Friday, 13 May 2011

Notes on Lipson St


Lipson Street was named in honour of Captain Thomas Lipson who arrived in South Australia in 1836. Lipson was the Colonial Naval Officer, Collector of Customs and Harbour Master; he was soon to become the virtual ruler of Port Adelaide.

Lipson Street was a thoroughfare of banks and maritime companies who erected impressive buildings, each with an extensive cellar. The examples of humbler architecture still there today are also of great interest.

In the early days there were few shops in this neighbourhood but a surprising number of tiny dwellings filled every alleyway adjoining Lipson Street. Many of these cottages were owned or leased by women: they were possibly boarding houses or rental accommodation for which there was always a strong demand in a bustling town that attracted tradesmen and labourers and where all new arrivals first came ashore.

Council records show that printers and smithys were plentiful in this vicinity, and of course the nearby hotels expanded steadily in size and number.

Former Bank of Adelaide – 114 Lipson Street

In 1878 the Bank of Adelaide opened for business in Lipson Street at number 116. That small building was then described as a store and cellar but it was adapted to serve the bank’s needs for a number of years.

In the meantime the property next door at number 114 was purchased from Captain John Bickers, an early pioneer and well known mariner, whose rather large wooden house (and garden!) had been a landmark here for a long time. In 1885 the present elegant structure was completed by local builders, Burge and Kestel, and it has survived intact from that boom period. The architectural detail is extremely ornate, incorporating pilasters with Corinthian capitals, keystones with carved acanthus leaves, and classical balustrading that surmounts the whole pile. The walls are of roughly squared bluestone and, as a delightful surprise, the rear corners are rounded by two turrets designed to contain wooden spiral staircases.

Well, the bank was certainly designed to impress. We do not know how impressed were the working class people who lived in the lowly cottages nearby but it is unlikely that their penny-a-week contributions to a Funeral Fund found their way here – the Friendly Societies catered for that trade.

Like the Adelaide Steamship Company, the Bank of Adelaide was a prestigious organisation in early South Australia. It served the Port business community well in spite of all its competitors in fashionable Lipson Street. Since the bank closed in 1981 its lovely building has housed a restaurant but its grand façade still looks like a monument to commerce.

Central Chambers – 112 Lipson Street

This purpose-built office accommodation was erected in about 1877 and fully tenanted almost from the outset. Its twelve offices housed customs and shipping agents, solicitors, architects and land agents.

The single storey bluestone building was designed to accommodate warehousing activity in its basement. The two access doors to the lower level enable bulky goods to be moved in and out with ease. They are matched by two similar openings at the rear of the building. The front windows have been altered but those on the side and rear elevations retain the original double-hung 12 pane sashes.

For more than twenty five years late in the nineteenth century William Baldwin rented the cellars, dealing not in coal or hardware, but fine wines. Besides importing popular spirits, ports, sherries and madeiras, there were ample full-bodied reds to export to Britain for “medicinal” purposes. After all, vineyards were an early success in the young colony. John Reynell had established his first vines at Reynella in 1838 and by 1903 there were nineteen flourishing wineries in the McLaren Vale district alone. Baldwin shared the large cellar with a succession of bottlers, and he in turn was followed by a line of other wine merchants.

Tayper Enterprises – 113-115 Lipson Street

The allotment on the southern corner of Lipson Street and narrow little Jane Street was an extremely busy spot in the late nineteenth century. In 1875 it accommodated this single storey brick building with cellar, as well as nine wooden or brick houses, most of them consisting of two rooms only.

The corner shop building was rented by George Hains who conducted a printing business here and in nearby buildings for the whole of the last quarter of the 1800’s.

In 1896 the five roomed house adjacent to the corner structure was annexed to form a row of shops, later converted to offices.

An early photo dated about 1920 shows the building in its former window configuration and with its original verandah along the Lipson Street frontage. This verandah continued around the corner with bracket supports over Jane Street. The building initially had a parapet but this has been removed and the roof extended to the gutter line.

Britannia Hotel – cnr McLaren Parade/Lipson Street

The Britannia Hotel on the eastern waterfront corner of Lipson Street is one of the most elaborate of the Port’s hotels and one of the few 1890’s buildings in the Centre. Pubs of that era sought to attract patronage by means of a glamorous exterior and this one was certainly dressed to kill.

The Britannia has fine cast iron lace work and is embellished with a pretty verandah pediment and finial. Built in 1889 and patriotically named, it replaced an earlier hotel dating from 1850, and proudly known for years as Murphy’s, one of the few Irish business names around the Port in that period. When rowdy sailors came ashore one can imagine the odd tomato sometimes being flung at the portrait of the dear Queen.

As the pub was placed in such a prominent situation facing the wharf, it must have been a marvelous site for new arrivals as their ships sailed into the inner harbour.

Throughout the 1870’s and 1880’s, a narrow two-storied building immediately east of the old hotel housed a restaurant. It was run by Adolph Gerber, an astonishing old German coffee house proprietor who prided himself on his excellent beverages. Known as Gerber’s Luncheon Club, the place was patronised daily by a group of businessmen who considered themselves the Patricians of the Port. Many a humorous concert sketch and witty ditty was hatched here over the irresistible Gerber’s meats and Gerber’s mochas.

Undoubtedly the restaurant offered an unexpected cosmopolitan touch and a welcome change of diet to weary immigrants and seafarers after months at sea.

Drinking fountain – cnr St Vincent Street/Lipson Street

The charming drinking fountain in St Vincent Street dates from an era when municipal authorities often, with a festive flourish, installed ornate street furniture such as rotundas, arbors and garden seats “for the people’s pleasure”. However, in the case of this fountain, it was the other way round. The people of Port Adelaide insisted on its construction to honour a man they held in high esteem and they dug into their own pockets to pay for it. The inscription reads “Erected by public subscription to John Formby Esq. JP, Mayor 1870-1-2-3.”

Formby, a well established shipping agent, was known as a Progressive. He was not only Mayor of the town but also the energetic president of its Institute at a time when that important establishment was being planned and building commenced. That imposed great responsibility and no doubt enormous stress on this man who seems to have coped with it very capably. We are told he was revered in every household.

The Formby Memorial Fountain is like a little altar. It is a cast iron structure that stands on a two-tiered base consisting of a layer or Mintaro slate and one of Macclesfield marble. The tap and incised basin are sheltered by a decorative cupola supported by four slender pillars and topped by a crown-like ornament. Three sides of the canopy bear small shields depicting the original Arms of Port Adelaide and Griffins.

This graceful piece of Victoriana was originally placed at the corner of North Parade and Nelson Street, near the present Birkenhead Bridge. It was later moved to the entrance of the Port Dock Railway Station close to where horse-drawn cabs ranked. This might seem to indicate that railway passengers suffered from acute thirst but there is another explanation, one that shows the people’s tribute to John Formby was thoroughly practical as well as symbolic.

The Port was situated in a low-lying swampy place with no fresh streams nearby and obtaining clean water was a problem from the start. For some years water had to be laboriously brought in by horse and cart. It was transported by train after the railway opened in 1856, but even so, it was still a costly item, and not one to be squandered.

Even during Formby’s lifetime, living conditions for many Port Adelaide people were less than basic by today’s standards. No doubt this Mayor was instrumental in having the pipeline from Adelaide to the Port constructed in the mid 1870’s. Portonians were quick to seize this opportunity to thank the man whose zeal had benefited them so much and at the same time give themselves a very useful amenity.

These reference notes were prepared by a local amateur historian, Heather Hartshorne.

Project: Port Inhabited.