Former Bedford Brickworks Group Including Chimneys, Kilns and Grounds | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Former Bedford Brickworks Group Including Chimneys, Kilns and Grounds

Item details

Name of item: Former Bedford Brickworks Group Including Chimneys, Kilns and Grounds
Other name/s: Austral Brickworks
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Manufacturing and Processing
Category: Industrial Office/Admin Building
Primary address: 2 Princes Highway, Alexandria, NSW 2015
Local govt. area: Sydney
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
2 Princes HighwayAlexandriaSydney  Primary Address
Sydney Park RoadSt PetersSydney  Alternate Address
King StreetAlexandriaSydney  Alternate Address

Statement of significance:

The Bedford Brickworks site is a significant component of one of Sydney's oldest and most important industries. It retains sufficient material, and occupies an appropriate site to present a clear indication of the working of the site. The Brickworks formed a vital component of the labour force of the St Peters district for several generations and contributed largely to the construction of the district itself. The Brickworks, in its Sydney Park setting, reveals the relationship between several types of industrial activity and between the structure and urban open space.

The entire site constitutes a landmark that contributes to the stark industrial character of the streetscape. Significant views and vistas that contribute to enhance the significance of the site include the views and vistas along the Princes Highway; along Sydney Park Road; to the site from Sydney Park hills; and from Sydney Park Road to the city to the north and to Sydney Airport to the south.
Date significance updated: 25 Jul 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.


Physical description: The entire site is comprised of the following buildings and items and their setting:

- rectangular Hoffman kiln No. 1 (item 6) and Chimney No. 2 (Item 7)
- Hoffman kiln No. 2 (item 13) with semi-circular ends (western end removed), and chimney No. 4 (item 14)
- Down draught kilns Nos. 1 & 2 (items 2 and 3) and Chimney No. 1 (item 1)
- Chimney No. 3 (item 11)
- Open areas: terraced garden (item 4) and paved area (item 5) and car park (item 15).

The streetscape, contained within the site area, is punctuated by the large Hoffman kilns Nos. 1 & 2 brick facades facing the Princes Highway. The Hoffman semicircular kilns' long angled setback fa├žade, in line with the adjacent semicircular kiln frontage, displays a brick face with low cut-away, grated openings to the main internal space. The walls and footpath are sheltered by a metal sheet, timber framed awning encompassing the perimeter of the building.

The Sydney Park Road streetscape within the site consists of the rectangular brick facades of the two northern down draught kilns Nos. 1 & 2. These kilns, angled to the footpath, are divided by lawn and low height, sparse shrub planting. These facades set deep into the strat of the rise of the Sydney Park hill have arch openings and heights deceptive of their true size.

The associated landscape consists of the brick paved areas that connect the several structures, and a brick terraced garden located to the north-east of the down draught kilns Nos. 1 & 2.

The site has been constructed in an area that contained abundant clay deposits. The manufacture of bricks and tiles together with pottery were therefore abundant at St Peters. These also had access to public and private transport links to the city and other regional centres via major roads and the adjacent St Peter Railway Station. The railway also served to bring workers to the area.

Vehicle access to the site is currently available from Sydney Park Road and the Princes Highway. However it is limited to the car park areas to the east and south of the site and restricted by high traffic flows surrounding the site.

Pedestrian access to the site is currently available from Sydney Park Road, Princes Highway and throughout Sydney Park.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Since the acceptance of the 1982 Master Plan, the following actions took place on the site:
- the north-west brick pit complex contained six down draught kilns, four chimneys, two Hoffman kilns and the remains of a large processing factory. With careful Heritage Council monitoring, a retention process was begun. A paved area and terraced garden were constructed. Eventually, the chimneys and Hoffman kilns, three down draught kilns and the remnants of a fourth, the shale crushing mill and base and the colonial boiler were retained. All other internal fittings were removed. There was little attempt at display or interpretation at first. In 1989-1990 Hughes Trueman Ludlow undertook a structural report on the old Austral Brick Co. site, resulting in review of the Master Plan. The new Master Plan stressed the concept of Sydney Park as an urban woodland, with passive recreational use and a system of ponds. Meanwhile ownership of the area became a matter of negotiation between the State Government and South Sydney City Council. The Council took over responsibility in 1990 and decided not to dispose of any public land. While this slowed development, it allowed the opportunity for a more measured response. The outcome was the EDAW Plan of Management document of 1995. This adopted a philosophy of the use of the Park by the wider community with a greater scope of usages and diversity of recreation opportunities. Land management would become an educational as well as a technical issue. Site and building conservation focused on interpretation and associated community projects as well as on structural maintenance. From the point of view of the brickworks site, its essential connection with its Sydney Park surroundings - a key element in its long history - was given proper recognition." (pages 9-10, Tropman & Tropman Architects "Sydney Park Brick Kiln & Chimney Precinct, St. Peters, Heritage and Structural

Surviving former brickworks structures have been stabilised and secured.
Date condition updated:25 Jul 07
Further information: 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: Park
Former use: Brickworks


Historical notes: 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. There is no written record of the name of the language spoken and currently there are debates as whether the coastal peoples spoke a separate language "Eora" or whether this was actually a dialect of the Dharug language. Remnant bushland in places like Blackwattle Bay retain elements of traditional plant, bird and animal life, including fish and rock oysters.

With the invasion of the Sydney region, the Cadigal and Wangal people were decimated but there are descendants still living in Sydney today. All cities include many immigrants in their population. Aboriginal people from across the state have been attracted to suburbs such as Pyrmont, Balmain, Rozelle, Glebe and Redfern since the 1930s. Changes in government legislation in the 1960s provided freedom of movement enabling more Aboriginal people to choose to live in Sydney.

(Information sourced from Anita Heiss, "Aboriginal People and Place", Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City )

Marrickville Brickworks - their arrival
"The Wianamatta Shale overlay of the Hawkesbury land from the Georges River to Sydney contained extensive clay deposits. It also encouraged tall vegetation growth, thus providing fuel. The brickworks site was on the edge of the Wianamatta Shale belt and thus formed a significant part of it. Immediately to the east of the site on the ridge to Cooks River, the land slopes to the Botany wetlands with their estaurine vegetation and large banksia scrub. The brickworks site, though geologically apart from Botany, has extensive views over the lowlands, and brickmakers were able to cooperate with manufacturers who established themselves in Alexandria and the Shea's Creek district.

The district from Newtown, to the west of the ridge to Cooks River and south of the Parramatta Road, was occupied by Europeans from early in the 19th century. It provided to be useful for timber, grazing dairying and even some agriculture. At first locked up in large estates (eg. that of Robert Wardell) it began to be subdivided in the 1830s and 1840s. Along the Cooks River ridge, from Newtown to Tempe gentleman's estates began to appear. Land utilisation and large-scale residences came to be joined at Marrickville by industry. A principal activity was brickmaking, taking advantage of the district's large clay deposits and using labour from the growing population. The manufacture of bricks and tiles, together with pottery, gradually developed.

Early Sydney brickmaking had been concentrated at Brickfield Hill, Haymarket. It had been predominantly an official enterprise. The spread of activity to the west and south-west was a matter of private initiative. Brickmaking was traditionally a family affair and migrant families began to operate small manufactories in clay country, with a good supply of timber for fuel and an adequate supply of water, beyond Newtown.

The process of brick production was small in size and simple in operation. There were clay bricks, mixed to the required consistency by hand, processed into moulds and fired in simple kilns. By the 1860s, as the post-Gold Rush boom promoted a heavy demand, small works proliferated. While the majority were in Newtown - St Peters region, others were to be found right across the Marrickville area, as far as Canterbury Road.

Marrickville Brickworks - later developments
By the 1870s, brickmaking in Sydney was entering the machine age. Henry Goodsell, of a well-known family in the trade, introduced a steam-powered brickmaking machine, and made shale-plastic bricks in 1871. Others followed his example over the next decade.

The housing boom of the 1880s gave a great fillip to the industry. While some smaller operators merged, the outcome was the perpetuation of family concerns, but now with a larger labour force. By the end of this decade, machine-moulding was common. Not only was the volume of production greatly increased but the quality and value of the product itself were enhanced, with the novel use of shale. With these changes, there naturally occurred a range of improvements to the on-site brickworks structures.

Brickmaking was carried on widely. There were works as far afield as Canterbury and at nearly Dulwich Hill (Playford), Illawarra Road (Burling) and on the present sites of Livingstone Oval (Porter) and Henson Park (Daley). But the largest concentration of operations was on the eastern sector of the present Marrickville, in the municipality (1871) of St Peter's. From Camdenville south towards Tempe, along the lines of Cooks River Road (now Princes Highway) and the adjacent Unwin's Bridge Road, and extending east towards Shea's Creek, a range brickworks developed.

Brickmaking was an important Marrickville industry. Only in the St. Peter's sector, however, did it have sufficient impact to create an industrial area. The pits and chimneys came to dominate the scene and occupied a substantial proportion of the population. The long line of gentleman's residential estates were eroded to provide space for brickmaking. North St Peters was an industrial suburb by late in the nineteenth century.

By the turn of the century, brickmakers in the Marrickville area began to undergo change. Some small pits were worked out and closed. Some family firms gave way to limited companies. Mechanisation and the demand for more elaborate and expensive plants favoured the bigger concerns. The demand for bricks remained high in the housing boom of the post-war years but thereafter declined. The centre of Sydney's house-building business moved further west, where the new State Brickworks at Homebush provided ample material.

While the St. Peter's district experienced change similar to that of Marrickville generally, it remained more closely connected with brickmaking. There was an intensity about the local industry not found elsewhere. The clay and shale deposits were abundant, the specialised labour force was larger, the Illawarra railway line nearby to provide transport and St. Peters was close to the rapidly growing industrial area of Alexandria. At one time or another, the area east of the present Princes Highway, from Mitchell Road in the north to Canal Road in the south, contained nine brick (or brick and tile) works - NSW, Warren, Bedford, City, Carrington, St Peters, Central, Austral and Ralford. Other industries also occupied this area.

Bedford Brickworks
The Bedford works occupied the present site of Sydney Park, at its north-west corner. It was a family business conducted by the Gentles, who came from England in the early 1840s. Josiah Gentle began making bricks in the Camdenville district in 1873. He operated several local works until he established the Bedford Brickworks (named after his birthplace in England) in 1893 on land first utilised by the Goodsells. The Gentle family lived at The Towers, near the Holmwood Estate, on what became, in 1890, Dickson Street. Josiah died a wealthy man and widely respected, in 1912 and left the business to his three sons. It was then valued at 70,000 pounds.

The Bedford works, which concentrated on dry-press bricks, grew rapidly, becoming one of the largest in the area known to brickmakers as "The Flat". It imported two Hoffman (sometimes written as Hoffmann) kilns, one of which was earlier referred to as a Hardy Patent kiln. They produced common bricks in large quantities, being designed for high output and continuous firing. The Hoffman kilns were an indication of the Bedford works' progressive policy and featured in its pictorial advertising. There were six down draught kilns, in two clusters. Since their design allowed exact control of the firing process, they produced "specials", coloured face bricks or, as the Bedford signage called them "facing bricks". Extensive underground flues and dampers led from the kilns to the three chimneys. A fourth chimney was placed in a Hoffman kiln.

The kilns formed the majority of the building structures. Central to the production procedure was the processing plant, a two storey building with a brick base and a storey post construction with corrugated iron walls. Here all processes preliminary to the operation of the kilns were carried on.

The Bedford site was fronted, on the corner of Mitchell Street and Princes Highway, by a two-storey brick office building, a more impressive structure than is usually associated with brickworks.

The Bedford and Austral Brickworks
The Depression of the early 1930s had a severe impact on the St Peters brickworks scene. Some operations were shut down, other underwent rationalisation. While Marrickville industry in general survived the Depression with little difficulty, brickmaking never fully recovered. In 1933 the Gentle family was succeeded at the Bedford works by the Austral Brick Company. Austral had conducted a large efficient operation since the 1880s at the corner of the Pacific Highway and Cowper Street. Its plant was similar to that of the Bedford complex and its output and labour force were larger. The Bedford site, after a period of decline, was closed in 1970. The original Austral Brick Company site remained in operation until 1983. Meanwhile, Austral had extended its operations to a more efficient Eastwood plant and to its present headquarters at Horsely Park. " (History by Ken Cable from Tropman & Tropman Architects "Sydney Park Brick Kiln & Chimney Precinct, St Peters Heritage & Structural Assessment Report", 28/2/2000).

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Industry-Activities associated with the manufacture, production and distribution of goods (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 (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The Brickworks site is a significant component of one of Sydney's oldest and most important industries. It retains sufficient material and occupies an appropriate site to present clear evidence of the operation of the site as a brickworks. The Brickworks provided vital employment in the St Peters district for several generations and contributed largely to the construction of the district itself.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The site has general past association with the industrial development of St Peters and South Sydney and with the local working community. Present association with the local community who are users of Sydney Park.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The site and its structures, particularly the former Brickworks chimneys, are landmarks which can be viewed from a number of locations and contribute to the Princes Highway and Sydney Park Road streetscapes. The site constitutes an architectonic feature of Sydney Park that reinforces its visually distinctive urban man-made character. The robust materials contribute to the interpretation of the history and former uses of the site and park, and generally to the interpretation of the industrial context. The Brickworks, in its Sydney Park setting, reveals the relationship between several types of industrial activity and between the structures and the urban open space.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
Socially significant due to association with Bedford Brickworks and with the Austral Brick Company who employed an important specialised labour force.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The entire site constitutes a good example of a local brickworks built taking advantage of the adjacent clay pits, railway facilities and major transport routes, and industrial practises common at the time of the Brickworks' operation. Its layout and arrangment of buildings and items contribute to the interpretation of the various brick making processes. Its associated industrial items and artefacts contribute to the interpretation of former uses and technologies at the site. These include but are not limited to: industrial items, original signage, industrial artefacts (shale crushing mill, boiler, other machinery parts from the processing plant building (currently located at the site of Down Draught Kiln No. 2). Significant archaeological remains may be assumed to exist underground.
SHR Criteria g)
Of brickworks operating in southern sydney from the late 19th century.
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:

No activity should be permitted which would confuse the fact that the Sydney Park Brick Kiln and Chimney Precinct is: - an important component of the local industrial development of the St Peters area. -was designed as a small local brickworks associated with the adjacent clay deposits, major roads and railway station; - part of the original industrial context of the area; - has been associated with the former Bedford Brickworks, Austral Brick Company, and with both local residents and industrial workers of St Peters and South Sydney. The fabric of the structures and surviving machinery/associated industrial items and artefacts are to be retained in situ and conserved. Potential archaeological resources on the site are to be respected, and Archaeological Assessments undertaken prior to any substantial excavation works. Any new buildings, services, landscaping or activities in the vicinity of the site should have regard to the setting, design, scale and character of the subject buildings and items, streetscapes, Sydney Park and urban surroundings. Community consultation should be sought in designing any future uses, activities and works at the site. Existing fabric should be recorded prior to any disturbance.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental PlanSydney LEP 2012I2714 Dec 12   
Heritage study     

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenAnita Heiss Aboriginal People and Place, Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City
WrittenTropman & Tropman Architects2000Sydney Park Brick Kiln & Chimney Precinct, St Peters, Heritage and Structural Assessment

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: 2421330

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