Electrical Substation | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

About us

Electrical Substation

Item details

Name of item: Electrical Substation
Other name/s: Electricity Substation No 101
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Utilities - Electricity
Category: Electricity Transformer/Substation
Primary address: 1A Ashmore Street, Erskineville, NSW 2043
Local govt. area: Sydney
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
1A Ashmore StreetErskinevilleSydney  Primary Address

Statement of significance:

The Ashmore Street Substation is a representative example of a typical purpose designed and built structure designed in the Inter-war Stripped Classical Style with aesthetic significance to the streetscape. It was built by the Municipal Council of Sydney during the early phase of expansion of the electricity network into the suburbs.
Date significance updated: 24 Apr 14
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.


Physical description: A single storey Inter-War Stripped Classical style building with tuck pointed face brick. Decorative elements include a single cement rendered cornice extending above all openings and a large identity plaque surmounting the steel roller shutter identifying the building "S.M.C ELECTRIC LIGHTING SUBSTATION No.101". Bullnose bricks are used at the architraves and window sills and a blank arched opening surmounts one window.The side and rear walls are of rendered brickwork.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Fair physical condition. The render signage needs repainting. Window screens are in poor condition. Dirt build up on side.
Date condition updated:02 Oct 01
Modifications and dates: See History.

The former leading-in block above the window on the right-hand side has been filled in.

1967- The substation building was shortened by 3m and the rear section of the property sold to McPherson’s, a tools and engineers' supplies merchant.
Further information: The site was first listed by Council with the gazettal of Amendment No 9 of South Sydney LEP 1998 on 3/4/2009.

Heritage Inventory sheets are often not comprehensive, and should be regarded as a general guide only. Inventory sheets are based on information available, and often do not include the social history of sites and buildings. Inventory sheets are constantly updated by the City as further information becomes available. An inventory sheet with little information may simply indicate that there has been no building work done to the item recently: it does not mean that items are not significant. Further research is always recommended as part of preparation of development proposals for heritage items, and is necessary in preparation of Heritage Impact Assessments and Conservation Management Plans, so that the significance of heritage items can be fully assessed prior to submitting development applications.
Current use: Electricity Substation
Former use: Electricity Substation


Historical notes: Aboriginal History
The "Eora people" was the name given to the coastal Aborigines around Sydney. Central Sydney is therefore often referred to as "Eora Country". Within the City of Sydney local government area, the traditional owners are the Cadigal and Wangal bands of the Eora.

Area History ( Based on Pollon 1988, p.102)
Devine, a superintendent of convicts. Devine built a house called Burren Farm near the corner of the present George Street and Erskineville Road, and on his death in 1830, aged 104, the property passed to Bernard Rochford and his wife, who had cared for Devine in his old age. This fitting conclusion to a humane story does not end there. Rochford subdivided and sold the estate, and some of the land was bought by a Wesleyan Minister, the Reverend George Erskine. Here, in 1830, he built a house, which he called Erskine Villa.

By 1852 the suburb was developing well, with industrial as well as residential areas, when a John Devine arrived in the colony. He made a claim for the whole area, which was dismissed. Devine appealed again, and lengthy and costly litigation ensued, continuing until 1857 when Devine again was the loser. Convinced of his rights, this tireless man was set to appeal a third time, but the owners of the Erskineville land established a fund to pay him a compensation for his loss.
The Reverend George Erskine, the buyer of one of the subdivided parcels of land, did not live long to enjoy the home he had built. He died there in 1834 and was buried in the grounds. Mr RobertHenderson, a naturalist, was Erskine Villa's next owner, followed by William Toogood, a Sydney inn-keeper. When Toogood -died, he left the property to the Chmch of England, and it became the rectory for Holy Trinity Church, Macdonaldtown.

In 1893, Parliament passed the Borough of Erskineville Naming Act, and part of what had until then been Macdonaldtown, including the area on which the Methodist minister had built his home, became a brand new suburb. Sixteen years later the church connection was not forgotten when electric trams began to run to Erskineville in 1911. The destination sign on the front of the tram showed a green diamond on a white background, chosen because this was the symbol of trinity and honouring the parish church for which Erskine Villa was the rectory.

By 1920 the suburb had become the home of many workers, some employed locally in brickmaking, bootmaking and hat-manufacturing. Today, Erskineville is a busy inner-city suburb, but Devine Street, Burten Street and Rochford Street are reminders of the story of its early turbulent history.

Introduction of electricity to Sydney (Based on TZG 2002 and Pennington 2012)

Following Sydney’s first experiment with permanent electric lighting at Redfern Railway terminus (generated by the Eveleigh railway workshops), Redfern Municipal Council sent aldermen to inspect some of the country towns in NSW – including Tamworth (1888), Young (1888), Penrith and Moss Vale (1889) – which had established their own generating plants. Inspired by what they saw, they commenced building Sydney’s first municipal power station in 1891 and when it started generating in 1892 it was the sixth local council in the state with its own electricity station, predating the City of Sydney by twelve years. The Redfern Electric Light Station building remains at the corner of Renwick and Turner Street. It was the forerunner of the great city power-stations including Ultimo, Pyrmont and White Bay, erected from the end of the 19th century.

The Municipal Council of Sydney Electric Lighting Bill was passed by Parliament on 16th October 1896 which established the right for Council’s newly formed Electrical Undertaking to light the streets and to generate and supply electricity to the residences of the City of Sydney.

In 1902, Council purchased a suitable site for a power station at Pyrmont and construction commenced on 3rd November. The first freestanding substations were also constructed at this time at Town Hall and Lang Park in the City, Wilson Street in Woolloomooloo, Athlone Place in Ultimo and at Taylor Square in Darlinghurst.

The first substations were connected via an underground ring of electrical cables to the power station. They contained transformers which converted the 5000 volt electricity generated at the power station to 240, 414, or 480 volts, suitable for distribution of use. Staff was employed to operate the switchgear. The supply system commenced on 8th July 1904.
By 1905 Council’s mains power was extended beyond the city limits for the first time to Paddington where the Royal Hospital for Women provided a site suitable for a substation. By this time Council’s Electrical Department had also received expressions of interest from Glebe, Newtown, Paddington, Woollahra, Camperdown and Balmain Councils, whilst private enquiries had received as far as North Sydney and Long Bay.

In the early part of the 20th century electricity was considered to be a new and exciting commodity which the Council’s Electricity Undertaking was trying to sell to local councils and private customers. Early substation buildings were constructed during a time when a culture of quality and craftsmanship existed which had a large influence on architectural design. These buildings were architectural statements that proudly announced the expansion of Council’s electricity network and were identified by large signs on the street facades. Whilst modest in scale, and different in function to surrounding buildings, they were also designed in a style to harmonise with surrounding buildings in an attempt to allay community fears of, and resistance to new technology and impacts on streetscapes.

By 1911, the demand for electricity had grown to such an extent that the Council’s Electricity Undertaking established a separate Substation Branch, under the charge of Mr JS Just. By the outbreak of World War 1, twenty - three municipalities had signed agreements with Sydney Municipal Council (SMC) and forty seven substations had been constructed.
SMC built and operated a second power station, known as Bunnerong (located in Matraville) which was put into service in 1929.

Between 1904 and 1935, SMC built over 360 substations and almost 400 pole transformers throughout Sydney and surrounding areas. There were often built in close proximity to factories to service their high energy demands.

In 1936, control of electricity undertaking was removed from the SMC. The Gas & Electricity Act of 1935 reconstituted the SMC’s Electricity Dept. into a separate entity, Sydney County Council (SCC). In 1950, the Electricity Commission of NSW was formed and in 1952, that authority assumed control of SCC’s power stations and also the provision of bulk electricity supplies to local authorities from the SCC network.

As a result of the Sydney Electricity Act of 1990, the SCC was “corporatised” to become Sydney Electricity at the start of 1991. In 1996, the name of the business was changed to Energy Australia. In 2011, the electricity sales division of the business, along with the Energy Australia name, was sold. The remaining network business is now known as Ausgrid.

Building History (Based on Pennington 2012, pp.49, 482)
Land for this substation was acquired by resumption in May 1919. The substation was put into service towards the end of 1919 and supplied electricity to the works of Metters (a manufacturer of kitchen appliances), as well as reinforcing supply to surrounding networks of low-voltage street mains.

Late in 1924, expenditure was authorised for alterations to the building, to accommodate additional apparatus. On completion of the building alterations, the substation’s transformer capacity was doubled and the lowvoltage switchboard was replaced with one of higher capacity. Further alterations in 1929 included construction of additional pits and ducts and installation of an additional louvre panel in the front wall of the building. At the same time, it was decided to carry out work on the roof.

The original roof consisted of wooden boards, over which a special waterproof covering had been applied. This waterproof covering had deteriorated to such an extent as to require major remedial work. As a fireproofing measure, it had also been planned to install a ceiling of asbestos cement sheets, to cover the underside of the wooden roof. A new roof covering of corrugated iron was fitted, along with a ceiling of asbestos cement sheets. A similar roof replacement had already been carried out at Bulwara Lane substation.

In 1966, the firm of McPherson’s, a merchant for tools and engineers’ supplies, took over part of the Metters property. The firm asked if the substation could be removed, as the rear part of the building would impede access to its new warehouse. The SCC eventually agreed to shorten the substation building by 3m and sell the rear section of the property to McPherson’s. The alterations to the building were completed in August 1967. Apart from re-equipping, it appears that no further alterations to the building have been carried out.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Utilities-Activities associated with the provision of services, especially on a communal basis (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Substation No.101 was built by the Municipal Council of Sydney in 1919 during the early phase of expansion of the electricity network into the suburbs with historic significance for the historic development of Erskineville.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The Substation is associated with the City of Sydney Council, then called the Municipal Council of Sydney, which generated and distributed electricity within the city and surrounding areas from 1904 until 1936.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The Ashmore Road substation is a representative example of a simply detailed purpose designed Inter-War Stripped Classical style building with aesthetic significance to the streetscape.
SHR Criteria f)
The building is not rare.
SHR Criteria g)
Substation No.101 is a representative example of a electrical distribution substation built by the Sydney Municipal Council during the inter-war period within Sydney.
Integrity/Intactness: The building is largely intact.
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.

Recommended management:

The building should be retained and conserved. A Heritage Assessment and Heritage Impact Statement should be prepared for the building prior to any major works being undertaken. An archival photographic recording, in accordance with Heritage Council guidelines, should be undertaken before major changes. All conservation, adaptive reuse and future development should be undertaken in accordance with the Australia ICOMOS Charter for Places of Cultural Significance (The Burra Charter). External character should be conserved. Internal changes may be acceptable. Continuing care and maintenance are essential.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental PlanSydney Local Environmental Plan 2012I60314 Dec 12   
Heritage study     

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenAnita Heiss Aboriginal People and Place, Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City View detail
WrittenF Pollon1988The book of Sydney suburbs
WrittenJ.Pennington2012Electricity Substations of the Sydney Municipal Council
WrittenSchwager Brooks & Patners1994S170 Heritage and Conservation Register - Sydney Electricity
WrittenTZG Architects and Orwell & Peter Phillips Architects2002Conservation Management Plan: Substation No. 6 and Underground Mens Conveniences, Taylor Square

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

(Click on thumbnail for full size image and image details)

Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Local Government
Database number: 2420266

Every effort has been made to ensure that information contained in the State Heritage Inventory is correct. If you find any errors or omissions please send your comments to the Database Manager.

All information and pictures on this page are the copyright of the Heritage Division or respective copyright owners.