40-42 Bell Street, Fitzroy (Bell St State School)

Photo from Realestate.com – Photo from July 2015 when number 42 was sold.

The first part of the school was erected in 1855 by John Clayfield for Robert Bell, teacher. An extension of three terrace houses to the west was built in1858 and a further extension to the east was completed in 1865. By 1867 James Conly, teacher, owned all five buildings. He sold them to the Education Department in 1873 and the school was then called State School No 111. In 1911 part of the school moved across the road and became the Fitzroy Girl’s School, currently the Exhibition High School. The remaining part was converted in 1913 into Special School No 3842 and this was the first special school for handicapped children in Victoria; Stanley Porteous was the first headmaster. (National Heritage Database).

It is fascinating to read an article in the Age from Saturday 6 April 1935, called ‘Re-living the Early Days’ and to switch into the reminiscences of people looking back 35 years to the turn of the century. On the Bell St State School, it is written:

I attended Bell-street when quite a small boy, and later on the night school. I remember the teachers mentioned and Miss King, Mr Mountain and Mr. Duff were two splendid men and teachers. I still have a prize given to me by Mr. Chambers, a friend of theirs who took an interest in the school. Authored by ‘B.C.’

Another writer, who is reminiscing about a time earlier, maybe 1880s-90s states: As to Bell-street school, I think I must as a scholar have attended the school ten years earlier than your correspondent. In those days it was a great school and the head teacher was Mr. Conly. There is a stone to his memory in Melbourne cemetery (Carlton), erected by former pupils. He was a genial mean and he lived in a house with a garden adjoining the school. I sometimes saw him and his littler daughters walking in their garden. I think two of those daughters became talented musicians.

Sergeant Whitehead drilled us boys. I saw him nearly twenty years later drilling the boys of Carlton College in Royal Park. The fine old man did not seem to be a day older. Carlton College used to be in what was originally Wolf’s Hotel, Nicholson-street. The teachers that I remember at Bell-street were Mr. Murray and T. Kneen. We were well grounded and our reading books were the Royal Readers, which furnished our minds with poetry, prose and economics, the memories of which still remain. Jack Blackham, the great wicketkeeper, was the great sport of Bell-street at that time. Authored by ‘Arthur Collier’.

Image held by Fitzroy Library. Celebrations to mark the opening of the extensions to the Bell Street School. A merry-go-round and picnic in the grounds was held. Photo taken in 1914
Image held by Fitzroy Library. Bell Street School extension. 1914
Image held by Fitzroy Library. Children and adults attending the opening of the Bell Street School extension on 4th May 1914.
Image held by Fitzroy Library. Photo from 1914 – Text also from the Library: Extension replaced the previous structure built in 1855, which stood opposite. The school was originally for retarded children or those of ‘weak intellect’. In the 1920’s it became a school for domestic arts, and later in that decade, a school for daughters of deceased WWI soldiers. It was also partly ‘renovated’ at some stage as an emergency hospital for an influenza epidemic. In 1976, the school became Exhibition High

In 1919 there was an outbreak of influenza at the beginning of the year. The Health Committee set up an inoculation centre at the Town Hall and in anticipation of great demand, worked to convert the Bell Street School into ‘a perfect little hospital’. The annual report then goes on to quote F W W Morton, Health Officer “Fortunately for the community the worst of the epidemic was over by the time the hospital was completed, but of course no one could anticipate that. Had it been opened at an earlier date, several lives would have been saved. In the earlier stages of the epidemic it took days to get the worst cases into a hospital owing to want of beds, and very often it was then too late, as the patients were in a dying condition when accommodation was at last found for them” (Fitzroy City Press, 4 Jun 1920)

In 1944 the westernmost terrace house was demolished and the two remaining two-storey bluestone terrace houses are mainly as originally designed and have an unusual cantilevered ground floor front verandah roof. Both the 1855 and 1865 buildings on the Bell Street/John Street corner have been considerably altered (including two new linking front facades). Classified: 05/07/1979 (National Trust)

Image owned by the University Library and this text is also from the Library. Street scene in Bell Street Fitzroy, Melbourne, showing Special School. John Lockyer O’Brien (1905–1965) was an historian at the University. His collection of about 4,000 photographs was taken in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Many of them capture the architecture and streetscapes of inner-city Melbourne when the area was in transition between its then 19th century topography and working-class status prior to large-scale demolitions to made way for the construction of the Housing Commission high-rise blocks, and middle-class migration back to the inner-city and subsequent renovation and gentrification of its housing. He was also interested in the early architecture of country Victoria and photographed 19th century homesteads, hotels, churches, banks, railway stations, as well as humbler buildings. He and his wife Laurie owned and resided in a double-storey Georgian-style bluestone house in Hanover Street, Fitzroy.
National Trust – Circa 1970s
Image held by Fitzroy Library 1977. Annex to Bell Street State School, south side of Bell Street. This is 40-42 Bell St.
Google images December 2018

5 thoughts on “40-42 Bell Street, Fitzroy (Bell St State School)

  1. I attended the then Fitzroy Girls Secondary School. While the picture you show was our domestic studies section, it wasn’t the full academic classrooms and the assembly hall. My years of attending were from 1964 to 1968 and still have contact with other students. The academic program only ran from Form 1 to Form 4 (Year 10). I was too young to leave school at 14 so I went to Preston Girls Secondary School Happy to describe the correct conditions at that time, for the sake of history

    1. Hi Sheryl, I have been away overseas and so apologise for the delay in my response to you. I would love some extra information and if you have any photos, that would be amazing. Bell St State School fascinates me. Did you also live in the area?

    2. I also attended Fitzroy Girls I think from 1963-68, former name Lynette Bollard..Prior to that I attended Rathdowne St Primary..

      1. Hi Lynette, it would be great if you have any photos or other information – It is amazing that you and Sheryl both attended at the same time. Please email me if you have any stories or photos – they will be invaluable to me and to others looking to find out about this history.

  2. I too went to Fitzroy girls in Bell street from 1946 to 1949 I lived across the road from the school, prior to that I too went to Rathdowne St Primary school

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