Paddington Town Hall | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

Culture and heritage


Paddington Town Hall

Item details

Name of item: Paddington Town Hall
Other name/s: Town Hall
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Community Facilities
Category: Hall Town Hall
Location: Lat: -33.8852642588 Long: 151.2258103420
Primary address: 249 Oxford Street, Paddington, NSW 2021
Parish: Alexandria
County: Cumberland
Local govt. area: Sydney
Local Aboriginal Land Council: La Perouse
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT10 DP867184
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
249 Oxford StreetPaddingtonSydneyAlexandriaCumberlandPrimary Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
 Private30 Mar 99

Statement of significance:

The Paddington Town Hall is of State significance as a landmark example of the Victorian Free Classical architectual style. Located in a prominant location, the Town Hall is highly visable and, as a well maintained building, an aesthetically pleasing structure. The Town Hall's construction in 1891 marked the beginning of the 1890s depression as is historically significant as one of the last public buildings to be built in the style.
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: John Edward Kemp
Construction years: 1890-1891
Physical description: External Description:
The Paddington Town Hall is two storeys, built of brick and finished with render. The overall architectural style is Victorian Free Classical (Apperly, Irving & Reynolds 1989: 56-59). The principle decorative elements are "an open colonnade to Oxford Street and rows of Roman-arched first-floor windows flanked by Corinthian pilasters and a balustered parapet" (National Estate Register).

The main entrance was once off Oxford Street and is marked by a projected pediment and parapet (removed). Oxford Street is the more ornate of the two facades reflecting its more prominent position.

The clock tower is located on the corner of Oxford Street and Oatley Road. As with the facades, the main decorative form is Corinthian pilasters, pairs of which support the clock. Doric columns and a pediment frame the clock. The tower is finished with a dome supported by an octagonal drum.

The Oxford Street facade is slightly different to the Oatley Road face. On Oatley Street the windows are spaced further apart and the ground level lacks the colonnades. The southern end of the facade is a later addition, its arched entry and open balcony closely match the original section. The southern end was further modified with the construction of the cinema in 1977, when the first floor windows were blocked off. Unsympathetic modifications were made to the ground floor in 1951.

Internal Description:
The main vestibule can be entered from both Oxford Street and Oatley Road and the internal decoration continues to utilise ornamented archways to harmonise with the exterior. The ceiling is of pressed metal, while the floor of ceramic tiles is arranged in a geometric star pattern. The Main Hall is located on the first floor. The Hall was significantly altered in 1933-34 and re-decorated in an Art Deco style. The coffered ceiling was retained, but much of the original plasterwork has been removed - replaced with open grille work matching those cut in the wall. The walls are punctuated with projecting cylindrical plaster columns, capped with floral capitals.

Extending north of the hall is a narrow hall-like space that was originally an open loggia defined by Corinthian piers. Hall No. 2 has been converted into a cinema, destroying much of the interior space. The ante-chamber to the hall has been removed to create the cinema foyer.

The ground floor on Oxford Street was originally the council offices and the Council Chambers, but is now a library. The entry remains reasonably intact, with similar details to the principle entrance. Conversion into a library significantly altered the layout with the insertion of unsympathetic arches to allow access.

Summarised from Gazzard Sheldon 1991:7-8.
Modifications and dates: 1904 Clock Tower added.
1927 Western extension and also possibly to south.
1928 Hall redecorated
1933 Major renovations to Main Hall with introduction of Art Deco style
1976 Library moved from Oatley Road entrance to Oxford Street
1977 Major renovations to construct cinema, video and radio facilities.
Current use: Venue Hire
Former use: Town Hall


Historical notes: The Suburb:
This suburb, which took its name from the London borough, lies in what were once paddocks adjacent to Victoria Barracks. It was the first of the early Sydney suburbs that was not self-sufficient - its inhabitants, unlike those of Balmain or Newtown, where work was available in local industries, had to go away each day to their places of employment. Development of the Eastern Suburbs (Edgecliff, Double Bay, Point Piper and Woollahra) surrounded this area with wealthy people's homes so this small hilly suburb lost all hope of harbour views.

The area developed after a road was constructed to link up with a pilot station that was to be built at Watson's Bay (South Head Road). John Palmer, the settlement's commissary, refused to allow people to cross his land grant ('Woolloomooloo'), so the road had to follow a roundabout way through Paddington to bypass his 100 acres.

...only a handful of workers lived in the area, and it was not until 1838, when it was decided to build a new military barracks in Paddington, that life came to the area.

From 1848 when Victoria Barracks had been opened (designed by Lt.-Col.George Barney) and homes for the soldiers and their families had been erected, Paddington began to assume a real identity...The (barracks site) land was sandy - in fact a huge sandhill was located on the western side of the Greens Road area, and the foundation trenches had to be dug very deep, to locate firm stone for the foundations. Stone was mostly quarried in the area: the stone masons were free settlers who had worked on erection of the Customs House at what was then Semi-Circular Quay.

...Once the solderis and their families moved here, shopkeepers followed. Builders moved into the area and put up 3,800 houses between 1860 and 1890. These terraces give today's Paddington its air of individuality...The first school in the area was opened in the Presbyterian manse in Oxford Street, built in 1845.

...It is hard to imagine that in 1822 the mansion Juniper Hall (the opposite southern corner of Oxford Street from the Reservoir site) stood alone, without the many neighbours it has today. Set in a flagged garden, it had attic windows that gave panoramic views to Rushcutters Bay and Botany Bay. Juniper Hall was built for Robert Cooper, distiller and emancipist merchant, who with partners James Underwood and Francis Ewen Forbes, had recieved 100 acres from Governor Brisbane in c.1818, covering the whole of north Paddington, and they agreed to erect 3 mansions and a distillery there. A distillery was built at the foot of Cascade Street near Taylor Square and Cooper bought out his partners, and only Juniper Hall was erected...The Coopers were part of the social scene of their day and entertained many notables of that time. After they left the house it was renamed Ormond House to dissociate itself from the gin image and passed through many hands, gradually becoming smothered by the building of small shops in front of the house. Latterly it has been restored by the National Trust and has had a variety of uses.

Today few of the area's original working class residents remain, as the suburb's proximity to the city has made it popular with business and professional people who prefer inner-city living in this historic area. The shopping centre, concentrated on the north side of Oxford Street, has also changed from one serving local needs to one of cafes, speciality shops and boutiques...Much of this is related to the changing population and the Village Bazaar, or Paddington Markets. The bazaar, which has operated since the mid 1970s, draws visitors from all over the city and has contributed to Paddington's development as one of Sydney's favourite tourist spots, along with Bondi Beach and The Rocks (Pollen, 1988, 195-7).

Paddington Council
The residents of Paddington raised a petition of 172 signatures in September 1859 requesting incorporation as a district. The proposed boundary was the Sydney Common to the south and New South Head Road to the north. The area was said to include 1000 houses with 3000 residents.

The Council held their first meeting on Friday May 25 1860 with nine councillors and a Chairman. The first three meetings were held in the Paddington Inn before Council resolved to rent Mr. Logan's house next door for 12 months at 15 shillings a week. Meetings continued to be held at the house until the first Town Hall was built on the current site of the Royal Women's Hospital in Oxford Street in 1866.

With a budget of 2000 pounds the Council concentrated on maintaining roads, including kerbing and guttering, and erecting gas lamps. By 1867 Paddington had sufficient population to be elevated to a Borough and the Chairman became a Mayor. Paddington continued to prosper and in 1890 was receiving revenue second only to Balmain Council.

Fifty years from its inception, in 1909, the population had risen to 26,000 in 4800 houses and expenditure was at 21,000 pounds. During the 1890s depression and difficult years of the early 20th century Paddington declined and was characterised as a slum. In 1949 Paddington Council was subsumed by the City of Sydney. The last remnants of Paddington Council were removed in 1967 when the original boundary was divided between the Municipality of Woollahra and the City of Sydney.

Paddington Town Hall
Aspiring Town Clerk C. Hellmrich obtained the land for the Paddington Town Hall and argued for a new Hall on the site. The design was the subject of an international architectural competition with thirty submissions. Although a design specification was that the building could be constructed for 9000 pounds, none of the submissions were likely to meet this criteria. John Edward Kemp was the winner with an Italian Renaissance style building. Tenders confirmed that the scheme could not be built for 9000 pounds and estimates instead stood at 13,500 pounds. A loan was obtained from an overseas institution to allow construction.

The foundation stone was laid on 8 November 1890 by Sir Henry Parkes and was opened on 3 October 1891 by the Governor the Earl of Jersey. The first major alteration to the Town Hall occurred in 1904-5, when the clock tower was erected in commemoration of the coronation of King Edward VII. The face of the clock is inscribed with 'Edwardus VII'. The honour to King Edward was that Paddington was, at the time, a large town hall, second only to Sydney.

The Town Hall varied slightly from the majority of town halls in that it was intended from the beginning to generate income from the hiring of the supper and ball room for balls, dances, concerts and public ceremonies. Again, Paddington was second only to Sydney in its importance and capacity, seating 1000 people. The Town Hall included specifically designed lodge rooms for the Paddington Ionic Masonic Lodge, which Council leased to them until 1918, when a rent raise caused the Lodge to vacate their room.

The original design also included a library. During 50th celebrations the Council boasted that the library was the best free library outside of Sydney. The collection contained 4000 books, the reading room could seat 30 people and, in comparison to other libraries, was well used. The library was relocated in 1977 from Oatley Road to beneath the Main Hall on Oxford Street as part of a financial package to reinvigorate the Town Hall.

The City of Sydney, the Australia Council and the Australian Film Commission provided $500,000 to redevelop the Town Hall as a centre that included an exhibition space, restaurant and an adjacent cinema.

Summarised from Gazzard Sheldon Architects (1991; 3-6).

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Towns, suburbs and villages-Activities associated with creating, planning and managing urban functions, landscapes and lifestyles in towns, suburbs and villages Planned towns serving a specific industry-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Towns, suburbs and villages-Activities associated with creating, planning and managing urban functions, landscapes and lifestyles in towns, suburbs and villages Creating landmark structures and places in urban settings-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Towns, suburbs and villages-Activities associated with creating, planning and managing urban functions, landscapes and lifestyles in towns, suburbs and villages Developing suburbia-
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. Developing roles for government - building and operating public infrastructure-
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. Local and municipal self-governance-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Paddington Town Hall is of State significance as one of the last public buildings constructed before the onset of the 1890s depression. The Town Hall marks the end of a historical phase of growth, prosperity and optimism in New South Wales.

Paddington Town Hall is of State significance as evidence of the historical significance Paddington once held, being the second largest council in revenue the Council constructed the second largest town hall.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The Paddington Town Hall is of State significance as one of the last Victorian Free Classical public buildings and as such it exemplifies the architectural style. The Town Hall is aesthetically significant as it is situated in a prominant location and is visable from the city and surrounding suburbs.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The Paddington Town Hall is of local significance as the focus of community activity in the area through the location of library and other services in the building.
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.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workHeritage Act General Maintenance, continous care

Order Under Section 57(2) to exempt the following activities from Section 57(1):
The maintenance of any building or item on the site, where maintenance means the continuous protective care of existing material.
May 6 1988
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0056102 Apr 99 271546
Heritage Act - Permanent Conservation Order - former 0056106 May 88 822549
Register of the National Estate  21 Oct 80   

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Tourism 2007Paddington Town Hall View detail
WrittenApperly, Irving & Reynolds1989A Pictorial Guide to Identifying Australian Architectural Styles and Terms from 1788 to the Present
TourismAttraction Homepage2007Paddington Town Hall View detail
WrittenClement, Jessica2014'Staging a comeback to renew Oxford Street' (Paddington), in Wentworth Courier
WrittenGazzard Sheldon Architects1991Paddington Town Hall: A Conservation Plan
WrittenYoung, Greg (ed.) et al2018Paddington - a History View detail

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: Heritage Office
Database number: 5045153
File number: S90/01616, HC 872813, 10/02162

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