Thursday 11 February 2016

Rosebank Street to Forbes Street - 209A (The St Bernard's Home for Working Gentlewomen); thence, 209, 207, 205, and 203

209A is the St Bernard's Home for Working Gentlewomen
This streetscape clearly shows the width of the old William Street. It also indicates that, despite the attentions of the street sweeper, the road is in poor repair. The prominebt building is the St Bernard's Home for Working Gentlewomen, occupying the three floors above the shops. It offers 35 rooms and has been built very recently by one of Sydney's great philanthropists, Eadith Walker. Eadith had not earned the money that she spent so usefully. She had inherited from her father, Thomas, a pastoralist, and parliamentarian, and one of the richest men in nineteenth century New South Wales. Part of the estate comprised this section of William Street.

The building is architectually ambitious but, given its disregard for scale and its dominance over its neighbours, not particularly successful. This is curious when it is remembered that its architect, John Sulman, a big gun of his day, consistently advocated that buildings should be harmonious with their environment, that they were really part of the public domain, and that to retain homogeneity, buildings on the streets of Sydney should be regulated in terms of height and compatibility with their surrounds. A case of do as I say, perhaps, not do as I do.

This building is eclectic if nothing else. As suggested earlier, it is an attempt to combine the cornice of a Renaissance palace with several Greek porticoes supported by Greek columns and modified capitals along with medieval turret windows adjoining four giant arches of a Roman aqueduct!

John Sulman was a friend of Miss Walker, having married her adopted sister, Anne Masefield. Thus were combined the interests of money, of family, of architectual experiment and, in this instance, of Agnes Leonard, Ethel Hogg, Kate Ellen Watson, Mabel McKenzie, and those other twenty-five working gentlewomen in need of a place to stay.

Numbers 209, 207, 205, and 203

The St Bernard's Home was entered through the doorway on the left of the shops, number 209A. Numbers 209 and 207 were rented by Eadith Walker to James W. Leighton and son, Frank, portmanteau makers. The shop was also the factory, a characteristic common to a number of the small-scale capitalist enterprises of the street. The windows are crammed with leather suitcases, tin trunks and Gladstone bags. At 205 the Federal Cleaners and Pressers, Hodges and Brown, specialised in the renovation of suits and costumes, and the reblocking of gents' hats. Next door, Joseph Chapman made and repaired boots. The boot shop, with its emphasis on repairs, invokes the poor German cobbler, Hans Paasch, in Louis Stone's Jonah, 1911, who began his working week by
setting the heavy iron lasts on their shelves, where they looked like a row of amputated feet ... the peculiar musty odour of leather hung about the shop. A few pairs of boots that had been mended stood in a row, the shining black rim of the new soles contrasting with the worn, dingy uppers. They betrayed the age and sex of the wearer as clearly as a photograph. The shoddy slipper, with the high, French heels, of the smart shop-girl; the heavy blucher studded with nails, of the labourer; the light tan boots, with elegant, pointed toes, of the clerk or counter jumper; the shoes of a small child, with a thin rim of copper to protect the toes.
My Notes:

Once again, Max Kelly choose the better of the images available for this building. Including the diagonnal, enabled him to show exactly the reason for the street widening. This next image, gives a good view of the shop facades, but not of the life of the street, and although Kelly liked architecture, he loved ordinary people and their life-style more.
Amongst the myriad of images held by the City of Sydney Archives, there are gems that go behind the mere facade, the attempt to SHOW prosperity when there was very little of that around. The photographer, once again, wanders around the back of Miss Walker's building into Premier Lane. We have been back here before. The jumble of outhouses. No longer the need to put on a show. A plethora of corrugated iron, and gates not quite aligned with hinges. The open, bricked drain, down which anything could sluice.

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