Statement of SignificanceThe surviving portion of the warehouse at No. 23 George Street North is of State Significance for its technological advances in reinforced concrete construction and as a designed element within a planned townscape. The structure is potentially of national value for these same aspects of significance however there is currently not enough published material or research on the use of early reinforced concrete in Australia to confirm this.The warehouse is one of the earliest buildings to have been constructed of reinforced concrete where the concrete frame is exposed externally and internally and predates the introduction of building regulations in Sydney to permit this type of construction. The reinforced concrete framework appears to have been built on a day labour basis and the detailed design appears to have been by the PWD (rather than a patented systems available in Australia). The carefully designed pattern of the formwork remains evident, a feature usually associated with more modern buildings, thus giving the actual fabric as well as the documentary record a high degree of research potential. No other surviving examples built before 1925 with exposed off form concrete have been located.Associated with the extensive works undertaken by the Public Works Department to realign Cumberland Street from 1912 until 1919, when the street was rededicated York Street North. These works made extensive use of new concrete technologies, including cantilevered parapets, reinforced concrete arches and the frame built to support the northern end of the road (including the garden bed) and form the concrete warehouse. The association of the PWD and Foggitt as designers saw the transfer of engineering techniques and technologies to buildings.Photographs of the garden bed, toilets and warehouse designed by the NSW Housing Board were exhibited at the first Australian conference on Town Planning held in Adelaide in 1917. Although no drawings of the overall scheme have been located, physical evidence of the planned improvements survives. The provision of garden beds associated with the factories and warehousing demonstrates the impact of the international Garden City Movement.The warehouse is an integral part of the unprecedented urban renewal undertaken within the Resumed Area post 1900 by the NSW Government Architect and subsequently the NSW Housing Board. Built to replace condemned buildings elsewhere within the area, the design of the warehouse relied on the change of level provided by Gloucester Walk, with loading bays arranged to access the upper and lower levels, rather than internal circulation. This use of the change in levels was typical of the warehouses in Sydney Cove and dated back to the earliest examples built by Robert Campbell.The palette of materials including the face brickwork and fenestration pattern and details reflects the architectural vocabulary set for the Resumed Area by the NSW Government Architect a decade earlier, which was in turn based on the philosophy of the English Arts and Crafts Movement, particularly the palette of materials employed in the urban renewal undertaken by the London County Council.The Green Ban placed on the Rocks by the BLF in 1971 was first lifted to allow the demolition of part of this warehouse (and the Mercantile Shipping Office above) to make way for the Sirius Apartments erected by the Housing Commission.The building is significant for its research potential into the construction method and the performance of early concrete. Note that further detailed investigation of the rear area/tunnel is needed to establish details of the stone retaining wall and/or cutting, which predate the warehouse, and may be remains of, or reuse stone from, the earlier housing development of the site.
Construction Years: 1915 - 1915
Physical Description: The building's siting is unusual, being located at the corner of George Street and Gloucester Walk and below Cumberland Street. The reinforced concrete structure has been designed not only to support the fabric of the building itself but also the roadway, footpath and garden beds above, all constructed over approximately one metre depth of fill. The building is an example of the Federation Warehouse style, although much smaller in scale than the usual examples. The facade treatment of this small warehouse is also less intricate. The interior has changed very little throughout its lifetime, and changes since the mid 1970s are mostly reversible. The off form reinforced concrete structure is visible in the octagonal columns and haunched beams. The ground floor has been divided into two tenancies, and the southern space has been further divided. The partitions are plasterboard and can be easily removed. The upper floor has been partitioned by a series of mesh screens for storage of materials and equipment. (McDonald McPhee 1991: 12-16)Style: Federation Warehouse; Floor Frame: Originally timber floor over the concrete slab.
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Historic Notes and Themes
Historical notes: NB. Further historical evidence has come to light since the Conservation Management Plan was adopted.The site of the Ajax Building, 23 George Street, was originally part of the land grant made to Captain Henry Waterhouse, godson of Prince Henry, the younger brother of George III. Waterhouse came to the colony as a midshipman of the Sirius on the First Fleet. He was made third lieutenant of the Sirius in 1792, and returned to England temporarily where he was made up to lieutenant. He returned to the colony as commander of the Reliance in 1795 bringing the first merino sheep to Australia. He left permanently in 1800 and leased his grant covering the site to Robert Campbell.Robert Campbell did not build on the land, but the wall he constructed around his grants followed the line of the road to Dawes Point and the battery constructed there. This determined the alignment of the road, later George Street, until the early 20th Century. In the 1820s Campbell built a substantial residence on his land, at Bunkers Hill behind the subject site in Cumberland Street, the house was known as Cumberland Place and was later the residence of David Scott Mitchell.In the 1830s the town leases, grants and permissive occupancies of the past were finally formalised and Robert Russell produced section plans showing the owners of the land. When this piece of land was sold by Campbell and subdivided has not been located at the time of writing, but the area the Ajax Building would eventually cover was subdivided into 9 allotments.The plan covering the subject area does not show any buildings on the site, but contemporary sketches and art works, such as that done by Conrad Martins in 1838, show a pair of 3 storey Georgian townhouses on the site. After building regulations were introduced in Sydney in 1837, town houses of a similar style to the standard four classes of London townhouses began to be built in Sydney, and on Bunkers Hill. The two three storey townhouses were the first built on the subject site, but they were soon followed by others.It is unknown who constructed these town houses, but they were probably built soon after the land was subdivided in the 1830s. In the 1845 Rates Records they are listed as being owned by a 'Trust Company', probably indicating that the owner was not resident in Sydney, or they were deceased. One of the residents of the houses was John Korffe (or Korff), a shipbuilder who arrived in the colony in 1835. In 1847 John Korff had sought refuge in a gale in a port which he called Korff's Harbour. In 1861 the surveyor for the crown accidently changed the name to Coff's by when he reserved land in the area, although the name Korff's was used for many years.By 1848 there were three buildings owned by the 'Trust Company', the pair of three storey townhouses, which had wooden outbuildings to the rear, eventually becoming 3-5 George Street and a third single storey residence with a coach house and stables to the rear, No 1 George St.Further along Gloucester St, Adolphus Young built another three townhouses of three storeys with a basement kitchen, by 1848 he was living in the largest of the houses. These houses were modelled on the second rate London townhouse and may have been designed by John Verge's protégé, John Bibb, who also built the nearby Mariners Church. The change in level between Gloucester and Cumberland Streets was used to build the kitchen basements and allowed entrances on both streets, the servant's being on Gloucester Street. Most of the townhouses built on Bunkers Hill had their main entrance on Cumberland Street so some of the buildings on the subject site had Cumberland Street addresses. Adolphus William Young (1814-1885), merchant and sheriff, migrated to Sydney in 1837 and became a provisional director of the Australian Gaslight Co., third police magistrate, and a justice of the peace. In 1838 he resigned his magistracy and joined the legal firm of Carr & Rogers. Young was appointed sheriff of New South Wales, he was sworn in on 2 July 1843. In 1844 he became a director of the Australasian Colonial and General Life Assurance Co., and was elected to represent the Port Phillip District in the Legislative Council at Sydney. In 1845 he signed a petition to the Queen for the separation of the Port Phillip District from New South Wales. However, he was notified that he could not hold both his seat and his government office, and in July he resigned from the council. With his second wife and children he returned to England in c1850. There he became a justice of the peace, acted as deputy-lieutenant for Berkshire, and in the House of Commons he represented Great Yarmouth in 1857-59, and Helston, Cornwall, in 1868-79. In parliament he showed a keen interest in Australian affairs and provided much encouragement to (Sir) Henry Parkes.In 1848 Adolphus Young was living in the largest of his three houses and the other two were leased. In 1851 William Barton and his family were living in one, including young (Sir) Edmund Barton (1849-1920), who would become Australia's first Prime Minister and his elder brother George Burnett Barton (1836-1901), lawyer, journalist and historian. Both men have entries in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.The other house was occupied in 1853 by Professor Morris Birkbeck Pell, (1827-1879), the first professor of Mathematics and Natural History at the University of Sydney. Pell moved in there soon after arriving in Sydney to take up his post at the newly opened University.The first sewer plan probably produced in 1857 or soon after when the sewer was laid on in Sydney, shows that another townhouse was constructed to the north of Young's buildings and the land was vacant between it and 1-5 George Street. This is confirmed by the Blackwood's 1858 panorama. This house, known originally as No 18 Cumberland Street, later 19 Gloucester Street, was built as an investment by John Purchase, no evidence that he or his family lived there has been found. The John Purchase Public School at Purchase Road Cherrybrook is named after him. In 1873 the Mercantile Rowing Club was formed by warehousemen and merchant's clerks following the establishment of the first rowing club, the Sydney Rowing Club, the Mercantile's first patron was the Governor of New South Wales, Sir Hercules Robinson. The Mercantile built their boat shed at Campbells Cove, opposite the Sydney Rowing Club's shed at Bennelong Point. The Mercantile Rowing Club Hotel was constructed on the subject site in 1878, and the George Street end of Gloucester Street, next to 1-5 George Street. Its address was No 1 Gloucester Street and another house was constructed beside it by 1888, No 3 Gloucester Street. When the site was resumed both the residence and hotel were owned by Bernard Byrnes, a shipowner and city coal merchant who used his vessels to transport coal from Newcastle. The hotel remained on this site until 1914 when a new hotel was constructed on the eastern side of Gloucester Street facing George Street, this hotel still exists and trades under the name of the Mercantile Hotel.By the time Percy Dove produced his detailed pans of Sydney in 1880, two rows of tiny terraces had been constructed at 4-18 Cumberland Street and directly in front of them at 5-17 Gloucester Street, probably by Auguste Wenck a builder living at No 16 Cumberland Street. The 1882 Rates Records lists Sarah Wencks as the owner living at 16 Cumberland Street. When these terraces were resumed they were part of the bankrupt estate of Charles John Royle, who also owned 1-5 George Street. Royle was a businessman living in Randwick, he founded the company Royle & Co, who were general agents for a number of fire insurance companies, steel and iron companies and foundries from the Australasian Region and the United Kingdom. By the end of the 19th century the status of Bunkers Hill and the area had declined and wealthier people had moved out to the suburbs, leaving only the working class. Royle was only one of many landlords of The Rocks who owned several rental properties but did not live in the area. The terraces owned by Royle were so small that Lionel Lindsay named them the 'Rabbit Hutches' in his sketch of them.The lot between the Mercantile Hotel and Royle's terraces was owned by the Catholic Church, however it was not built upon. The Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart had a church, presbytery, school and convent at the end of Cumberland Street, directly behind the site. This order, founded by (now Saint) Sister Mary MacKillop was begun for the education of poor children in South Australia in 1866 and expanded throughout the colonies. The Cumberland Street establishment was set up in 1881 and Sister Mary worked there for six months from 1882-83 but was a frequent visitor until the area was resumed and they moved to North Sydney. The sisters were known as Josephites, or 'brown joeys' and as well as education they also provided assistance to women and girls.Shortly after the plague broke out in 1900 it was decided to resume the entire Rocks area. All the buildings on the site were eventually demolished. The Mercantile Hotel moved to new premises across the road in George St in 1914. By 1905 the area was known as the Observatory Hill Resumed Lands and was administered by the Sydney Harbour Trust. All the buildings to be demolished were photographed and architectural plans made of them.Cumberland, Gloucester and George Streets were realigned at their intersections and a new staircase, garden beds and toilets were constructed from Cumberland to George Streets. Cumberland Street's name was changed to York Street North at about this time. At Gloucester Street a new retaining wall and steps were built from George Street. The subject building, a concrete warehouse was built as part of these reconstruction works from 1912-15. The façade of the new building was designed by William Henry Foggitt of the recently formed NSW Housing Board in early 1915. The concrete framework of the warehouse was in progress by mid 1914 and the outline of the completed building appears on a drawing of the public latrines, steps and walling at the intersection of York Street North and George Street dated 13 March 1915. In January 1915 the Sydney Morning Herald reported:'The first building in Sydney, constructed entirely of reinforced concrete, has been erected by the Public Works Department. The building is a warehouse at the corner of George and Gloucester Streets in The Rocks area.'Foggitt's drawings of a 'concrete warehouse, Gloucester and Cumberland St, by William Henry Foggitt, the architect to the Housing Board, detail the brick infill. In their annual report for 1917-18 the Housing Board noted that:'The space under the northern end of the newly formed York Street North (this street being on the high level) was utilised for the purpose of constructing a warehouse which the board was enabled to let under lease at a satisfactory rental. As a matter of interest it may be stated that this is the first building to be erected in reinforced concrete construction.'The architectural drawings prepared by the Housing Board show that the initial design of the warehouse was altered and an office building built on the top at the southern end of the building. The date of construction has not been determined however the building is in place before the construction work started on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. A garden bed was established on the roof at the northern end of the building, adjacent to the recently completed staircase down to George Street North. This upper level office was occupied by the Mercantile Shipping Office (sometimes referred to as the Government Shipping Office). The Mercantile Marine Office occupied 2-12 York Street North and the Lighthouse Service was located in 14 York Street.The warehouse below, 1 - 11 Gloucester Street, was occupied by J. Tylor & Sons in 1921. In 1921 and are still listed in the rate books in 1930 and again in 1939. From around 1925-1926 part of the warehouse was occupied by as a bulk store by Young and Stewart, Cordial Manufacturers. Wy-an-Ess was the firm's main product and it was advertised as being a 'pure fruit cordial' and painted on the façade of the building. Although the first Sands directory listing for the Cordial works (1926) is for their bulk store, some cordial manufacturing occurred at the premises. In March 1928 Young and Stewart advertised for a girl, aged 17-18 'for pulping fruit'. Young and Stewart were still there shortly after World War 2. Their address, as advertised on their delivery trucks, was 1 Gloucester Street. However, the 1930 rate books still list Tylors; there is no listing for Young and Stewart.With the creation of the Maritime Services Board in 1936 many of the properties within the Observatory Hill Resumed Area were transferred to the Board's control. By 1948 the occupier of the warehouse at 1 - 11 Gloucester Street was F. H. Stephens Pty Ltd, Shipping Agents. The occupiers at the York Street level are not listed however No. 2-12 was still listed as an office and No. 14 as a store. In February 1957 Standard Electronic Apparatus Laboratories Pty Ltd and Affiliated Television Services put in an application to use the ground floor of the building for the assembly, servicing and storage of electronic equipment. In 1969 F S Glennon put in a DA to use both 1-11 Gloucester Street and 2-12 York Street North to store ceramic tiles.In 1970 the properties within The Rocks were transferred to the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority. The Maritime Services Board continued to manage the residential properties in Millers and Dawes Point. The proposal to demolish buildings in the Rocks area and build high rise buildings resulted in a green ban being imposed by the BLF in December 1971 as the residents did not want to leave the area and did not believe they could afford the rents to stay.A compromise was eventually negotiated resulted in the construction of a large block of public housing known as the Sirius Apartments designed by architect Tao Gofers and built by the NSW Housing Commission. In addition to the demolition of Rowans Bond, the southern half of the warehouse built by the Housing Board, including the former shipping office, was demolished.The tenants of No 1 - 11 Gloucester Street were asked to vacate by July 1975, the green ban having been lifted the month before, allowing the construction of the Sirius Appartments to proceed. Repairs were undertaken to Gloucester Walk in 1979 and the first tenants of the new housing block moved in during 1980.During the construction works State Fisheries continued to occupy the building on the ground floor of the warehouse, prior to their relocation to Cronulla in 1985. It is not known when the State Fisheries moved in.In late 1985 SCRA leased the building to the Ajax Electrical Company. Ajax Electrical had been in The Rocks area for some years and stayed in the building until 1989. The Federal Electrical Company also took up part of the premises in 1985. Dukes Painting Service were listed as occupying 'storage bay 2', No. 7 Gloucester Walk from 1987 until June 1992. These contractors undertook maintenance works for SCRA.A Conservation Plan for No 23 George Street was prepared for SHFA in 1991 which included an engineering heritage assessment and engineering advice recommending only short term occupation prior to demolition. The existing tenants were given notice to vacate by September 1991. To lessen the live loads of vehicles on the structure the roadway above was realigned in 1992 and the garden bed and some fill removed. The warehouse was then used as a storage area for The Rocks markets. An engineering investigation and report by Northrop in 2009 assessed the structure as being sound. This was followed by heritage advice from Godden Mackay Logan recommending adaptive reuse of the building. At the time of writing no other works have occurred and the building is still used as storage by the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority.
Historical significance: The warehouse is an integral part of the unprecedented urban renewal undertaken within the Resumed Area post 1900 by the NSW Government Architect and subsequently the NSW Housing Board. Associated with the extensive works undertaken by the Public Works Department to realign Cumberland Street from 1912 until 1919, when the street was rededicated as York Street North. These works made extensive use of new concrete technologies, including cantilevered parapets, the reinforced concrete bridge arch over Argyle Street and the reinforced concrete frame built to support the northern end of the road (including the garden bed).
Historical association: The demolition of the southern section of the building was the first lifting of the Green Ban imposed by the BLF, and was to allow for the construction of the Housing Commission Block Sirius.
Aesthetic significance: The palette of materials reflects the architectural vocabulary set for the Resumed Area by the NSW Government Architect a decade earlier, which was in turn based on the philosophy of the English Arts and Crafts Movement, particularly the palette of materials employed in the urban renewal undertaken by the London County Council. The use of exposed off form concrete demonstrates a high degree of creative and technical achievement and is believed to be a seminal work. The building is part of the George St Nth and Gloucester Walk streetscape.
Social significance: The Ajax Building has social significance as part of the Rocks Conservation Area, it contributes as part of a place that has special meaning for the residents and visitors to Sydney alike.The building has had a series of uses, most recently in association with the day to day running of The Rocks Markets.
Research significance: The warehouse is one of the earliest buildings to have been constructed of reinforced concrete where the concrete frame is exposed externally and internally and predates the introduction of building regulations in Sydney to permit this type of construction. The research potential is of national as well as state significance. The reinforced concrete framework appears to have been built on a day labour basis and the detailed design appears to have been by the PWD (rather than using one of the patented systems available in Australia). The pattern of the formwork remains evident, a feature usually associated with more modern buildings.
Rare assessment: The warehouse is part of one of the earliest attempts at town planning in Australia. Photographs of the garden bed, toilets and warehouse designed by the NSW Housing Board and an overall view from the chimney of the Mining Museum were exhibited at the first Australian conference on Town Planning held in Adelaide in 1917. Although no drawings of the overall scheme have been located, physical evidence of the planned improvements survive, which included the provision of garden beds associated with the factories and warehousing that demonstrate the impact of the international Garden City Movement and the newly emerging discipline of town planning.
Representative assessment: Built to replace condemned buildings elsewhere within the area, the design of the warehouse relied on the change of level provided by Gloucester Walk, with loading bays arranged to access the upper and lower levels, rather than internal circulation. This use of the change in levels was typical of the warehouses in Sydney Cove and dated back to the earliest examples built by Robert Campbell.
Intact assessment: The building is intact with some internal alterations, mostly reversible.Potential archaeological resource.
Physical condition: Tests to the concrete in 1991 indicated that the structural properties of the concrete structure are far below accepted standards for reinforced or massed concrete and gave rise to serious concerns. Archaeological Assessment Condition: Mostly disturbed. Assessment Basis: Excavated under Cumberland Street from Gloucester Street level.
|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|
|Within a conservation area on an LEP|
|Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage register||Place Management NSW|