Old Pyrmont Cottages
Statement of SignificanceThe Old Pyrmont Cottages, dating from 1879-1895, are of state historical significance for their historical, associational, rarity and representative significance. The cottages have historical significance as a surviving example of inner city working class housing built in vernacular style and used for many decades as rental accommodation. They offer some demonstration of the lifestyle and living arrangements of ordinary people who lived in inner Sydney before the 1970s, which is otherwise rarely documented. From the late 1970s to the early 1990s as part of the 'Pyrmont Squat', one of the longest lived and most well-documented Sydney squats, the Old Pyrmont Cottages were a focus of the Sydney squatter movement and as such, contribute to the history of the urban conservation movement in Australia. The Old Pyrmont Cottages are of state heritage significance for their association with a variety of artistic endeavours by people who lived there or who depicted them, including the Swiss-born artist Sali Herman's 1949 painting, 'Near the Dock', which depicts one of its street facades. The Old Pyrmont Cottages have state significance for their rarity as a surviving example of late 19th century small-scale, working class housing in inner city Sydney, which was once common in Sydney. They are also rare for having been used in the squatting movement of 1970s-1990s and having numerous associations with creative endeavours. The sites retains some moderate archaeological potential for material evidence of late 19th/early 20th century very poor working class domestic life. The cottages are a representative example of the Victorian Georgian vernacular style typical of late 19th century single-story worker's housing (source: SHR record).
Residential buildings (private)
Construction Years: 1879 - 1895
Physical Description: Old Pyrmont Cottages consists of five single storey houses together with their back yards (currently consolidated as a single open space). No 6 Scott Street is a brick house, which has had its rear external wall and an internal wall removed, and a single storey metal clad extension added at the rear, with other internal alterations and additions. No 8 Scott Street, on the corner of Scott and Cross Streets is similar in original form to No 6 and less altered internally. Outbuildings between these two houses have been demolished, and they are now connected by a covered way. Adjoining No 8 Scott Street are two single storey brick cottages, clad in weatherboards, Nos 3-5 Cross Street. Only one original front room at No 5 and two at No 3 survive, with the rear wings and outbuildings demolished and replaced by a single-storey metal clad extension across both former houses. Adjoining No 3 is a single storey weatherboard cottage, No 1 Cross Street, which has had an attic storey added within the original roof volume and is the only building in the group currently used as a dwelling. Nos 3 and 5 Cross Street have been interconnected internally so that together with the extensions they form a united building, used as a community arts facility. The brick privy to No 1 Cross Street survives and marks the north-east corner of the site. All of the buildings (old and new) are roofed in corrugated steel. The land at the rear has been terraced with a series of retaining walls. Internally, where brick walls survive within the brick houses they are mainly plastered and painted, ceilings to original rooms are plasterboard or (in a few cases) lath-and-plaster, and floors are timber boarded, with some surviving areas of original or early boards. The additions have ripple iron linings to walls and ceilings and floors covered with sheet vinyl. Within No 1 Cross Street the wall and ceiling linings are timber boarded except within the bathroom which has sheet linings to walls, and the rear wing which has sheet linings to both walls and ceilings.
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Historic Notes and Themes
Historical notes: Until recently it has been assumed that the original indigenous peoples who inhabited the Pyrmont Peninsula were the Gadigal clan. However recent research suggests that those who lived around Go-mo-ra (Darling Harbour) may have formed a separate clan. Tentatively named the Gomeriagal, this group was listed by Arthur Phillip in 1790 as among "other tribes that live near us." As late as 1830 Absalom West recognised a "Darling Harbour tribe", their territory probably included land around Darling Harbour from Millers Point on the east, and Pyrmont on the west and as far south as Blackwattle Bay.Sparse European settlement and the presence of a good natural spring of fresh water, rock shelters, sandy beaches and good fishing grounds ensured that they continued to use the area until well into the 19th Century. Pyrmont was perceived by the early Europeans as an isolated and unattractive place for colonisation until the second half of the 19th Century, and hence Europeans provided much less disturbance to the local people.Early settlers, oblivious of Indigenous ownership of the land, received land grants from the Crown. The majority of the Pyrmont Peninsula was granted or acquired in the early years of the colony by Surgeon John Harris, with the exception of 55 acres of the point facing Darling Harbour, which was granted to Thomas Jones, a private in the NSW Corps in 1795. He did nothing with this land and sold in within a year to Sergeant Obadiah Ikin. In 1799 Ikin sold the land to John Macarthur, who named it Pyrmont in 1806 after the spa town in Germany allegedly because of the freshwater spring on the western side of the point.Macarthur retained the land at Pyrmont but made no attempt to develop it, except for briefly manufacturing salt and constructing a windmill. After Macarthur's death, his son Edward began clearing the land for a subdivision, the windmill was demolished and Harris St was extended to the estate in 1836. The initial subdivision was placed on the market in 1839-40 and sold well, however when the next lots were released an economic depression had begun and most of these blocks did not sell.Pyrmont proved more attractive to quarrying, waterfront industry and commercial property speculators than those wanting to build large residences. As a consequence, the initial development that took place after the 1840s depression was based primarily around the developing maritime industry and related industrial activities. Pyrmont remained isolated. The continuing rural nature of the adjoining unsubdivided Ultimo Estate retarded easy access, although there was ferry. The first Pyrmont Bridge opened in 1858 and although it provided better access to the city and encouraged the council to improve the streets and water supply, it did not lead to the expected growth and development at the northern end of the peninsula. Growth in the residential population of Pyrmont from the 1850s to the 1870s remained slow and despite shipping activity in Pyrmont Bay and the development of the Darling Harbour goods yards in the 1870s, much of Pyrmont remained underdeveloped until the Colonial Sugar Refinery (CSR) began operations at the foot of Harris St in 1879.The population of the whole Pyrmont peninsula peaked somewhere between the 1891 and 1901 censuses at around 20, 000 people and thereafter it fell as the refinery, woolstores, flourmills and other industrial plant expanded. It reached a low of just under 1, 600 people by the 1981 census when Pyrmont was rapidly being deindustrialised and urban renewal had not begun.The Cross Street/Scott Street Group is part of the block bounded by Harris, Scott, Cross and Bowman Streets. The land is part of the 55 acre grant made to Jones in 1795 and comprise lots 18, 19,20 and 21 of the original subdivision by Edward Macarthur in 1836 and put up for sale in 1839, none of the lots sold. They were leased to George Wigram Allen, in 1854, but he did little with them until the late 1870s. Then he began subleasing the lots to a variety of people who built in response to the general economic buoyancy and in particular to the stimulus provided by the establishment of CSR and the Saunders Quarries. Cross and Young (later Scott) Streets were formally named and numbered by 1879 and the houses began to be rated. Most of the buildings appear to have been constructed in the late 1870s and the last house on the site was No 8 Scott St, which was built in 1895. The range and diversity of the building dates indicates that the sub-leaseholders were developing their leased properties, rather than the landlord building and then leasing.In 1911 ownership of the block was transferred to the Camden Park Estate as part of the Allen family company holdings, where it remained until c1940. The houses remained tenanted but the whole of Pyrmont was under residential strain. Resumptions for railway extensions in 1914 lead to the demolition of houses around the site leaving the northern side of Scott St isolated. Houses on the eastern side of Cross St were demolished in the 1920s and the land remained vacant for decades. By the 1950s most of the housing and commercial buildings in the block were considered decrepit and at the end of their useful life. Houses in Bowman St, the oldest of the group, were demolished and there was pressure to demolish the rest of the houses over the next four decades for industrial uses and then high rise residential. During this time the community came to appreciate the rarity of their vernacular architecture and by the 1980s had come to consider them as having heritage value. The Cross St Group consisting of 109-19 Bowman St, 1-5 Cross St, 42-52 Harris St and 208 Scott St, were recorded by the National Trust and included on their 1982 Register.Throughout the 1980s the group remained under pressure for redevelopment, several schemes were proposed and in 1983 in response to a planned high rise residential development, community concerns were raised about the proposal and its effect on heritage. Objections were raised to the demolition of the housing group and the National Trust, the RAIA and RAPI all supported nomination for the buildings for listing on the Register of National Estate, which occurred in 1998.In 1978 all the tenants had been evicted in the face of the proposed demolition, and then squatters moved in. They remained there until 1994 despite a NSW Supreme Court ruling in favour of their eviction in 1984. The Supreme Court judge however, remarked that he found it distasteful to find against the squatters as in his opinion the current level of social security benefits were 'inadequate for people to live at a level which is above the poverty line' but it was not his role to require council to provide emergency accommodation. A various times City Aldermen and even the State Minister for Housing supported their tenure, using arguments that ranged from heritage issues to concern for housing the city's poor and unemployed in the context of housing shortages in the 1980s. Squatting occurred in many different parts of the city at this time, but the 'squat' at Scott/Cross St was the most tenacious and long lasting. The squatters kept up a level of maintenance and weatherproofing which ensured the survival of the cottages. Several studies were commissioned in the early 1990s, Godden Mackay prepared a conservation plan in 1993 for the City West Development Corporation (CWDC), but this was submitted as a policy document rather than a plan as entrance to the buildings could not be obtained with the squatters still in residence. The squatters were all rehoused in 1994 by the Dept of Housing and the buildings handed over to City West. Another Conservation Plan was prepared by Schwager Brooks in 1994 which drew heavily on the Godden Mackay report. The studies made the point that the cottages housed people employed in the local industries and also those associated with creative endeavours. Artist John Santry (1910-1990) grew up at No 8 Scott St, he illustrated a comic strip, The Conways, published in the Sydney Morning Herald in the 1940s and 50s, he painted much of Pyrmont in decay, including his Point St Pyrmont work of c1965 . Scott Street was also painted in 1946 by Sali Herman (1898-1993). Some of the squatters were also artistic, Toby Zoates (William Arthur Tobin 1946-) lived at 6 Scott St from 1979 to 1990, he wrote and illustrated student newspapers and made films whilst there. His animated film The Thief of Sydney had its first screening at the squat. It was reviewed by Film News as a "dazzling anarchist sci-fi morality play you wouldn't get too many Oz filmmakers who'd choose to world premier at the Pyrmont squats. But then again the film maker is a long time squatter and dedicated outlandish inner city artist and it makes sense." Zoates art work is evident in the political fliers and advertising material that the squatters generated. Other squatters were involved in community based organisations such as the Pyrmont Self-Help Housing Co-operative, and the tongue in cheek Republic of Pyrmont, which argued for secession on the grounds that local taxes were contributing to local destruction. These and other resident action groups were active in gaining support from the churches and trade unions to the concerns of local residents including squatters to the issues involving the redevelopment of Pyrmont. In 1992 the precinct was in the process of being transferred to the CWDC and there was again talk of demolition because of the dilapidated state of the buildings, however all the reports commissioned by the authority argued for retention of what was by then considered to be a culturally significant remnant of 19th Century housing stock.In 1995 a decision was made to sell the housing in the block except for 6 & 8 Scott St and 1-5 Cross St, these were to be leased for a craft centre. The creation of workshops required substantial physical alterations to the interiors and rear sections of the houses and privileged artistic needs over maintaining significant heritage fabric. Conservation work began in 1995 and workshops were constructed but by 1997 a decision was made to build a modern extension connecting four of the five houses, internally the cottages were reconfigured to provide six studios, one residential studio and one communal workshop. The cottages were leased to the not-for-profit Centre for Contemporary Craft (CFCC) for ten years in 1998. The CfCC were unable to fulfil their rental obligations and surrendered the lease in 2002, it was taken up by the Jewellers and Metal Workers Group until 2006. Since that time the group has not been leased and has been used as a short term builders site office and a base for "Culture at Work" a charity organisation providing community workshops with the support of the City of Sydney.
Historical significance: The Old Pyrmont Cottages are of state historical significance as a surviving example of inner city rental properties built in vernacular style using materials to hand. For many decades providing rental accommodation for industrial workers and their families, this cottage group is historically associated with nearby industrial employment on the Pyrmont peninsular. The Old Pyrmont Cottages have historical significance for their demonstration of the history of ordinary people, with fabric that demonstrates something of the lifestyle and living arrangements of the ordinary, working class people who lived in inner Sydney before the 1970s. From the late 1970s, the Old Pyrmont Cottages became one of the longest lived and most well-documented Sydney squats, known as the 'Pyrmont Squat'. These cottages formed a focus for the Sydney squatter movement, and the impulses of social justice and heritage conservation that converged in this movement. Thus, the Old Pyrmont Cottages are significant to the state of NSW for their contribution to the history of the urban conservation movement.
Historical association: The Old Pyrmont Cottages are of state heritage significance for their association with a succession of artists who created works while residing in the cottages and/or included images of the cottages in their works. Swiss-born Sali Herman is the best known of these artists. Herman painted the Scott Street streetscape in his 1949 painting, 'Near the Dock', which is in the collection of the Art Gallery of NSW where it is described as part of Herman's 'catalogue of characteristic views' of 'inner city architecture and life'. Other artists associated with the Old Pyrmont Cottages are John Santry, who grew up there, and Toby Zoates who squatted there for many years. The continued use of the place for a community art centre maintains this association of the cottages with creative endeavour. The cottages are continually building associations with communities of artists via the Culture at Work artist in residency program.
Aesthetic significance: The cottages have local landmark qualities as a group of nineteenth century vernacular weatherboard and brick cottages, small in scale, within an urban environment now dominated by high-rise apartment buildings. It was this simple, nineteenth century, working people's aesthetic which inspired Sali Herman's painting, and the creative endeavours of the squatters, who adapted and decorated the cottages, and the conservationist impulse of those squatters and the diverse set of groups and individuals who supported them and the retention of the cottages into the present
Social significance: The Old Pyrmont Cottages displayed local social significance following the proposals for their redevelopment, which roused an enormous amount of local interest in their future in the early 1990s. Many local community groups in Pyrmont were involved in meetings concerning the future of the block (source: Godden Mackay 1993)
Research significance: The Old Pyrmont Cottages have local heritage significance for their potential to yield information relevant to the construction techniques and materials associated with the most modest dwellings of the c.1880 period. The sites retains some moderate archaeological potential for material evidence of late 19th/early 20th century very poor working class domestic life. The group has the potential to provide an educational and tourism resource for Pyrmont. Its streetscape and small-scale remaining rooms demonstrate something of a way of life once common on the peninsula (source: SHR record)
Rare assessment: The Old Pyrmont Cottages are of state heritage significance as one of the few Sydney squats for which a significant documentary record survives. The cottage group also has significance for NSW for their rarity as a mixed group of cottages, including several weatherboard buildings, and some associated open spaces including night soil lanes and areas that were essential to their functioning in the 19th century (source: SHR record)
Representative assessment: The Old Pyrmont Cottages have state heritage significance as a surviving example of late 19th century small-scale, working class housing in inner city Sydney, built in close proximity to industrial sites that provided work for its inhabitants. Such housing was once common in Sydney but most has been demolished for redevelopment throughout the 20th century. These cottages are a representative example of the Victorian Georgian vernacular style typical of late 19th century single-story worker's housing (source: SHR record).
Intact assessment: The terraces retain their essential fabric, layout and character to demonstrate their heritage significance.
|Australian Theme||NSW Theme||Local Theme|
|Building settlements, towns and cities||Activities associated with the provision of accommodation, and particular types of accommodation ? does not include architectural styles ? use the theme of Creative Endeavour for such activities.|
|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|
|National Trust of Australia Register||6878|
|Register of the National Estate||1/12/036/0714||Terrace Houses, 1-5 Cross St||27/10/1998||100746|
|Regional Environmental Plan||City West||17/11/1995|
|National Trust of Australia Register||7256||25/07/1983|
|Heritage study||6554 1-5 Cross St||Central Sydney||23/02/1990|
|Heritage study||6668 6-8 Scott St||Central Sydney||23/02/1990|
|Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage register||Place Management NSW|
|Register of the National Estate||1/12/036/0713||Houses, 2-8 Scott St||27/10/1998||100745|