Royal Naval House
Statement of SignificanceRoyal Naval House is of significance for the State of NSW for historic, aesthetic and rarity reasons. It is also of significance for the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority and The Rocks local area due to its contribution to the substantially intact late nineteenth and early twentieth-century streetscape of Grosvenor Street, and for retaining some evidence of the original lot boundaries that date from the land claims made in the 1830s. Its construction indicates the continued presence of the British Navy in the Pacific during the late nineteenth-century, protecting merchant shipping. The external facades retain evidence of the original configuration of the building as a naval hostel, and the substantial addition of 1907. The Royal Naval House is of significance for its continued use, for nearly a century, for accommodation of the British and subsequently the Australian armed forces as well as visiting navies, including returned servicemen and, from World War II onwards, service women. The Royal Naval House is associated with repatration efforts at the end of World War II, with record numbers of sailors accommodated. The building originally was one of a number of substantial facilities built in The Rocks to cater for sailor's on shore leave, including the Mariner's Church and the Sailor's Home, which continue to contribute to the character of the area today. The generous stair (now relocated) provides evidence of the high standard of accommodation provided throughout Royal Naval House. The building is a significant urban building designed in the Queen Anne Revival Style, by Varney Parkes with a substantial addition by the NSW Government Architect, Walter Liberty Vernon. Royal Naval House provides evidence of the increasing scale and character of the city in the late nineteenth-century. The original form of the building was a marked departure from the standard tropical barrack developed by the British and widely used in Australia, however the widespread belief that disease was spread by foul air that drove barrack planning, remained evident in the separation of the now demolished rear block and the connecting galleries with cast iron columns (now relocated to the adjoining Federaiton Hall at 24-30 Grosvenor Street). The retention of the historic buildings at the southern end of the block, including Royal Naval House, indicates the changing approach of the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority to redevelopment. The retention of the stair and the galleried courtyard (albeit relocated into the adjacent building), both of which are fine examples of their type, shows an approach to the retention of significant fabric that was not in accordance with accepted conservation methodology and practice.
Royal Australian Navy - accommodation and amenities for naval personnel
Defence Base Naval
Construction Years: 1890 - 1907
Physical Description: Style: Federation Free Classical; Storeys: Lower ground floor, three floors, plus attic
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Historic Notes and Themes
Historical notes: The land that Royal Naval house stands on was once part of the western limit of the first Parade Ground of the Colony. The Street was originally called Charlotte Place, named after Charlotte Sophia the wife of King George III. In 1897 the name of the street was changed to Grosvenor, the renaming was very unpopular at the time. Earliest claimants to the site were William Davis and children of the late Robert and Anne Howe, grandchildren to George Howe - Government Printer and founder of Sydney's first newspaper, the Sydney Gazette. Fowles streetscapes from "Sydney in 1848" show substaintial two storey houses along the site, these remained essentially unaltered until their demolition for Royal Naval House in 1889 and the other in 1907 for the later wing. By 1845 the Howe portion of the site was owned by Flower, Salting & Co and by 1849 by John Cleeve. Cleeve also owned the adjacent eastern block and remained in possession until c1887. The 1890 section of Royal Naval House occupies the section of the site originally owned by William Davis, who was instrumental in helping the Catholic Church establish itself in NSW.John Samuel Shearston (1853-1916) was instrumental in the establishment of the Church of England Mission to Seamen in 1881, and his home a 3 Princes St, Dawes Point was its headquarters. In 1885 he moved to larger premises at 9 Princes Street, renamed Trafalgar House, where they were also able to offer some residential accommodation. At the end of 1886, at its Committee's request, he agreed to also act as Superintendent of Goodenough Royal Naval House at 39 Princes Street, which he ran in conjunction with Trafalgar House. Despite this both places could not cope with the demand for accomodation and a public suscription was taken up to construct Royal Naval House in Grosvenor Street. Lord Carrington officially opened Royal Naval House in 1890. the land cost 9000pounds, the building 14000, which was later extended, and the furnishings 1200pounds.Shearston resigned as Missioner to become Superintendent of Royal Naval House in September 1890. Mrs Shearston acted as housekeeper. The men, grateful for their warm welcome, soon referred to the premises as 'Johnny's', the name used by seamen until it closed in 1970. It was popular immediately and a newspaper report from the Sydney Mail, 21 August 1897 reported that in the last financial year the building had accomodated 25,789 men and in the seven years it had been opened 164,502 men had lodged there. Besides sleeping accomodation the building in 1897 also housed reading rooms dining rooms, billiard rooms and a gymnasium. By the end of the 19th Century it was obvious that the building was too small. In 1904 the Government bought the adjacent site for the Trustees of Royal Naval House. The house illustrated in Fowles in 1848 remained essentially unchanged until demolition occurred for the erection of the 1907 wing of Royal Naval House. Evidence from Public Works Department indicates that the 1907 wing was built by the Government Architect's office. The Evening News of May 1912 reported that Royal Naval House had lodged 67,408 men in the last year, prior to the erection of the 1907 wing. Another 12,000 men used the House annually since the new section opened, averaging 216 men a night. At its busiest during World War 2 (1939-1945) Royal Naval House was accomodating almost 1500 men a night, many in 'shakedowns' mattresses and bunks placed wherever there was room. In 1946 alone it lodged 307,000 sailors. Royal Naval House was used by naval personel and in the 1960s by their families for temporary accomodation until it closed in 1970 and the Sydney Cove Redevopment Authority took possession of the building in 1976.From 1980 negotiations proceeded with the private sector on proposals for mixed development and recycling on the land bounded by George, Grosvenor, Harrington and Essex Streets, known as Sites D5, D6 and D11. The agreement was signed for the Grosvenor Place project in June, 1983 involving the renovation of Royal Naval House and four adjacent buildings. Work on Grosvenor Place commenced in 1984 and was completed in 1988. In 1987, work commenced on the $12.5m reconstruction and renovation of Royal Naval House and Federation Hall in Grosvenor Street to enable the buildings to house the Sydney Futures Exchange. The work involved the reinstatement of the original verandah and courtyard in a new location, and the restoration of the street facades. The reconstruction and renovation of the three remaining historic buildings on the site was carried out in 1989 for use as bars and restaurant. The approach taken in creating the Sydney Futures Exchange was considered to be facadism by the architectural profession. It was not an approach that was to be repeated in The Rocks. The arguments about the retention of the corner buildings that occurred after a 1985 fire noted that the buildings were more than simply facades and should be retained. The Sydney Futures Exchange occupied the premises in Grosvenor Street from the completion of the building in the late 1980s until circa 2002 when the trading floor was removed and a mezzanine added.
Historical significance: The construction of Royal Naval House as a substantial hostel indicates the continued presence of the British Navy in the Pacific in the late nineteenth-century and their role in protecting merchant shipping. Unlike the majority of naval facilities in Sydney Harbour it was not built on one of the harbour islands or on the foreshore. One of the series of facilities constructed in The Rocks during the mid to late nineteenthcentury aimed at providing facilities for sailors on shore leave including the Mariner's Church and the Sailor's Home. Royal Naval House provides evidence of an increase in the scale and density of Sydney that occurred during the late nineteenth century. Colonial Georgian merchant's houses were replaced with substantial buildings providing a continuous street frontage modelled on architectural developments in London.The debates in the 1980s regarding the retention of historic buildings on the site, and the eventual retention of the streetscape of Grosvenor Street, reflect the initial development brief requiring the conservation of buildings on the site and SCRA's attempts to create a townscape including retaining historic buildings as corner markers.The item meets the criterion at State level.
Historical association: RNH is of significance for its continued use by the military for almost a century, initially by the British Navy and later by the AIF, including its use as a recruitment office during World War I and for accommodation and R & R for servicemen and women during WWII. It is associated with repatration efforts at the end of World War II, with record numbers of sailors accommodated. It is associated with two prominent architects, Varney Parkes and Walter Liberty Vernon.The item meets the criterion at State Level
Aesthetic significance: A fine example of the use of the Queen Anne Revival style by Varney Parkes, including the later addition by the NSW Government Architect Walter Liberty Vernon, who had first introduced a number of elements of the style to NSW.The item meets the criterion at State Level
Social significance: Royal Naval House has a long standing association with the British Navy and the AIF, including returned servicemen and women. The item meets the criterion at State Level
Research significance: The pattern of development of the site demonstrates the increasing density of the city, altering the colonial Georgian character of Charlotte Place. Externally the north side of Grosvenor Street still largely retains its Victorian and Edwardian streetscape, the survival of which is due to the resumption of the area in 1900. In particular the range of architectural styles of Gothic Revival, Neoclassical, Queen Anne Revival and Federation Free Style is now rare in the city, a range that demonstrates the changing approach to the rebuilding of city buildings from the late 1880s until the 1920s. The documentary evidence has the potential to yield further information regarding the development of the city. The survival of any archaeological features is unlikely.The item meets the criterion at local level.
Rare assessment: The original form of the building was a marked departure from the tropical barrack developed for use in the British colonies and widely used in Australia. The separation of the kitchen, dining and ablutions from the accommodation block and the use of galleries shows the continued influence of widespread belief that disease was spread by foul air in barrack planning. Examples of tropical barracks can be found at the Victoria Barracks and on Garden Island, and both employ cast iron. The retention of the stair and the galleried courtyard (albeit relocated into the adjacent building), both of which are fine examples of their type, shows an approach to the retention of significant fabric that was not in accordance with accepted conservation methodology and practice.The item meets the criterion at State level.
Representative assessment: Unlike the remainder of the block, Royal Naval House and the adjacent Federation Hall retain some evidence of the surviving lot boundaries from the land claims of the 1830s.The item meets the criterion at local level.
Intact assessment: Archaeology partly disturbed
|Australian Theme||NSW Theme||Local Theme|
|Developing local, regional and national economies||Activities relating to buying, selling and exchanging goods and services.|
|Governing||Activities associated with defending places from hostile takeover and occupation.|
|Developing cultural institutions and ways of life||Activities and organisational arrangements for the provision of social activities.|
|Heritage Listing||Listing Title||Listing Number||Gazette Date||Gazette Number||Gazette Page|
|Register of the National Estate||1/12/036/0389||Royal Australian Naval House||21/10/1980||2191|
|National Trust of Australia Register||9575||Royal Naval House||27/02/1978|
|Heritage Act - State Heritage Register||01574||Royal Naval House||10/05/2002||2868||85|
|Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage register||Place Management NSW|
|Within a National Trust conservation area||10499|
|Written||Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority,||1983||Conservation Plan. Sites D5, D6 & D11|
|Management Plan||Orwell & Peter Phillips||2008||Royal Naval House|
|Written||SCRA||1982||Building Data Sheet GE/05|