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Monday, 4 December 2017

The opening of Trades Hall, Sydney

From Herman Morton’s 1956 book, The Architecture of Victorian Sydney:
On 26th January 1888 the Right Honourable Charles Robert, Baron Carrington, G.C.M.G., Governor of New South Wales, in full panoply and with a retinue of all the governors of all the Australian colonies, rode in state to the north gates of Centennial Park to declare open the great space which the foresight and energy of Sir Henry Parkes had reserved for the people. 
The park was opened with a simple ceremony and the governors, and Lady Carrington, planted memorial trees. A newspaper reporter who was present thought it all very splendid, or again he may have been seeking entrée to Government House, for he eulogized, “The day bright, beautiful as it dawned, was not more radiant than her ladyship.” 
Two days later the Governor was at the corner of Goulburn and Dixon streets to set the memorial stone of the Trades Hall. This building was intended for meetings held by working men, and it was also “to be an institution where lectures could be given and instruction in literature could be obtained”. 
John Smedley, who won the competition for the design of the building, presented the ceremonial trowel and mallet to His Excellency on the great day. No less than twenty-eight industrial organizations, with a total of nine thousand men accompanied by thirty brass bands, marched past in procession and cheered the opening of their new headquarters. Smedley’s building comprises only the corner section and most of the frontage to Goulburn Street. Though the Trades Hall has been enlarged three times, Smedley’s design has been closely followed for the additions.
The Wikipedia entry for the Trades Hall notes that a lack of funds meant that the construction of the building was delayed, despite the foundation stone being laid in 1888. The building finally opened in 1895. In his book, Morton with a characteristic flourish describes 1888 as “the high summer of Sydney’s Victorian Age, an era when past struggles were forgotten and future difficulties not even glimpsed through the golden haze of the present”.
Sydney had become the metropolis of a rich land and, as the centenary of the founding of the colony approached, the citizens prepared both to celebrate that important event and to express their pride in a century of achievement. To enhance the holiday spirit all sorts of ceremonies were planned. 
Those who were building exerted every effort to finish the works in the centenary year so that the magic numerals 1888 could be carved over ornate doorways or be lovingly moulded in cement high on the parapet to boast the fact to the world. 
Sydney was proud of its physical being: the past decade had given it the great public and private buildings that had turned it into a true city; a good substantial city in whose 2546 acres of commercial district there was scarcely one building of mere wood. The city and suburbs boasted two cathedrals and 133 churches. Each municipality had, or was building, its town hall. In Castlereagh Street the Theatre Royal attracted audiences smaller than those of Her Majesty’s in Pitt Street only because the latter was the larger theatre. 
The parson of the Pitt Street Congregational Church complained that the devil was pressing him close, for the Criterion Theatre abutted one side of his church and the Gaiety leant against the rear, but the citizens loved the excitement and glamour of it all. After the theatre there were Quong Tart’s elegant refreshment-rooms where supper could be taken amidst gilt woodwork, ferns, and palms, with golden carp swimming in fountains.
Trades Hall has been conserved and adapted for contemporary use by a professional architectural firm. The Museum of Sydney has published a good webpage on the building.




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