431 Napier St, Fitzroy

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

August 2019 image from Realestate.com

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 also owns 427 Napier. The house is originally owned by James Oliver.

The house is a classic example of polychrome brickwork on a cottage. Most of the houses built by Reynolds and Oliver featured such brickwork, particularly the churches they built later on in his life. The house was painted at some point prior to the 1970s and in 2021 has had a chemical peel to reveal the brickwork as the owners hope to restore it to its original façade. The front verandah has also been greatly modified with the blue stone and tiles removed and the level dropped, which has resulted in a past owner adding an additional step to the front door. The front window has also been modified with the removal of the barley twists to fit iron bars. The iron fence is original built by Oakley’s Brunswick Foundry of Weston St, Brunswick.

William Reynolds (Builder) – resident in 1885 (Rate Books 1885), noting that Sands & MacDougall do not have any building recorded here in 1885, but this is likely a timing issue. The house appears to have then been sold to Francis Bain, but he never lives in the house. He is the owner for a number of years.

MacPherson Robertson (Chocolate Maker) – resident in 1886 with his wife.

He lives here for 1 year before moving to Clova, which is at 382 Napier Street, closer to his Chocolate Factory and further from the drains of Reilly Street.

On 8 July 1886, MacPherson Robertson (26) married Elizabeth Alice Hedington (24) at the North Carlton Presbyterian Church. George Taylor, author of ‘Making it Happen’ a biography of Robertson’s life, as commissioned by him said “on July 10, 1886, he felt that the time had arrived when he should at least draw a salary, so he awarded himself 3 pounds a week.” With this money he moved into his first marital house, which was at 431 Napier Street leased from James Oliver (Rate Books 1886). He was only here for a year (if that) and by 1887 he was recorded as living at Clova, 382 Napier Street, Fitzroy. By this stage, Robertson had fallen out with his father and had set up the ‘American Candy Company’ operating out of the factory located on the NE corner of Kerr and Napier Street. (MacRobertson – The Chocolate King, Jill Robertson).

The house at Clova was much closer to his work and also was likely more desirable being larger and further away from the drains of Reilly Street. Robertson lived at Clova till 1893 when he moved to Carmelea, Station Street, Fairfield.

Henry Bucklow (Butcher) – resident 1890

Vacant in 1890 (Sands & MacDougall), however the Victorian Rate Books show that on 15 December Henry was living in the house. The house was now owned by Francis Bayne (Bain).

Louis Buck – resident 1894-95

The Ratebooks, 1894, record the occupant as Fanny Buck (housewife) and Sands & MacDougall record that it is Louis Buck in 1895.

Ernest Miller – resident 1900

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)

Mrs Mary Armfield – resident 1905

Thomas W Robinson – resident 1910

Edward Frances Eccles and Mrs Mary Ann Eccles – resident 1914/15

During the war Edward Francis Eccles (Driver) of this address is recorded as a Private, Regiment No: 6739, 5th Bn. He is killed in action at ‘The Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial (Panel 7), Belgium. (Database of Fitzroy WW1 Soldiers as at 25 Oct 2015). The Argus (7 June 1921) reported that the Soldier’s next of kin were being sought. “The officer in charge, base records Victoria Barracks, Melbourne, desires to communicate with the following for the purpose of disposing the affairs of soldiers who died on service”… several names are mentioned and then “Mrs. Mary Ann Eccles, formerly of 431 Napier Street, Fitzroy”.

William Allan – resident 1915 (Sands & MacDougall)

William (Junior) George Albert Benson (Farrier) and Elsie May Benson (Home Duties) – resident 1920-1925 (Sands & Macdougall, 1920, 1925). In addition to the Bensons, John Joseph Creed and Agnes Virginia Creed as well as John Siddall and Evangeline Siddall were also resident in 1925 (Electoral Roll, 1925).

The house throughout all the period was owned by Frances Bain and was eventually sold in 1926 following his death and the death of his wife Mary Jane Bain, described as: “LOT2 – 431 Napier Street, Fitzroy, S. F. Brick and W B Cottage, 5 Rooms, Conveniences. Sewered. &c, on land 18ft, 71/2in and 93ft.6in. to R.O.W. Titles, Certificate, TERMS – CASH. Of one-third cash deposit, balance 6 and 12 months, interest 6 per cent. Paid Half Yearly. Solicitors Messrs Jamie Ion and Leonie, 136 Queen-street, Melbourne” – Auctioneer, Stott, Son, and Watson, High Street, Northcote, Preston, Fairfield” (The Argus (Melbourne, Vic: 1848-1954), Sat Nov 1926, p11, Advertising). At the time of Mary’s death, the estate of Francis Bain consisted of 305, 307, 309 and 311 Smith Street as well as 99 Gooch Street, Northcote (which is where he lived) and 431 Napier Street, which was referred to as a “brick and wood 5 roomed cottage (out of repair) known as No. 431 Napier St, Fitzroy” (source: unknown)

Arthur Quine & Mrs A Quine – resident 1926?-1955

Arthur and Annie live here for over 20 years until Arthur passed away in 1953. Sands & MacDougall record them as resident from 1930, but it is likely they were there from the sale of the residence.

“QUINE. -On June 24, at St. Vincent’s Hospital, Arthur, loving husband of Annie, 431 Napier Street, Fitzroy, loved step-father of Bert, George, Gordon, Harold (deceased), Jo (Mrs. F. W. Reid) aged 80 years. Cremated June 26.” (The Age (Melbourne, Vic: 1854-1954), Mon 29 Jun 1953, p7, Family Notices)

It is likely Annie then moved away as the house was put on the market in 1954: The Age (18 Oct 1954) reports 431 Napier Street for sale “Fitzroy: 431 Napier Street, brick, four rooms.  V.P., 3150 pounds, terms 300 pound dep. (David Corbett with T. M. Burke).” 

J Sevastopoulos – resident 1960-1975

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

One thought on “431 Napier St, Fitzroy

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: