Glebe’s History of Maritime Industry and Heritage of Terrace Rows and Italianate Villas

Built Environment, Heritage & Conservation, Local history

Glebe Point Road is the heart of the inner west suburb that bears its name…a leisurely stroll from the Broadway end of the road reveals the variable character of Glebe itself. Close to the Broadway Centre are numerous eateries and coffee shops frequented by Gen X’s, Millennials and the occasional Zennial, three-quarters of which are university students from just across Parramatta Road at USYD. As we get closer to the other end (Glebe Point) there is a mix of elegant old houses, isolated groups of shops and a liberal sprinkling of backpacker lodges. This built-up urbanisation a stark contrast to the era before white settlement in the 18th century when the Glebe area was a Turpentine Ironbark forest inhabited by the indigenous Wangal and Cadigal clans.

‘Florence Villa’ 1883
The word itself, glebe (from glaeba (L), clod of earth), refers to an area of land devoted to the maintenance of an incumbent of the church. The colony of Port Jackson’s first governor, Arthur Phillip, set aside the land here for church purposes in 1789[1].

Sydney’s Broadway and Parramatta Road marks the eastern boundary of Glebe and the suburb extends west to Rozelle Bay, a body of water flowing into Johnstons Bay and eventually into Sydney Harbour. Rozelle Bay houses a bustling marina sitting on a strip of land incongruously known as “Glebe Island” (not an island!) which accommodates the old bridge that once linked Pyrmont to Glebe Island and Rozelle, which was replaced in the mid 1990s by the modernist looking cable-stayed new Glebe Island Bridge (name later changed to Anzac Bridge).

Although Glebe was subjected to waves of greed-fuelled demolition during the 20th century, heritage architecture still characterises a significant chunk of the suburb’s residential complexion. A representative sample of 19th century houses have been preserved despite the best efforts of developers and development-sympathetic state governments to jettison the old to make way for new dwellings and a network of freeways crisscrossing Glebe (see PostScript on Lyndhurst below)[2].

Early trends toward gentrification
The Church’s 1856 sell-off of some of its land in Glebe was the spark that started the suburb’s long spiral into an inexorable gentrification. A two strata society developed with Glebe Point (the bay end) becoming the location for many new homes of the urban gentry, these better-off citizens were clearly separated off from ‘The Glebe’ where the more numerous working class resided[3].

Terraced Glebe
By 1870 the terrace had become the dominant build form in Glebe. By WWI there was several distinct types of terrace – colonial Georgian, Regency, Victorian Gothic, Italianate and Federal style – standing side by side. Terraces were the optimal solution to accommodate Glebe’s rapidly growing population, having the virtue of economical outlays on land and building materials[4].

‘Bellevue’ (detail)
Italianate villas and cottages figure prominently among the residences of Glebe that have survived to this day, eg, Bellevue c1896 (Italianate Victorian home reprieved from the demolishers’ wrecking ball, today a cafe for walkers (with or without dogs) and cyclists on the foreshore)❈; other Victorian Italianate buildings including the Glebe Court House, the Town Hall and Kerribree. Many of Glebe’s finer buildings were the work of the leading architects of colonial New South Wales (such as Barnet, Blackett and Verge). For a time Glebe was known as the architect’s suburb.

As the early land use of Glebe was taking shape the foreshore was not considered suitable for residential development, opening the way for exclusive use for marine industry – and for sporting activity. Glebe Rowing Club has long had its position on Blackwattle Bay and Jubilee Oval, near the old tramsheds, was the home ground of Glebe Cricket Club in the Sydney Grade Cricket competition[5].

Industrial remnant: Crane on walkway
Timberyards in the foreshore dress circle
A walk along the foreshore from Blackwattle Bay reveals precise little of the suburb’s concentrated industrial past. Modern apartments sit hunched together close to the waterfront where once timberyards and sawmillers dominated the landscape❈. On the foreshore path a monument to those activities is a rusty old crane and winch…Sylvester Stride’s Ship-breaking Yard and Crane business used these devices to break up steamers to recycle metals. Most of the industry – which also included noxious industries like boiling down works and slaughterhouses as well as a distillery – were gone from the Bay by 1975. Hardy’s Timber Mill, an extended complex of building structures, was for a time converted into artists’ studios[6].

Remarkably, the small grassy stretch of foreshore known as Pope Paul VI Reserve was until the early eighties the only public access point on all of Blackwattle and Rozelle Bays. The papal appellation bestowed on the reserve derives from the lobbying efforts of right-wing Labor Catholic politicians in Leichhardt Council to commemorate the spot where Paul VI landed by launch during his 1970 papal visit of Australia[7].

Griffin incinerator
One item remaining on Blackwattle is Walter Burley Griffin’s Glebe incinerator dating from the early 1930s. An elegant building in the Art Deco style, in 2006 it was restored as an interpretative work with its once impressive chimney stack in skeletal form. The incinerator was one of a number in Sydney (and elsewhere) constructed by the famous Canberra Capital designer as a response to council’s need to find a more effective way to dispose of increasing amounts of consumer garbage۞.

PostScript: Georgian mansion with a varied past
A survey of Glebe’s history and heritage is not complete without noting one of its grandest, earliest and still extant old homes. Lyndhurst is a mansion with an exceptionally colourful history. The once impressive scale of the estate has been plundered by successive subdivisions over the years…if you visit it today by locating its street address (57-65 Darghan St) the big surprise is finding that the building’s back affronts the street! Lyndhurst was built in 1833 by colonial architect John Verge as a marine villa for surgeon and pastoralist Dr James Bowman, the son-in-law of wool pioneers John and Elizabeth Macarthur. In the last 100 years the Lyndhurst estate has served many purposes – from theological college to pickle factory to hospital to broom factory and in the 1960s and ’70s as the headquarters of the Australian Nazi Party (Australian National Socialist Party). Lyndhurst was one of the many great Glebe residences slated for demolition in the early seventies by Askin’s government, a fate it and many others fortunately avoided![8].

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❈ the campaign to save Glebe’s heritage homes from corporate culling was spearheaded by the Glebe Society, formed by concerned local residents in 1969
today there is one remaining timber yard along the shoreline of Rozelle Bay, Crescent Timber, being actually in Annandale, adjacent to Federal Park
۞ hitherto the preferred methods of disposal were either piling garbage on to tips, burying it or carting garbage six miles out to sea on barges and jettisoning it overboard (only for the tide to return it to shore!), had met with growing public disapproval

[1] B & B Kennedy, Sydney and Suburbs: A History and Descriptions, (1982)
[2] eg, the vision of long-term Liberal premier of NSW Robin (Robert) Askin, born and bred in Glebe, was to turn the suburb into a network of freeways – fortunately for Glebe’s heritage integrity this was never implemented, ‘Sir Robert Askin’ https://www.glebesociety.org.au/?person=sir-robert-askin
[3] ‘History and Heritage’, The Glebe Society Inc, www.glebesociety.org.au
[4] Solling, Max, Glebe, Dictionary of Sydney, 2011, http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/glebe, 03 Oct 2017
[5] ‘History of Glebe Foreshore parks’, (City of Sydney), www.cityofsydney.gov.au
[6] ‘Timber Industry’, (Glebe Walks), www.glebewalks.com.au
[7] ‘Pope Paul VI Reserve (interpretative sign)’, (Glebe Walks), www.glebewalks.com.au
[8] ‘Historic Glebe Mansion Lyndhurst, Once Australia’s Nazi Party Headquarters, on Market for $7.5M’, (B Wong), 07-May 2016, www.dsilytelegraph.com.au