M’Arthur & Co. Warehouse, Sydney 1896

Article first published in The Sydney Morning Herald, April 20, 1872

THE warehouses which have lately been erected by the Messrs. M’Arthur and Co., to meet the growing requirements of their business — which is that of wholesale linen and woollen drapers, &c. — form one of the most conspicuous and magnificent edifices in the city. The new building has been erected on the site formerly occupied by an old one. The metamorphosis has gradually taken place — old walls and partitions have been taken down, new ones built, and new floors laid, without causing an hour’s interruption to business The whole establishment, from top to bottom, with the exception of the northern wall, which has been raised several feet, is entirely new. Anyone entering these new and beautiful premises would find it difficult to conceive that such a wonderful and complete change could have been made without the cessation of business or damage to any portion of the stock and what is still more surprising, the whole of the work has been done within about eighteen months.

The new warehouses have a frontage to York-street of eighty-eight feet, by a depth in all of one hundred and seventy feet — extending right through to Clarence-street. The elevation to York-street, which occupies the entire frontage, presents a noble and commanding appearance. It is three stories in height and is treated in what is generally known as the Italian style of street architecture. There has been considerable freedom and great boldness in the grouping of the various masses and their details. It is relieved by projecting piers at each end and in the centre, giving opportunity for a pleasing variety in the dressings of the openings, and affording, with the great thickness of the wall, facilities for fine effects of light and shade The lower story has massive piers and quoins supporting a handsome moulded cornice — the windows having segmental heads. In the centre is the principal entrance — a lofty and imposing looking doorway with rusticated columns on each side, from which springs the arch spanning the entrance. And surmounting this is a richly moulded pediment supported on large and handsome brackets Considerable novelty of style is to be observed in the first-floor windows which light the principal showrooms. These windows, which are of large dimensions, are subdivided by cast-iron columns and ornamental pierced, spandrels, producing at once a novel and elegant effect. The second-floor windows are grouped into a continuous row, but in such a manner as to harmonise perfectly with the other openings The whole front is crowned with a fine moulded and enriched cornice with carved brackets, the end and centre places being finished with a handsome balustrade, and the intervening space being filled with ornamental cast-iron cresting. The whole of this work has been executed in Portland cement, the sand for which was specially imported from Melbourne, in order to attain the peculiar grit and uniformity of colour which gives so close a resemblance to masonry and which is not attainable with any sand hitherto discovered in the neighbourhood of Sydney.

Entering at the central doorway above-mentioned, the visitor passes into a vestibule with mosaic tiles and leading through wide-swinging glass doors into tho warehouse direct. The view from this point is very striking and effective The spacious and well-stocked room immediately in front, the counting-house to the left, the upper floors seen rising one above the other through the large and richly decorated well in the centre, the wide and handsome staircase in the distance, the tints of the ceilings, galleries, and other portions of the interior, and the iron columns (also tinted and surmounted with elegant gilded brackets), and the soft and subdued, yet sufficient, light which pervades the whole exterior, produce an effect which one is hardly prepared to expect in the realms of hard, matter-of-fact business. Mr George Allen Mansfield is the architect who designed this very beautiful edifice.

On the right of the vestibule is the “strong room” — a vault with a massive roof and massive walls, and a burglar and fire-proof door. To the left of the entrance is the counting-house a roomy, well-lighted apartment, fitted throughout with polished cedar, and desks constructed of that material, with panels of Huon pine — the colours producing a very pleasing contrast. A little further on is the private office of one of the proprietors of the establishment, also elegantly and appropriately fitted up with polished cedar. The large room on the ground floor is devoted to a class of goods which has given it the name of the Manchester department. Here are displayed in immense quantities prints, calicoes, tweeds, carpeting, &c. Light is obtained principally by means of a lantern roof and well-holes, with circular ends. The iron tracery in the guard railings of these well-holes is very chaste and is coloured white. A red backing brings out the ornamentation very beautifully. The cornice moulding is of a purple-tint. The handsome iron columns and brackets which support the galleries were cast at Mort and Company’s engineering establishment. To the left of this department is another large room, of nearly equal proportions, which is used for blankets and other such stock. The general appearance and lighting of this apartment are somewhat similar to the one just described, the most noticeable difference being the square ends of the well holes. The western end of this room is set apart for packing purposes, and it contains some very fine machinery for this purpose. There are a steam engine and boiler, &c. The steam for driving the engine is generated by gas, on Jackson’s patent. This is the only instance, we believe, in the colony where gas is used for the purpose of producing power to drive an engine. The boiler is surrounded with a thick coating of felt, which effectually prevents the escape of heat to any appreciable extent. A powerful hydraulic press is worked by means of a donkey engine. The goods or such of them as require to be compressed for packing, are first put into this press before being placed in the cases or made up into bales. A powerful winch or hoist is worked by the principal engine. By the use of this hoist, immense quantities of goods may be raised or lowered to any floor of the building. All the goods coming to or going from this establishment enter or leave by way of Clarence-street; none of them pass through the front entrance in York street.

A noble staircase of polished cedar, and nine feet in width conducts from the Manchester department to what is termed the “fancy department,” on the first floor. This floor, like the ground floor, has two divisions, The main one is used for displaying and keeping such stock as fancy dress, stuffs, shawls, mantles, ribbons, gloves, &c. The adjoining room is where slop goods, for the most part, are kept. At one end, however, gentlemen’s hosiery, scarfs, collars, and other articles of that class are exhibited in great variety. The decorations of this room are on the same elaborate scale and of the same rich colouring as those of the ground floor. Ascending to the second floor by means of another handsome staircase, we reach the room where ladies’ hats, flowers, feathers, and other descriptions of this class of goods are kept in stock. A certain space is reserved for unopened goods. The second room on this floor is where tho haberdashery, hosiery, gentlemen’s hats, &c., are kept.

Throughout the spacious apartments, there is an abundance of light, the architect having paid especial regard to such an essential matter as that of lighting an establishment where it is necessary that buyers should have every opportunity of minutely examining the goods. Gas is laid on to every room. In every room too there is a small cupboard, in which a hose, attached to a water main, and a hydrant, are ready for use at a moments notice in case of fire. There is not a square inch of the premises upon which water could not be brought to bear in the shortest possible space of time required to uncoil the hose and turn the tap at the main pipe. And as a further protection against fire, the whole building is substantially divided into two parts by a fireproof wall in the centre. The openings through this wall, on each floor, are sufficiently numerous for the facility of communication between one department and another, and they are all fitted with sliding doors. These doors are made of double iron and are thus rendered fireproof. There are no less than eight sets of these iron fireproof doors in the building.

Passing through a well-paved yard, where drays are unloaded and loaded, a large store in which unopened goods are kept is reached. There is also a bathroom for the work-people, stabling, and other conveniences. This large store occupies what may be considered the ground floor of another large building, 76 feet long, 46 feet wide, and three stories high. This building is devoted to manufacturing purposes. On the first floor is the cutting out department for the slop goods. Here a number of hands are engaged in marking and cutting out clothes ready for the sewing-machines. The tables are constructed with every convenience, those on which the cutting is done being sufficiently long to allow of twenty-eight yards of cloth being laid out at one time. Six lengths of tweed or cloth are generally piled one over the other; the top one is then chalked out according to pattern, and then with a powerful pair of shears the cutter divides the six pieces simultaneously into the requisite shapes for the kind of garment to be made up. Men’s and women’s under-clothing of all descriptions is cut out in this room. On the second floor, about 135 women and about fifteen men are kept constantly employed in making up garments of various kinds. There are fifteen or sixteen sewing-machines continually going. About fifteen hundred garments can be turned out of this manufactory every week. The irons are beated at a furnace placed on one side of the room. This furnace is of sufficient capacity to heat 36s irons, varying in weight from 20 lbs. to 28 lbs., at one time. The lavatories, &c., occupy a position at the top of the building. A portion of this building, which has a frontage to Clarence-street, is set apart as a residence for the watchman.

Mr Alexander Dean was the contractor for the whole of the work, and Messrs. Lewis and Steele, of Paddington, did the cement work outside. The principal establishment of Messrs. M’Arthur and Co. is in London; they have branch establishments in Melbourne and Auckland.

[Article: Messrs. A. M’Arthur and Company’s New Warehouses, York-Street (1872, April 20). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 6.]

Provenance: “New South Wales: the mother colony of the Australias“. Frank Hutchinson, Edited by F. Hutchinson.
Author: Frank Hutchinson
Date of Publication: 1896
Publisher: C. Potter
Place of Publishing: Sydney
Copyright status: Out of copyright
Courtesy: The British Library

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