46-48 Nicholson Street, Fitzroy (Cable Tram Engine House)

“Melbourne’s tram system is largely attributed to Francis Boardman Clapp, an American-born entrepreneur who came to Australia with grand plans of striking gold, but sooner found success in establishing Melbourne’s first bustling public tram-system. However, Clapp and the Melbourne Tramway and Omnibus Company wasn’t the only company constructing Melbourne’s mechanized tramways. No, one other company was operating at the same time. The rather long winded “Clifton Hill to Northcote and Preston Tramway Company”, to be referred to from here on out as the C.H.N.P.T.C., is credited with the initial construction, and collapse of the Clifton Hill line. Recorded as having initially opened for service in 1887, the Clifton Hill line would fall into multiple different leases, would lose money and make money, and would fall into a state of ramshackle notoriety – but ultimately, the Clifton Hill line, for all its shortcomings, would continue to operate longer than any other Melbourne cable tram, open to the public from 1890 to 1940, where the line was later converted to electric rail.” (The last Cable Tram of Melbourne, by Benjamin Petkov). The site has more information on this line.

PMTT.44 passes the former Cable Tram Engine House building while on transfer to Malvern Depot in Gertrude Street Fitzroy. Sunday, 30th May 2010
Photo: Adam Chandler

“This building was the fifth Engine house to open for the Melbourne Tramway and Omnibus Company.  It was opened on the 21st December 1887 (twelve months after the land was bought) and it is the first example where the site is not a corner one.  This is because it was a small Engine House pulling only two cables, both of them in Johnston Street (compare the three cables of the Nicholson Street Engine House).  The cost of the building alone was £12,791 4s 5d (with machinery was £38,384 19s 6d an the architects were Twentyman & Askew.  The façade of this building has been altered; the face brickwork has been painted, and a new carriage entrance inserted in the west bay.  However, the cement detailing with foliated capitals, string course at impost height, corbels at cornice line and trefoil motif capping the pilasters (a motif used on the other engine houses) provide a decorative and pleasing façade.  The elevation is broken into five bays by projecting pilasters and the use of stilted gothic arches with raised decoration is unusual on an industrial building.  Internally some original cast iron columns and fittings survive.  After 52 years of service, the Johnston Street Engine House was closed on 15th April, 1939.  The building is an important streetscape component to the Johnston Street/Brunswick Street precinct.  It is considered by the consultants, that the Nicholson Street Engine House provides a superior example of this building type” (South Fitzroy Conservation Study, 1979, p135)

The cable tram engine house, corner of Nicholson and Gertrude Sts, by Alexander Davidson
for the Melbourne Tramway and Omnibus Company, 1886, with the addition of the observation
room for the motor controller. Metropolitan Tramways Authority. (Source: Miles Lewis, Gertrude Street Walk, April 2013)
Above: Engine house, corner Gertrude and Nicholson Streets, Fitzroy (2017, Benjamin Petkov)

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