Former Customs House Including Interior | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

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Heritage

Former Customs House Including Interior

Item details

Name of item: Former Customs House Including Interior
Other name/s: Custom House-sydney City Library
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Government and Administration
Category: Customs House
Location: Lat: -33.8646404433601 Long: 151.210470669168
Primary address: 31 Alfred Street, Sydney, NSW 2000
Local govt. area: Sydney
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
31 Alfred StreetSydneySydney  Primary Address

Statement of significance:

Sydney Customs House occupies a unique symbolic and physical position on the site of the First Fleet landing. The buildings location and construction is a physical reminder of the importance of Circular Quay as the original maritime and civic centre for the colony. It was built at the same time as the formation of Circular Quay and close to the jetties then under construction. The present building contains parts of the original Customs House constructed on the site by Mortimer Lewis. The building in its various stages had been used continuously by the Customs service for 145 years until 1990. It is a physical representation of the history of the Customs Service, symbolising also its importance in the history of Australia. The building has been associated with three prominent official architects of NSW: Mortimer Lewis, James Barnet and Walter Liberty Vernon. Because of the scarcity of documentary evidence about the early stages of construction, the surviving building fabric from these stages constitutes the principal source of additional evidence about the early history of the building and its occupants. Aesthetically the building is a good example of the use of decorated sandstone and detailing representative of the early Victorian era in Sydney.

The potential archaeological resource is significant due to its ability to provide physical evidence relating to the history of European settlement with respect to evolution, association, research potential and rarity. This would include evidence of structures and environmental conditions relating to the first settlement of the colony, its use as part of the Government Domain (Macquarie wall), land mark qualities and early town planning. The construction and use of the 1844 Lewis Customs House and later Barnet rebuilding demonstrate the importance and evolution of the Customs department. The potential to identify and record aboriginal cultural material is rare and of high research and social significance.
Date significance updated: 24 Aug 05
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.

Description

Designer/Maker: M. Lewis (1845), J. Barnet (1889), W. L. Vernon (1903), G. Oakeshott (1917)
Builder/Maker: Unknown
Construction years: 1845-1845
Physical description: Sydney Customs House is a prominent civic building occupying a city block bounded by Loftus, Young & Alfred Streets. It features a north Pedestrian Plaza centred on Circular Quay axis. The building form is made up of two basic sections - the five storey load bearing masonry structure facing the three public streets, with the returns to the rear lane, this section was complete up to the First World War; and a steel framed 6 storey structure within the former courtyard that was enclosed by the masonry building, with a corridor at each level against the stonemasonry walls and windows to the light well. The facade of the building features ornately carved sandstone and polished granite coupled ionic columns. Carvings include coat of arms, crests of major shipping nations. c. 1925 interiors use Free Classical motifs and materials. The building was constructed in several stages with prominent Sydney architects responsible for each stage. Category:Individual Building. Style:Victorian Academic Classical. Storeys:5, 6. Facade:Sandstone. Side/Rear Walls:Sandstone. Internal Walls:Plastered brick, lath & plaster. Roof Cladding:Terracotta tiles. Internal Structure:Loadbearing walls & reinf. conc. beams, steel column & beam. Floor:Reinf. conc. slab, timber joists & boards, granite, sandstone. Roof:Timber king post trusses. Ceilings:Decorative plaster, lath & plaster, set plaster on soffit. Stairs:Timber stairs. Sprinkler System:Yes. Lifts:Yes. General Details:The above construction information represents the building before work was commenced in 1995 on the adaptive re-use and conservation. Before this work, although the building was in need of maintenance and restoration, there were many original details surviving from various stages of its construction..
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Intrusive Elements:Generally changes made during 1925-1990 such as the addition of air conditioning and alterations made to the interiors.
Modifications and dates: 1845, 1889, 1903, 1917
Further information: High Significance:Original remaining form and details of both the exterior and interior of the first three stages of the building's construction. The surviving fabric of the fourth stage Oakeshott Long Room. Medium Significance:The remaining fabric of the fourth stage of construction other than that classified as high significance. Comments:No changes to schedule 1 listing since 1989 (as at 05/2003)

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: Other
Former use: Government Office

History

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 http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/barani )

The first stage of the Customs House building at Circular Quay was of two storeys, constructed during the period that the Quay itself was created, to the design of the Colonial Architect Mortimer Lewis. It was completed in 1845, in the location of the present central block facing the Quay. The second stage was designed by the later Colonial Architect James Barnet, and completed in 1889. The earlier building was partially dismantled then rebuilt to three storeys, together with side wings with frontages to Loftus and Young Street, to form a U-shape on plan. The third stage, designed by the Government Architect W. L. Vernon, was the culmination of several alterations and extensions, and completed in 1903. It emerged as five storeys, adding a wing in the rear courtyard to form an E-shape on plan. The fourth stage was by George Oakeshopp, Works Director for the Commonwealth. It was completed in 1917. All building structure enclosed by the earlier 'U' shape was replaced by a framed structure. This opened the ground floor as a large new open public space with a central skylight, and enclosed a lightwell above. The framed building made a smaller U-shape within the earlier masonry building enclosure. This rose to six storeys including the caretaker's quarters perched on top. A balcony was added on the caretaker's quarters in 1925. In 1948 the elevators installed to one side of the central axis were replaced by new lift shafts on the centre line. This demonstrated the new importance of mechanised vertical communication but also destroyed the feeling of the ground floor space by blocking the vestibule from the main hall. The building has had a series of minor alterations from 1925 to the present time. The most significant of these was probably the installation of air-conditioning in the late 1970s which resulted in exposed unsightly service ducts in the ground floor area.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Commerce-Activities relating to buying, selling and exchanging goods and services (none)-
7. Governing-Governing Government and Administration-Activities associated with the governance of local areas, regions, the State and the nation, and the administration of public programs - includes both principled and corrupt activities. Sydney's colonial settlement; Shipping-
7. Governing-Governing Government and Administration-Activities associated with the governance of local areas, regions, the State and the nation, and the administration of public programs - includes both principled and corrupt activities. (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The Sydney Customs House occupies the site of the First Fleet landing. Originally constructed at the same time as Circular Quay it is a physical reminder of the importance of this area as the original maritime and civic centre for the colony.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
Sydney Customs House is a good example of the use of decorated sandstone and detailing representative of the early Victorian era in Sydney. Cultural:Customs House embodies the work of three prominent and successive official architects of NSW: Mortimer Lewis, James Barnet, and Walter Liberty Vernon.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The stages of the Sydney Customs House building was used continuously for Customs Services for 145 years until 1990 and represents a physical history of Customs in Australia.Customs House embodies the work of three prominent and successive official architects of NSW: Mortimer Lewis, James Barnet, and Walter Liberty Vernon.
SHR Criteria f)
[Rarity]
The scarcity of documentary evidence about the early stages of construction gives significance to the surviving building fabric as it constitutes the principal source of additional evidence about the early history of the building and its occupants.
SHR Criteria g)
[Representativeness]
Sydney Customs House is representative of the social history of the Customs Service, the work of prominent early Sydney architects and the significance of the site and area as the major centre of the Colony.
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. No new work or activity should be carried out which will detract from or obscure physical evidence of the significant phases of development. Generally restoration work and adaptive re-use programs should be carefully monitored under a detailed Conservation Plan for the building. Any activity or work affecting the significant areas of the building should be confined to maintenance, preservation restoration and reconstruction as defined in the Burra Charter. Elements which reduce the overall significance of the place should in the long term be removed, converted to a compatible form or replaced in a way which helps recover significance.

Listings

Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental PlanSydney LEP 2012I166114 Dec 12   
Heritage study     

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Written 1985Circular Quay Heritage Study
WrittenAnita Heiss Aboriginal People and Place, Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City
WrittenAustralian Construction Services1995Statement of Heritage Impact
WrittenOrwell & Peter Phillips1993Conservation Plan
WrittenTonkin Zulaikha1995Heritage Impact Statement

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

rez
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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Local Government
Database number: 2423695


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