In the days before fast and reliable transport, entertainment was a necessarily a local affair, and Lambton had a multitude of halls. This month I clear up misconceptions about two of Lambton’s venues.
For the next nine years the theatre was regularly used for dramas, concerts, political meetings, exhibitions and lectures. From 1901 it fell in to disuse and by 1906 was described as “dilapidated”, and Lambton Council called for the owner to make repairs. The theatre was demolished and a new building erected in 1909.
Two years later in May 1911, the proprietor of the Northumberland Hotel, George Smith, invited tenders for “the erection and completion of large brick hall in Morehead St.” His building opened in December 1911 as the Coronation Hall, in honour of King George V. The building later became Kings Theatre and is now Lizotte’s. Because George V became king in 1910 on the death of his father, the hall is often erroneously dated to that year. However, the coronation ceremony took place the following year on 22 June 1911.
In the 1920s roller-skating had a resurgence, and the hall was briefly known as the “Coronation Skating Rink”. The similarity of name with the “Criterion Skating Rink” of 1888 led to some confusion, with some books incorrectly stating that the Criterion Rink/Star Theatre was located on the corner of Morehead and Kendall Streets. However, contemporary newspaper reports and a Hunter Water Board map from the 1890s make it clear that the Star Theatre was located on the south-west corner of De Vitre and Morehead Streets.
The article above was first published in the May 2019 edition of The Local.
Clearing up the confusion
I’m not sure when or where the conflation of the Coronation Hall with the Criterion Skating Rink began, but I was introduced to it when I first started researching and writing on Lambton’s history in 2015. Although a number of modern sources stated that the Coronation Hall was built on the site of the Criterion Skating Rink I could find no early evidence for this. Over the next few years I kept expecting that at some time I’d stumble across something to confirm the location, but nothing turned up. In 2018 I found a couple of newspaper articles that were suggestive that the Star Theatre was NOT on the corner of Kendall and Morehead St, but not definitive.
By 2019 I was also increasingly frustrated with the conflicting dates reported for the construction of the Coronation Hall, so I made a concerted effort to pin down the dates and locations of the Criterion Skating Rink/Star Theatre/Coronation Hall. A key component in this investigation was to compile a spreadsheet of references to newspaper articles that referred to these venues. As clues to the location/dates of the venues emerged, I overlaid key information into Google Earth.
I was eventually able to confirm the location of the Star Theatre with the following information:
A 3 May 1892 article makes it clear that the Criterion Skating Rink became the Star Theatre.
A advertisement from 18 February 1903 indicates that the Star Theatre was near the corner of Morehead and De Vitre Streets.
A couple of articles about footpath and kerb maintenance (23 November 1893 and 21 June 1894) indicate that the Star Theatre was on Morehead St, probably on the west side.
The evidence thus far points strongly to the theatre being on one of the corners of De Vitre and Morehead St, but which of the four corners?
The advertisement from 18 February 1903 is for a house and property on one of the corners. By comparing the dimensions of the blocks of land with property boundaries available from the NSW Globe KML I could determine that the land for sale was on the north-west corner.
The north-east corner was ruled out as maps were clear that it was part of the block of land allocated for the Post and Telegraph Office.
The south-east corner was a promising possibility. To this day there is a hall standing on this location (now a private residence). Could this hall have been the Star Theatre? However newspaper articles and photos from Newcastle Library Photobank make it clear that this hall was the Masonic hall, constructed in August 1906, prior to council calling on the owners of the Star Theatre to make repairs in September 1906.
By a process of elimination, the Star Theatre must have been located on the south-west corner. Having come to this conclusion, shortly afterwards Julie Keating provided me with confirming evidence by pointing me to the 1890s Water Board maps, which showed a theatre on that location, just as I had deduced it should be.
Regarding the Coronation Hall, references to that name only started appearing in the newspapers in late 1911. But there was some doubt as to whether that was because it was newly erected building, or the renaming of an existing building. I confirmed that it was a new building when I found the advertisement from 10 May 1911 where “Tenders are invited for the erection and completion of large brick hall in Morehead-street, Lambton, for Mr George Smith.”
Lambton has had a large number of different halls, theatres, and entertainment venues over the years. Some of the halls were associated with hotels, and often the hall was named after the hotelier at the time. Consequently the same hall could be referred to by many different names over the years. To help keep track of the different halls I have created a spreadsheet with references to relevant newspaper articles. Note that this is a work in progress, and not a definitive list.
25 June 1892 – Anniversary service and public tea for the Lay Methodist Sabbath School
25 July 1892 – Political meetings, on this occasion an address by George Houston Reid, then leader of the NSW opposition, who later became Premier of NSW (1894-1899) and Prime Minister of Australia (1904-1905).
26 February 1900 – “CAPTAIN JOHN RUSSELL, the world renowned Explorer, will give one of his popular and amusing Entertainments, illustrated by one of the most powerful Syopticans in the world.” (A sciopticon was also known as a magic lantern.)
The Victoria Hall
For reasons of space and simplicity, one detail I omitted from the published article was what was built on the site of the Star Theatre in 1909. An article from 7 June 1890 reported on a dance to celebrate the opening of the Victoria Hall.
The hall is a neat structure, and is erected on the site of the old Star Theatre at the corner of Morehead and De Vitre streets. It occupies a floor space of 50ft by 24ft., with a stage on the western end. Ventilation has been well arranged, and with high walls the sounding propensities are good. Mr. J. Hutton was congratulated on his enterprise.
For the next year, there are a few references to this hall, until a final mention on 21 July 1910. What happened to this hall is unknown. As is often the case in researching local history, as one mystery is solved, another rises in its place.
"Two of our enterprising townsmen are about to erect large skating rinks. Mr. N. Elliott's, in Morehead-street, when complete will be about 50 x 50, and will certainly surpass any building for size in the town." (There is no evidence that the second rink, planned to be erected by Mr Cairns, was ever built.)
First mention of the Crriterion skatin rink by name. In an advertisement: "CRITERION SKATING RINK, Lambton.-Skating Match between two local amateurs will take place TO-NIGHT; £5 stakes, and half-mile race."
"Mr. Elliott, the proprietor of the Criterion Skating Rink, has decided to make a change in his building, which deserves special mention. A stage has been fitted up with the necessary appliances added, also the floor
covered with commodious forms, and additional electric lamps have been arranged suitably, which gives the building quite a changed and taking appearance. It now bears the name of the Star Theatre."
"A dance to celebrate the opening of the Victoria Hall, Lambton, was held on Friday evening. The hall is a neat structure, and is erected on the site of the old Star Theatre at the corner of Morehead and De Vitre streets."
"The Coronation Hall, Lambton (near tram terminus), will shortly be opened as the Adelphi Picture Palace, under the direction of the lessees, Messrs. A. F. Ralph and Son. There will be seating for 600 to 700 persons. Provision is also made to enable a large picture to be produced by a powerful electric plant and cinematograph."
"The remodelled Lambton Theatre was opened last night by Mr. L. J. Copeland. A big crowd was present for the first screening in the building since it was closed some months ago for alterations. The building shows a tasteful use of the modern architectural style without unnecessary adornment."
I have just finished making quite a few updates and additions to my Lambton Council Chambers page. In light of Newcastle Council’s impending and controversial move of their council chambers to Newcastle West, I was quite amused by a quote from Alderman Dent in March 1887 in connection with the need for a new Council Chambers for Lambton …
“The present building was a beastly place. When they looked around they saw the very walls in mourning, whether for the sins of the aldermen he knew not.”
Alderman Dent’s desire for new chambers was fulfilled just a few months later when the Council building in the corner of Lambton Park was formally opened on 21 July 1887.
My April article for The Local is now out, this month on how I uncovered the true identity of one of the men whose name is engraved on the Lambton Park WW1 memorial gates. Private George Sturey was killed in France in 1918, but that wasn’t his real name.
In five years of researching and writing local history, this has been one of the most satisfying discoveries for me. This coming Anzac Day will be an opportunity to remember “George” and his sacrifice with greater clarity, know that we know who he was.
Who was George Sturey? His name is one of 140 engraved on the Lambton Park WW1 memorial gates, and one of 29 shown as killed in action. This month marks 100 years since the planned opening ceremony of the gates in April 1919, a ceremony that never took place because the influenza pandemic at the time restricted public gatherings.
For the centenary of the gates, I set about compiling information on the soldiers listed on the pillars. By searching online resources from the Australian War Memorial and the National Archives, I managed to confirm the identity of most of the men, including all but one of those listed as killed. While newspapers were filled with reports of Lambton boys enlisting, departing and returning, there was but one scant reference to Sturey, in July 1918 where “Mrs Hincks of Pearson Street Lambton has received word that Private George Sturey has died of wounds.”
Searching the online records, I could find no trace of Sturey. In researching other soldiers I had found numerous errors with the gate inscriptions. Perhaps “Sturey” was a mis-spelling, or maybe an anglicised form of a German surname? Searching every possible name variant I could think of revealed nothing.
Eventually, after a page-by-page study of the embarkation rolls, in the records of the SS Port Napier, I located Salvatore Sturiali of Lambton, a surname that Australians would naturally shorten to Sturey. Confirmation came from the Red Cross “Wounded and Missing” files where a soldier reporting on Sturiali’s death recalled “We used to call him George”.
Sturiali died on 21 June 1918 on the Somme battlefield, when a German artillery shell hit the cookhouse he was serving in. His fellow soldiers described him as a “short, dark, curly headed chap” who “was very popular”. An Italian born immigrant to Australia, killed on French soil, alongside the British in a war against Germany, Sturiali stands as an example of why the 1914-18 conflict was aptly named a World War.
The article above was first published in the April 2019 edition of The Local.
There were three key documents that confirmed that the George Sturey on the Lambton Park Memorial Gates was Salvatore Sturiali.
The following points summarise what we know of Sturiali, as gleaned from his war service records.
Born 1892 in Riposto, on the island of Sicily, in Italy.
Had a brother in Italy
No relatives in Australia
His mother Angelina Sturiali resided in Riposto, Italy at the time of his enlistment.
Served as an apprentice for 12 months on the sailing ship “Australian”
Lived in Pearson Street, Lambton.
“Prior to enlisting he was employed by Messrs. J. C. Davies and Sons and W. Timmins, contractors.”
Occupation on enlistment form shown as “Bricklayers Labourer”
“a little short dark chap”
“he spoke broken English”
“dark curly hair”
“about 5ft 7in in height, dark, curly headed, clean shaved”
Enlisted 11 Sep 1916, aged 22 years and 8 months.
Assigned to 7th reinforcements of the 46th Infantry Battalion.
Embarked from Australia on SS Port Napier, 7 Nov 1916.
Was in D Company of the 46th Battn.
“employed in the officers mess”
“was batman to several officers”
“He was an officers’ cook”
“He was an officer’s waiter”
Wounded at Battalion Headquarters at Sailly-le-Sec, when a German artillery shell hit the cook house Sturiali was serving in at about 9am on 21 June 1918. The battalion headquarters was located in a gully north-west of Sailly-le-Sec, and was about a mile behind the front line.
Taken to the 12th Field Ambulance nearby.
Died of wounds a few hours later at the 47th Casualty Clearing Station near Corbie.
Buried at Crouy British Cemetery, outside the village of Crouy-sur-Somme.
Sturey is also listed on the Honour Roll at the front of the former Lambton Post Office, although his stated age of 25 is probably incorrect. On his enlistment form in September 1916 Sturiali lists his age as 22 years and 8 months, which means he would have been 24 years of age at his death in June 1918.
"Mrs. Hincks, of Pearson-street, Lambton, has received word that Private George Sturey has died
of wounds. Prior to enlisting he was employed by Messrs. J. C. Davies and Sons and W. Timmins, contractors."
"There was a fairly large gathering on
Saturday afternoon to witness the unveiling of the roll of honour gates. At the time fixed for the opening, Alderman Hardy said it was regretted that in consequence of the influenza restrictions the proposed opening ceremony would have to be dispensed with."
The Lambton Residents Group initiative over spring and summer of 2018/19, celebrating 150 years of retail history in Elder Street Lambton, has come to an end. The bloominghistory.com domain is no longer active, but I have preserved an archival copy of the website at bloominghistory.lachlanwetherall.com
In 1869 Thomas Adam purchased 54 acres of Crown land south of Glebe Rd, subdivided it, and began selling lots to the public. Adamstown was born. In the next 15 years the population grew to about 1000, and the residents began petitioning for a local council to be formed. Their principal concern was the poor state of roads in the town. A counter petition was led by the mining companies, principally objecting to the rates they would have to pay.
The arguments for local government won the day, and on 31 December 1885 the NSW Governor officially proclaimed the “Municipal District of Adamstown”. The election of nine aldermen took place on 6 March 1886. For the next few weeks, the Council met in local halls and hotels while they quickly arranged the erection of a small weatherboard building in Victoria St to use as Council Chambers.
Six years later, in April 1892, they commissioned larger and grander chambers. Designed by architects Bennett and Yeomans in the Renaissance style, the building was erected on the corner of Narara and Kyle Roads. With construction not fully completed, 500 people gathered for the official opening on 22 August 1892. The Postmaster-general John Kidd declared the chambers open, and the fire brigade then “christened the building with a copious stream of water.”
The building was used for the next 46 years until Adamstown Council ceased to exist with the formation of the City of Greater Newcastle Council in March 1938. It was subsequently leased to the Returned Soldier’s League in 1941. From 1947, the building was used for a number of purposes, including at one stage as emergency housing for a homeless family. As the building aged, it gradually fell into disuse and disrepair.
Curiously, while the grand council chambers in Narara road was demolished over 50 years ago, and the site is now used by Hunter Health, the initial modest building in Victoria St survived, and is now used for a medical practice.
The article above was first published in the March 2019 edition of The Local.
The Jesmond bushland may be a nature reserve, but it also contains a fair amount of rubbish from 200 years of European settlement. However, the garbage of one generation can become the historical artefacts for a later generation.
A few years ago, amongst the discarded soft drink bottles and cans of this age, I found half a brick bearing a partial inscription “EJ & J PE… LTD STOU…” With a bit of guesswork as to what the missing letters might be, an internet search revealed that it was from the EJ & J Pearson Firebrick Works in Stourbridge, in the Worcestershire district of England.
Firebricks are a specialised kind of brick that can withstand high temperatures, and are used in the inner linings of furnaces or kilns. Although they were being made in Australia in the 19th century, they were considered inferior to those from the ‘mother country’. Stourbridge in England was the celebrated hub of firebrick manufacturing. The Sydney Morning Herald reported in 1879 that “the Stourbridge fire bricks are known all over the world for their durability; indeed the clay used for this purpose cannot be surpassed.”
The “EJ & J Pearson” company was one of many brick makers in Stourbridge, and was founded in 1860 by Edward Jewkes Pearson and John Pearson. By 1903 the company operated three sites and were producing approximately three-quarters of a million firebricks per week, to be used in England and around the world.
The brick that lies in the Jesmond bushland would probably have been used in a furnace, perhaps to provide air ventilation for the Lambton Colliery, or possibly to heat a boiler that powered a steam engine. It is impossible now to know its exact purpose, or what year it arrived on our shores. But this well-travelled brick is a reminder that Newcastle with its port and industries has been from the beginning, and remains to this day, a globally connected city.
The article above was first published in the February 2019 edition of The Local.
For simplicity, in the published story I referred to a single brick that I had found in the Jesmond bushland. I actually found two EJ & J Pearson firebricks, the second one located about 15 metres away from the first
The regard for Stourbridge fire bricks is exhibited in a newspaper report on 31 December 1884, on the silver mine at Sunny Corner (between Bathurst and Lithgow), where it is stated that …
“Just now the larger furnace is idle, the brick lining having been burned out. This was of colonial fire bricks, but did not prove suitable, and only the best Stourbridge bricks will be used in future.”
The Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History has a number of pages relevant to the EJ & J Pearson firebricks
Stourbridge firebricks are held in high regard … "Just now the larger furnace is idle, the brick lining having been burned out. This was of colonial fire bricks, but did not prove suitable, and only the best Stourbridge bricks will be used in future."