Fenwick & Co Boat Store | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Fenwick & Co Boat Store

Item details

Name of item: Fenwick & Co Boat Store
Other name/s: Fenwick & Co. Building, Bell's Store
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Transport - Water
Category: Warehouse/storage area
Location: Lat: -33.8572662002 Long: 151.1956937720
Primary address: 2-8 Weston Street, Balmain East, NSW 2041
Local govt. area: Leichhardt
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Metropolitan
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT1 DP1072213
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
2-8 Weston StreetBalmain EastLeichhardt  Primary Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
former Leichhardt Municipal CouncilLocal Government 

Statement of significance:

The site of the J. Fenwick & Co. Boat Store is significant because of its continuous association with the growth and development of maritime industries in Balmain, from the earliest days of Balmain's subdivision. This is due to the formation and operation of Bell's Shipyard and the subsequent operations of J. Fenwick & Co.

The site has important links with the development of the port of Sydney because of its association with the use of tug boats as an integral part of shipping operations (Howard, 1993).

The stone store is a rare surviving built element of Balmain's former links with the maritime service industries of Sydney Harbour, and as such contributes to the cultural significance of the Harbour. The stone store physically demonstrates the role of Balmain in the working of Sydney Harbour until recent times (Heritage Office).

The stone store is an early surviving record of maritime industry, not only in Balmain and Sydney, but in New South Wales; and for its long association with the Fenwick Tug Boat Company, which was the earliest and pre-eminent tugboat operator on Sydney Harbour (McDonald, 1999).
Date significance updated: 17 Sep 15
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: 1875-1885
Physical description: The J. Fenwick & Co. Boat Store is a rectangular two-storey sandstone building with a shallow pitched gable roof clad in profiled metal sheeting. The building is set against the escarpment of the foreshore with the ground level along the west facade above the window sill height for the first floor. The ground then slopes down along the southern side to a flat waterfront terrace level which fronts the eastern and northern facades of the building. The building therefore presents only two full facades, the east and the north, with only parts of the first floor visible on the south and west sides.

The eastern facade faces the waterfront and contains the finest detailing to the stonework, which is formed of regular coursed sandstone with a rusticated finish. Features include a smoothly finished carved sandstone bracket at either edge of the wall on the upper level towards the parapet and a splayed stone coping which extends along this parapet that is ended by much larger coping elements. The east facade has been altered with a horizontal concrete beam placed as a lintel across the top of the upper door. Above this lintel, the stonework has been clearly reconstructed. Two fluorescent lights extend out from near the top of the wall to the north and south, A slate damp course exists at the base of the facade.

On both levels of the east facade, there are timber framed double goods doors in the centre with a double-hung four pane sash window either side. Both windows on the lower level are protected by galvanised steel sheeting and steel gratings. The central door opening is continuous between the floors and there is a vertically barred ventilation opening across the top of the lower door. A sandstone retaining wall slopes away from the building to the south.

The north facade has dressed and coursed sandstone as lintels, sills and quoins around the window openings and at the building's corners, with roughly squared sandstone rubble infill. All lintels and sills consist of a single large horizontal block of sandstone with smooth margins and a rusticated finish. There are three double-hung sash windows on each level. All windows on the ground floor level have a steel grating on their exterior for protection. A sandstone retaining wall extends out from the building towards the west, and is topped by a steel hand rail.

On the south facade, only the upper level is visible, with the ground sloping up towards the west. The same random coursed, roughly squared sandstone blockwork has been used as for the north facade. Running along the length of the south facade is a timber fascia piece above which sites the galvanised sheet roofing and associated rainwater goods. The roofing butts against the parapet on the east elevation. Just off centre to the west is a smaller version of the timber-framed double goods doors. It has a stone sill and shows evidence of recent work to the mortar in the surrounding blockwork.

The west facade is only visible from roughly half way up the original window openings around which light wells have been constructed. The facade exhibits the same sandstone blockwork as the north and south walls with similar treatments around the windows. The area under the gabled roof end is covered with vertical galvanised sheeting. Downpipes exist at north ends of the wall. (Godden Mackay Logan, Heritage Impact Statement, 1999)
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Physical condition is fair. (1999)
Date condition updated:13 Jan 00
Modifications and dates: 1963 heavily modified in 1963 by removal of much of its eastern gable, lowering of its roof and modification of its setting which included raising ground levels on the southern and western sides. At that time, an administration building was erected on the adjacent site.

2008 the adjacent administration building was demolished to extend the open space of Illoura Reserve and realise part of a Council plan for a continuous foreshore park

9/2011 Leichhardt Council commencing works to reserve (new forecourt, turf banks and terraced outlooks) also basic restoration to store building (new roof and stone gable, repairs/replacement of windows and doors). Council consulting public re future uses, asking for photos of 1890s-1900s period (City News, 22/9/11).
Current use: Vacant
Former use: Shipwrights yard


Historical notes: The site of 2-8 Weston Street was part of the land granted to William Balmain in 1800. Prior to returning to England, Balmain transferred the land to John Gilchrist. Gilchrist subsequently subdivided the land and in 1836 auctioneer George William Paul purchased Lot 4 and Lot 6.

Paul subdivided his purchase and the future site of Fenwick's business became Lots 3 and 4. These were sold to Harry Lambert Brabagan in July 1840. The following month Brabagan resold this land to the shipwright John Bell.

Soon after purchasing the land John Bell built a residence on the corner of Darling and Weston Streets (Weston Street was named in 1841). In 1844 Bell leased his home to William Walker, who opened it as the Dolphin Hotel, one of the first licensed hotels in Balmain.

John Bell was amongst the more notable boat builders who established themselves in Balmain from the 1830s onwards. After purchase of Brabagan's Lots he proceeded to build a stone wharf and open a shipwright's yard on the site, as well as the residence mentioned above. However during Bell's ownership the shipyards were not a large operation as he was also running the hotel. (More research would be required to establish the extent of the Bell's boatbuilding activities on the site from 1840 until 1883.)

Fenwick purchased Bell's shipyard in 1883. The property included a wharf, store and the Shipwright's Arms Hotel. Close examination of the store fabric established that it was most likely to have been built between 1875 and 1885 and probably by Fenwick and Co. after they occupied the site (Godden Mackay Logan, 1999).

John Fenwick and his brother Thomas established the firm J Fenwick and Co., a tug boat company, on another site in Balmain, in 1870. The company was to become on of the largest owners of tug boats in Sydney and Newcastle. The company was split several years after foundation, so that John Fenwick concentrated on Sydney whilst Thomas Fenwick handled the coastal river trade from Ballina. Their first tug was the 'J and T Fenwick' and registered in January 1871. (Godden Mackay Logan, 1999)

The establishment of Fenwick's tug boat company in Balmain is connected with the expansion of privately owned wharfage for foreign trade westwards from Sydney Cove into Walsh Bay and the north-eastern part of Darling Harbour from c1870 onwards. Three of the early Fenwick tugs were the Newborough (1888), Loveset (1892) and Hero (1892), built by J P Rennoldsons of South Shields, England.

After the death of John Fenwick in 1901 his sons carried on the business which, at the time of writing of the 1993 Conservation Plan, 'was the only traditional waterfront industry still in operation in this part of Balmain.' At that time the site was owned by Brambles Group who had purchased the site in 1986.

A number of physical changes occurred on the site during the twentieth century. In 1950 the Shipwrights Arms was sold to Miller's brewery by Fenwick's Company, (who had purchased it as part of their original acquisition in 1883). (Godden Mackay Logan 1998).

Residents and interested citizens were understandably concerned when a development application (DA) for the
demolition of the existing two storey office building and the erection of eight dwellings was first submitted to
Leichhardt Council by Brambles in 1993. This was refused by Council on 28 September 1993.
Numerous DAs were submitted over the years by successive owners (Brambles, RoseCorp and Bezzina) and
objections lodged either by individuals or groups. Community and Council meetings were held on site and at Council,
petitions submitted and submissions made to State and Federal parliamentary representatives as well as attendance
at the Land and Environment Court.

Despite many enthusiastic efforts residents appeared resigned to accepting the Bezzina Plan. It was at this stage in
late 2002 that a small group of mainly Balmain East residents formed a group to have one more attempt at securing
the 'open space to be acquired' site for future generations. The first official meeting of the newly formed group was
held on 21 January 2003. The then Mayor, Mire Sheehan, attended this meeting and provided invaluable
guidance. The decision to name the group Reclaim Bells Foreshore recognised the contribution John Bell made to
the site from 30 September 1840 when he established businesses on the foreshore.

Over the next months the residents' action group liaised closely with Councillors of the day and focussed on
raising the community awareness to the project as well as being openly inclusive in all of its dealings. The public
meeting held in Illoura Reserve on Sunday 27 July 2003 had a significant impact on Councillors in particular and
the community in general. Council subsequently made the historic decision on 26 August 2003 to compulsorily
acquire the Bell's Foreshore site.

The boat store was heavily modified in 1963 by the removal of much of its eastern gable, the lowering of its roof and the
modification of its setting which included raising ground levels on the southern and western sides. At that time, an administration building was erected on the adjacent site. That building, shown on the cover, was demolished in 2008 to
extend the adjacent open space of Illoura Reserve and realise part of a plan for a continuous foreshore park.

Since the compulsory acquisition of the site Council has consulted extensively with the community and
established, among other things, a Plan of Management. A revised Landscape Plan will be finalised shortly (funding application letter of support, 2011).

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Transport-Activities associated with the moving of people and goods from one place to another, and systems for the provision of such movements (none)-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Transport-Activities associated with the moving of people and goods from one place to another, and systems for the provision of such movements Building and maintaining jetties, wharves and docks-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Land tenure-Activities and processes for identifying forms of ownership and occupancy of land and water, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal (none)-
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-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The site has historic significance as a relatively intact unit of early subdivisions in Balmain. It has direct links with John Bell, an important shipwright and personality in the early days of Balmain's settlement. The continued presence of J. Fenwick & Co. Pty Ltd on this site is the only traditional waterfront industry which still operates in this part of Balmain. The site has important associations with the use of tug boats as a crucial part of maritime activity on Sydney Harbour, from their early inception into New South Wales until the present day. (Howard 1993)
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The J. Fenwick & Co. Boat Store is one of a group of nineteenth century sandstone buildings within the immediate vicinity of the site. These include the former Shipwrights Arms and the Waterman's Cottage at the corner of Darling and Weston Streets. The J. Fenwick & Co. Boat Store demonstrates characteristics found in ancillary waterfront buildings of the nineteenth century. (Howard 1993)
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The Fenwick & Co. site has social significance as it reflects the growth of Sydney and Balmain from the 1840s. It reflects the development of port facilities within the City of Sydney and the growth of local port infrastructure and support industry at Balmain.
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 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 0139609 Jun 00 684918
Heritage Act - Interim Conservation Order - former 0094726 Feb 99 251406
Regional Environmental PlanSydney & Middle Harbour SREP 13 Jul 90   
Local Environmental Plan  22 Dec 00   
National Trust of Australia register  7501   

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Writtenanonymous (Leichhardt Municipal Council)2011Work begins on the Bells foreshore
WrittenAspect Studios Landscape Architecture P/L20072-8 Weston Street, Balmain : plan of management [Variant title:Fenwick & Co boat shed]
WrittenASPECT Studios Landscape Architecture P/L and Leichhardt Municipal Council20082-8 Weston Street, Balmain - Revised Plan of Management
WrittenGodden Mackay Logan19992- 8 Weston Street, Balmain - Heritage Impact Statement
TourismHeritage NSW2013Fenwick Stone Building
WrittenJ Sutherland2008Dilapidation report Bells Store - 2-8 Weston Street, Balmain [Variant title:Former Fenwick & Co boat store]
WrittenJ Sutherland.2008Structural building assessment Bells Store - 2-8 Weston Street, Balmain [Variant title: Former Fenwick & Co boat store]
WrittenMcDonald McPhee Pty Ltd1990Leichhardt Heritage Study
WrittenNoel Bell Ridley Smith & Partners, January 20092009Fenwick Stone Building, 2-4 Weston Street, Balmain - Conservation Management Plan
Management PlanRod Howard Heritage Conservation Pty Ltd1993Conservation Plan - J Fenwick and Co. Pty Ltd, 2-8 Weston Street, Balmain

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: 5051346
File number: EF14/4854; EF13/9939; H99/18

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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