427 Napier Street, Fitzroy

The three cottages fronting Napier St, 427 -431 were built by William Reynolds and his brother in law James Oliver in 1885.

Nelson Alexander image – 2019

Prior to this, in the late 1830s the land of Fitzroy was subdivided into sections along with other areas north of the city. Within Fitzroy there were 12 sections, the most undesirable, being section 85 which consisted of majority swamp lands. I am not sure who purchased section 85 of Jika Jika parish, but, at some point between the late 1830’s and 1970’s the land becomes the property of J.M. Smith Esq. a solicitor from England who was fast making his fortunes in Melbourne. Over the period from 1840-1880 the large sections of Fitzroy were broken down and subdivided for the purpose of building houses (refer Fitzroy – Melbourne’s First Suburb, p.10-11, The First Suburb by Miles Lewis). The last of these sections was section 85. In 1876, a plan for the subdivision of the block bordered by Cecil St (N), Young St (W), Westgarth St (S) and Napier St (E) was created. You can see from the map below that there was a strange design applied to the sites. In particular, on Napier St, site 12, 14, 16 and 18 were double blocks.

I am not sure if Reynolds and Oliver purchased the land at the initial release, but they managed to purchase site 12 (Reynolds) and site 13 (Oliver) which became the terraces of 427-433 Napier Street.

Section of the 1876 Plan of Subdivision of part of section 85 Parish of Jika Jika Fitzroy, 1876 – State Library

The House

It is likely the Reynolds and Oliver lived in the properties as they finished building them. In 1885, James Oliver is living and owns 431 Napier Street, William Reynolds is living and own 429 Napier Street and William Oldfield (a carpenter who travelled from England with his family) had moved from 28 Westgarth Street into 427 Napier (which was also owned by William Reynolds).

The house and 429 areowned by Reynolds until after his death.

The house is a classic example of polychrome brickwork on a cottage. Most of the houses built by Reynolds featured such brickwork, particularly the churches he built later on in his life. The house shows no sign of having ever been painted other than the cream painted top of the parapet, pediment and balustrade. The parapet also features the polychrome brickwork, above which a simple frieze of three patera. The pediment features a small scallop shell with an acroterion on either side and at the edges of the patterned balustrade. These would have likely all supported urns when first built. The house has a transom, but this is unlikely original. The interesting feature of these three houses (and one further up Napier St) is the voussoir niche on either side of the window. The window is decorated with barley twists. The verandah appears to be of ogee profile. I believe the tiles on the front porch are original (some are very worn) as is the bluestone step and garden edging. The palisade iron fence set in bluestone is also original from Oakley’s Brunswick Foundry of Weston St, Brunswick, but it leans at an angle due to ground movement over the years. (Glossary)

John William Oldfield (Carpenter) and Hannah Oldfield – resident 1885-1903

John was born in 1833 in Almondbury, Yorkshire England. His father died when he was 3 years old and when he was 23 he married Elizabeth Atha who was the same age. Together they had four children, Harriet (1858), Law (1860), Helena (1864) and Edith (1867). In 1869 both John’s wife Elizabeth (June) and his mother (July) pass away leaving John with four very young children.

In January the following year, John marries Hannah Lindley and in March 1970 they depart Plymouth and arrive in Australia in May. The children are 11, 10, 5 and 2.

Settling in Australia, Hannah and John have lots of children, Ellen (1871), Harry (1872), Clara (1874), Rosa Jane (1876), Mary Ann (1878), Jessie (1880), Amy Alice (1883), and Elsie May (1886). Harry unfortunately passes away at age 5, so by the time they move into 427 Napier Street, Edith (18), Ellen (14), Clara (11), Rosa Jane (9), Mary Ann (7), Jessie (5), Amy (2) would have all been squished into the little 3 bedroom cottage on the corner of Napier and Westgarth and the following year, Elsie May joined them. So John and Hannah likely had 8 girls living with them in 1886.

In August 1890, John helps his son Law (now 30 years old) build 415 Station Street, Carlton a two storey terrace (MCC registration 4612 [Burchett Index], Fee 1.15.0 two storey house, 18 August 1890).

Unfortunately John William passed away on 14 June 1893 aged 60 years.

The above photo was taken in April 1901. The photo is taken from Gore street, looking west along Westgarth Street. There were no houses between Gore and Napier Street north of Westgarth Street, so the three houses in the middle of this picture are 427-431 Napier Street. It is the oldest photo I have located of these houses. (Junior Cricket: Fitzroy La Mascotte v. South Yarra. Scene of the exciting play on Saturday at Smith Street Reserve, Fitzroy, The Australasian, 27 April 1901, p.26)

In 1902, Ellen (Nellie) Oldfield is married to Thomas James Pinsent at 427 Napier, likely taking advantage of the open land across the road from the house and the street.

In 1903 Hannah, Jessie (dressmaker), Mary Ann (book keeper) and Rosa Jane (dressmaker) are all recorded as still living at 427. Somewhere between 1903 and 1909 Hannah and her daughters, including Elsie May (Milliner) moved to 480 Napier Street, which was also owned by William Reynolds.

William Wicks and Wilhelmina Wicks – resident 1904

William and Wilhelmina along with their son William moved into 427 in 1904/1905 and are recorded in the Electoral Roll and Sands & MacDougall as living there. William Reynolds remains the owner.

William had previously lived at 379 Napier Street in 1903 (Electoral Roll).

This photo is from Julie Dash. She notes that the photo is Violet (daughter), William (Father), William (son), Emily Wilhelmina (Mother) and daughter (Florence). I am not sure when this was taken, clearly not 379 Napier or 427 Napier.

William Dash – resident 1905

John Kirkbride – resident 1910

Leslie Donald and Mrs L McDonald – resident 1915-1925

Leslie Donald MacDonald (Carpenter) (Pte, Regiment 602, 23rd Bn), and Harold Russell MacDonald (Carpenter) (Pte, Regiment 1336, 24th Bn) both were in the war (Database of WW1 Soldiers as at 25 October 2015).

Leslie J Brunsma – resident 1930

Thomas H. Johnston – resident 1935

Mrs Martha Bowden – resident 1940 – 1950

C Tavenra – resident 1955

D Celata – resident 1960

F Mazzone – resident 1965

D Zafiropoulos – resident 1970-1975

The images below show the house from the front and side (Westgarth Street). While the house is very similar today, there are two key differences. The first is the door and window trims were white in the early 70’s and the back has been modified to change the straight pitch roof to have a back area which is slightly longer on the right hand side (housed the bathroom) and a rounded back room to give more space for dining. The other interesting thing with these pictures is that they show that the central fireplace which would have been towards the front of the house had been removed by the 1970s.

Committee for Urban Action (between 1970-1974) – Identifier CUAFY62/6-7 – State Library
Committee for Urban Action (between 1970-1974) – Identifier CUAFY6/7 – State Library

One thought on “427 Napier Street, Fitzroy

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: