ES & AC Bank (former)
Statement of SignificanceThe former ES&A Chartered Bank at 135 George Street, The Rocks, is of outstanding historical and aesthetic significance. The building is a particularly fine example of a commercial building in the Gothic Revival style. The notion of 'Commercial Gothic' began in England in the 1840s and became popular for several decades, with numerous examples appearing in Australia in the 1880s. However, the branches of the ES&A Chartered bank are unique because competing banking firms continued to design branches in the Classical idiom, which was widely thought to be most appropriate style for banks. The personal influence of Sir George Verdon, the ES&A Chartered bank's general manager and a noted enthusiast of the Gothic Revival style, was the reason for the recurring use of that style to create a distinctive image for the ES&A Chartered Bank. Aesthetically, the building stands out from other 'Commercial Gothic' buildings in Australia. While many architects tended towards a highly ornamented style, William Wardell preferred a more minimalist approach of stark wall surfaces with concentrated areas of decoration, based on true Gothic principles. This demonstrates the local influence of important European architectural theorists A W N Pugin and E E Viollet-le-Duc. Historically, the building has associations with several important phases of Australia's financial history. It has associations with the ES&A Chartered Bank, founded in the early 1850s as a result of the Gold Rush, and one of a very small number of 'Anglo-Australian' banks that were incorporated under Royal Charter and based in London. The building was erected in the 1880s, and as such epitomises the prosperity and optimism of the Boom period. Finally, the branch was closed down (briefly) as a result of the Depression of the 1890s and again (permanently) due to the Depression of the 1930s. The ES&A Chartered Bank itself was subsequently absorbed by the ANZ Bank. The building also has historical significance for its associations with the maritime labour movement, having been the Sydney district office of the Australian Institute of Marine & Power Engineers (AIMPE), a union body, for more than thirty years. Its occupation and eventual desertion by this maritime organisation reflects the gradual decline in maritime activity in this area of The Rocks.
Construction Years: 1886 - 1886
Physical Description: A branch of the English, Scottish and Australian Chartered Bank (ES&A Bank) was designed by William Wardell. The building is two storied, with seven rooms, of sandstone with slate roofing, in a Gothic style widely used by the ES&A Bank and Wardell.Style: Gothic Revival; Storeys: 3; Facade: Sandstone; Roof Cladding: Slate/ Corrugated iron; Floor Frame: Timber; Lifts: None
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Historic Notes and Themes
Historical notes: Hospital: In 1788, the site was first occupied by Europeans as the location of the first hospital in Australia. In 1816, the hospital was relocated to Macquarie Street, and the site passed into private use. Between 1816-1882, the hospital building on the site was used for residential and retail, notably boarding houses and small shops. By 1883 the hospital building and later structures had been demolished. English, Scottish and Australian Chartered Bank: ES&A purchased the subject site in 1883. Architect William Wardell was commissioned to design the building for the site. The branch opened in 1885. The building was two storey, with seven rooms, of sandstone facade with slate roofing, in Venetian Gothic style. In 1900 the bubonic plague broke out and an area of land, which included the subject site, was resumed by the government. The ES&A Bank re-acquired the building in 1909. During the 1920's the ES&A company entered a period of spectacular growth. However, during the 1930s many branches were closed due to the financial squeeze of the Depression. The Rocks branch was closed in 1934. Australian Institute of Marine & Power Engineers (AIM & PE): In 1938 the ES&A Bank sold the site to AIM & PE with the site coming into control of the union's Sydney district committee. The building was occupied by AIM & PE until 1971, when the union relocated its offices to Ultimo. Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority (SCRA): Ownership of the property was transferred to SCRA in 1971. In the mid 1970s the environment surrounding the site under went changes. The store buildings and fruiter behind the bank building were demolished to accommodate the construction of the State Archives Building and the development of Nurses Walk, linking the various courts and lanes. Additions to the bank building included the Gothic styled porch and external timber stairway to the rear entry. Restaurants: In 1974 the building was modified for use as a wine bar and restaurant; the office partitioning was removed to create open plan dining areas, and kitchens were installed. The building continues to function as a restaurant.Archaeology notes: Hospital (See also: AR038-039; AR045; AR057-058; AR061-069; AR073-074; AR078-079; AR084-085; AR126; AR129; AR131-132; AR149). Granted to William Davis (See also: AM015-016; AM020-023; AR068-069; AR111-112; AR122; AR143) in December 1836 as 14 3/4 perches. Houses on this allotment on 1834 survey.
Historical significance: The George Street North branch of the ES&A Chartered Bank, like most bank buildings in Australia, has associations with important aspects of Australia's economic history. The ES&A Chartered Bank itself was founded as a direct result of the 1850s Gold Rush, and was one of only three 'Anglo-Australian' banks, incorporated under Royal Charter and based in London. The monumental building at George Street North is evidence of the bank's enthusiastic expansion during the prosperous 1880s Boom period. Finally, the building was vacated by the bank in the early 1890s (temporarily) and the early 1930s (permanently) as a direct result of the respective Depressions of those times. The building's incidental association with the Sydney plague (1900), the AIMPE (1938-71) and the redevelopment of the Rocks (1970s) are also of some interest.
Historical association: The building has close associations with William Wardell, one of the most important architects to practice in Australia in the nineteenth century, as well as associations with Sir George Verdon, whose taste for the Gothic style was an important contributing factor in the building's appearance.
Aesthetic significance: The building is in the "Commercial Gothic" tradition that was common in England from the 1850s until the 1880s, but considerably rarer in Australia. While several investment, insurance and property development companies built their headquarters in the Gothic style, during the prosperous Land Boom period, the ES&A Chartered was the only actual bank to do so, and this was entirely due to the influence of Sir George Verdon, the bank's General Manager and a noted enthusiast of the Gothic style. The building is unusual in Wardell's oeuvre, and it stands out even among the other buildings that he designed for the ES&A Chartered Bank. The design itself represents an innovative synthesis of Gothic elements, in particular those derived from the Dictionnaire Raisonnè of French architect and theorist, Eugene Viollet-le-Duc. The influence of Pugin, particular in the minimalistic use of ornament, is also apparent, which distinguishes the building from the ornate 'Commercial Gothic' buildings of most other architects of the time. Although much smaller in scale, the bank can in many ways be considered as Sydney's equivalent of the ES&A Chartered 'Gothic Bank' in Collins Street, Melbourne, designed by Wardell in 1882 and described by Dr Miles Lewis as the best and most complete example of secular Gothic Revival design in Australia.
Social significance: The ES&A Chartered Bank is socially significant for its long history and for its contribution to The Rocks area, one of Australia's premier heritage precincts, as evidenced by its inclusion on a number of lists of buildings of heritage significance formulated by community groups such as the National Trust of Australia (NSW), and representative bodies such as the City of Sydney Council and the Heritage Council of NSW. As a fine example of the secular Gothic style by significant colonial architect William Wardell, incorporating the influences of important 19th century architectural theorists Eugene Viollet-le-Duc and A W N Pugin, the ES&A Chartered Bank is likely to be held in high esteem by individuals and organisations with an interest in architecture and architectural history.
Research significance: The building, which has successively served as a bank, a maritime union headquarters, and a restaurant, contributes to an understanding of the social and economic history of The Rocks, and how that area has changed over time.
Rare assessment: The ES&A Chartered Bank is rare and unusual on several levels, including as a branch of a Gold Rush-era banking organisation, as an example of the 'Commercial Gothic' tradition in Australia, as a surviving bank building by Wardell, and as one of only two remaining stone Gothic bank buildings by that (including the ANZ Bank on the corner of Queen Street and Collins Street, Melbourne) by William Wardell..
Representative assessment: The building has the principal characteristics of a nineteenth century bank in general, andmore specifically, its Gothic detailing is representative of the series of ES&A Charteredbanks designed under George Verdon from 1872 to 1891. Aesthetically and historically, itis a fine example of its type.
Intact assessment: Archaeology partly disturbed, however an underfloor deposit may remain
Physical condition: Archaeology Assessment Condition: Partly disturbed. Assessment Basis: Site level with George Street. Level of ground in vicinity of Nurses Walk has been lowered, as indicated by neighbouring level of sandstone bedrock, however a substaintial archaeological resource may exist beneath the building to inform of past land uses.
|Australian Theme||NSW Theme||Local Theme|
|Developing local, regional and national economies||Activities relating to buying, selling and exchanging goods and services.|
|Heritage Listing||Listing Title||Listing Number||Gazette Date||Gazette Number||Gazette Page|
|Register of the National Estate||1/12/036/0385||ES & AC Bank (former)||21/10/1980||2187|
|National Trust of Australia Register||7716||27/02/1978|
|Royal Australian Institute of Architects register|
|Heritage Act - State Heritage Register||01544||ES & AC Bank||10/05/2002||2868||85|
|Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage register||Place Management NSW|
|Within a National Trust conservation area||10499|
|National Trust of Australia Register||7552|
|Register of the National Estate||1/121/036/0380||George Street Business Precinct||21/10/1980||2182|