Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

New England's built landscape - the towns build their identity

Grand designs: Opened December 1904, Armidale's Richardson's is perhaps the grandest example of the old department stores that form part of the urban streetscape in many New England towns. This is the tenth in my series on New England's built landscape and architecture.

Each town in New England has its own history reflected in that town’s built landscape.

Tamworth, for example, began as two villages, one a private Australian Agricultural Company town, the second a government settlement. That slowed urban growth, as did the locking up of land in the big pastoral runs which impeded farming on the rich Liverpool Plains. It wasn’t until the Great Northern Railway reached Tamworth in 1878 that growth really accelerated.

While Armidale lacked Tamworth’s rich agricultural hinterland, it also faced fewer constraints to growth. Its role as an administrative and then educational centre provided a base for growth that can be seen in the city’s buildings and especially the largely Victorian period old city that forms the core of the heritage area. Armidale has very fine Federation buildings, but the Victorian feel remains.

Inverell is different again. Its main building period was later, the first two decades of the twentieth century.

"Inverell also suffered more than any other Northern town from a fire problem."

Inverell also suffered more than any other Northern town from a fire problem. The town was largely built of wood, while the water supply was inadequate. There were major fires in the central business district in 1900, 1901, 1902, 1913, 1914 and 1916.

The great Otho Street fire that broke out on 22 April 1902 destroyed 23 shops and businesses in 15 buildings. The Byron Street fire of 1914 destroyed 11 businesses in four buildings.

Inverell was booming because of mining and the growth of closer settlement. People rebuilt on larger scale in brick. The now prized central Inverell streetscape with its solidly constructed, ornamented, two story buildings dates from this time.

The first buildings in these little settlements were inns and stores with a smattering of official buildings. With time, professionals were attracted, along with other workers. A hierarchy of buildings emerged as wealth accumulated.

Snapshot of the past: Built in the 1880s, the former Trim & Co store is Armidale's oldest surviving retail store building

John Trim came to Armidale in 1838 as a convict assigned to Crown Land Commissioner Macdonald. Granted a ticket of leave, he returned to Armidale around 1846 and built a store near a ford over Dumaresq Creek. In 1856, he added a bridge to attract traffic.

With increasing wealth, he opened a second store on the old Great Northern Road in the 1880s. This survives today minus its original verandahs as Armidale’s oldest commercial building. When John Trim died in 1892, the former convict was an alderman, a former mayor and left an estate valued at £12, 000.

John Trim was not the only merchant to achieve success. In most Northern towns, the old department stores are some of the most significant surviving buildings.

Perhaps the most iconic example is Armidale’s Richardson building. Opened in December 1904, Richardson’s was Armidale’s dominant department store for almost 100 years. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 8 November 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here  2017.  

No comments: