Statement of SignificanceArgyle Cut is of State heritage significance for historical, technological and scientific reasons, and of local significance for The Rocks and Sydney area for social, aesthetic and reasons of rarity.The Argyle Cut demonstrates the changing labour market in Sydney in the 19th Century.It has associations with convict labour and the acceptance of responsibility of urban growth and public works by the Sydney Council. Argyle Cut has historical significance as an early east-west route across The Rocks, as an imposing example of convict public works, and as evidence (in its ongoing changes, crossings and widening) of improvements in the provision of access and infrastructure, including the work of the Sydney Harbour Trust and that for the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and its approaches. It has aesthetic significance with the deep cutting providing a dramatic feature in Argyle Street.It has been ranked along with Busby's Bore and the building of Circular Quay Station as one of the most impressive engineering feats in early Sydney and NSW.The Argyle Cut has social significance as an important feature in The Rocks conservation area, and contributes strongly to the character of The Rocks.The Argyle Cut has research potential for its association with town planning and street and urban development in early Sydney, and with the ongoing development of transportation systems within the city. The Argyle Cut is a rare example of early responses to the geographical difficulties presented to urban growth.
Road cutting, roadway
Road cutting, roadway
Transport - Land
Builder/Maker: Part convict and part council labour
Construction Years: 1843 - 1868
Physical Description: The Argyle Cut is a deep rock cutting giving a direct connection between Millers Point and the Rocks. It is covered by two bridges, the Cumberland St bridge of c1911 and the Bradfield Highway c 1930. On the wall of the Argyle Cut is an inscription that refers to the completion of the overhead bridges: completed 1867-1868, by Sydney Municipal Council, Charles Moore, mayor.
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Historic Notes and Themes
Historical notes: The ridge upon which the Military Hospital (now the National Trust Centre) and Fort Philip were erected provided a natural barrier between Sydney Cove and Darling Harbour. Calls for a more direct east-west route can be traced back to as early as 1804. Although by 1810 a number of the streets in The Rocks had been officially named, plans to layout a regular street grid continued to be hampered by the uneven sandstone terrain. In its original configuration Argyle Street had two distinct halves, Upper and Lower Argyle Street, separated by stairs cut into the living rock. Gloucester Street originally curved, following the top of the cliff. Part of this early alignment, and the cliff face, survives to Gloucester Walk at the rear of the Argyle Stores. A plan of Argyle Street showing the carriageways and footways prepared in December 1834 shows the location of the cliff face. For decades a more direct route between the two main wharf areas of Port Jackson was sought, to allow goods for export such as wool to be transferred from the coastal vessels that used Darling Harbour to the overseas-bound vessels that tied up at Circular Quay. Alexander Berry sought permission to make a cutting and establish a toll road as a commercial venture, however Governor Bourke determined that the ambitious project was to be undertaken by the Colonial Government rather than privately. It was not however the Colonial Architect Ambrose Hallen who designed the Argyle Cut, rather the original design was by his architect brother Edward Hallen who had recently arrived from England. Hallen's ambitious plan for the 'intended communication from Argyle Street to Darling Harbour' was prepared in 1832. His watercoloured drawings survive, showing pedestrian bridges to Princes Street and Cumberland Street and flights of stairs to either side of the cutting connecting each of the upper streets. His elegant symmetrical composition was not built as designed. James Maclehose's Picture of Sydney and Stranger's Guide in NSW for 1839 described Argyle Street in detail, indicating that the construction had not yet commenced:'Argyle Street consists of two parts, that to the westward intersection Fort, Prince, Cumberland and Gloucester Streets, and is called Upper (or West) Argyle Street, and is upwards of 400 ft in length; while the division on the east which passes from Harrington Street to George Street is called Lower (or East) Argyle Street; this section being about the same length as the upper part. These two divisions are separated from each other by a precipice of considerable height There appears to have been at one time a series of steps cut in the rock, so as to render the communication between the upper and lower divisions of the street available to pedestrians; but these have of late years become greatly dilapidated, and are, in fact, dangerous to ascend.'The steps Maclehose is referring to were located beside the Argyle Bond Stores and can be seen in sketches dating from the 1850s.The cutting of the sandstone commenced circa 1843, undertaken by chain gangs of convicts. The difficult construction work soon proved beyond the capability of the enforced labour force. Transportation to the colony had officially ceased and the sight of chain gangs working in what was essentially a residential area offended the local population, many of whom sought to forget their convict origins. Spoil from the construction of the cut was used to form the semi-circular quay and infill the swampy mouth of the Tank Stream. The excavation was abandoned prior to completion, however a lithograph by Frederick Charles Terry dating from 1853 shows sandstone still being quarried in substantial blocks from the cutting. In the foreground the timber bridge connecting the northern and southern sections of Gloucester Street can be seen. The first Princes Street Bridge, with its timber arch centring still in place, can be also seen. The cut would have been traversable on foot and probably on horseback but not by carriage. George Paton, of Kent Street, was using stone obtained from the east end of the Argyle Cut for kerbing Sydney's streets in 1845. Changes were made to the level of Argyle Street were made during the 1840s, evidenced by the bricked up windows in the Argyle Stores.The newly formed Sydney Municipal Council proposed works to the Argyle Cut however it would be another decade before the excavation was complete. In the interim gas lighting was installed through the unfinished cut, the installation of which was carried out during 1854. After complaints about the incomplete state of Argyle Street, the Sydney Municipal Council finally completed the excavation in the late 1850s, reputedly using the technique of blasting which had been recently introduced to NSW to speed up the construction of the dry dock on Cockatoo Island. The newly completed Argyle Cut can be seen in a view by Samuel Thomas Gill, as can the timber bridges to Gloucester and Cumberland Street and the masonry bridge to Princes Street (the arch centring having removed). Almost immediately the Cumberland Street Bridge required repairs to its fencing.More substantial sandstone bridges were constructed during the 1860s commencing with the Gloucester Street Bridge in 1862, the Cumberland Street Bridge in 1864 and the Princes Street Bridge in 1867-68. These bridges have been demolished, the Cumberland and Gloucester Street Bridges circa 1910 and the Princes Street Bridge during the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The stairs cut into the rock face at the south-western corner of the Argyle Stores were removed in 1855. New sandstone stairs were constructed at the southern end of the new Gloucester Street Bridge connecting Cambridge Street and Argyle Street with Gloucester Street above. These stairs, which appear in many photographs of the area, were named for a prominent local landowner and businessman, Thomas Playfair.Nineteenth-century views show that both sides of the cut were uneven, with a narrow pavement on the southern side below the Princes Street Bridge. Pedestrians and horses and carts shared the roadway. The uneven alignment of the Cut was partly due to the irregular land parcels on the ridge above, a number of substantial buildings had been constructed whilst the cut was still being excavated, making an even alignment impossible.For many years the exposed section of rock face between the entrance to the cut and the Argyle Stores was painted with signs advertising the Argyle Bond. A urinal was erected under the Gloucester Street Bridge.The Argyle Cut was notorious during the nineteenth-century, the cut and the lanes and stairs of The Rocks were the turf of local gangs such as the Argyle Push. The gang was named for its area of control. Illustrations of the cut and the Gloucester Street Bridge appeared in a lithograph entitled Small Pox in Sydney, Some Fever Haunts sketched during the small pox epidemic in 1881. During the mid-1880s the Argyle Cut was fenced with 'wrought iron fencing' manufactured at the Victoria Foundry. The City Engineers Department had prepared a standard plan for the wrought iron guard railing in December 1885. The series of photographs taken during the construction of the approaches to the Sydney Harbour Bridge show a stepped brick wall with a sandstone coping forming a parapet to the Cut between Cumberland and Princes Street and a palisade fence with a sandstone base west of Princes Street. All of the nineteenth-century parapets and railings to the Argyle Cut have disappeared.It was not until after the resumption of The Rocks and Millers Point in December 1900 that an attempt was made to rationalise the uneven building alignments and the series of bridges over the Argyle Cut. The City Improvement Board prepared plans to regularise all of the streets in The Rocks. The Argyle Cut was to be retained, however it was to be widened to 70ft (approx. 21m) and the irregular walls were to be straightened. This realignment did not occur until 1931, after the completion of the southern approach to the Sydney Harbour Bridge.The Town Clerk, J. M. Forde, compiled historical information regarding a number of historic sites in the city, including the Argyle Cut. His series of articles on 'Old Sydney' struck a chord with many Sydneysiders. Artists including Lionel Lindsay and Sydney Ure Smith and the photographer Harold Cazneaux sought to record the areas of the city that the Public Works Department had proposed for urban renewal. The Argyle Cut was a popular scene and numerous sketches, paintings and photographs survive. During the construction of the approaches to the Sydney Harbour Bridges Sydney's artists once again sketched and painted vanishing Sydney.Although the Argyle Cut looked picturesque in the artist's sketches, sanitary improvements and the planned urban renewal that followed on from the 1900 outbreak of the plague were slow in coming. Locals complained that the cavities in the rock wall of the Cut were being used to dump rubbish, and that the refuse was attracting rats. The cavities in the rock wall of the Cut survived until the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and can be seen in the record photographs. Further complaints resulted in the City Cleansing Inspector agreeing that the walls of the Cut should be cleaned.Excavations were undertaken by the Public Works Department to regularise the alignment of the cut in the second half of 1912. This work appears to have occurred below the proposed new re-inforced concrete arched bridge. The demolition of the Cumberland and Gloucester Street Bridges is likely to have occurred in late 1912 or early 1913. Photographs of the adjacent buildings that were also demolished can be found in the Sydney City Council Demolition books. The first stage of the excavation was complete by January 1913 and the construction of the timber arch centring began for the new bridge.The Playfair Stairs that connected Gloucester and Cambridge Street were also demolished, as was part of View Terrace to the south. The urinal beneath the Gloucester Street Bridge was relocated in 1912 and again when the construction of the approaches began. The reinforced concrete arch bridge to Cumberland Street was substantially completed by June 1914 when it was photographed. In its original configuration the arch was open. In addition to the new bridge a new set of steps, the Argyle Stairs, was constructed to link Argyle Street with Gloucester Street (Gloucester Walk) and Cumberland Street. A rendered archway with a keystone and voussoirs marked the entrance to the steps, which were constructed up the cliff face to the original level of Gloucester Street, with a second flight leading up to the newly levelled Cumberland Street. The detailed block plans of the area prepared in 1901 clearly show the position of the steps beside the southern wall of the Argyle Cut. There are no steps beside the Argyle Stores and there is no documentary evidence to substantiate the claim that the Argyle Steps were hand cut by convicts in 1815 or 1818 (depending on which guide book you read). The original stairs had vanished by the mid 1850s.During the construction of the Southern Approach to the Sydney Harbour Bridge the Argyle Cut was widened and the walls straightened, creating an even footpath to both sides. The living rock through which the Cut was made remains evident. The sequence of photographs of the construction of the Southern Approach show that the re-alignment, including the demolition of the Princes Street Bridge, was undertaken in 1931 once the approach had been substantially completed. The stone tablet recording the date of construction of the Princes Street Bridge and the name of the incumbent mayor of Sydney, Charles Moore, the mayor of Sydney in 1867-68, was salvaged. In 1937 it was proposed that the plaque be relocated to Dawes Point Park. In the 1960s requests were made for the plaque from the Princes Street Bridge to be embedded into the south wall of the Argyle cut. A second, smaller plaque also mounted in the wall of the Cut is now unreadable. Princes Street vanished entirely during the construction of the approaches to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Today the Argyle Cut largely retains its 1930s alignment.
Historical significance: Argyle Cut has historical significance as an early east-west route across The Rocks, as an imposing example of convict public works, and as evidence, in its ongoing changes, crossings and widenings, of improvements in the provision of access and infrastructure, including the work of the Sydney Harbour Trust and that for the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and its approaches. It has aesthetic significance with the deep cutting providing a dramatic feature in Argyle Street.It has been ranked along with Busby's Bore and the building of Circular Quay as one of the most impressive engineering feats in early Sydney.Argyle Cut meets this criterion on State level.
Historical association: The Argyle Cut has significance in that it is identified with the changing labour market in Sydney. It has associations with convict labour and the acceptance of responsibility of urban growth and public works by the Sydney Council.Argyle Cut meets this criterion on local level.
Aesthetic significance: It has been ranked along with Busby's Bore and the building of Circular Quay as one of the most impressive engineering feats in early Sydney. It has aesthetic significance with the deep cutting providing a dramatic feature in Argyle Street.Argyle Cut meets this criterion on State level.
Social significance: The Argyle Cut has social significance as an important feature in The Rocks conservation area, and contributes strongly to the character of The Rocks. The Argyle cut is held in high esteem as indicated by its listings on the National Trust register and the Register of National estate, and thus is recognised by an identifiable group and has importance to the broader community.The Argyle Cut has significance from the links it derives with and support function associated with the development of a society in which it has sat for more than 150 years.Argyle Cut meets this criterion on local level.
Research significance: The Argyle Cut has research potential for its association with town planning and street and urban development in early Sydney, and with the ongoing development of transportation systems within the city.Argyle Cut meets this criterion on State level.
Rare assessment: The Argyle Cut is a rare example of early responses to the geographical difficulties presented to urban growth. The large spine of rock which cut the area into two was a barrier to the ease of transportation between two important and growing maritime and mercantile precincts.Argyle Cut meets this criterion on State level.
Intact assessment: Archaeology: Partly Disturbed
Physical condition: Archaeology Assessment Condition: Partly Disturbed
|Australian Theme||NSW Theme||Local Theme|
|Building settlements, towns and cities||Activities associated with creating, planning and managing urban functions, landscapes and lifestyles in towns, suburbs and villages.|
|Developing local, regional and national economies||Activities associated with the moving of people and goods from one place to another, and systems for the provision of such movements.|
|Peopling the continent||Activities relating to incarceration, transport, reform, accommodation and working during the convict period in NSW (1788-1850) - does not include activities associated with the conviction of persons in NSW that are unrelated to the imperial 'convict system': use the theme of Law & Order for such activities.|
|Heritage Listing||Listing Title||Listing Number||Gazette Date||Gazette Number||Gazette Page|
|Heritage Act - State Heritage Register||01523||Argyle Cut||10/05/2002||2867||85|
|Register of the National Estate||2117 - 1/12/036/0316||Argyle Cut & Argyle St Space||31/03/1978|
|National Trust of Australia Register||6640||Argyle Cut & Argyle St Space||14/12/1973|
|Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage register||Place Management NSW|
|Within a National Trust conservation area||10499|