City of Sydney Fire Station - Brigade Headquarters | NSW Environment & Heritage

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City of Sydney Fire Station - Brigade Headquarters

Item details

Name of item: City of Sydney Fire Station - Brigade Headquarters
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Utilities - Fire Control
Category: Fire Station
Primary address: 211-217 Castlereagh Street, Sydney, NSW 2001
Local govt. area: Sydney
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
211-217 Castlereagh StreetSydneySydney  Primary Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
NSW Fire BrigadesState Government 

Statement of significance:

It is a fine working example of a fire station in the Victorian Free Classical style dating from the late 1880s and displays an evolutionary process of the fire station design into the early years of the twentieth century. The building is a rare example of Victorian Industrial building incorporating innovative international planning techniques and technology in fire station design from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Schwager Brooks 1996).
Date significance updated: 23 Jun 00
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.


Construction years: 1887-
Physical description: Victorian Free Classical: A four storey building of tuckpointed brick (Flemish Bond) with stucco trim. The façade is divided into five bays by rusticated stuccoed pilasters. The three southern bays belong to the original building, the central of which has the words "METROPOLITAN FIRE BRIGADE" on its entablature, and MCCCLXXXV111 in the central panel of its parapet. The two northern bays (1912) match the detail above ground floor level, and are ingeniously designed to preserve, as far as possible the symmetrical feel of the building. Windows are heavily moulded - those of the first and third floors are segmentally arched with decorative keys, while those on the second floor have triangular pediments supported by console brackets. The ground floor is entirely rendered with rusticated coursing. There are three segmentally arched vehicular openings, flanked by triple light windows in the Palladian Manner, each having a semi-circular central light with elaborate keystone. The vehicular entrances have fine moulded keystones, the central one being a portrait head of Queen Victoria, and the others models of firemen's equipment. Surmounted on the cornice above the Queen's head is a decorative wrought iron light bracket. The rendered ground floor treatment of the 1912 building is simpler than the original building, with flat arches to the two engine bays, and a bracketed cornice over the single door. Exterior details of note at the rear of the building include wrought iron balconies (one with an ogee roof of corrugated iron) and two sets of hose-drying equipment. On the western boundary is a building which was originally firemen's accommodation. Though it has some interesting constructional details (eg cast iron columns and wrought girders) it does not appear to be of significance. Interior: The ceiling in the 1888 building engine bays consists of the structure of the upper floor, with rivetted plate iron girders, iron secondary beams and plastered brick vaults between. Other ceilings are of pressed metal. Around the walls to dado height are glazed ceramic tiles (Minton?) with decorative panels, some of which include fire fighting symbols. On the south wall there is a foundation plaque of marble bearing the date 1887, the words "Erected by the Government for the Fire Brigades Board", and the name of the members of the Board, the architect and the builder. On the north wall there is a fine carved timber honour board of "New South Wales Fire Brigade Staff who served in the Great War 1914-1918". The watchroom contains some original equipment. The ground floor interior of the 1912 building contains a two bay garage with a polished terrazzo floor, two original offices and one inserted office. These spaces have pressed metal ceilings and beam casings. The walls up to dado height are clad in Australian glazed tiles. Originally the upper levels were for accommodation and other facilities for firemen. Now the first floor contains mess-rooms and amenities, while the higher levels are for administration The building is a rare example of Victorian Industrial building incorporating innovative international planning techniques and technology in fire station design from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (McMonnies 1988).
Modifications and dates: 1910: Two laundries constructed on the roof. 1912: Extension along Castlereagh Street (by Spain, Cosh and Minett). 1915: Response to motorisation. Changes in work conditions and changes in Brigade policy such as cessation of instation residency. 1923: Building at No 211 purchased. 1926: roof top addition. 1928: two new engine bays to ground floor of 1912 addition, removal of tower. Various minor changes and alterations since (Schwager Brooks 1996).
Current use: Fire Station
Former use: Fire Station and residence


Historical notes: The principal building elements on the site include the original Fire Station building erected in 1887, the 1912 extension with a façade which matches the original, the former boot factory/gymnasium constructed in 1879, and a long narrow three storey building at the rear of the site. An area used for carparking extends between the rear yards and fronts Bathurst Street to the north. After considerable deliberation the government decided on No 217 Castlereagh Street for the Fire Brigade Headquarters. The site had previously been occupied by the Royal Standard Hotel (since 1876), which was owned by CJ Royle. Shortly after the purchase of the site the Colonial Architect office under the supervision of James Barnet was commissioned to draw up the plans. The building was not constructed to Barnet's original design as a consequence of his absence during construction and problems associated with the supply of government funds. In addition the dissolution and change in Government postponed completion of the building. The building was finally completed in 1888 and consisted four storeys, a basement and roofdeck. The planning of the station was considered innovative for its time incorporating overseas experience and practical design advice from the London Metropolitan Fire Brigade. The ground floor of the building contained the engine room with the upper stories mainly providing residential accommodation for the men (and their families) required to operate the station. A metal framed timber tower was erected over the northern stairwell to serve as a watchtower, manned from sunset until 6am. The tower was a reduced version of Barnet's original design and did not match the substantial nature of the proposed tower, it was removed in 1928. An extension to the building was carried out in 1912 to provide more space. Designed by the firm Spain, Cosh and Minett it was intended to double the capacity of the 1887 building. The ground and first floor level were initially used for administration purposes and the second and third level residential accommodation. In 1928 the motorised fleet of fire trucks required the ground floor to be converted into two new engine bays and the Boardroom and offices were relocated to the first floor level. No 211 was purchased in 1923 and modified to provide further accommodation and facilities (Schwager Brooks 1996).

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]
The building demonstrates the growth of the fire brigade from a metropolitan force to a statewide body and provides evidence of the progressive development of the brigade in both operations and responsibilities (Schwager Brooks 1996).
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
It is a largely intact example of the work of the colonial architect James Barnet and demonstrates his combined usage of classical styles and innovative design in public buildings. It is constructed in the Victorian Free Classical style featuring Italianate motifs, and has a prominent Castlereagh Street address. Its association with Spain, Cosh & Minett is also significant (Schwager Brooks 1996).
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The building has been in use for more than a century as the Central Sydney Fire Station, and for much of this time as the Brigades administrative headquarters. It is a well Known item of continuing public interest (Schwager Brooks 1996).
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The fabric, design and layout of the building provide evidence of the state-of-the-art fire fighting technology of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, particularly the dependency on the efficient deployment of horse drawn fire vehicles(Schwager Brooks 1996).
SHR Criteria f)
The building is a rare example of Victorian Industrial building incorporating innovative international planning techniques and technology in fire station design from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Schwager Brooks 1996).
SHR Criteria g)
It is a fine working example of a fire station in the Victorian Free Classical style dating from the late 1880s and displays an evolutionary process of the fire station design into the early years of the twentieth century (Schwager Brooks 1996).
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 form and scale of the main building, and former control building should be preserved. Any future work should be in accordance with the existing Conservation Plan, updated as necessary prior to any development proposal. Any new work and maintenance programs should seek to preserve and enhance surviving significant original fabric. Surfaces such as the face brickwork and sandstone which have never been painted should remain unpainted (Schwager Brooks 1996).


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage register     

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
Heritage Survey of Sydney Region Fire Stations1988 Jennifer McMonnies  No
Heritage Impact Assessment Headquarters Fire Station Castlereagh Street1996 Graham Brooks & Associates Pty Ltd Architects & Heritage Consultants  Yes

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links

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: State Government
Database number: 4690014

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