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North Fitzroy (south of Holden Street) was under Crown ownership until 1865, as part of the Melbourne township reserve. This was a ring of land extending five miles from Hoddle's original Melbourne town plan that was set aside in 1844 for 'orderly' development in government planned subdivisions.
Large agricultural allotments
North of Holden Street, large agricultural allotments were sold in 1839. The area bounded by Nicholson, Church, Rae and Scotchmer streets was sold as private quarry allotments in 1851 to encourage production of building stone.
By 1860, Fitzroy Council had annexed the 480 acres now comprising North Fitzroy.
Distinguished naturalist and engineer Clement Hodgkinson, Victorian Assistant-Commissioner of Crown Lands and Survey (1861-74), was responsible for the government subdivisions of Carlton (south of Princes St, 1860), North Carlton, North Fitzroy and Clifton Hill (1865-9), Hotham Hill (1866), South Parkville and North Parkville (1868-9). Under his supervision, suburban planning employed the cost-efficient grid system used by Hoddle.
A model town design in the area by Hodgkinson's predecessor, Andrew Clarke (the designer of St Vincent's Place, South Melbourne), is thought to have inspired the curved streets of Alfred and Rushall Crescents in North Fitzroy, although both streets were laid out under Hodgkinson.
Quarter and half acre allotments
Sale of North Fitzroy's quarter and half acre allotments commenced in 1865, extending west from Rushall Crescent. Further east, lots between Brunswick and Nicholson streets were sold between 1867 and 1875. Settlement increased after 1869 when horse-drawn omnibuses began running from North Fitzroy along Nicholson Street and Queen's Parade to the city. Development concentrated around the established quarry route (Nicholson Street) and the road to the Yan Yean Reservoir (St. George's Road).
When cable tram routes along Queen's Parade, Nicholson Street and St. Georges Road commenced construction in 1883, North Fitzroy landowners began subdividing their allotments. On the Nicholson Street tram route, owners of the 1850s stone quarries and the 1839 farm allotments north of Holden Street followed suit.
In the pre-boom years (prior 1883) North Fitzroy's most established area was west of St Georges Road. The area was characterised by modestly scaled brick and wood houses, shops, hotels, and commercial premises, the latter prevailing on main routes such as Rae, Reid, Brunswick streets and St Georges Road.
Suburban development was rare east of St Georges Road prior to the boom, but in 1869 philanthropist George Coppin created the Old Actor's Association village overlooking Merri Creek close to Northcote, later the site of the Old Colonists' Association. Nearby land was granted for asylum homes and a school (site of Fitzroy Secondary School since 1915).
When tram services began in 1887 many new houses were ready for sale or under construction. North Fitzroy emerged as a late-Victorian commuter suburb with local shopping strips along the cable tram routes. The commercial strip of St Georges Road extended east and west along Scotchmer Street. Convenience shops were built on pedestrian street corners as households multiplied. The Inner Circle Railway running via Royal Park (North Carlton), Nicholson Street (Clifton Hill) was completed in 1888 with a spur line dividing the Edinburgh Gardens into two, and terminating at Fitzroy station in the Edinburgh Gardens.
St George's Road commercial strip
North Fitzroy's suburban development, especially east of St George's Road to Rushall Crescent, was far from complete when the boom collapsed in 1893. A new rail link direct to the city (the Clifton Hill to Princes Bridge line) opened in 1901 and saw Edwardian buildings filling out the suburban streets east of St. Georges Road and the revitalising of the main shopping strips. Public transport continued to support North Fitzroy as a commuter suburb during the 1920s with the opening of Rushall railway station and the electrification and extension of the St Georges Road and Nicholson Street tramways.
A number of small factories were built in or near the 19th century commercial strip of Scotchmer Street, the best architectural examples being of the late 1930s.