441 Napier Street, Fitzroy

Google Image – July 2019

The house was likely built between 1890 and 1893 (Sands & MacDougall, 1890-1910). I am speculating that the house may have been built by William Reynolds and James Oliver, or that it is a fair copy of the houses that they built in 1885 at 427-431 Napier St. However, this is just speculation as Richard Thorn was also a brick layer and perhaps he built the house in the image of those built by William and James.

The house has the same cast iron railings, the polychrome brickwork is identical except for under the window, which uses the diamond rather than the zig zags, the poppyheads, the parapet is largely the same (though a larger clam shell), as are the unusual pointed polychrome niche’s on the front of the building. The house is now both the heritage cottage on the right and the new two storey addition on the left.


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.

This site was the single block 16 and other than the flats at the end of the street is the only one still to remain on its original title.

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

Richard Charles Thorn (Brick Layer & Scottish Terrier Breeder) and Emma Thorn resident: 1893-1930

Richard was a brick layer, Scottish Terrier breeder and judge who previously lived in George St, Fitzroy. He was part of the No. 1 Lodge of the Victorian Operative Bricklayers Society. Apart from dogs of which is strongly associated throughout his life (and is probably why he liked 441 Napier Street, with its large land down the south side of the house) he also was a fancier, owning rosellas and pigeons. In 1896 he showed a Jacobian Pigeon that had been bred with a Ringdove.

Master Walter Thorn won the Scotch Terrier puppy competition in October 1904 with his puppy “Hemsby Miss Perth” (The Bendigo, 13 Oct 1904). By 1915 Walter Edward Thorn went to war as a Private as part of the Regt No. 601, 6th bn. He was a Chairmaker.

By 1925, Emma (Richard’s wife), Richard and Walter are all recorded as residents (Australian Electoral Roll, 1925). But by 1935 they were no longer there.

According to Andrea Morris, who is the great great granddaughter of William Thorn (Richard’s brother), Richard married Emma Green. Andrea’s great great grandfather married Emma’s sister Sarah Green. Being brick layers, according to Andrea, they built a house at 35 Ramsden St, Clifton Hill. Thanks Andrea!

The law notice for probate states that Richard Thorn was a brick layer. Prior to his death he had been living at 10 Amiens Street, Hampton. His daughter Flora Eliza Simmons of 356 Gilbert Road Preston applied for letters of administration. Emma Thorn was the sole executrix and sole beneficiary (The Argus, 4 Oct 1940)

Alfred E Nevill & Alice Ethel Nevill resident: 1935 – 1947

Alice Ethel Nevill passed away on 4 July 1938 at her residence. She was the wife of Alfred Ernest Nevill, and mother of Hazel (Mrs Short), Maud (Mrs Gilby), Vernon Roy, Ernest, Jean (Mrs. Cain), William, Nellie, Thomas, Margaret, and Dorothy. She was aged 57 and her funeral left from 441 Napier Street on Tuesday 5 July 1938 (The Argus, 5 July 1938). Mrs Alice Ethel Nevill was the daughter of John Barass (formerly of Christmastown) (The Albury Banner and Wodonga Express, 15 July 1938). Christmastown was one of three villages established on the Indigo gold lead (south0east of Rutherglen) (Victorian Places).

In 1940 the house was owned by Ralph Short, who was husband of Hazel (Alfred and Alice’s daughter). Ralph Short’s claim to fame was successfully passing all his subjects in Grade 6 at the Helen Street State School in Northcote in 1915; and an incident in 1935 when he was cranking his truck in Scott & Sorrell’s builder’s premises in Rae Street, North Fitzroy, which was in gear and jerked forward careering out of the garage and across the road smashing into the verandah post of the newsagent’s shop of Mr G. Pitcairn. (The Herald, 3 July 1935).

It is likely the photo of Mr Pitcairn, the newsagent and the Ralph’s truck (The Herald, 3 July 1935)

In July 1942, Alfred Ernest Nevill also passes away at 441. His funeral also left from this address on 9 July 1942.

In 1947, Jean Alice Short, only child of Mr. and Mrs R Short of 441 Napier Street, Fitzroy married William Lawrence Clayton, the eldest son of Mr and Mrs W J Clayton of Yarrambat, Victoria.

A Traikov resident: 1950-1975

Ivan Filipov Altin was granted his Certificate of Naturalisation dated 30 January 1963 (Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, 18 April 1963, p. 1347). Yana Altin was granted her certificate dated 19 August 1965 (Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, 9 December 1965, p. 5307). They must have been sharing the residence with A Traikov as he is named in Sands & Macdougall for 1960 and 1965.

Committee for Urban Action (between 1970-1974) – Identifier CUAFY62/6-7 – State Library
The house and land in 2010 when it was sold for $1.361m (Realestate.com)
The rear of the house and land in 2010 when it was sold for $1.361m (Realestate.com)
Floor plan – The house and land in 2010 when it was sold for $1.361m (Realestate.com)The house and land in 2010 when it was sold for $1.31m (Realestate.com)

2 thoughts on “441 Napier Street, Fitzroy

  1. Richard Charles Thorn was my Great Grandfathers (William) older brother, both bricklayers. Their father Richard was also a builder. William built a house at 35 Ramsden St Clifton Hill. It is entirely possible this home was built by the Thorns after they left their childhood home nearby in Fitzroy
    Richard and William Thorn married sisters Emma and Sarah Green.

    1. Hi Andrea, That is fascinating – do you have any further information on this house? I speculated that it is build by William Reynolds as it mirrors the three he and James Oliver built at 427-431. Do you have anything further – You are right given William and Richard Thorn are also bricklayers perhaps they did build it, but maybe in the design of the others in the street. When it was built there was nothing across the road. Also I love 35 Ramsden St – what a beautiful house! If you have any photos, stories or documents – I would love to see them – please drop me an email at raxton@mac.com

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