Former "Judges House" Including Interiors and Garden | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

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Former "Judges House" Including Interiors and Garden

Item details

Name of item: Former "Judges House" Including Interiors and Garden
Other name/s: City Night Refuge; The Judge’s House, Suntory Restaurant
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Residential buildings (private)
Category: House
Location: Lat: -33.8767868449326 Long: 151.204040200793
Primary address: 531 Kent Street, Sydney, NSW 2000
Local govt. area: Sydney
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
531 Kent StreetSydneySydney  Primary Address

Statement of significance:

The Judge’s House is of historic significance as the earliest surviving single storey freestanding house in the central area of Sydney. It is associated with important early residents of New South Wales: William Harper, Surveyor and the probable architect of the house and Judge Dowling of the Supreme Court. The building is also historically significant as the site of the City Night Refuge and Soup Kitchen (a pioneer charitable organisation) for over 100 years. The Judge’s House is of aesthetic significance as a rare example of an 1820s Colonial Georgian bungalow, surviving in nearly original form and retaining landscaping reminiscent of its original Kent Street setting. The building is of technical significance for the amount of original fabric which survives as evidence of the high quality of building and decorative skills available in Sydney in the 1820s.
Date significance updated: 05 Jan 06
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: William Harper
Construction years: 1827-1827
Physical description: The Judge’s House is a single storey stone bungalow with basement. External walls are of coursed sandstone rubble with dressed architraves, sills and quoins. There is a reconstructed verandah on the Kent Street side which returns at both ends. The roof is a simple pitched structure clad with shingles. The site slopes down towards Sussex Street and the west wall of the basement is mostly above ground level. Internally, the basement is divided along the length of the house by a stone wall marking the perimeter of the original basement. A modern timber stair connects it with the ground floor. On the ground floor, internal walls are plastered brick and ceilings are generally modern, although some cornices and lath and plaster ceilings survive. Most of the masonry walls are original. Category:Individual Building. Style:Old Colonial Georgian. Storeys:1 plus basement. Facade:Sandstone, timber frame windows. Side/Rear Walls:Sandstone, timber frame windows. Internal Walls:Plastered brick, sandstone, plasterbd & stud. Roof Cladding:Timber shingles, corrugated steel sheeting. Internal Structure:Load bearing walls & timber beams. Floor:Reinf conc slab (basement), timber joists & boards (gnd floor). Roof:Timber framing. Ceilings:Fibrous plaster, timber boards, plasterbd. Stairs:Reproduction Georgian timber stair. Fire Stairs:None. Lifts:None. AirConditioned:Yes
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Several French doors, the front door and some windows appear original, as do a number of fireplaces and skirtings. The stone flagged floor in the hall way is probably original but has been relaid. Verandah columns and some roof structure appear original although the square battened sheet iron roof is conjectural and inaccurate. Gutters are ogee profile; there were probably none originally.
Intrusive Elements:Metal verandah roof, rear verandah to basement, air conditioning equipment, internal stair.
Date condition updated:05 Jan 06
Modifications and dates: 1827
Further information: High Significance:Overall form, scale and character, original stone and brick walls, original layout of main rooms on ground floor and basement, original joinery and plasterwork.
Medium Significance:Front fence, verandah soffit, pressed metal ceilings and cornices, replacement joinery except archives room.
Low Significance:Blocked up or altered openings, brick paving, chimney cowls, ogee gutters, new lavatories, basement extension, new doors and windows.

Was a heritage item in 1989, and has remained so since that time.

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: Commercial Office
Former use: Residential, Refuge


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 )

In the 1820s the south end of Kent Street was still rural, with a fine view of Darling Harbour. No.531 was built and designed, almost certainly in 1827, by a government surveyor, William Harper (1792-1836), who had recently retired through ill-health to his Hunter Valley farm. The Kent Street house was immediately leased in February 1828 to the newly arrived Supreme Court judge, James Dowling (1787-1844). Dowling , who is still remembered in the house’s popular name, leased it however for only three years, moving to Woolloomooloo Hill in 1831 and becoming Chief Justice six years later.

The Kent Street cottage continued to be leased although Harper sold it in 1835 to a merchant, John Terry Hughes. Thereafter until 1879 it was occupied by tenants with ownership moving to Thomas Hyndes in 1845 and thence to his widow, her second husband, the prominent Presbyterian minister, William Purves (d.1870), and his three children. In 1879 the Purves Trustees sold the property to the trustees for the City Night Refuge and Soup Kitchen, a charitable organisation for homeless men, which had occupied the Kent Street house as tenants since 1868.

The stone outbuildings were converted into a reception area for the men seeking admission, the cellars became work-rooms and the elegant house became a functional refuge and mess-room, using produce grown in the gardens. Three rooms were added as need grew in the 1870s. A corrugated iron dormitory was added in 1885 and a further large brick building on the northern perimeter opened in 1887. Harper’s original house then became the manager’s residence. Yet another building to accommodate penniless women was opened on the south side in 1897. The front garden became smaller when its encroachment onto Kent Street was removed.

In 1945 the Refuge was absorbed into the Sydney City Mission, a missionary occupied Harper’s house from 1951, outbuildings were demolished and replaced by a new House of the Helping Hand in 1963. In 1972 the Mission moved to Surry Hills and Grosvenor International proposed a multi-storied development on the site. This created vigorous debate, resolved only in 1980 when the Heritage Council put a PCO on the property, including its entire garden. The various buildings around the 1827 cottage were demolished in 1970 and the rear part of the block was sold to Suntory Australia PL which built a restaurant.

Conservation work on the cottage had been undertaken in 1978 and in 1984 Allind PL purchased the house as company offices. In 1992 the foundations of the house were strengthened with concrete and steel and the cellar was extended. Capital Group Properties PL purchased it as offices in 1997 and undertook further conservation of the house and garden.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Accommodation-Activities associated with the provision of accommodation, and particular types of accommodation – does not include architectural styles – use the theme of Creative Endeavour for such activities. (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Of State significance as the last of the semi-rural cottages of early Darling Harbour, 531 Kent Street has additional significance as the first residence in Sydney of Judge Dowling, built by an important early surveyor, William Harper. It is also significant as the centre for the City Night Refuge and later the City Mission for over a century, a critically important provider of poor relief. Has historic significance at a State level.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
A rare example of an 1820s Colonial Georgian single storey bungalow to survive in its near original form which still retains a visual curtilage with sympathetic landscaping reminiscent of its original Kent Street setting.

The large amount of surviving original fabric provides rare evidence of the high quality of design, building and decoration skills available in Sydney in the 1820s. Has aesthetic significance at a State level.
SHR Criteria f)
The Judge’s House is probably the only example of an early 19th century dwelling surviving in the centre of a major city in Australia. Is rare at a State level.
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:

General: The Judge’s House should be conserved. Original fabric should be preserved and maintained, and intrusive fabric removed over time to enhance the significance of the place. Exterior: The verandah roof should be reconstructed to reflect its early form and fabric. Face stonework should not be rendered or painted. Interior: All original fabric and spaces should be conserved including fabric concealed by later finishes. The house should be retained in its existing configuration. Adaptation of the interiors should be restricted to those areas which have already been degraded. No further structural openings should be made in original walls. The building should be retained and conserved. A Heritage Assessment and Heritage Impact Statement, or a Conservation Management Plan, should be prepared for the building prior to any major works being undertaken. There shall be no vertical additions to the building and no alterations to the façade of the building other than to reinstate original features. The principal room layout and planning configuration as well as significant internal original features including ceilings, cornices, joinery, flooring and fireplaces should be retained and conserved. Any additions and alterations should be confined to the rear in areas of less significance, should not be visibly prominent and shall be in accordance with the relevant planning controls.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental PlanSydney LEP 2012I183514 Dec 12   
Heritage study     

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenAnita Heiss Aboriginal People and Place, Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City
WrittenJackson Teece Chesterman Willis PL2000Conservation Plan: the Judge’s House, 531 Kent Street, Sydney

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: 2424119

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