Railway Street, Merewether

A relative of mine lives in Railway Street, Merewether, and that got me digging in to the origin of the name.

Presumably it was so named  because of a colliery railway running along or near the street. A 1920s map shows the tram line running along Railway Street, and a colliery railway running along a different route further to the south.

1920s map showing both the Glebe tramway and Glebe Hill Colliery railway. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

So why is it called Railway St when it was a tramway running along the street? Some further digging revealed that the tramway to Glebe was opened on 19th April 1894. Originally called the Merewether line, it was later renamed to the Glebe line to avoid confusion when the Merewether Beach tram line was opened in October 1903. The name “Railway street” pre-dates the tram line, with the name being used as early as 1886. So what is the railway that it refers to?

A. P. Pulver in 1976 compiled a plan showing early coal company railways, which shows that in this area there were two rail lines going to the Glebe Pit – the solid line following the path of Railway Street, and the dashed line further to the south.

Both these rail routes are still visible in a 1954 aerial photograph.These rail lines went to a number of collieries, including the Glebe Pit pictured below.

A Pit Colliery, Newcastle, NSW, 24 February 1899. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

So why were there two rail lines going to the same location? Two newspaper reports from 1881 throw some light on the matter. From 3 Aug 1881

“The railway from Newcastle to the Glebe pit is now nearly completed with the big rails which the company are having laid down in order that the Government engine can haul from the pit, instead of the company’s engine taking the coal from the pit to the siding in town.”

And a month later on 10 Sep 1881

“We have had the pleasure of witnessing the Government locomotive coming direct from Newcastle to the Glebe pit to take away our coals. In connection with the past history of the coal trade in this locality much might be written, for in primitive times we remember when the black diamonds were conveyed to Newcastle by bullock teams. Then we so far advanced as to get a line of wooden rails laid down, along which the coal was taken in waggons drawn by horses. Then came the iron rails and “the puffer,” who for many years screamed and tugged in the performance of her duty as if the coal trade of the port was alone depending upon her efforts. Next came the splendid locomotive, the property of the N.C.M. Co.; and now fine steel rails, a good track, Government engine, break van, &c.”

The best sense I can make of this is that the original railway route with wooden rails and horse drawn wagons (and later upgraded to iron rails) was along the path of Railway Street. Then in 1881 a new railway with “fine steel rails” was constructed on a different route further to the south. With the original railway no longer needed its path became Railway Street, and was subsequently used also used for the tramway in 1894.

Glebe Hill Reservoir

The University of Newcastle Cultural Collections site has a Ralph Snowball photo with the caption “Construction of the water reservoir, New Lambton, NSW 1917”. In tracking down the location of this photo, thanks to Robert Watson I somewhat surprisingly ended up in a different suburb and a different year.

Construction of Glebe Hill Reservoir, 1886. Located at 65 Macquarie St, Merewether. Photo by Ralph Snowball, University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

Part 1: Ridgeway Road?

Given that the photo is taken from an elevated position overlooking a flat plain I had always assumed that the location was where the reservoir now is at the top of Ridgeway Road, New Lambton Heights.

Water Reservoir site, corner of Ridgeway Rd and Lookout Rd, New Lambton Heights.

A search of Trove appeared to confirm my assumption, with a 9th January 1917 newspaper article reporting that

“The construction of the New Lambton reservoir was completed on the 3rd instant, and after satisfactory tests were made the reservoir was brought into use.”
Further investigation however cast serious doubt on this being the site of the Snowball photo, for none of the other details matched up.
  • the topography of the land wasn’t right – there is a deep gully below Ridgeway Rd, but in the photo the land slopes down more gently.
  • the reservoir in the photo was of brick construction, but the New Lambton reservoir was of reinforced concrete.
  • the reservoir in the photo was large (from estimates of the dimensions in the photo I calculated the capacity to be 350,000 imperial gallons) whereas the New Lambton reservoir was only 50,000 gallons.

Visiting the site of the Ridgeway Rd reservoir revealed that the 50,000 gallon 1917 reservoir is still there, covered in ivy, beside the new 1954 steel reservoir. It is clearly not the reservoir in the Snowball photo.

The 1917 ivy covered concrete reservoir, Ridgeway Rd, New Lambton Heights.

On the horizon of the Snowball photo there is a very faint outline that appeared to me to be the outline of Shepherd’s Hill on the coast. What other reservoirs on the hills around the Newcastle would provide a view eastwards over the flatlands towards the coast?

A 1940 map of Newcastle shows reservoir locations as small blue circles. Having ruled out the Ridgeway Rd site [1], I then considered Lambton Reservoir [2], St James Rd Reservoir [3], and Lookout Reservoir [4].

1940 map of Newcastle, showing reservoir locations.

Part 2: Lambton?

Lambton Reservoir was built in 1885 and sits in the middle of Newcastle Road at the top of the hill.

Lambton Reservoir, Newcastle Road.

Interestingly, a drawing of the Lambton Reservoir shows that it is the same design as the reservoir in the Snowball photo, with a central dome and two concentric rings of arches to form the roof.

Design of Lambton Reservoir, 1885.

But despite the similarity of design, the topography of the land in the photo doesn’t match. If the photo was of Lambton Reservoir we would expect to see the township of Lambton (including the very prominent Post and Telegraph Office building) before us.

Part 3: St James Road?

The reservoir (marked 3 in the map above) in New Lambton, between St James Rd and Queens Rd was built soon after August 1926. It didn’t seem to match up too well with the shape of the land in the Snowball photo – the St James Rd reservoir appears to have a slight ridge to its right, which is absent in the old photo. Also in 1926 we would expect to see the growing suburb of New Lambton below the reservoir, instead of the large expanse of scrub land that we do see.

Reservoir, between St James Rd and Queens Rd, New Lambton.

Part 4: Lookout?

The reservoir marked 4 on the map above was known as the Lookout Reservoir. It also was constructed on 1926, and its location can still be seen in the empty circular space between the two newer above ground steel reservoirs.

Location of the “Lookout Reservoir”, corner of Grandview Rd and Lookout Rd, New Lambton Heights.

The “Lookout Reservoir” seemed to be a better candidate for the Snowball photo in terms of the shape of the land and size of the reservoir, but it led me to an impossible conclusion … the “Lookout Reservoir” was constructed in 1926, but Ralph Snowball had died in August 1925, before construction had begun!

Part 5: Merewether?

At this point, Robert Watson came to my aid, and with some inspired thinking rescued me from my impossible conclusion. He deduced that the reservoir in the Snowball photo is actually situated in Macquarie St, Merewether.

Location of Glebe Hill reservoir on the 1940 map.

I had led myself astray in too quickly assuming that the Snowball photo was looking east towards the coast. It is in fact looking north-west, across the Broadmeadow flatlands towards Waratah.

Glebe Hill Reservoir, Merewether.

Panorama from the site of the Glebe Hill reservoir.

Glebe Hill Reservoir in Macquarie St Merewether is now part of a private residence. Google Street View.

A newspaper article from May 1886 states that the construction of the reservoir began in November 1885, only three months after the Lambton reservoir was completed in August 1885. The article contains a detailed description of the design that matches the photo very closely.

The roof is formed of two concentric arched rings and a dome carried by cast-iron girders, supported by iron columns resting on stone foundations some two feet square.
A March 1887 article describing the Hunter River District Water Supply shows that the Glebe Hill reservoir was almost identical to the size to the Lambton reservoir.
The reservoir at Lambton is built on the hill above the Public school, a distance of twelve and a half miles from. Buttai. It will hold 402,600 gallons. At fifteen and a third miles from Buttai a 15-inch branch pipe, a mile and a quarter in length, is connected with a reservoir having a capacity of 403,000 gallons, to supply Hamilton, Adamstown, the Glebe, and other towns along the line.
Note that although the reservoir is located within the modern day suburb boundaries of Merewether, it is sometimes called the “Hamilton Reservoir”, as that was the principal township it served.
Some other hints that confirm that the Snowball photo is of the Glebe Hill reservoir are the faint outline of smoke stacks in the distance. At the right are two stacks of different size, close together.

Broadmeadow copper smelter stacks.

These are the stacks of the English and Australia Copper Company smelter at Broadmeadow.

To the right is a single stack of one of the A.A. Company pits in Hamilton, and the very faint outline of the roof of St Peters Church in Denison St, Hamilton.

The Glebe Hill reservoir photo is taken from a spot only about 400 metres away from another Ralph Snowball photo taken in 1897, which shows the same landmarks in the distance.

The Newcastle lowlands. 1897. Photo taken from intersection of Beaumont St and Glebe Rd looking north towards Hamilton. University of Newcastle Cultural Collections.

1886 Glebe Hill Reservoir photo (top) and 1897 Glebe Rd photo (bottom)

The Glebe Hill reservoir is marked on Corporal Barrett’s 1910 map of Newcastle, situated on Lake Macquarie Rd. Quite possibly the two buildings marked at the end of Henry St are the two buildings we see in the Snowball photograph.

Glebe Hill reservoir, on 1910 map. University of Newcastle Cultural Collections.


Acknowledgements

My thanks to Robert Watson who had a substantial input into the content of this article. Thanks also to Brendan Berghout of Hunter Water, who pointed me towards some useful information on early water supply infrastructure, and who helpfully reminded me that imperial gallons (220 gallons/m3) are not the same as U.S. gallons (264 gallons/m3). It was a casual conversation with Brendan on a bicycle commute to work one morning that was the genesis of this journey of discovery.

Merewether Council

Merewether Council was incorporated on 20th August 1885. The first meeting of the council was held in the Merewether School of Arts building on November 3, 1885.

In 1885, the council began meeting in the Mechanics Institute.

In 1888, the council chambers was located in Railway St.

A weatherboard building was constructed in 1894 in Llewellyn St and officially opened on Friday 7th September 1894.

Merewether Council Chambers. Erected 1894. Photo by Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

Merewether Council Chambers. Erected 1894. Photo by Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

A real estate map shows that in 1918 the council chambers were located at 41 Llewellyn Rd, between St Augustine’s church and the fire station. I’m guessing that in the photo above, the ladder structure in the background was associated with a fire station next door.

MerewetherCouncil1918In September 1922 a tender was advertised for the erection of new council chambers. The chambers were built by the end of that year and were officially opened on 20th January 1923. The old wooden council chambers building was then dismantled, and re-erected on Merewether Beach for the use of the Merewether Surf and Life Saving Club.

Merewether Council Chambers. Newcastle Morning Herald, 21 May 1938.

In 1950 the the former council chambers brick building in Llewellyn St was sold to the Merewether R.S.L. sub-branch for £1200.
The site of the former council chambers, April 2016. The fire station is still next door.

The site of the former council chambers, April 2016. The fire station is still next door.

New council chambers were opened in 1923.

Questions yet to be answered

  • Where was the 1888 Merewether council chambers in Railway St located?
  • When was the 1922 brick council chambers demolished?

Differences of grandeur

My latest article for the Lambton Local is out, this month on Council mergers, and in particular how 11 city and suburban councils merged together in 1938 to form the City of Greater Newcastle Council.

Researching the article got me thinking about the various town halls and council chambers left behind after the 1938 merger, where were they, what happened to them, are they still around today? I’m currently putting together some web pages to document the various municipal council buildings in the Newcastle area.

One thing that has struck me is the stark differences in style and expense in the buildings erected by the various councils. The extremes are best exemplified by the castellated fortress erected by Stockton Council in 1891 , and the simple weatherboard box that Merewether Council erected just three years later in 1894. What were the differences in budgetary restrictions and/or delusional aspirations of grandeur that led to such disparate buildings?  I don’t know the answer yet, but it will be interesting to find out.

Stockton Council Chambers. Newcastle City Council, Hunter Photobank.

Stockton Council Chambers. Erected 1891. Newcastle City Council, Hunter Photobank.

Merewether Council Chambers. Erected 1894. Photo by Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

Merewether Council Chambers. Erected 1894. Photo by Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.