Newcastle Technical College | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

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Newcastle Technical College

Item details

Name of item: Newcastle Technical College
Other name/s: Trades Hall
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Education
Category: Tertiary College
Primary address: 590-608 Hunter Street, Newcastle West, NSW 2302
Parish: Newcastle
County: Northumberland
Local govt. area: Newcastle


Curtilage should follow property boundary
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
590-608 Hunter StreetNewcastle WestNewcastleNewcastleNorthumberlandPrimary Address

Statement of significance:

The Newcastle Technical College site is of state significance for its association with key phases in Newcastle's and NSW's political and social history. The former Trades Hall Council and Technical College buildings both represent two of the most important institutions to develop in the late nineteenth century - the trade union movement and state-sponsored technical education. These institutions played a significant role in the life of Newcastle, and their impact extended to the state as a whole. The School of Mines, incorporated in the original 1894-96 building also reflected the key importance of mining in the regional, state and national economy at the time. Associated with architects, Ernest Yeomans, practitioner of the Anglo-Dutch style (Trades Hall) and William Kemp, who designed several educational institutions, including the Sydney Technical College in the Federation Romanesque style, the buildings represent distinctive, yet harmonious architectural styles. Together they create a landmark site, of high aesthetic significance, which makes a significant contribution to the streetscape. The buildings also articulate the importance of the institutions as well as something of the philosophies of their creators and the era in which they were constructed - including the status of workers, the importance of widespread access to education, and the necessity of practical training to the modern industrialised economy. Having operated as a technical college since the late nineteenth century, the site articulates aspects of the evolution of higher technical education in the region.The interiors are of significance.
Date significance updated: 28 Nov 07
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: W. E. Kemp (original Technical College building); Ernest Yeomans (former Trades Hall)
Builder/Maker: Government Architect (Technical College)
Construction years: 1894-1896
Physical description: The former Trades Hall building is located to the west of the main Technical College building, and was incorporated into the College in 1914. It is a two-storey structure in Baroque Revival or Federation Anglo Dutch style, characteristic of the late Victorian era. The design adopts a free interpretation of classical composition and decoration. Tuck pointed double-pressed buff and red bricks and cement render provide the material for a richly moulded facade. Four layered pilasters divide the facade into three bays with a central emphasis. Entablatures form ground level aedicules (over the entrance doorways) at each side, which are extended vertically to broken semi-circular pediments and an elaborate skyline, typical of the Federation Anglo-Dutch style. Shields, wreaths, keystones, tablets and inscriptions provide detailed interest. (Maitland & Stafford, 1997, p 94)

The 1894 Technical College building complements the adjacent former Trades Hall, though it is not of the same style. It is a late Victorian neo-classical / Romanesque style with a highly decorative facade of polychrome brick and stone facing Hunter Street. The rear of the building and side walls are of similar design. This building was originally free-standing on three sides.Three brick colours are used on the walls - warm yellow for the body, red for arches and pilasters, and dark blue for building angles. Carved Pyrmont freestone mouldings, finials and copings, patterned terracotta tile spandrels ad gable apexes and ornate brickwork are characteristic of the Victorian style. The slightly asymmetric facade is an interesting feature of the building. This building, which originally housed the Technical College, School of Mines and Museum is now internally interconnected to form a series of exhibition, lecture, laboratory, studio, amenities and other spaces. (Maitland & Stafford, 1997, p 95; NSW Public Works Department, Heritage Register - Hamilton TAFE College, Property 644)

These buildings form a dominant and colourful landmark in an otherwise nondescript architectural area. The facades occur at a bend of the main thoroughfare leading to the city and create important vista enclosures when viewed from both directions. (National Trust Listing - Hunter Street Technical College and Former Trades Hall Group, 1977)

The interiors of both buildings are substantially intact, including ceilings, walls, joinery, and in particular, two turned cedar staircases. Building detail elements such as cornices, picture rails, architraves, doors, windows and staircases are an important aesthetic characteristic of the buildings. (NSW Public Works Hunter-New England Region, 1993, p 9)

The original site has been expanded to the north and west of the signficant buildings. [Check which buildings are there now - what about description of the 1915 & 1917 buildings??]

Some alterations and additions have disfigured buildings such as the infilling of windows. The construction of the 1917 Chemistry School has largely hidden the northern elevation of the 1894 Technical College from view and altered the northern portion of the 1895 Trades Hall. This in turn created an alley space between the buildings. The original roof of the 1894 Technical College was slate with terracotta decorative ridge tiles. This roof was replaced, probably around the 1950s or 1960s and was re-roofed again in the 1970s.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
The buildings are structurally stable following extensive repairs and strengthening work after damage in the 1989 earthquake. Generally, however, the buildings are in poor physical and visual condition.
Date condition updated:26 Nov 07
Modifications and dates: 1897 - 1916 - Trades Hall building extended at rear
Pre-1915 - additional buildings on site, including Plumbing Building
1911 - Workshops building constructed to east of 1894 Technical College. Demolished 1988.
1915 - Engineering Building constructed - to north-east of original buildings
1917 - Chemistry Building constructed - to north-west of original buildings
1950s-1960s - roof replaced on 1894 Technical College building
1970s - Techical College (1894 building) re-roofed in metal / corrugated iron.
1991 - repair of earthquake damage including replacement of part of roof.
Current use: TAFE
Former use: Technical College, School of Mines, Museum; Trades Hall


Historical notes: The former Newcastle Technical College incorporates the former Trades Hall building built for the Newcastle Trades Hall Council in 1895.

The trade union, destined to be possibly the most influential institution in the city, began at the colliery level in the 1850s and became a district organisation in 1860. At that stage there were miners’ unions at Merewether, Hamilton, Wallsend, Minmi, and Tomago and new lodges as they were known, appeared with each new mine. Usually meeting in hotels and at the mines, the lodges did not acquire buildings of their own until the early 1900s. (Suters Architects, 2007, p 49)

With the exception of miners and skilled metal workers, there was no general movement towards unionism in Newcastle until the 1880s, when, along with the rest of the colony, Newcastle absorbed an influx of British immigrants. The first Eight Hour Day procession of unionists in Newcastle took place in October 1883. The Eight Hour Committee, as well as campaigning to achieve an eight-hour working day for eight shillings pay, also wished to erect a building to act as a focus for union activity by consolidating the offices of all the different unions in a single landmark edifice. They believed that a Trades Hall would bring the working man dignity in the same way that a Town Hall dignifies a Municipal Council. A site in Hunter street West was secured from the state government in 1893, a condition of the grant being that the building be completed within three years. The Hall, which was built in 1895, was the focal point of local unionism from 1895 to 1917. It was reportedly the second home of the Trades Hall Council. (Suters Architects, 2007, p 49; Docherty, 1983, p17; Maitland & Stafford, 1997, p 94; National Trust Listing - Hunter Street Technical College and Former Trades Hall Group, 1977)

The Trades Hall was designed by Ernest Yeomans, one of a number of private architects to emerge in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, whose works were instrumental in shaping the character of much of Newcastle's CBD. Others included Frederick Menkens, James Henderson and Peter Bennett, the latter working in partnership with Yeomans from 1884 to 1892. Yeomans' design for the Trades Hall adopts a free interpretation of classical composition and decoration. Its red-brick cement rendered façade is richly moulded and its elaborate skyline is typical of the Federation Anglo-Dutch or Baroque Revival style of architecture that flourished in Australia in the early 1890s. Menkens is generally acknowledged as the most prominent architect to emerge in Newcastle in this period, and his Woods Chambers (Air Force Club), built in 1892 is hailed as Menkens' masterpiece of the Anglo-Dutch style of architecture and an outstanding example of the style generally. Yeomans' Trades Hall building is perhaps closest in design to Woods Chambers, though the latter highlights Menkens' sculptural exuberance, compared to the somewhat stiffer Yeomans design. There are relatively few surviving examples of the style in Australia, many having been replaced by taller structures. Other examples of Yeomans' work in Newcastle include the former Court Chambers in Bolton Street (1898) and part of the Co-operative Store in Hunter Street (1910), though these are not in the Anglo-Dutch style. The Trades Hall remains as a great work of architecture and also as a reminder of significant social and political events in the life of Newcastle. (Maitland & Stafford, 1997, pp 12-14, 89, 92, 94, 105; Apperley, Irving & Reynolds, 1989, pp 112-115).

During the nineteenth century, Newcastle acquired a reputation as a centre of industrial militancy, an image reinforced by events such as a riot by miners at Adamstown in 1888. Some believed that Newcastle offered fertile ground for radical activity. In 1908 over a third of votes cast in a miners' ballot favoured the principles of the International Workers of the World. Left-wing feeling in Newcastle waned in the late 1900s, however, when many miners left the city to work at the new inland mines. The miners' radicalism had been fuelled by the harsh, dangerous working conditions shared by many at a single source of employment. Under the more varied conditions of secondary industry, this level of interest in radical politics was harder to sustain. After 1913 many of the city's industrial workers had been drawn from Sydney and so, in a sense, Newcastle became an outpost of metropolitan working-class culture. The coming of heavy industry in the twentieth century also meant that the old independent coalmining unions were replaced by unions whose head offices were in Sydney. Rather than originating large scale disputes, Newcastle tended to suffer them, as in the Great Strike of 1917. Some of the radical tradition of the nineteenth century continued to be carried on in the inland coalfields towns, rather than industrial Newcastle. (Docherty, 1983, pp 18, 75)

In 1914 the Trades Hall moved to larger premises in Union Street and sold the Hunter Street building to the Government. Being adjacent to the Newcastle Technical College, it became a useful addition to that institution. The Trades Hall building was extended at the rear some time between 1897 and 1916. (Maitland & Stafford, 1997, p 94; NSW Public Works Hunter-New England Region, 1993, p 4)

The development of technical education had its origins in the Industrial Revolution in Germany and Britain, the two most advanced industrial economies in Europe, from the early to mid-nineteenth centuries. Germany led the way in developing a national system of education to improve the efficiency of workers in technical occupations in the interests of the nation's material prosperity. Britain was slower to develop such a system, but following the International Exhibition in London in 1851 attention was drawn to the need to improve British manufactures. The City and Guilds of London Institute, established in 1879, advanced the technical education suited to those engaged in manufacturing and other industries, contributed towards the establishment of technical schools and conducted exams throughout British colonies. Britain's system was influential in the development of technical education in Australia. (Perry, 1984, pp 166, 167)

In Australia, schools of art and mechanics institutes began to proliferate from the 1860s, partly as a result of the availability of government subsidies. Intended to have significant educational function, they were more important as centres of entertainment, providing games (especially billiards, chess, etc) and being community halls. They also maintained libraries for their members. Government involvement in technical education began in 1882 with the establishment of a Board of Technical Education. Following the abolition of the Board in 1888, responsibility for technical eduction passed to the Department of Public Instruction. There was some variation in structures and administration in each state due to economic, geographic and demographic differences. Schools of Mines were established first in Victorian country towns as the local economies and size of local populations were able to support them. New South Wales had a much larger number of smaller communities spread over a much greater geographic area, and while secondary industry was central to the economies of the three major metropolitan centres: Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong, outside these centres, primary industry was paramount. (Suters Architects, 2007, pp 49; Goozee, 1995, pp 3-4)

Newcastle's first Technical College in Hunter Street West was commenced by the State Government in 1894 and, although not officially opened until 1896, the building's entrance bears the inscription, 1894. When it opened, classes were offered in plumbing and gas fitting, chemistry, metallurgy, mineralogy, geology, art, mechanical drawing, steam engines, boiler making and dress cutting, and the College had an enrolment of 350. The establishment of the Technical College, including a School of Mines, reflects the growing importance of scientific and practical education in Australia generally in the Victorian era, and the importance of the mining industry, in the local and national economy. A School of Mines was established at the University of Sydney in 1895, within this context and given the Hunter's importance as a major mining region, the establishment of the School of Mines in Newcastle was a logical development. As mining technology became more sophisticated, an important role of the Schools of Mines was to train future managers. The technical college as an institution also reflects the philosophy of extending higher education to a wider section of the community, including workers, that developed in the late nineteenth century with the need for a skilled workforce in the industrial and manufacturing industries that were developing at that time. In this era there was also a greater awareness and recognition of the social utility of education, expanding on the traditional philosophical and classical education initially offered in the established universities. (Suters Architects, 2007, pp 49, 57; Kerr, 2002, pp A28, A32; Perry, 1984, pp 170-171)

The Technical College was designed by William Edmund Kemp, architect to the Department of Public Instruction. Kemp's father had migrated to Australia from England in the service of the Australian Agricultural Company, to design and construct the company’s buildings. Kemp worked in the Colonial Architects Office under Edmund T. Blacket from 1854 to 1857, then entered into private practice for a brief interlude. At the invitation of James Barnet, he returned to the Colonial Architects Department, where he remained for about eight years, resigning in June 1880 in order to take up the newly established position of ‘Architect for Public Schools’ in the NSW Department of Public Instruction. He was in charge of all the public school buildings in the colony, designing and constructing new buildings. He is best known, however, as the designer of the Sydney Technical College (1891) and Technological Museum -later known as the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences - (1892) in Ultimo, which are similar in style to the Newcastle Technical College. Concord Public School (1893) is another of Kemp's buildings in this late Victorian neo classical style. (RAIA NSW, Biography - William Kemp; Maitland & Stafford, 1997, p 95; National Trust Listing - Hunter Street Technical College and Former Trades Hall Group, 1977)

The era in which the Technical College was built was a period of economic turmoil. It was also a period of stylistic uncertainty in architecture. At the time, City Architect, George McRae was presenting designs for the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney in alternative Queen Anne, Gothic, Renaissance or Romanesque styles. The last was chosen as it most closely followed the fashion appearing in overseas journals. Kemp freely interpreted and eclectically used the Romanesque style in his buildings in Ultimo and it is carried through to his design for the former Technical College in Newcastle. The Victorian preference for highly decorative walls is exemplified in the use of three brick colours - warm yellow, red and dark blue - as well as the carved Pyrmont freestone mouldings, finials and copings, patterned terracotta tile spandrels and gable apexes and ornate brickwork. The slightly asymmetric façade became part of a composition of three buildings, which originally housed the Technical College, School of Mines and a museum. (Maitland & Stafford, 1997, p 95; National Trust Listing - Hunter Street Technical College and Former Trades Hall Group, 1977)

The Technical College expanded over the years. A Survey Plan dated 1897 shows a building to the north-west corner of the site and a shed on the northern boundary. A Workshops building, housing Technical Engineering and Carpentry, designed by Government Architect, Walter Liberty Vernon, was constructed around 1911 and was to remain the only free-standing building on the site until its demolition in 1988. The former Trades Hall building was incorporated into the site in 1914, as mentioned above. The next major phase of development occurred in 1915 when Engineering buildings were erected; however, plans indicate the existence of at least two other buildings on the site at the time: the first being demolished to make way for the Engineering Buildings; the other a Plumbing Building on a section of the site now occupied by an extension of the Newcastle West Post Office. Plans for the final building on site, a new Chemistry School were drawn in 1916. The building, completed in 1917, extends the full remaining length of the northern boundary of the site, connecting the Engineering Building with the northern interconnection between the Trades Hall Building and the 1894 Technical College Building. All of the additional buildings were designed by architects in the Government Architect's Office, including L. W. Tristram and S. Wells. (NSW Public Works Hunter-New England Region, 1993, pp 4, Appendix)

Both the Trades Hall building and the former Newcastle Technical College are now part of the Hunter Institute of Technology (TAFE) Hunter Street campus. The buildings are now internally connected to form a series of exhibition, lecture, laboratory, studio, amenities and other spaces serving the Faculty of Arts and Media. Together, the buildings are compatible in style, forming an harmonious and significant element of the streetscape. (Maitland & Stafford, 1997, p 95)

Both the former Trades Hall and the Technical College are recognized for their individual significance and their significance as a group. In 1977 the complex was listed by the National Trust of Australia. Reasons for their listing included the aesthetic importance of the buildings' late Victorian neo-classical facades, but also their importance as symbols of two of the most important Victorian social and educational phenomena of the Newcastle / Hunter region - that of the trade union and technical education, including the first school of mines in the region. (NSW Public Works Hunter-New England Region, 1993, pp 7, 8). The impact of the trade union movement in Newcastle was felt across the entire state and the role of technological education in the mining industry and elsewhere has also had an important impact on the state and national economy.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Science-Activities associated with systematic observations, experiments and processes for the explanation of observable phenomena (none)-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Technology-Activities and processes associated with the knowledge or use of mechanical arts and applied sciences (none)-
5. Working-Working Labour-Activities associated with work practises and organised and unorganised labour Trade unionism-
6. Educating-Educating Education-Activities associated with teaching and learning by children and adults, formally and informally. Education-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The former Newcastle Technical College and Trades Hall building are historically significant to the state of NSW as they represent the emergence two of the most important institutions to develop in the late nineteenth century, namely, the trade union movement, and state-sponsored advanced technical education. As the home of the Trades Hall Council the Trades Hall building was at the centre of local union activity from the late nineteenth century until 1914 when it became part of the Technical College complex. This period was one in which the union movement played a crucial role in the social and political history of Newcastle and New South Wales, particularly in the often militant struggles of workers in the mining industry. The building's style and prominent city location articulate the philosophies promoted at the time of its construction regarding the dignity and status of the worker in society and the importance of their struggles for unity and representation.

The Technical College represents one of the most significant education developments of the late nineteenth century in Australia. It reflects the growing importance of practical and scientific education in an industrialised economy that emerged in the Victorian era, with the corresponding philosophy of extending higher education to a broader section of the community, particularly those already engaged in practical occupations. The School of Mines, incorporated in the original 1894-96 building reflected the key importance of mining in the regional, state and national economy at the time. Such Victorian institutions no longer exist, having being subsumed by a wider subject: Geology. The development of the Technical College site, which has continued to operate in that capacity to the present, reflects the changing nature and philosophy of technical education in the region and state over time.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The former Trades Hall building is significant to NSW for its association with the Trades Hall Council and Eight Hour Day Committee, who played a prominent role in the labour movement locally and whose activities were part of a highly significant phase in NSW and Australian political history. It is also significant to Newcastle and regionally for its association with architect, Ernest Yeomans, one of a number of private architects to emerge in the late nineteenth century in Newcastle, who was responsible for a number of important buildings in the city.

The Technical College is associated with architect, William Edmund Kemp, whose prolific works for the NSW Government Architect and Department of Public Instruction, included, most notably, the Sydney Technical College and Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences as well as the Hunter Street Technical College, in which the influence of his earlier designs is evident.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The Technical College complex, including the former Trades Hall, has a high degree of aesthetic significance. The buildings' differing, yet complementary styles form a harmonious and striking complex, with landmark qualities, enriching an otherwise unremarkable streetscape. Both exemplify styles of the late Victorian era - the ornate Federation Anglo-Dutch Trades Hall being one of few examples of this style in Newcastle and in NSW. The Federation Romanesque main Technical College building reflects Kemp's proficiency in this style and recalls his work on the Sydney Technical College and Museum in Ultimo a few years earlier. With the latter buildings, it is one of Kemp's most significant works. The style, detailing and workmanship evidenced in the buildings make a strong statement about the importance of these institutions in the life of Newcastle and NSW.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
While this aspect has not been investigated within the limited review undertaken for this study, it is likely that the site has social significance for a range of groups in the region, including those involved in the Trades Hall Council unions during the Council's period of occupancy; as well as present and former students and staff of the Technical College. Still operating as a TAFE campus, the historic buildings are likely to be important to these groups' sense of place and identity.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
While this aspect has not been investigated within the limited review undertaken for this study, there may be evidence of former structures on the site, which, with the existing buildings, may have the potential to contribute to our understanding of building practices and philosophies of late nineteenth century educational institutions.
SHR Criteria f)
The former Trades Hall building is a rare surviving example of the Federation Anglo-Dutch style of architecture in NSW and possibly Australia, and, with Menkens' Woods Chambers (Air Force Club), is one of few examples of the style built in Newcastle. The Technical College building is also rare as a fine example of a late nineteenth century educational institution. With the Sydney Technical College and former Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, it is one of architect, W E Kemp's largest and most significant works.
SHR Criteria g)
Both the former Trades Hall and Technical College buildings have representative significance for the state as fine examples of the Federation Anglo-Dutch and Federation Romanesque architectural styles respectively.
Integrity/Intactness: Good
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental PlanNewcastle Local Environmental Plan 2012I49615 Jun 12 64 
Heritage study     

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
Newcastle Heritage Study1990269Unknown  Yes
Review of Items of Potential State Significance in the Newcastle City Area2008 Sue Rosen and Associates Heritage Assessment And History (HAAH)Rosemary Kerr, Emma Dortins and Julia Kensy Yes

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Written 2000Heritage Office NSW - State Heritage Register entry - Old Geology Building / School of Mines University of Sydney
Written 1977National Trust Listing - Hunter Street Technical College and Former Trades Hall Group
WrittenApperley, R., Irving, R & Reynolds, P.1994A Pictorial Guide to Identifying Australian Architecture
WrittenDocherty, J. C.1983Newcastle - The Making of an Australian City
WrittenGoozee, G.1995The Development of TAFE in Australia
WrittenKerr, Rosemary2002'The Physical Development of Buildings and Grounds' Appendix A: University of Sydney Overview History, in University of Sydney Grounds Conservation Plan
WrittenMaitland, Barry & Stafford, David1997Architecture Newcastle, A Guide
WrittenNSW Public Works Hunter-New England Region1993Hunter Institute of Technology, Hunter Street (Faculty of Arts & Media) Conservation Plan
WrittenPerry, Warren1984The School of Mines and Industries, Ballarat - A History of its first One Hundred & Twelve Years, 1870-1982
WrittenRAIA NSW Biography - William Kemp
WrittenSuters Architects2007Newcastle City Wide Heritage Study Thematic History

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Local Government
Database number: 2170269
File number: 269

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