House of Richmond Heritage Walk
Richmond is known for its cosmopolitan atmosphere. It is home to a wonderful diversity of people: long-term residents and new migrants, successful professionals and pubic housing residents. All these people come together to give Richmond its life and character.
Richmond has always enjoyed a rich mixture of residents. In the 1840s many of its residents worked in what would now be classed as noxious industries, processing livestock, while others were prominent merchants and bankers. At least one of the early subdividers, Reverend Joseph Docker, encouraged a mix of residents when he developed the area around Gipps Street in 1853, by providing a range of block sizes and building a range of affordable housing. Larger houses were built by people who purchased land from Docker. The houses Docker himself built were not large by today's standards: many were only three or four rooms, but at the time, they were average-sized houses. In 1861 roughly one quarter of all Richmond houses contained only one or two rooms. These small houses provided homes for workers in the expanding local industries, and for many refugees from an impoverished Ireland.
Docker's aim of building a diverse community was achieved, judging by an 1869 petition to Council complaining about the state of the streets on the land he subdivided. Among the 43 petitioners were three solicitors, a General Practitioner, a carpenter, a painter and a boot maker. In the same year, the family of John Monash moved into Church Street. Two years later, they moved to 34 Clifton Street in the heart of Docker's subdivision. Part of Monash’s success as a leader of Australia's troops during the first World War might be traced back to a childhood spent among the people he was later to lead.
Not all developers had Docker's ideals. Many of the original subdivisions were re-subdivided and new streets, some no wider than lane-ways. Many timber houses were built because the building regulations which required fire-proof construction in the City of Melbourne did not apply in Richmond. Although we now take timber-framed houses clad in weather-board for granted, this was a new building technology in the nineteenth century, made possible by the application of steam power to saw milling. One such sawmill operated on the comer of Bridge Road and Church Street. Properly maintained weatherboard houses are very durable, and Richmond has many examples of weatherboard houses from the 1850s and 1860s.
Although there are very few industrial buildings along the route of this walk, Richmond's character has largely been determined by its industrial and commercial heritage. Richmond's founders thought of it as a haven from the city, but with the active encouragement of the Council, it soon attracted heavy and dirty industry. The industry provided a livelihood for many people and wealth for some, but progressively those who could afford it left for the newer, more fashionable areas. For most of the twentieth century, the rest of Melbourne has not recognised Richmond's attractions as a residential area, but for its residents Richmond has never lacked character or a sense of community. The challenge for present-day planners is to preserve the things which give Richmond its personality - not just the wonderful old buildings and historic streetscapes, but the kind of diverse community which created them.
This walk is based on a brochure produced by the City of Yarra, which was created in conjunction with the Richmond and Burnley Historical Society.
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Strategic Planning Branch