Showing posts with label Hamilton Clock Tower. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hamilton Clock Tower. Show all posts

Friday, 11 April 2014

From sandy track to Eat Street - the becoming of Beaumont Street

It’s the cosmopolitan Eat Street of Newcastle – and so much more. Say ‘Beaumont Street’ and ‘multicultural eats’ springs to mind – not just the first comers the Italians and Greeks, but nowadays  Indian, Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Himalayan, Mexican, Turkish, Lebanese and Fijian.

Train commuters disembarking at Hamilton are welcomed by this sign
Photograph by Craig Smith

Beaumont Street wasn’t always the eclectic high street it is today. It began life as the very poor cousin of Denison Street (once called Winship Street). Denison Street in the late 1800s was ‘the main road’ - through the mining settlements of Borehole, Pit Town and Happy Flat, and on into Newcastle. At almost every intersection, Denison Street was marked with a boisterous public house. There were 10 hotels, men-only domains, in Denison Street alone.

When Frank Beaumont arrived in Newcastle in October, 1853 a job was waiting for him - Mine Manager for the Australian Agricultural Company. I’m not sure when Beaumont Street was named for him, but at first, it would have seemed a dubious honour.

Originally, Beaumont Street was a sandy, muddy track meandering from Glebe Hill towards the present location of the Hamilton Station. Early accounts describe Beaumont Street as ‘only a bush track...almost overgrown with ti-tree scrub, with little brown snakes popping their heads out from behind the shrubs’. [1] Bush fires – some very large – broke out as close as Pit Town and as far as Wallsend and Hartley Vale.

Horse drawn buses were the only means of transport; otherwise people walked from home, to work in the mines or the few shops, over the deep rutted tracks. It was a ‘two mile walk’ to Newcastle.

Sandy track that was to become Beaumont Street, 1897
Australian Agricultural Company field near Glebe Hill, NSW
16 November, 1897
Photograph by Ralph Snowball, part of the Norm Barney Photographic Collection, courtesy of Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle, Australia

Newcastle was the place to shop. Miners were paid fortnightly, as they had been in the mines in the north east of England. It was a deeply ingrained habit to go on a fortnightly shopping spree as soon as the men had that pay packet in their hands. This made it hard for local shopkeepers. In the mining settlements, only the basics were appearing - Winn’s tiny general store on Cameron’s Hill, a butcher’s shop opposite what would become Gregson Park, and Webster’s general store (and Borehole’s first post office) on the corner of Denison and Webster Street. These premises were the Borehole Cooperative Store, a miners’ initiative.

By 1872 there were just five shopkeepers in Hamilton, including the Co-operative Store, and Donald’s store, an early Hamilton landmark. By 1891 there were close to 5,000 people in Hamilton, a sizeable community that would begin to demand more local shopping.

The demand for a railway station at Hamilton, suitable for commuters, had also been growing and that same year, 1872, a platform (two, actually) for the Great Northern Line was opened. However there were no railway buildings at all. Beaumont Street must not have extended as far as the station, because accounts show that the municipal council had had a road 6 feet wide cut through the scrub on the Hamilton side, to provide access. Nevertheless, passengers had to climb fences on either side to get to the platform.

It was not until 1890 that the NSW government made a firm commitment to build a proper station with large platforms, waiting rooms, a booking office, refreshment rooms, staff rooms, a high level bridge and a footbridge for the Beaumont Street crossing.

By 1906, when the next  photograph was taken, Beaumont Street was beginning to look like the main street of any Australian country town. The pavement was kerbed and guttered, though the ruts in the road made by horse drawn vehicles were obvious.

Beaumont Street, Hamilton, NSW April 1906
Photograph by Ralph Snowball, part of the Norm Barney Photographic Collection, courtesy of Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle, Australia

The advent of the railway station would have a critical effect on the development of Beaumont Street. Rail travel was hugely popular and convenient; the new station became a magnet for commercial development. The Sydney Junction Hotel, the Hamilton Station Hotel, and later the Kent Hotel and The Northern Star Hotel, all caught the wave and drew patrons away from the Denison Street hotels. Over the coming decades, most of the Denison Street hotels died, leaving only The Exchange Hotel and The Bennett Hotel surviving.

By 1912, the expansion and progress of Hamilton was being commented upon favourably in the press – it was considered a progressive suburb, desirable because of its neat, well kept streets on flat terrain, its pleasant appearance and quality buildings.

By 1915, over 10,000 people lived in Hamilton. Shops in Beaumont Street continued to flourish, becoming larger, often made of brick, with higher frontages. Banks and other services sprang up. Hamilton had the attraction of two large recreation areas – Gregson Park, and Learmonth Park. By 1918 land values in Beaumont Street had risen from 5 pounds per foot to 12 pounds per foot.

Hamilton residents no longer had to travel to Newcastle to have their shopping needs met. As the Newcastle Herald pointed out:

‘This is the main business thoroughfare, and the most active shopping centre in the district outside of Newcastle’. [2]

Beaumont Street railway gates (1945)
Photograph courtesy of State Library of NSW

It was not just the trains that precipitated the decline of Denison Street and the consolidation of Beaumont Street. The introduction of steam trams, running along Tudor Street westwards, as well as along Maitland Road to Mayfield, diverted people away from Denison Street .

Electric tram on Tudor Street, near Chaucer Street, Hamilton (1950)
Photograph courtesy of Noel Reed collection

Over the century that was to follow, Beaumont Street would undergo many incarnations. Perhaps the most significant event in its long history, however, shaping what it is today, has been the 1989 Newcastle earthquake. The earthquake was a traumatic experience for the street, its businesses, the people of Hamilton and beyond.

Newcastle Herald staff reporter Clare Morgan vividly describes her car journey from Rankin Park to Newcastle. Passing the collapsed Century Theatre at Broadmeadow, she thought there had been an explosion. Approaching Hamilton, she writes:

‘By this time traffic had slowed to a crawl, and I saw the devastation around Beaumont Street.

The front of the Sussan store had collapsed, and the street was littered with the rubble of buildings that only moments before had been standing.

The lift shaft atop the Greater Newcastle Permanent Building Society was cracked and looked unsteady.

A haze of dust lingered in the air.

I thought the suburb had been the victim of a bombing or gas explosion...

People stood around the street, wandered around in a daze, or tried  to help direct the traffic that was beginning to build up.

There was no panic but most of the crowds seemed bewildered and shocked.’ [3]

Chaos on Beaumont Street 14 January 1990
Photograph by Clarice Eyre,  courtesy of Lorraine Castle

For some Beaumont Street businesses, like Clancy’s Supermarket run by Ian and Kerry Hart, the devastation of the earthquake would be a point of no return.

‘Three years work gone in 10 seconds’, Mrs Hart told a Newcastle Herald reporter. [4]

We worked seven days a week, 15 hours a day and now it’s all gone’.

Watching the demolition of their building from behind the barricades were its owners for 10 years, Peter and Marceline Tynan. For them, the demolition was regretful but necessary. [5]

Gone - Clancy’s Supermarket after the earthquake,
14 January 1990

Photograph by Clarice Eyre, courtesy of Lorraine Castle

Beaumont Street was closed for business for at least 5 weeks after the quake, while demolition areas were made safe, buildings assessed and essential repairs carried out.

Keeping Beaumont Street alive (1990)
Photograph courtesy of Newcastle Museum

A few businesses, like the Commonwealth Bank, Pina’s Delicatessen, and Hookers Real Estate reopened quickly. [6]

The Northern Star Cafe sustained minimal damage, and cafe owners Lorenzo and Ada Bizzarri lost little time becoming a going concern again. It was a different story for the Niagara Cafe and adjoining shop, originally built on the north east corner of Beaumont and Tudor Streets by Greek immigrant George Kostakas. The building was partially demolished.

Damage to Niagara Café, 14 January 1990
Photograph by Clarice Eyre, courtesy of Lorraine Castle

While Greek immigrant brothers and cafe operators Con and John Mitsios carried on, a year later they closed their doors. After 35 years, they decided to take a break, and devote more time to their passion, soccer. The Niagara Cafe would become Donald’s Late Night Pharmacy, as Bob Donald’s shop across Tudor Street had been damaged beyond repair.

Buildings that had been severely affected like the Kent Hotel, where Mr Cecil Abbott died, took much longer to be restored.

The Kent Hotel after the earthquake, 14 January 1990
Photograph by Clarice Eyre, courtesy of Lorraine Castle

The 1919 built Hamilton municipal building was demolished. Its replacement, with a plainer profile that still reflected the Edwardian style original, was estimated to cost $1.35 million. The characteristic clock tower was reinstated, reusing clock faces and mechanisms recovered from the original structure. However, the clock tower is now in a slightly different position, standing more towards the north eastern end of the building.

Gone - Hamilton Municipal Chambers
(June 1986)
Photograph by the late Percy Sternbeck, courtesy of Coalfields Heritage Group,
Sir Edgeworth David Memorial Museum, Kurri Kurri, NSW

Some buildings had their future disputed because they were considered to have heritage value and were marked for preservation. The landmark building on what was known as Donald’s Corner, on the south east corner of Beaumont and Tudor Streets, was subject to a demolition ban. Newcastle Trades Hall Council had taken this action at the request of the Hamilton Residents Group. The ban was lifted on 11 May, 1990 after reassurances that future development of the site would be sympathetic to the broader plans for the precinct.


Gone - an easterly perspective of Donald’s Corner, Hamilton (1986)
Photograph by the late Percy Sternbeck, courtesy of Coalfields Heritage Group,
Sir Edgeworth David Memorial Museum, Kurri Kurri, NSW

Over a longer period, concept plans were developed for the new-look Beaumont Street. Urban designers sought to capitalise on its European-style street life enjoyed by Greeks, Italians, Macedonians and others, and preserve the heritage of its quirky shops. This hiatus period was a worrying time for businesses, especially those that had been under-insured. Many businesses reported their trade had dropped by half. Even though ten percent of buildings had been demolished; building owners fared better than business owners. After repairs and restorations were completed, largely funded by insurance pay outs, landlords were able to charge higher rents as premises had been substantially upgraded. Some business owners chose not to continue, or to move elsewhere.

Point of no return – once a shoe shop in Tudor Street,
14 January 1990
Photograph by Clarice Eyre, courtesy of Lorraine Castle

The Beaumont Street community has always been resilient. The street did recover, and it became a success story. Retail outlets and services continue to be attracted to the critical mass of shoppers, and even more varied eating and entertainment options are being offered.

Almost 25 years on since the earthquake, Beaumont Street is on the brink of reinventing itself once again. It’s not just the coffee culture that is becoming more discerning – craft beer has arrived, and function centres like The Depot on Beaumont are setting a new standard in sophistication. Barely perceptible, just emerging, is the demand from consumers for a different eating experience, with food that is fresh, healthy and local. Perhaps another incarnation is in the wings for Beaumont Street.

Paleo food comes to Hamilton
Photograph by Craig Smith

Read more about the early beginnings of Hamilton here.

[1] Peter Murray: From Borehole to Hamilton Jubilee 1848-1921. 40.
[2] Newcastle Morning Herald, 26/1/1918
[3] Newcastle Herald, 29/12/89.
[4] Newcastle Herald, 10/1/90.
[5] Newcastle herald, 12/1/90.
[6] Newcastle Herald 10/1/90.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Making of Hamilton

There was not a decent street or footpath in Hamilton; they had creeks and watercourses in every direction.” [1]

“Truly, the place looked deserted and miserable, no one to be seen but poor old Murphy and his double team dragging a barrow load of coal through the yielding sands into which the wheels of his dray....were sinking almost to the axle.”[2]

These were just some of the challenges facing Hamilton’s first Municipal Council in 1872.

An election had been held on 9 February, 1872. From a field of 12 candidates, six Aldermen were elected. Readers who know the streets and landmarks of Hamilton will recognise these names:

Robert Cherry

George Donald

David Murray

Thomas Tudor

Thomas Swain

Edward Turnbull.

George Donald became the first Mayor of Hamilton.

George Donald, first Mayor of Hamilton Municipal Council, 1872-1876
Photograph courtesy of Newcastle Region Library

Communities like Hamilton sought incorporation and the right to levy rates on landholders. This had become possible under new NSW laws passed in 1858 and 1867.

Incorporation was the beginning of a civic pride movement that saw citizens look for ways and means of improving the environment and circumstances in which they lived.

Incorporation of the mining settlements as a municipality offered a way to collectively address the terrible state of roads and footpaths, provide sanitation, garbage disposal, drainage and a clean water supply. All the things we take for granted today.

There is more about the conditions in which miners lived in the post How Hamilton got its Name.

The six Aldermen were already making their mark as leaders in the community. They had been instrumental in achieving incorporation for what would now no longer be three mining settlements of Pit Town, Borehole and Happy Flat but the township of Hamilton.

A place to meet

The immediate tasks facing the first Council were fairly pedestrian. First, they needed a place to meet. The Hamilton Mechanics' Institute,
where elections and the first couple of meetings had been conducted, was in a poor state. David Murray offered temporary accommodation in his cottage at 70 James Street, for a rental of three shillings per week.

This was the first Hamilton Council Chambers.

The first Hamilton Council Chambers, 70 James Street, Hamilton,
home of David Murray (1834-1908)
Photograph courtesy of Newcastle Region Library

The Aldermen needed someone to “do the work.” They decided a Council Clerk would be employed, at a salary of 40 pounds per annum. James Ray was selected, initially to work very part-time for 2 hours per week.

Funds and assets were an early consideration. A finance committee was set up; estimates of expenditure prepared, and a 100 pound overdraft obtained from the Bank of Australasia. Later, a Municipal grant of 1500 pounds ensured Council would be able to start work on its priorities. Arrangements were made to survey and value Council property.

Abundance of water

Local historian Peter Murray [3] has analysed early Council records. He has noticed what a huge problem the over abundance of water was for the Council – the most pressing problem was in Denison Street (then the main thoroughfare).

In an interesting example, Peter Murray describes how a candidate for the position of pupil-teacher at Hamilton School was ruled out because she lived at Lambton. The Schools’ Inspector considered the candidate would often be unable to reach the school because the area between Lambton and Hamilton would frequently be under water.

An early priority was the kerbing, guttering and metalling of the major streets in Hamilton. Of course there were complaints about the order of improvements, and who would benefit most, and quickly. Bridges over the watercourses, and the building of culverts and drains, were also challenges. The Styx Creek was a repeat offender.

In his blog Hamilton North, Mark McLean revives and continues Hamilton’s watery conversations. Mark chronicles the defiant, never to be defeated Styx Creek, even though it has been captured and confined in a concrete straitjacket.

Wattle blossoms form patterns on the surface of Styx Creek, along with clusters of discarded bottles (2013)
Photograph courtesy of Mark McLean

A start had to be made somewhere, and although the first Aldermen were inexperienced, they learned on the job. We have much to thank them for. In fact, there is a permanent thank you to them on the gates of Gregson Park.

Memorial gates at Gregson Park

Memorial Gates at the Tudor Street entrance to Gregson Park, Hamilton (2013)

The memorial gates were opened in November, 2012. One side lists the first 6 Aldermen; the other side lists the donors – Henry Latham, Edward Broom, .E. G. Yeomans, William Hutchison, David Smith, Andrew Adams, W.R. Alexander and the families of the first Aldermen.

The Donald family donated a stone drinking fountain in memory of Hamilton's first Mayor, George Donald.

Opening of the Donald Fountain, Gregson Park, Hamilton
29 January, 1908
Photograph courtesy of Newcastle Region Library

Elections were held regularly, and some of Hamilton’s prominent Mayors were:

George Donald                       First Mayor 1872-1876

David Murray                          Mayor 1876-1880

Francis W Reay                      Mayor 1887

William Rees Alexander         Mayor 1889-1900, 1911-1912, 1920

Gordon Richard Skelton         Mayor 1929-1930

Samuel Don                            Mayor 1885, 1886, 1901

Francis Reay was a medical herbalist who built the Hamilton Turkish Baths – read the story here.

Samdon Street in Hamilton is named for Sam Don. A sculpture of his head can still be seen above the entrance of the former fire station in James Street – that story is here.

The Hamilton clock tower was named the W R Alexander Clock Tower, in honour of Mr Alexander's services as Alderman.

Bigger and better

As the population of Hamilton grew, so did its administration.

In December 1873 E C Merewether, Superintendent of the AA Company, wrote to Council dedicating land at the corner of Beaumont and James Street for a new Council Chambers.

When the first Council Chambers was built several years later, in 1880, Councillors and the administration were able to move out of their leased premises. Following the Murray cottage, Mrs Hinkle’s rooms in Beaumont Street had been rented for 4 shillings per week.

1880 Council Chambers building
Photograph by Ralph Snowball, held in the Norm Barney Photographic Collection, courtesy of Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle, Australia

Just 12 years later, in 1892, a second Municipal Chambers was built to replace the first.

Hamilton Municipal Chambers (n.d.)
Note the established tree, gas lamp, and wooden shed housing fire brigade equipment on the left
Photograph by Ralph Snowball, held in the Norm Barney Photographic Collection, courtesy of Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle, Australia

Over time, the population of Hamilton grew from around 4,000 in 1891 to 14,000 in 1920. By 1919, more aldermen were needed to represent the diverse community - the original 6 Aldermen increased to 9, and later, to 12 – and yet another building was required to accommodate staff who took on diverse roles. Despite its impressive exterior, the old Chambers was considered insanitary and inadequate. [4] Four shops added in 1920 provided a revenue stream for the Council.

Hamilton Municipal Building and Clock Tower in Beaumont Street, 
12 February 1936
Photograph courtesy of Greg and Sylvia Ray

The Council would not go on to bigger and better things. Success and growth meant others were eyeing off Hamilton’s prosperity. Change was ahead.

From the 1890s, several state and civic leaders had championed expanding the boundaries and influence of the Newcastle Council. Finally, in 1938 these efforts were successful and the City of Greater Newcastle came into being. The Greater Newcastle Act of 1937 saw the City swallow up  11 surrounding suburban municipalities - including Hamilton.

The history of how local government came to Newcastle is explained simply by University of Newcastle Archivist Gionni di Gravio – read more here.

The final meeting of the Hamilton Municipal Council was held on 31 March, 1938.

The fine building owned by the Hamilton Council and appropriate to its role, would now be rented out, along with its ground floor shops. The Council had begun as a tenant, and now, stripped of its role, would be simply a landlord.

Another shock to come

Beaumont Street, Hamilton was the epicentre of the 1989 earthquake that struck Newcastle.

Shops on Beaumont Street damaged by the 1989 earthquake 
Photograph Courtesy of Newcastle Region Library - Earthquake Database

The fine clock tower which had become a Hamilton landmark cracked.

Hamilton Municipal Building - crack in clock tower
Photograph by Gordon Finn, courtesy of Newcastle Region Library

The Municipal building was substantially rebuilt. Local historian Mrs Mavis Ebbott recalls that when the clock tower was replaced, something was different. It was not as high as it was before.

Perhaps the earthquake was a wake-up call not just for Newcastle City Councillors, but also for Hamilton business people.

Soon steps were being taken to rebalance the control exercised by the City Council. Vigorous commercial centres like Hamilton wanted to have more say over their own destiny, and the City was prepared to loosen the reins a little.

Under Newcastle’s Mainstreet Program, Newcastle City Council began collecting a special levy from businesses in a small number of commercial centres including Hamilton. The funds could be pooled for projects such as street beautification and community events, and were administered by a locally based Committee of Council.

Partnership Now

In 2011, the partnership was taken to another level. Independent Business Improvement Associations (BIA), governed by a Constitution, were established. Council continues to collect the special benefit rate on Hamilton’s behalf. Suburbs like Hamilton, Mayfield and Wallsend can now initiate and administer a budget for projects that strengthen their commercial centres as well as the community.

Each year a business plan is presented by the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce to Newcastle Council for its approval. This provides a series of initiatives on which the two organisations can work together.

The first Aldermen of the Hamilton Municipal Council had an intense local focus. They wanted to make Hamilton a better place for its residents - to live, work and shop.

Clock Tower Markets are held every Saturday and enliven Beaumont Street (2013)

Today, the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce retains this local focus – and expands it. Embracing residents and thousands of visitors alike, the Chamber knows that both are the life blood of Hamilton’s commercial, eating and entertainment centre, and its community.

Unattributed photographs by Ruth Cotton.


[1] Newcastle Sun, 9/12/1921
[2] Newcastle Chronicle 10/3/1872.
[3] Murray, P: From Borehole to Hamilton Jubilee 1848-1921. Self-published 2006. p. 68
[4] Murray, P: From Borehole to Hamilton Jubilee 1848-1921. Self-published 2006. p. 118