Former Cleveland Street Public School, Buildings Incl. Interiors, Grds & Fence.. | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

Culture and heritage


Former Cleveland Street Public School, Buildings Incl. Interiors, Grds & Fence..

Item details

Name of item: Former Cleveland Street Public School, Buildings Incl. Interiors, Grds & Fence..
Other name/s: Cleveland Street Intensive English High, Cleveland Street Boy's High School
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Education
Category: School - State (public)
Location: Lat: -33.8906214868916 Long: 151.204469544433
Primary address: 244 Cleveland Street, Surry Hills, NSW 2016
Local govt. area: Sydney
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
244 Cleveland StreetSurry HillsSydney  Primary Address

Statement of significance:

The former Cleveland Street Public School is aesthetically significant as a group of educational buildings which provide physical evidence of the importance the government of the time placed on public education. The earlier buildings form a picturesque example of a Victorian Free Gothic school complex which retains much of its original character externally. It is historically significant as the first of the 'palace' schools designed by G A Mansfield which were later to give rise to criticism. The school is socially significant through its long association with education in the area, where it has served for many decades as a centre of public education and culture.
Date significance updated: 30 Dec 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.


Designer/Maker: G.A. Mansfield (1867); W.E. Kemp (1891)
Builder/Maker: Unknown
Construction years: 1867-1867
Physical description: Cleveland Street Public School consists of a group of buildings located at the corner of Cleveland and Chalmers Streets in Redfern, which can be viewed from both streets and across Prince Alfred Park. The group consists of early two storey buildings, with single storey annexes and a tower designed by G.A. Mansfield in 1867 in the Victorian Free Gothic style. Two additional two-storey buildings located closer to Cleveland Street were designed by W.E. Kemp in c1891 in the Federation Free style to complement the earlier buildings. Category:Group of Buildings. Style:Victorian Free Gothic ; Federation Free Style. Storeys:2. Facade:Face brick, sandstone. Side/Rear Walls:Face brick, sandstone. Internal Walls:Plastered brick; painted brick. Roof Cladding:Concrete tile. Internal Structure:Loadbearing brick & timber beams. Floor:Timber. Roof:Timber trusses. Ceilings:Timber boards, Lath and plaster. Lifts:Nil.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
The building shows evidence of continual hard wear over many years. The concrete tile roofs are a modern alteration.Intrusive Elements:Concrete roof tiles.
Date condition updated:06 Dec 05
Modifications and dates: 1867; c1891
Further information: High Significance:Original fabric including brickwork, sandstone, terra cotta tiles, joinery, metalwork, roof lantern, spire, signage, and undercroft space. Trees, planting's and original paving sufaces. Low Significance:Enclosed glass links, steel mesh fencing. Was a heritage item in 1989 and remains an item to the present.

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: School
Former use: School


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 )

Cleveland Street Public School opened in 1856 in an imported, prefabricated iron building, one of a number purchased by the Board of National Education when building activity virtually ceased because of the gold rushes. The iron building was lined inside with thin boarding, canvas and paper. By 1867 the school had nearly 700 pupils crammed into the structure, and the Council's architect, G A Mansfield, designed an expensive new building, the first of what the Council's critics called the 'palace' schools. It was opened in 1868.
The school originally consisted of two storey buildings with two single-storey annexes facing Chalmers Street, constructed of face brick with sandstone trim. The main entrance from Chalmers Street is through a square tower surmounted by a spire. The original slate roof of the school has been replaced with concrete roofing tiles and the spire has been reclad with copper sheeting. The interior comprised a large schoolroom each for boys, girls and infants plus a number of small classrooms, continuing the pattern established in the 1850s. Classrooms had flat floors with large windows giving left hand side lighting, and desks for pairs of students. The only functional innovation in the design was the covered playground formed by the basement.

The two wings closer to Cleveland Street were added c1891 to a design by W E Kemp. They were designed to be in keeping with the earlier buildings, although in the Federation Free style idiom.

In 1966 the school ceased to be a primary school, and became the Cleveland Street Boys High School. More recently, it has been associated with the teaching of English to new migrants.

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Cleveland Street Public School was the first of G A Mansfield's so-called 'palace' schools. The school has associations with a number of people including the architects G A Mansfield and W E Kemp. Classrooms were among the earliest in Australia to provide flat floors and desks rather than raked seating. Has historic significance locally.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
Has aesthetic significance locally. Cultural:The original school building is a grandly detailed and picturesque example of a Victorian Gothic school complex, and the first to include a covered playground in the basement.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The buildings reflect the importance of public education within the development of Sydney. It has had a long association with the residents of Redfern and Surry Hills. Has social significance locally.The original school building is a grandly detailed and picturesque example of a Victorian Gothic school complex, and the first to include a covered playground in the basement.
SHR Criteria f)
Cleveland Street Public School is a largely intact example of a Victorian Gothic school complex, and is believed to be one of the earliest in Australia to incorporate a covered playground within the basement of the building. 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 group of buildings designed by Mansfield and Kemp at Cleveland Street Public School should be conserved largely in their existing form and scale, and should continue to be associated with education. A conservation plan should be prepared prior to any major changes to the place. Features of high significance, especially those dating before 1891 should be conserved, and those which have been damaged or concealed by later work should be restored or reconstructed. Surfaces never intended for painting, notably face brickwork and sandstone should remain unpainted, while surfaces such as stucco and timber which were originally painted should continue to be painted in appropriate colours. Exterior: Minor modifications to the building could be contemplated provided that no further loss of original fabric occurs. Roof tiles should be replaced in due course with slate as original. The undercroft forming the underground playground should eventually be recovered as a single space. Interior: The interiors could be subject to some alteration in the future to assist the continuing use of the place for educational purposes, provided that surviving significant fabric is preserved. 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 fa├žade 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 2012I147714 Dec 12   
Heritage study     

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Written  National Trust Listing. Register of the National Estate Listing. Central Sydney Heritage LEP 2000.
Written Terry Kass. History of Cleveland Street Public School
WrittenAnita Heiss Aboriginal People and Place, Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City
WrittenPerumal Murphy Wu2002Heritage Impact Statement

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: 2424310

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.

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