Feel those passing you, who lived their lives here. This is a rich and rewarding history. And Government House is an incredible reflection of our prosperous yet frenetic past of early Victoria. Absorb it – this is Melbourne.

This is heritage.

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Balance Architecture recognises the importance of the preservation of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.

Living History – St Vincent’s Place

Probably the most gracious and beautiful location in what was the Emerald Hills area is St Vincent’s Place and the St Vincent’s Place Gardens. Not only is it the crown in the architecture of the original estate, it represents probably the most beautiful of all preserved heritage areas in Melbourne not currently in the hands of the State. In 2014, the impeccably and faithfully restored mansion at No. 69 sold for a reputed $12 million. The home was originally built in 1873.

St Vincent's Place 0248

St Vincent’s Place, Albert Park’s ‘Millionaire’s Row’ hugs the St Vincent’s Gardens and curves around the gardens in both directions. The estate was based on London Town Planning with rows of single and double story terraces and detached properties overlooking the original layout of the Gardens. The Bowling Club and the Tennis Clubs remain, but unfortunately do not feature the original buildings. The Albert Park Bowling Club was established in 1873.


St Vincent’s Place is bounded by Park St, Cecil St, Bridport St, Cardigan Place and Nelson Rd. It is one of the few remaining examples of a Nineteenth Century residential development, designed around a large landscaped ‘square’ – the gardens – that is still intact today. And this is very much the result of the National Trust’s very effective Heritage overlay which includes the gardens and the surrounding estate.

Perhaps a little known fact is that prior to the establishment of the estate being developed in 1854 or 55, the area was used as a race track for thoroughbred horses.

The original layout and design was presumed to have been completed by Mr Andrew Clarke the then Surveyor-General of Victoria. The final lay-out and design as we know it was the work of Mr Clement Hodgkinson, the noted surveyor, engineer and topographer. Mr Hodgkinson made allowance for the inclusion of the intersection of the new St Kilda railway.

The original design extended from Howe Cresent in the east to Nelson Rd and Cardigan St in the west. This then gives sense to the name of the new gardens being named St Vincent’s Gardens as the whole estate ran to the boundary of the St Vincent’s Orphanage, now on Cecil St where the zenith of the estate on Howe Cres met with Cecil St – at the gates os St Vincent’s Orphanage.

All of the main streets were named after British Naval Heroes. Land sales commenced in 1860. High quality row and detached houses were constructed early on with Rochester Terrace being most notable.


According to the Victorian Heritage Register:

‘St Vincent’s Place is aesthetically important for the outstanding quality of its urban landscape. the major elements that reflect this importance are the gardens with their gardenesque style layout and fine collections of mature specimen trees, and the harmonious relationship with the residential buildings facing them around St Vincent’s Place. The St Vincent’s Place Precinct is historically important as the premier ‘square’ development in Victoria based on similar models in London. It was the largest development of this type in Victoria.’

Significant buildings No 5 and No 21 St Vincent’s Place South, Rochester Terrace, 51 St Vincent’s Place South (St Vincent’s Place Medical Centre), 57 St Vincent’s Place (The Richard Wagner Society Inc), 73 St Vincent’s Place South (The Loretto Province Centre), 30 St Vincent’s Place North – Rosebank, 44 St Vincent’s Place North – Hambleton House, 94 St Vincent’s Place North, 78 St Vincent’s Place North – John Danks’ Former home – John Danks was a well known industrialist. The companies he established still operate today. He chose French Romanesque for his pair of terraces as opposed to the more common Italianate style of the times (1875). It features a superb garden, well worth a visit during the Open Garden Scheme schedule.

So pack up a Sunday picnic, drive to the gardens and go for a stroll. All the buildings are within walking distance. There are richly detailed Victorian Terraces, Terraces featuring French style Mansard roofing towers, the imposing Rochester Terrace and of course the St Vincent’s Gardens  with Parterre flower beds, rows of Algerian Oak trees and a wonderful fountain dedicated to Boer War heroes and veterans.

Look across at Rochester Terrace facing the park and think of London in the 19th Century. Imagine the street filled with grand horse-drawn carriages. Marvel as the light filters through the Oak tree canopy. It remains in pristine almost original external condition and is the epitome of the Victorian Terrace. on a good day look up – and you may see a Hot Air Balloon float on by journeying to Albert Park Lake Reserve – if you’re early enough.

Originally it was an investment property by Auctioneer, Land Speculator and Agent W.P. Buckhurst. An axially planned terrace with a dominant central block, flanking intermediate wings and strongly detailed end pavilions, it was designed in the classic revival style.

What a splendid investment it turned out to be, for you, for me and for future generations who can now re-live the past in such authenticity and beauty.

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Balance Architecture recognises the importance of the preservation of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.

South Melbourne – From Humble Beginnings to Celebrating 150 Years as Melbourne’s Oldest Market.

Emerald hill or ‘Old South Melbourne’ has an amazingly mixed pedigree. Originally the site of Melbourne’s first major orphanages and expansive network of workers cottages – some quite innovative as we shall see, it was also home to some grand residences and public buildings. But there is a no doubt that the original estate housed many workers for the industries located along the Yarra River – and some of these were the famous prefabricated Iron Cottages shipped from England for quick and effective assembly – one remains in the area. It is located at 399 Coventry St, South Melbourne (Two more have also been added from other locations).

Over 100 of these portable buildings were eventually constructed in the State of Victoria. These were simple constructions and almost anyone could complete the assembly. Consider that people at the time were living in so-called ‘Canvastown’, in tents and were paying five shillings per tent per week.

The Iron House was deemed permanent so it was far more desirable than living in a tent. The portable cottages were commissioned by Governor Latrobe to provide accomodation urgently needed to house the Gold Rush arrivals who were flooding into Canvastown and other transient overflow tent cities around Old Melbourne.

The Coventry St Iron Houses are located at 399 Coventry St and are maintained by the National Trust. They are tiny. One sits upon its original allotment, the other two were removed from North Melbourne and Fitzroy to this site, to save them from demolition. The rear house at Coventry St is in fact a Bellhouse, one of only two remaining from the Bellhouse Iron Foundry. The other is situated on the Queen’s Balmoral Estate in England, originally ordered by Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert as a ‘royal studio’ (perhaps it was his ‘man shed’).

Another portable cottage – this time timber (and now a private residence) is located across the road in Coventry Place at number 17. These timber cottages were known as ‘Singapore’ cottages and this one is now listed on the Victorian Heritage Register.


Find out more about Melbourne’s Iron Houses on the National Trust website

So where did one shop in these bygone days? Where did you seek food – fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood, and general merchandise? In 1856 local householders petitioned the then Emerald Hill Council for a market. It took a further 11 years for the market – established on crown land in what was then the Borough of Emerald Hill – to be finally opened to the public in 1867. Situated on 10 acres it was bounded by the St Kilda Railway line, Coventry, Cecil and York Streets.

Initially it was leased under contract to private operators, but in 1904 the South Melbourne Council – as it had become – reclaimed control and the payment of Market Dues by stallholders.

It is Melbourne’s oldest continuing market celebrating 150 years of operation this year. The first sheds were erected in 1866, it featured a five and a half ton weigh-bridge purchased in 1872 and was lit up with electric lighting by 1924.

south melbourne market 1 copy

The market was virtually destroyed by fire in 1981 when the A and B sheds on Coventry St were lost at a cost of $150K. Two bombs were exploded in the same year damaging several stalls (there was something a-going on!). Gelignite bombs were set off at a take-away food stall and dress shop. 80 sticks of Gelignite were planted along the Cecil St facade although only 2 bombs of twenty sticks each exploded. Apparently no-one was responsible. Unbelievably no-one was hurt and damage was restricted to around $30K.

In recent times the market has seen some remarkable architectural initiatives. Original elements of the Victorian style facade remain in the Coventry St entrance and the full verandahs on the surrounding Coventry, Cecil and York Streets. Until around 2013 the market was covered by a rather dreary but necessary carpark roof constructed in 1972. Concrete, it was leaky and a heat trap for the market beneath.

In 2012 a new multifaceted rooftop was added to the carpark, providing shelter to shoppers, capturing rainwater, generating electricity from solar and regulating temperatures inside the market. Designed and implemented by Paul Morgan Architects it is a melding of Architectures, both past and present, sustainability and functionality.

It is seen as a sophisticated addition to the urban landscape. Does it work? You be the judge.

Find out more about the historic South Melbourne Market here

Next week we will continue our exploration of Emerald Hill. There are still treasures to come, and more from a very rich history.

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Balance Architecture recognises the importance of the preservation of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.

Emerald Hill – The Beginning

Emerald Hill is perhaps Melbourne’s most significant area of still surviving Heritage Architecture. With the magnificent and very grand South Melbourne Town Hall, the housing of  the original estate, and the spectacular retail shopping facades of ‘Old Clarendon St’ it represents one of the last remnants of early and historic architecture remaining in Melbourne.

Its first colonial use was for the Melbourne Protestant Orphans Asylum when the then colonial Government of Victoria set aside 10 acres on Emerald hill for this rather sad facility in 1854. With a major separation based on faith, a further 2 acres was granted to the Catholic Vicar General in 1855 and the foundation stone was laid for St Vincent De Paul’s Orphanage on the 8th of October, 1855.

The development of what was to become the Emerald Hill Estate was determined by the unusual method of sale embraced by the Melbourne ‘Protestants’ who held freehold on the land. It was developed entirely as a leasehold precinct rather than a Freehold precinct by the Board of the Melbourne Protestant Orphanage Asylum. In itself this organisation was the first such ‘committee’ to be made up of ‘ladies’. The women on occasions suffered the assistance of their ‘gentlemen’ partners as women were not permitted to hold land in their own names or act as trustees.

The women involved belonged to those religions of the protestant faith that were considered evangelical.

Originally formed in 1845, evolving from what was known as the ‘Dorcas Society’ it was the first women’s association of Melbourne. By 1875, men had effectively snatched back the management of the facility with two committees being merged into one – 18 men (five being ministers) and twelve women.

But back to Emerald Hill…

Emerald Hill is an old volcanic outcrop. It stood above surrounding swampland with a greener vegetation. It had always been a favoured gathering place for the indigenous people of the area. Located above what was the Yarra River Delta it became attractive to Melbourne’s early settlers. The earliest subdivision occurred in 1852. In 1855, it was declared a separate borough to the City of Melbourne.

Originally called Canvastown, with tents of the immigrant gold seekers, this was the name given to the first school in the area on the corner of Clarendon and Bank St. Church schools opened slightly later. Presbyterian 1854, Catholic 1854, Anglican 1856 and of course, the orphanages. The Mechanics Institute opened in 1857. The Melbourne to St Kilda railway link provided a station for Emerald Hill by 1858. The Albert Park Lagoon was excavated to form a lake for boating and sailing in 1875.

Emerald Hill was proclaimed a town in 1875. The grand and imposing Town Hall was constructed between 1879 and 1880. It reflected what was at the time a massive boom time for the fledgling colony in its grandeur. Designed by Architect Charles Webb, a rated Melbourne Architect of the time, the building featured a public hall, a mechanics institute and a library.

Built on an elevated site, it was the centrepiece of a formally planned block. Its forecourt featured a small curved park. It is built in what is described as ‘Victorian Academic Classical Style’ with French Second Empire features, dominated by its very tall, multi staged clock tower.

The building along with its park and Boer War Memorial in front is registered on the Victorian Heritage Register.

Internal fittings were modified in the 1930s with new internal features and Council Chamber furniture, designed and selected by ‘Oakley and Parkes’.

The building was fully restored in 2004 being a beneficiary of the State Government Heritage Grant. The original decorative roof and iron cresting were restored and the original ochre exterior colour was also reinstated. These items had been removed or altered in 1945.

Clarendon St over time became the central thoroughfare and the preferred retail shopping centre for those enjoying the boom times of the 1880s. The famous ‘Clarendon Terrace’ between Park St and Dorcas St was established in 1887.

Cable Car Tram Lines were opened in the 1890s which was in addition to the Steam Ferry between Clarendon St and Spencer St established in 1883. The Cable Car Drive House is still intact on City Rd.

It was crowded with food and drapery outlets, furniture retailers and well stocked grocery stores. Manufacturers like Hoadley’s Chocolates and Sennit’s Icecream were both located on or near Clarendon St.

There is a rich history in this suburb. The Chinese See Yup Temple is just one extraordinary building amongst over 139 heritage listed buildings identified as far back as 1987, on a National Register of important or historic buildings.

Over the next few weeks we will take you on a tour focussing on the heritage of old Emerald Hill but also looking at the merging of the old with the new and how we are getting better at it. We hope we’ve whet your appetite for more.

balance logo 20150209a

Balance Architecture recognises the importance of the preservation of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.