20-22 Brunswick St, Fitzroy (Cathedral Hall)

This building has the most fascinating history and started its life as the Exhibition Boot Company and operated as its factory built in 1873, which had been designed by architects Reed & Barnes. (The Advocate, 8 November 1902, p. 16.) The address was originally 14 Brunswick Street prior to the number changes.

Google Image – December 2020

Exhibition Boot Company (1873-1902)

“The Exhibition Boot Company was started 30 years ago by Mr. Francis Burdett in conjunction with Mr J. Roelens. The latter retired from active participation in the management some years ago, leaving the sole control to his partner. It was designed originally as a wholesale house exclusively and so it continued for many years, but in 1879 it was decided to deal direct with the public by opening retail branches throughout the colony. The manufactory, which is the centre of controlling and directing power is situate in Brunswick-street, Fitzroy, near Victoria Parade. The premises are two-storied, plain and unpretending as to style, but internally are admirably suited for the purposes they were designed to serve. Here there are 150 hands employed, and prior to the introduction of labor saving machinery they numbered 200. The most friendly relations exist between the firm and the men, the provisions of the Factory Act being strictly observed. On the ground floor the rooms are devoted to storing, packing, putting up and soling. In the latter processes only the very best machinery is used. The curriers and leather dressers are also on this floor. The first story is devoted to finishing. The machinery employed is of the latest invention. Here may be seen the process of heeling, nailing, trimming, edge setting, buffing and polishing, all of which may be watched with the keenest interest. The second story is occupied as a clicking room. The machinists, all women and of whom there are about 30, are located in a building apart from the main premises, a plan well worthy of imitation.” The Leader Newspaper, 8 February 1896

The Exhibition Boot Company expanded quickly with branches in Sandhurst, Ballarat, Dunolly, Maryborough, Melbourne, Collingwood, Windsor, South Melbourne and Hotham (now North Melbourne). (The Lognette, 3 Oct 1884)

Advertisement from the Advocate, Sat 20 Aug 1898

It appears likely that the Exhibition Boot Company moved its factory out to Northcote, where they continued trading with many branches around Melbourne. In June 1910, the factory caught alight and due to a lack of water, firefighters stood and watched the building which was on the corner of Westgarth and Ross Street burn. (The Age, 17 Jun 1910). The business continued until March 1917 when the warehouse and stock was sold (The Age, 1 Mar 1917)

The Cathedral Hall (1902-today)

The first planning for the Catholic hall took place in 1901. Archbishop Thomas Carr, and the Dean Phelan, made several announcements to their parishioners at Mass and in parish meetings relating about a proposed hall. At this stage, the hall was to be built on the grounds of St Patrick’s Cathedral, facing north on Albert Street. By October 1902 this idea had been abandoned since the hall would have obscured the view of the cathedral from Albert Street (heading west to the cathedral). (The Advocate, 25 October 1902, p. 17.)

On 8 November of the same year, Archbishop Carr announced at Saturday evening Mass that the Archdiocese had acquired a property on Brunswick Street, a former boot factory built in 1873, which had been designed by architects Reed & Barnes. The property had come at a ‘very moderate’ cost of £4,200. (The Advocate, 8 November 1902, p. 16.)

The project involved refurbishing the factory building as clubrooms, with a large new hall built to the rear, designed by the same architects who had done the factory, by then known as Reed Tappin & Smart. (The Advocate, 8 November 1902, p. 16.)

The foundation stone of the hall was laid by the Archbishop at a ceremony on Sunday 26 April 1903. The clubrooms in the old factory structure were opened in June, but the hall itself was finished about a month behind schedule, and was not able to host the St. Patrick’s night celebrations on 17 March 1904 as first hoped. Instead, the grand opening took place on Sunday, 10 April, with over 2,000 people crowding the hall (which had a capacity of 1,100). (The Advocate, 16 April 1904, p. 12.)

In 1908, a contract was made to “Messrs. Reynolds bros., for the erection of a supper room at the Cathedral Hall, Brunswick-street. The structure which will cost over 600 pounds, will complete the buildings and will really enhance their suitability for social functions” (The Advocate, Sat 28 Mar 1908, p.18, Australian Catholic notes).

The relatively austere composition of the factory front to Brunswick Street was transformed into a more elaborate yet restrained and dignified facade for the new purpose. The elaborate plasterwork of the hall ceiling, proscenium and balcony was seen by contemporaries as an aesthetic triumph. ( Cathedral Hall”Victorian Heritage Database. Retrieved 27 July2019.) The plasterwork described as ‘in the German Renaissance style’ was repainted in shades of sage green, cream and buff in 1913. (THE CATHEDRAL HALL”AdvocateXLV (2209). Victoria, Australia. 22 February 1913. p. 21. Retrieved 27 July 2019 – via National Library of Australia.

This is a good view of cathedral hall on the right. You can see the building with its dark walls and arches down the the side. Image held by Fitzroy Library. Panoramic view of Brunswick Street, Fitzroy from the Eye and Ear Hospital. 1984. Taken by Mario Cotela.

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