Statement of SignificanceArgyle Stores is of historical, social, archaeological and aesthetic significance as part of The Rocks and to NSW generally. The place a rare example of a very early (1820s) commercial building in Sydney, and is partly comprised of building fabric dating to this original construction which is of high research significance. The courtyard, opened to the public as part of the 1970s conservation works to the place, which have become an icon of the late 20th century conservation movement, is a public urban space of rare quality, and the overall complex makes an important contribution to the visual character of The Rocks, particularly the streetscape of Argyle Street and views afforded from Gloucester Walk. The evolution of Argyle Stores provides evidence of commercial and warehouse development in The Rocks precinct, the centre of Sydney's 19th century maritime trade. Part of the place (Element N) is historically significant, in particular, as the earliest surviving building used (1830-1850) as a Customs House in Australia.
Function Rooms, Bar, Restaurants, Offices
Custom House; Bonded & Free Stores Residence; Arts & Craft Centre ; Studio;Department Store
Retail and Wholesale
Other - Retail & Wholesale
Construction Years: 1826 - 1878
Physical Description: The original building on the site was a simple Georgian sandstone building roofed with slates, the first use of this roofing material in the colony. The numerous brick Victorian additions were made in the 19th century during various ownerships. Under the buildings solid sandstone cellars are covered by massive hand hewn timber beams whilst upper floors are in heavy timber post and beam construction. The roofs are simple hipped forms, now sheeted with corrugated iron. The courtyard is entered via passageways whose entrances are surrounded by articulated sandstone arches and quoins whilst the brick walls and pilasters to the streets are stuccoed.(Sheedy 1976)Note: This building contains a hydraulic hoist which is an important item located within the building.Style: Georgian; Colonial; Classical; Victorian Warehouse; Art Nouveau Chicago.Storeys: 3,4 plus basement.Façade - Stone; Floor Frame - Timber; Roof Frame - Timber; Roof Cladding: Galvanised Iron
|Lot/Volume Number||Section Number||Plan Folio Code||Plan Folio Number|
Historic Notes and Themes
Historical notes: The land on which Argyle Stores now stands was originally part of the grounds of Sydney's first hospital, established in 1788 on what is now George Street. The hospital included a residence for the Surgeon-General, as well as extensive herb and vegetable gardens which covered the slope west of the hospital and over the site of the Argyle Stores.When the hospital was relocated to Macquarie Street in 1816, the Surgeon General's residence was used to accommodate the Naval Officer, who at that time was Captain John Piper, a military officer who owned considerable land in Sydney, Bathurst and Van Diemen's Land. Piper, whose duties as Naval Officer included the collection of customs and taxes on imports, as well as arrivals and departures in the port, occupied the former Surgeon-General's residence until the mid-1820s, by which time the building had become dilapidated.In 1826, construction began on a new house and office for Captain Piper, on the present Argyle Stores site, which had been promised to him in 1822. The Sydney Gazette reported that Piper had employed '20 to 30 mechanics and labourers' to erect the house, which appeared from the plans to be 'one of the most elegant and capacious buildings in our metropolis.'The building, which is now part of the east wing of the current stores, was only partially built in 1827 when Piper was suspended from office for mismanagement of customs collection, following an inquiry into his administration and the discovery of a deficiency of £12,000. Piper had only just gained title to the allotment in June 1828 when his professional and financial situation forced him to sell it, along with its incomplete building. The purchaser, Mary Reibey, sold it five months later to Frederick Wright Unwin, along with other property at George Street that Piper had been compelled to sell.Trained as a solicitor in England, Unwin arrived at Sydney on the Elizabeth in 1827 and was admitted to the Australian Bar later that year. Unwin quickly earned a reputation for questionable business dealings and for associating with 'the most worthless persons in theColony'. After his marriage in 1831 he established himself at Cook's River, near Tempe, where he is commemorated in the name of Unwin's Bridge Road, a reference to the bridge he had built across the river's banks to connect the two portions of his property. By the time of his death in 1852 he had erected several buildings at The Rocks, which include the present Unwin's Stores on George Street. In the bill of sale Reibey advertised the property and its unfinished house separately, as land, bricks, timber and stone, but Unwin purchased the lot with a view to completing the building, and late in 1828 employed builder and architect Henry Cooper for the purpose. Cooper, advertised in the Sydney Gazette as 'a gentleman eminent in his profession as architect', had worked extensively as an architect and builder in London and continued a successful practice in the colony after his arrival in 1825, erecting several large buildings before his death in the early 1830s.By late 1829, Unwin had arranged to lease the building, once complete, to the colonial Customs Department to provide expedient and economical temporary accommodation for the Customs House. In October that year, a newspaper advertised that the 'eligible and extensive cellars of the building about to be occupied by HM Customs' were ready for occupation and open to applications from prospective lessees. These 'new bonded stores' had been approved and licensed specifically for 'the warehousing of spirits and tobacco allowed to be bonded for Duty to the Crown'.By March 1830, the 'New Custom House' was complete, though its completion had not been without difficulties. The Sydney Gazette reported that 'clumsy workmen' had built the gable end of the Custom House so poorly that Unwin had to have it rebuilt; however, the replacement was an improvement on the original that 'added greatly to the elegance of his building.' Its first tenants, the Customs Department, leased a portion of Unwin's building from April 1830. In 1831, financial difficulty forced Unwin to liquidate the property, including the building and its grounds. In October that year Samuel Terry, one of Unwin's clients, bought it for £6,200. Terry, an English labourer who had been convicted of the theft and transported to Australia in 1801, became an innkeeper in Sydney when his sentence expired and went on to become probably the wealthiest landowner in the colony. It is possible that the northern extension to the Customs House building, complete by 1835, was built during Terry's ownership, although there is no documentary evidence of this. It was also during Terry's ownership that the bonded stores suffered the first of many robberies when one William Smart stole six kegs of tobacco from the warehouses in January 1834.In 1838, the land north of the stores site, later to become the site of the Cleland Bond Store, was granted to William Carr and George John Rogers, of the legal firm Carr and Rogers. The same year, Samuel Terry died. By 1839, Unwin had managed to buy back, from Terry's trustees, the land and buildings he had sold seven years earlier.Shortly after Unwin regained ownership of the stores, building began on what were soon known as 'Unwin's Bonded Stores', and by the early 1840s, the present perimeter of the Argyle Stores complex had been defined. From 1840 to 1841, additional buildings, comprising four floors in stone with slate roofs, were erected to the north, south and west of the Customs House. Upon the completion of the new buildings, Unwin leased the two northernmost stores adjoining Customs House to Henry Fisher. Fisher, a prosperous wine merchant who leased a shop in George Street and a substantial house and gardens in Cumberland (or Princes) Street, had operated his business from the Customs House since the mid-1830s.In 1842, Piper's original grant, including the land in the study area, was subdivided. Unwin sold some of the subdivided land and used the proceeds to discharge earlier mortgages on Customs House and the Bond Stores.By 1845, when the City of Sydney Council undertook its first rate assessments, the tenants of Unwin's Stores included HM Government's Customs Department, who leased office, store and cellar space; merchant Samuel Thompson, reported to have leased a 'house'; Ben Boyd, who had recently established the Australian Wool Company and probably leased the space for wool storage; magistrate Alexander Berry, who leased an office (or 'counting house') and wine cellar; and Henry Fisher, who leased the greater portion of the stores. By this time, further (now undocumented) construction, probably an additional floor to the east wing of the stores had occurred. Also in 1845, a new Custom House began operation at Circular Quay, although the Customs Department did not vacate their premises at the bonded stores until 1850.In 1852, Unwin died, and his property was held in trust. The bonded stores were purchased in 1853 by William Brown and sold three months later in 1854 to brewers Robert and Edwin Tooth, who placed one-third of the property in trust to Thomas Sutcliffe Mort. By this time, the only occupants at the stores were Alexander Berry, who remained there for another year, and Henry Fisher, who remained until c.1858. From 1858, Robert, Edwin and Frederick Tooth occupied the west and north wings of the stores and shared the east wing with Saunders & Co.Excavation of the Argyle Cut and the construction of the Princes Street Bridge during the 1850s and 1860s resulted in a new road level along Argyle Street which necessitated alterations in the stores' basements, including the bricking up of windows and the raising of the courtyard level.From the 1860s the Argyle Stores complex was most often described as 'bonded and free stores'. The east wing, containing the former Customs House, appears to have remained a bonded store, while other parts of the building were used as free warehouses. By 1861 the Tooth brothers were listed as the owners and sole occupants of Argyle Stores, which comprised 22 rooms over four floors. By 1863 Isaac Ellis Ives, a brewer and later a politician, occupied the stores as manager for Tooth, Mort & Croft, and then for James S. Mitchell from 1865 when Mitchell purchased the property. In 1874, baker Patrick Freehill, who owned and ran a bakehouse in George Street, erected stables on land north of stores site. In 1867, Argyle Stores generated a gross annual income of £1500. Isaac Ellis Ives finally purchased the stores from James Mitchell in 1877. The following year Freehill's stables were demolished.Ives' purchase of the stores was followed by a phase of extensive renovation and alteration, including the demolition of the row of buildings comprising the south wing and construction of a new 3-storey building, fronting Argyle Street, in their place. About 1878, during construction, Ives cut his initials into the archway of the Argyle Street entrance. Renovations to the eastern and western walls of the old Custom House building, including the application of imitation stone render to the original painted brickwork, may also have been undertaken at this time.Around 1880, a galvanised iron store and shed erected between 1868 and 1879 on the courtyard side of the northern wing was demolished, and a new building erected in its place. Again, Ives' initials and the date 1881 were carved into the keystone of the new building. During the 1890s Ives, who served as Mayor of Sydney in 1896 and 1897, mortgaged the property a number of times. He was listed as the only tenant until 1900 when William Fowler, of Sydney Bonded Storage Company, rented part of the stores.In May 1903 the Argyle Stores, like many properties in The Rocks, were resumed by the Government in an attempt to contain an outbreak of bubonic plague in the early 1900s. Ives and two mortgagees were paid a total of £39,514 for the stores by the Crown and the Minister for Public Works. Ives continued to lease the stores from the Crown until 1905, when William Dingle's firm, Dingle & Co Bonded & Free Stores, took over tenancy of the stores.51In 1912 Dingle and Co applied for a lease of the vacant land north of Argyle Stores and in1914 built on it a new warehouse comprising four floors in brick with an iron roof, whichsubsequently became known as Cleland's Bond Stores.In 1933 Dingle & Co went into liquidation and Thomas McMahon took over the lease for use as a bonded and free store. In November 1946, during McMahon's occupation, Argyle Stores suffered 'the biggest bond store robbery for years', with more than £2000 worth of 'newly imported materials and suitings' removed in cases from the stores. The following year another robbery occurred at the Argyle Stores, and two men were accused of breaking in and stealing a pistol, four bottles of whisky, four rolls of dress material, two gallons of rum and four boxes of cigars.By mid-century, Thomas was the proprietor of the Hotel Metropole in Bridge Street, and the lease on Argyle Stores was held by his nephew Sam McMahon, brother of one-time Prime Minister Sir William (Billy) McMahon and part owner of Australian Rum Distillers Pty Ltd, makers of Bundaberg Rum. The rum was delivered in kegs to Sam McMahon at the Argyle Bond Store, where it was bottled and sold. McMahon is credited with having designed the distinctive square bottle and label of Bundaberg Rum in the late 1950s.Sam McMahon continued as exclusive lessee of the east and north wing and parts of the south and west wings, where he ran a popular bar known as the Argyle Cellar in addition to his rum bottling business until 1976. In 1967 the Argyle Tavern was established in the south wing, while sections of the south and east wings were sub-let and converted for use as offices over the next two years. In 1969, work began on the creation of the Argyle Arts Centre, a self-funded organisation providing workshop and retail space for artists and craftspeople. Refurbishment and refitting of Argyle Stores for this purpose was undertaken with a view to preserving the original character of the building. Bitumen laid in the courtyard in 1962 was removed to reveal the underlying cobblestones, and the first-floor fenestrations to the south-eastern façade may also have been opened at this time.The establishment of the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority in 1970 ushered in a new period of planning and development in The Rocks. Initially, the SCRA intended to redevelop the area with high-rise residential and office buildings, and to retain only a handful of historic buildings. However, by the early 1970s, a growing public awareness of the cultural value of historic places and a series of highly visible protests against the Government's proposed scheme forced a shift in the SCRA's approach, towards adaptive reuse, rather than demolition and replacement, of old buildings. This, in combination with the SCRA's imperative to turn The Rocks into a tourist destination, saw a number of old warehouses, including the Argyle, Metcalf, Cleland and Campbell Bond Stores buildings, converted to accommodate specialty shops and restaurants. The Löwenbräu Keller was established in the east wing of the stores in 1976In 1985, the SCRA undertook conservation work on the eastern wall of the east wing. The work included reinstating each of the earliest known finishes to the eastern wing, which documentary evidence suggested had been built in four stages. Lime wash was applied to the sandstone of the bottom floor, lime render to the brickwork on the middle floor, and the existing render to the top floor was repaired and repainted to reflect different stages of construction.In 1989, it was decided that the Argyle Centre, now 20 years old, needed restyling. The SCRA commissioned architects Orwell & Peter Phillips to prepare a conservation plan for Argyle Stores. The plan, produced in March 1990, recommended that 'all buildings and virtually all site works' be conserved, and that the stores should 'continue to be used for limited commercial and retail purposes' and 'exemplify and reflect all significant periods of its development'.In accordance with its mandate to create a tasteful and memorable tourist experience in The Rocks, the SCRA decided to limit Argyle Stores to the exhibition and retail of carefully selected, high-quality Australian designed products. In 1993, architects Alan Jack + Cottier were engaged for a $5.5 million project to refurbish the stores. Work included removing much of the existing 1970s fitout to create more open space and show the impressive scale of the stores. The new fitout, in accordance with the prevailing conservation philosophies of the time, was intended to ensure that the original building fabric and evidence of the construction of the stores were displayed, while any new fabric, fixtures and fittings were concealed or visually unobtrusive.The Argyle Centre was reopened in November 1995. Alterations to the Löwenbräu Keller were undertaken in 2002 and included upgrading services and air-conditioning as well as refurbishing and conserving the basement level by opening significant spaces and exposing the timber and masonry walls.
Historical significance: The Argyle Stores complex is historically significant for its early and ongoing association with commercial trade in Sydney. Containing the earliest surviving building used as a Customs House in Sydney (from 1826; used as Customs House 1830-1850), the subsequent use of the site for bonded warehousing reflects the historical development of The Rocks as Sydney's primary 19th century commercial and maritime district, materially evidenced in the physical fabric of the Argyle Stores complex's various phases of construction. One of the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority's conservation and restoration works of the 1970s to create the Argyle Centre, a popular arts and crafts retail centre, is now seen as an icon of the 1970s conservation movement, and provides evidence of contemporary conservation ethics and ideas.
Historical association: Although owned at various times by a number of individuals prominent in The Rocks in their time, including John Piper, Frederick Unwin, Samuel Terry, and Mary Reibey, these associations are not considered to be special or particularly strong. Part of the place (Element N) is strongly associated with Isaac Ellis Ives (1839-1906), who owned Argyle Stores from 1876 until Government resumption in 1903, and was a member of the NSWLegislative Assembly (1885-1889), and alderman of the City of Sydney (1893-98), serving as mayor between 1896 and 1897.
Aesthetic significance: The size, scale, and prominent position of Argyle Stores in views from Argyle Street andGloucester Walk make the complex an outstanding landmark in the streetscape and visualcharacter of The Rocks precinct. As a result of the 1970s conservation works, thecourtyard has become a historically evocative public urban space of rare quality.
Social significance: The Argyle Stores complex 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 part of The Rocks area, the place is likely to be held in some esteem by individuals and groups who are interested in Sydney's history and heritage.
Research significance: Although the ground levels of Argyle Stores have been changed on several occasions over the 19th and 20th centuries, thus resulting in a low potential of sub-surface archaeological remains, parts of the building fabric itself is of such age (1820s) to yield significant information on the history of development in The Rocks.
Rare assessment: Despite having evolved considerably over time, the Argyle Stores complex is rare in NSW as one of very few commercial buildings dating to the 1820s.
Representative assessment: The 1970s conservation of Argyle Stores was one of the first adaptation programmes to be carried out in New South Wales, later becoming an icon of the preservation movement. The place may be seen as representative of the State government's early efforts at heritage conservation at a time when the field was relatively new in Australia.
Intact assessment: Despite numerous alterations, the buildings retain much of the fabric of their major phases of development and use as commercial stores.
|Australian Theme||NSW Theme||Local Theme|
|Developing local, regional and national economies||Activities relating to buying, selling and exchanging goods and services.|
|Marking the phases of life||Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups.|
|Developing cultural institutions and ways of life||Activities associated with recreation and relaxation.|
|Developing local, regional and national economies||Activities and processes associated with the knowledge or use of mechanical arts and applied sciences.|
|Developing local, regional and national economies||Activities associated with the manufacture, production and distribution of goods.|
|Heritage Listing||Listing Title||Listing Number||Gazette Date||Gazette Number||Gazette Page|
|Register of the National Estate||2183||Argyle Stores||2118|
|National Trust of Australia Register||6639||Argyle Tavern, Argyle Stores||05/04/1976|
|Heritage Act - State Heritage Register||01524||Argyle Stores||10/05/2002||2867||85|
|Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage register||Place Management NSW|
|Within a National Trust conservation area||10499|
|Register of the National Estate||1/12/036/0315||Argyle Precinct||21/10/1980||2116|