Jesmond Hill horse racing track

Ever since I obtained a 1944 aerial photograph of the Lambton region from Newcastle Library, I was intrigued by this loop of track to the south of Newcastle Road.

My guess was that it was used as a training track for horses.

While researching another unrelated matter in Trove today, I found a 25 June 1921 newspaper article on the Jubilee of Lambton that solves the mystery. The article, in reminiscing on times past, reports that

“Many horse racing events were held at the road known as the Jesmond Hill, from the Dark Creek bridge to the present site of the reservoir.”

Adamstown Mechanics’ Institute

In researching the history of Adamstown Council I discovered that the first council meeting was held in the Adamstown Mechanics’ Institute building on Wednesday 10th March 1886. Newcastle Library has undated photo of the institute building, but there was no immediate information on where this building was located.

Adamstown Mechanics Institute. Photo by Ralph Snowball. Hunter Region Library.

After consulting my index of historical real estate maps I found a 1921 map that shows that the building was on the west side of Union St, just to the south of Victoria Street. (Union St was the early name of the section of Brunker Rd south of Glebe Rd.)

Location of Adamstown Mechanics’ Institute, from a 1921 real estate map. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

The Adamstown Mechanic’s Institute started in August 1879, making use of rented rooms in Mrs Fennessy’s house. A year later, at the first annual meeting, the institute was still renting premises, but plans were afoot to erect their own building. These plans came to fruition the following year, and the new wooden building on Union Street was officially opened on 6th August 1881. The building measured 66 by 165 feet, with the inner hall being 40 x 20 feet, and was erected at a cost of about £120, in the short contract time of twelve weeks.

The wooden Mechanics Institute building was removed in 1928, as part of the widening of Union Street, and a new brick building was erected on the same site, and officially opened on 25th August 1928.

Many grand speeches were made that day expressing high hopes for the future of the Mechanics Institute, hopes that were soon dashed. Within eight years, dwindling of membership meant that the institute was unable to meet the repayments on the loan for the building. In 1936 the trustees appealed to Adamstown Council to take over the institute, but the impending Greater Newcastle Council scheme stalled negotiations.

The Greater Newcastle Council which came into being in 1938 was uninterested in assisting the Adamstown Mechanics Institute, and by April 1939 it was clear that there was no hope for the future. “Unable to carry on through lack of finance the committee of Adamstown Mechanics’ Institute has decided to advise the trustees of the institution’s inability to meet liabilities.” The committee thus recommended “that the creditor bank be invited to foreclose and dispose of the property.”

Subsequently the Adamstown RSL purchased the building in April 1942, and was officially opened as RSL club room by the State Secretary of the RSL (Mr A. R. Cutler, VC) on Saturday 18th July 1942.

The Adamstown Mechanics’ Institute building is officially opened as the Adamstown RSL club room by A.R. Cutler, VC. Newcastle Morning Herald, 20 July 1942.

The 1928 Mechanics’ Institute building, photographed July 2017.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
2 Aug 1879"Mechanics' Institute, Adamstown. We are glad to announce that the above institution is now fairly started. The committee have secured excellent rooms, and their carvass for subscriptions has been liberally responded to. The roll now numbers sixty members, and the institution will be formally opened on Monday next."
20 Aug 1880First yearly meeting. The institute is still renting premises, but is looking to erect their own building.
9 Aug 1881
6 Aug 1881
Official opening of the new wooden building for the Adamstown Mechanics' Institute.
12 Mar 1886The Mechanics' Institute is also known as the "School of Arts".
25 Aug 1927"Plans and specifications of the proposed new institute have been approved, and immediately sanction has been obtained the present building will be removed to fall into line with the widening scheme of Union-street."
5 Sep 1927Adamstown Council grants the building application for the new Mechanics' Institute building.
25 Oct 1927"Union-street, Adamstown, is nearly normal again after the widening operations. An important improvement to the street will be the new Mechanics' Institute, which the committee hopes to erect as soon as details have been finalised."
2 Feb 1928A new Mechanics' Institute building "is to be erected at a cost of £2220."
24 May 1928"The secretary of Adamstown Mechanics' Institute wrote the local council last night, agreeing to the removal of portions of the Institute."
"It was decided that the council should approach the Main Roads Board for £30 compensation for the land given by the Institute for the improvement of Union-street roadway."
2 Aug 1928
31 Jul 1928
Annual meeting of the Adamstown Mechanics' Institute - "now the new institute was nearing completion the membership was increasing."
"The chairman said the new building would be ready for occupation in a few weeks. The opening was fixed for Saturday, August 25."
27 Aug 1928
25 Aug 1928
Official opening of the new building for the Adamstown Mechanics' Institute/School of Arts.
20 Aug 1936"A special meeting of Adamstown Council will be held to consider a proposal by the trustees of the Adamstown Mechanics' Institute that the council should take over the institute and accept responsibility for the £1600 owing on the building."
The President of the Institute (Mr. H. P. Townsend) said "the days of mechanics' institutes as previously constituted had passed."
6 Apr 1939"Unable to carry on through lack of finance the committee of Adamstown Mechanics' Institute has decided to advise the trustees of the institution's inability to meet liabilities." A recommendation will be made "that the creditor bank be invited to foreclose and dispose of the property."
14 May 1942
30 Apr 1942
Report that the Adamstown Sub-branch of the Returned Soldiers' League "had taken possession of the School of Arts on April 30 and documents had been completed for the final transfer."

Update, Aug 2017

Paul Zuljan sent me a photograph of an old photo from his family that shows a large number of people posing in front of the Mechanics’ Institute building, The date and the occasion is unknown, but I have a suspicion that it may be the occasion of the opening of the new brick building in 1928.

Adamstown Mechanics’ Institute. Photo supplied by P. Zuljan.

Hollywood revisited

A few weeks ago I met up with Mike Scanlon from the Newcastle Herald, and we had a pleasant chat about a number of local history subjects, including the depression era shanty town “Hollywood” near Jesmond Park, which I wrote about last March. Mike has made use of some of my material in his article in the Herald today and made it available to a wider audience.

You can check out my page on Hollywood for further background information and photos, and also leave comments there. You can also read my monthly column for the Lambton and New Lambton Local, “That was then, this is now”, which focuses on the history of these suburbs, as well as other blog articles on the local history of Newcastle.

Fragmentary remains of human habitation, in “Hollywood”.

Birdwood Park

In this weekend’s article in the Newcastle Herald, Mike Scanlon writes about the restoration of the Birdwood Flag, made in 1917 for General Sir William Birdwood. In the article Mike mentions that

“The now truncated Birdwood Park in the West End is probably named after this popular WWI general.”

Searching Trove I found that the park was constructed by Newcastle Council in 1892, was originally called “West End Park” and covered three acres.

Newcastle Morning Herald, 14 Apr 1892, p4.

Newcastle Morning Herald, 17 Nov 1892, p8.

Corporal Barrett’s 1910 map of Newcastle shows the trapezoid shaped park adjacent to the brewery, with the modern King and Parry streets yet to be built.

Overlaying the 1910 map into Google Earth we can see that the park originally extended further to the south of present day King and Parry streets.

1910 map overlaid into Google Earth, showing location of West End Park.

Using Google Earth Pro’s area measurement tool, the area of the park in the 1910 map shows as 3.2 acres, which corresponds well with the three acres mentioned in the 1892 newspaper article.

Area of West End Park in 1910.

In August 1920, Newcastle Council renamed the park to “Birdwood Park”.

Newcastle Morning Herald, 1 Sep 1920, p6.

Although it is not explicitly stated that this renaming is in honour of General Birdwood, that is almost certainly the reason for the name change. In just the year before, New Lambton Council had renamed one of their streets in honour of the WW1 general.

A real estate poster from 1924 shows that the construction of Parry St (and a narrow diagonal section of King St) has truncated the park, reducing its size to about 2.6 acres.

Real Estate Poster from 1924, showing Birdwood Park.

An aerial photograph from 1944 nicely shows the shape of the park at that time.

Birdwood Park, 1944. Newcastle Region Library, Local Studies.

A later re-alignment and widening of King St resulted in a further truncation of the park, down to its present size of about 1.8 acres.

Birdwood Park in 1944, with the outline of the present day streets.

Birdwood Park 2016. Google Earth.

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