The many roads to town

For years I was curious why the main road from Wallsend into Newcastle had so many names … Newcastle Rd, Griffiths Rd, Donald St. It turns out that the substantial traffic corridor into town that we see today is a relatively recent patchwork of disparate roads connected together.

In Lambton’s early days the roads between townships and into Newcastle were unplanned tracks meandering across the landscape. In 1874 the residents of Lambton and other communities agitated for the government to construct a proper road from Wallsend to Newcastle, noting in a public meeting on 23rd April 1874 “that, up till the year 1873, no road, except a bush road, has existed”. Although there was broad agreement that a new road was needed, there was considerable disagreement on where to build it, some supporting a northern route via Young Rd and others a southern route through New Lambton. The disagreement was so heated that the public meeting ended in great confusion and no decision when “every symptom of a free fight became apparent.”

The dispute was so dogged in the following months that eventually the Government approved the construction of both roads. Ninety years on however, neither route was the main road. In the 1960s and 70s, Newcastle Rd was widened, Griffiths Rd constructed, and the Donald St railway overpass erected to form the four lane road to town we know today.

Looking east along Newcastle Road at Lambton circa 1920s. Croudace Street can be seen running off to the south in the mid-ground. Image provided by Grant Morgan and used with permission.

Looking east along Newcastle Road at Lambton circa 1920s. Croudace Street can be seen running off to the south in the mid-ground. Image provided by Grant Morgan and used with permission.

The photo above shows Newcastle Rd looking east towards the intersection with Dent St and Croudace St. The photo is undated but is probably from the 1920s. The abundance of names for this road has a long history – the section in the foreground of this photo was once called Hartley St, and the section beyond, to the east, was originally Young St.

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Newcastle Rd at Lambton as it appears in 2015. Note the houses fronting the westbound side of the road were demolished to make way for road widening.


The article above was published in the May 2015 edition of the Lambton Local.

Additional Details

“The Story of Lambton” published by Newcastle Family History Society, describes some of the saga of the building the road into town. There are a couple of details there which need clarification.

  1. On page 42 “The Story of Lambton” states that the popular northern route was “from Lambton via Betty Bunn’s crossing [rail crossing at Griffith’s Road] to Waratah (the present day Lambton Road).” This is incorrect – the northern route that was proposed was actually along Young Road, originally called “Dog and Rat” road. See the following letters to the editor from 5th May 1874, both of which give clear details of the two proposed routes.
  2. On page 43 “The Story of Lambton” states that “By the end of 1875 the northern road was opened but the southern route took a little longer to complete.” While this is strictly true, it wasn’t “opened” in the sense that we take it today, of completely constructed and ready for use. The “opening” of the northern route in November 1875 was merely a formal recognition by the government surveyor that the route was an official road route, the removal of some fences and the cutting of a rough track through the bush. Although the surveyor “opened” the road in November 1875, it was only “opened for public traffic” in September 1876, and it seems that the government didn’t allocate any funding to the road until 28 years later, in 1903.
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1912 map showing the “southern route’ in purple, the “northern route” in red, and the modern route in green.

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Google Maps showing the “southern route’ in purple, the “northern route” in red, and the modern route in green.

This 1928 road map neatly sums up the victor and vanquished in the great main road debate. The southern route via New Lambton is big and bold, while the Young Rd route is an indeterminate dashed line.

This 1928 road map neatly sums up the victor and vanquished in the main road debate. The southern route via New Lambton is a bold “main road” while the Young Rd route is a dashed “other road or track”.

The old battles of Young Road

In the 1930s the Newcastle Aero Club was established and they set out to build an Aerodrome on the Broadmeadow flats. The Aero Club purchased 4.5 acres of land and leased a further 53 acres from the District Park Trust, on the northern side of the main stormwater channel. The 53 acre portion included a triangular section of land bounded by Young Rd, Turton Rd, and the stormwater channel running from Lambton.

In order to make use of this land, the Aero club constructed a deviation of Young Rd along the Lambton stormwater channel, and requested that the government close a length of Young Rd. The aerodrome and road deviation was approved by the government in August 1932.

This aerial photograph of Broadmeadow in 1944 (reprinted in a newspaper in the recent past) shows the Young Rd deviation.

This aerial photograph of Broadmeadow in 1944 (reprinted in a newspaper in the recent past) shows the Young Rd deviation.

In this map from 1960, both the original Young Rd, and the deviation along the stormwater channel are marked on the map, with dashed lines, indicating their closure.

In this undated aerial photograph of Newcastle Aerodrome at Broadmeadow (present day site of Hunter Stadium) you can see still see a faint outline in the aerodrome paddock of where Young Rd used to run, and the deviation of Young Rd beside the Lambton stormwater channel.

A September 1944 newspaper article on a proposed extension to the aerodrome, has an accompanying map of the area, where the deviation road alongside the Lambton stormwater channel, and the Young Rd bridge over the main stormwater channel is missing. This contradicts the 1944 aerial photo. Either the map is incomplete, or the date on the aerial photograph is wrong.

This map from a September 1944 newspaper article on a proposed aerodrome extension, shows no deviation road along, or bridge over the stormwater channel.

Map accompanying a September 1944 newspaper article on a proposed aerodrome extension.

When was Young Road closed?

Its not entirely clear when Young Rd over the neutral ground was finally closed, as there is contradictory evidence.

  • A newspaper article in December 1948 says that the bridges over the stormwater drains “had been closed for 10 years”. (1938 closure?)
  • Another article from September 1951 says that the “road had been closed for five and a half years.”(1946 closure?)
  • An aerial photograph supposedly from 1944 showing the deviation road and bridge still in place.
  • An article from October 1946 talks about the “disused bridges”.

My best guess is that the bridges were closed in early 1946 and that the mention in 1948 of the bridges being closed for “10 years” was a result of mis-hearing someone say the bridges had been closed for “2 years”.

Other notes

  • The northern route had to pass over the Broadmeadow swamp between Lambton municipality and Hamilton municipality. As this flat swampy ground was neither part of Lambton or Hamilton, it is often referred to in newspaper articles as “the neutral ground”.
  • Young Road, was originally called “Dog and Rat” road, as it ran down to the area (near the present day Lambton High School) originally called “Dog and Rat”, and where the “Dog and Rat” coal pit was.

Timeline of events

The sequence of events in the great ‘road to town saga’ is shown in the following newspaper articles. The date shown is the date of the newspaper article, not the date of the events they describe.

Date  Notes
 1 Feb 1870 A petition to the government for building the Newcastle to Wallsend main road. A description of the deplorable state of the current road.
28 Sep 1872 Lambton council votes to survey a main road direct from Lambton to Hamilton.
28 Dec 1872 There has been no communication received from the Lands Office as to the survey and proclamation of the main road – “the Minister, having apparently got sick of the whole matter, now refuses to answer any letters on the subject from any of the Corporations.”
16 Jan 1873 Government surveyors have been in the area, but no official word yet on the surveying of the main road in a “past the old Dog-And-Rat Pit, in a direct line from Lambton to Hamilton.”
2 Aug 1873 Letter from the minister for lands to Lambton Council informing them that the Newcastle to Wallsend Rd has been surveyed.
22 Nov 1873 Mr. Evans (District Surveyor) to come to Lambton to report on objections to the road that he has “lately surveyed”.
21 Mar 1873 A petition is being raised to get the main road route changed to go through New Lambton.
28 Mar 1874 Consternation from Lambton council that if the main road wasn’t built over “neutral ground”, money spent on road already would be wasted.
15 Apr 1874 Rev Spicer Wood’s letter to the editor calling for a petition to parliament for funds for the main road. “Not long ago Mr. Sutherland was driven from Newcastle along the existing series of tops and bottoms, ruts and chasms, dignified by the name of road.”
 23 Apr 1874 Public meeting in Lambton calling for a petition to the government requesting the construction of a main road from Newcastle to Wallsend. The meeting ends in a near fight as arguments rage about the proposed route of the road.
 2 May 1874 Another rowdy meeting trying to get a petition up, and debating the merits of the two routes. Thomas Croudace indicates that his preferred southern route had been surveyed by Mr. Evans at his request in 1873.
 5 May 1874 Letter to the editor from Charles Harper where he describes the southern and northern routes, arguing in favour of the northern route via Young Rd.
 5 May 1874 Letter to the editor from Thomas Croudace, advocating the southern route via New Lambton. Again there are unambiguous details that show that the proposed northern route was via Young Rd.
 26 May 1874 The Government says it will approve both routes.
 6 Jun 1874 Main road has been gazetted in Govt Gazette of 29th May 1874.
 19 Sep 1874 No point spending money on Dog and Rat Rd until the Government builds the road over “neutral ground”.
 6 Mar 1875 “The opening of the main road from Newcastle to Wallsend, is just about as far from being proceeded with as it was three years ago, when the question was first mooted.”
26 Jun 1875 The Commissioner of roads visits and inspects both proposed routes, having to wade through the swamp at one point.
10 Jul 1875 Deputation to Sydney to visit the government ministers. The Minister for Lands says that the northern route will be officially opened in a few days. On the other hand the Minister for Works is saying that he favours spending the promised £400 on the southern route.
4 Sep 1875 The government backflips and decides that the main road will be built on the southern route.
11 Sep 1875 The government having decided on the southern route, sends a valuer to assess the amount of compensation it will pay to Lambton Council for road works already completed.
9 Oct 1875 Written promises from Lambton and New Lambton collieries to the Minister of Works that they would build bridges where the main road (southern route) crossed their railways.
30 Oct 1875 Grant of £310 to New Lambton council for the southern route. They will immediately call for tenders and commence construction.
30 Oct 1875 Grant of £90 to Lambton council in compensation for abandoned northern route.
13 Nov 1875 Commencement of clearing southern route.
24 Nov 1875 Surveyor Evans ordered by minister to open the northern route. ‘Opening’ the road seems to be no more than knocking down a few fences and walking the route of the road. Thomas Croudace opposes the opening and tries to re-erect the fencing at his railway. [This article begins with a good summary of the saga to this point.]
27 Nov 1875 Although the northern route has been officially opened – even plans to cut a 12 foot track through the “neutral ground” have been thwarted by Mr Croudace re-erecting the fence at the Lambton company railway crossing.
27 Nov 1875 Lambton Council wants to use the £90 granted to it in compensation, to instead be used to build the road over the “neutral ground”. The article also has an extraordinary criticism from the editor of the paper on his Lambton correspondent’s accuracy of reporting.
1 Dec 1875 Banquet to celebrate the official opening of north route main road. The rejoicing was somewhat muted and has some sense of a hollow victory. There is a degree of animosity and negativity present in some of the speeches.
4 Dec 1875 The southern road is being “extensively used by foot passengers and horsemen”. The road is “very fair” from Hamilton to the gully line, but between there and New Lambton is still “very swampy”.
4 Dec 1875 Lambton council to ask the government for £600 for construction of the road over the “neutral ground”. The council also delays any further construction in Young Rd until the issue the crossing of Lambton railway is resolved.
4 Dec 1875 The Lambton correspondent of the paper defends the accuracy of his reporting, in response to his editors criticisms of 27 Nov 1875.
13 Jan 1876 The Minister for Works says Lambton council cannot spend the £90 in compensation for works already done to build the road over “neutral ground”. The Council therefore asks the local member to request £400 in Parliament for this purpose.
20 Apr 1876 Mayor of Lambton going to Sydney to assist in pressing the government for £600 to make main road over the “neutral ground”.
31 May 1876 Southern route has been completed “for some months”, but still near impassable in wet weather.
22 Sep 1876 “The North road between Hamilton and Lambton notified in the Government Gazette had been opened for public traffic”
13 Sep 1878 The road over the “neutral ground” is not “permanently made” and is impassable in wet weather.
17 Jul 1879 The Government still hasn’t spent any money on roads in “neutral ground”.
1 Jul 1892 Lambton council lobbying New Lambton Council and the government to get “Young Road” (formerly “Dog and Rat Road”) opened up. New Lambton council is not keen on the idea.
16 Sep 1903 The government allocates £400 to improve the road connecting Lambton and Broadmeadow (Young Rd), widening it to 15ft.
23 Oct 1903 Recent completion of the bridges on the Young-road route, which cost about £700
2 Jul 1904 Still waiting for funds … “the Government has to complete Young-road as a more direct route between Lambton and Broadmeadow.”
13 Aug 1930 East Lambton Progress Association preparing to oppose the proposed closure of Young Rd associated with Newcastle Aerodrome.
18 Feb 1931 In a public hearing considering the extension of the aerodrome, the Land board recommends closure of a portion of Young Rd, and using a deviation road, already constructed 135 yards south.
19 Feb 1931 Just as it seems Young Rd has always been in rainy weather, it is described as “almost untrafficable” and a “quagmire”. A full 56 years after it effectively lost the “main road” dispute, Lambton Council objects to the closure of Young Rd because “it might become a main road in the near future.”
17 Aug 1932 The government approves the aerodrome in District part, along with a closure of part of Young Rd, with a deviation in place.
26 Aug 1932 GazettedClosurePortion of Young Rd across the aerodrome field closed in Government Gazette. See the annotation on the map.
6 May 1937 Young Rd proposed to be closed in connection with extending the aerodrome.
9 Aug 1938 More talk of Young Rd being closed in connection with extending the aerodrome. Divergent opinions on how much Young Road is used.
5 Sep 1944 Map accompanying article on proposed aerodrome extension.
1946 Young Rd closed?
3 Oct 1946 “Rebuilding was favoured to repairing disused bridges over the Young-road. East Lambton, storm water channel”
17 Dec 1948 Young Rd Bridges “had been closed for 10 years”.
11 Sep 1951 East Lambton residents want Young Rd bridges re-opened. The “road had been closed for five and a half years.”

 

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