Sydney Architecture Images- Eastern Suburbs

Paddington Post Office

architect

The New South Wales Colonial Architect’s Office under James Barnet

location

246 Oxford Street, Paddington, NSW 2021

date

1884

style

Victorian Italianate Victorian Free Classical

construction

Builder: Original building by William Farley 

type

Government Post Office

 

   
Paddington Post Office is significant at a State level for its historical associations, strong aesthetic qualities and social value. 

Paddington Post Office is associated with the early development of the area, as it is linked with the original postal services established in 1851. Paddington Post Office is historically significant because it is associated with the development of communications services in the Paddington area during the late nineteenth century, as the rapidly growing population required improved services. Paddington Post Office reflects the building boom of the late Victorian period in Paddington. The building is also associated with the pattern of subdivision and development of the Paddington area. 

Paddington Post Office is also historically significant because it is associated with the NSW Colonial Architect’s Office under James Barnet, which designed and maintained a number of post offices across NSW between 1865 and 1890. The building is part of an important group of works by James Barnet’s Office in the Victorian Italianate Style, of which Barnet was a key practitioner. 

Paddington Post Office is aesthetically significant because it is a distinctive example of the Victorian Italianate style, with strong visual appeal. It is located on a prominent corner site and makes a significant contribution to the streetscape of the Paddington civic precinct, and, along with the Town Hall, defines Paddington as a Victorian period suburb. 

Paddington Post Office is also considered to be significant to the community of Paddington’s sense of place.


Paddington Post Office is a predominantly two-storey ashlar and smooth rendered brick building in the Victorian Italianate Style, with a three-storey stair tower and upper floor to the western end of the southern facade. It has a series of stepped skillion, modern sheet steel roofs that sit behind a stepped parapet wall that runs around the Oxford and Ormond Street facades. There are no chimneys visible on the roof. 

Several additions appear to have been made to the original building, including the early two-storey former residence section, possibly original, fronting Ormond Street, and the c1979 single-storey extension to the north at the centre, housing the current loading dock and delivery area/mail room. Changes appear to have been extensive to the interior of the building, particularly to the first-floor mail sorting room, which is currently open plan showing evidence of wall fabric removal and infill of openings. 

There is a ground floor colonnade to the southern facade with brown glazed tiled floor, cream painted original mini-orb iron soffit, ovolo cornice, exposed beams and heavy masonry elements including attached fluted columns and a rendered balustrade to the eastern of the three open bays. There is a brown tiled recessed side porch containing the post boxes enclosed by a lockable, grey painted wrought iron palisade fence and gate. 

The colour scheme of the exterior is currently apricot painted render with cream painted opening surrounds, columns and pilasters. There is a large British Coat of Arms located to the centre of the Oxford Street facade parapet, resting upon a continuous dentilled entablature with dark trims. A separate, plain entablature with dark trim highlights the parapet of the two-storey Ormond Street addition. A continuous entablature with dark trim is also located at the first floor level to the southern original section of the building. The ashlar rendered ground floor facade features classical detailing with a heavy rendered masonry base. The addition to Ormond Street is smooth rendered, with little decoration. 

Fenestration of Paddington Post Office is uniform and largely symmetrical to the southern facade. It has square four-pane windows to the first floor, a single upper and lower pane sash window to the second-floor tower and first-floor curved corner, and arched, single upper and lower pane sash windows to the ground-floor front section. Openings to the Ormond Street addition are symmetrical about the centre ground-floor doors, comprising single upper and lower pane squared windows to the first floor with projecting rendered sills, and squared windows and porch openings to the ground floor. 

The ground-floor interior comprises three main areas, including the large retail area to the southern side, mail room/delivery area behind to the north and staff facilities, consisting of individual offices to the north and west and a tiled modern bathroom to the northeastern corner. 

Ceilings to the ground floor include plasterboard with a coved cornice to the mail room and offices and plaster to the stairwell and retail area, with moulded plaster cornices and an arch and ceiling rose to the stairwell entry. Air conditioning vents are located to the ceiling of the retail area, there is exposed ducting to the mail room and there are attached and suspended banks of fluorescent lights to the ground floor spaces. Flooring consists of carpeted and sheet vinyl. 

Skirting is simple and largely non-original to this level, whereas some original architrave fabric is retained to the early doorways. The majority of internal doors to the ground floor have been removed, with two original four panel doors retained to the Postal Manager’s office to the north and adjacent to the storage beneath the stair. The remaining doors are modern flush and modern security doors to the exterior. The entry from Ormond Street is recessed and has a fanlight and sidelights surrounding the door. 

Walls to the ground floor are a combination of grey painted rendered brick and recent, c1980s–90s fibre cement sheet partition walls enclosing the retail area. Fireplaces have been bricked in, and what appears to have been a former fireplace to the southern wall of the post boxes area has been infilled by post boxes. 

The ground-floor stair hall to the eastern side has sheet vinyl flooring and treads with black edge strips. There is grey painted early timber panelling below the stair and the stair itself comprises a polished curved timber rail surmounting turned balusters and a turned bottom post. 

The first floor of Paddington Post Office contains the mail sorting and contractors spaces, lunchroom and staff facilities. The flooring is mainly sheet vinyl, however some carpeting is present in the large southern mail room and there is tiling to the modern bathrooms. 

The first-floor ceilings are mainly mini-orb, painted cream, with large circular perforated vents and an ovolo mould cornice. This is excepting the plasterboard ceilings with a coved cornice to the modern bathrooms and hall, flush plaster to the main stairwell and the small areas of pressed metal to the two small eastern storerooms with narrow coved cornices. Air conditioning ducting and vents are exposed to the first-floor ceilings, with some vents in walls. Lighting comprises single and banks of fluorescent lights. 

Architraves appear to be largely original to original openings, especially to the southern section of the building. Skirting is plain, with some quad mould strip used and original remnants to the small store rooms, hall and main stairwell. 

There are some internal doors missing to the first floor, with modern doors to other openings. Later windows are to the rear facade and there is an original window retained to the internal western wall of the mail sorting and delivery space. 

Walls are grey painted rendered brick and asbestos cement or fibre cement sheet wall additions to the eastern side and hallway. Some original wall fabric has been removed, particularly from the western wall of the southern mail sorting and delivery space and from the western mail delivery/transfer room. The lunch room appears to retain the only evidence of a possible fireplace to the first floor. 

There is a second stairwell to the southwestern corner tower section of the building, accessing the second floor. It has white painted square timber posts with turned tops, square balusters and straight rail. Treads are timber with some vinyl flooring and edge strips. Walls to this space have peeling paint and minor cracking and this area is currently used as a small office. 

The second-floor level comprises three rooms, and is currently used for storage. It has cream painted mini-orb ceilings with a coved cornice. There is no air conditioning ducting to this level and it is lit by single fluorescent tubes and a pendant light to the stair well. Architraves to the second floor are simple and appear early and the skirting is plain. 

Some doors have been removed and fanlights retained, with one four-panel door remaining at the top of the stair. The two northern end windows have been boarded over, as is the northernmost window of the middle store room and the upper sash of the top window to the stair well. 

Walls to the second floor have large amounts of peeling paint and some cracking evident and there is a section of vertical timber boarding to the eastern wall of the southernmost room, below some multi-pane internal windows. 

Signage to Paddington Post Office incorporates the ‘Post and Telegraph Office’ lettering to the Oxford Street facade below the first-floor level entablature and ‘1885’ to the curved corner section at the same level. Below the date, attached to the blind arched window, is a large, standard Australia Post sign. 

Paddington Post Office makes a valuable contribution to the civic presence of Oxford Street, complemented by and in harmony with the elaborate Town Hall to the south and Juniper Hall to the east. It is situated within a predominantly two to three-storey busy commercial/retail streetscape and dominates the adjoining early shopfronts to the west. 

The only outbuilding to Paddington Post Office is the c1979 detached cycle shed located to the northwestern corner of the site in the concreted rear yard, and there is a projecting brick dock to the western boundary. Vegetation is limited to shared trees of the northern adjacent terrace house and yard, none actually being located within the site boundaries. There is also a small park opposite the building on Oxford Street, and the front gardens of Juniper Hall opposite on Ormond Street. There are standard street signs located at the front and sides of the building, along with modern street light pole and telephone pole to the eastern side.

History

The first official postal service in Australia was established in April 1809, when Sydney merchant Isaac Nichols was appointed as the first Postmaster in the colony of NSW. Prior to this, mail had been distributed directly by the captain of the ship on which the mail arrived; however, this system was neither reliable nor secure. 

In 1825 the colonial administration was empowered to establish a Postmaster General’s Department, which had previously been administered from Britain. 

In 1828 the first post offices outside of Sydney were established, with offices in Bathurst, Campbelltown, Parramatta, Liverpool, Newcastle, Penrith and Windsor. By 1839 there were forty post offices in the colony, with more opening as settlement spread. The advance of postal services was further increased as the railway network began to be established throughout NSW from the 1860s. Also, in 1863, the Postmaster General WH Christie noted that accommodation facilities for postmasters in some post offices was quite limited, and stated that it was a matter of importance that ‘post masters should reside and sleep under the same roof as the office’. 

The appointment of James Barnet as Acting Colonial Architect in 1862 coincided with a considerable increase in funding to the public works program. Between 1865 and 1890 the Colonial Architects Office was responsible for the building and maintenance of 169 post offices and telegraph offices in NSW. The post offices constructed during this period were designed in a variety of architectural styles, as Barnet argued that the local parliamentary representatives always preferred ‘different patterns’. 

The construction of new post offices continued throughout the Depression years under the leadership of Walter Liberty Vernon, who retained office from 1890 to 1911. While twenty-seven post offices were built between 1892 and 1895, funding to the Government Architect’s Office was cut from 1893 to 1895, causing Vernon to postpone a number of projects. 

Following Federation in 1901, the Commonwealth Government took over responsibility for post, telegraph and telephone offices, with the Department of Home Affairs Works Division being made responsible for post office construction. In 1916 construction was transferred to the Department of Works and Railways, with the Department of the Interior responsible during World War II. 

On 22 December 1975 the Postmaster General’s Department was abolished and replaced by the Post and Telecommunications Department, with Telecom and Australia Post being created. In 1989, the Australian Postal Corporation Act established Australia Post as a self-funding entity, which heralded a new direction in property management, including a move towards smaller, shop-front style post offices away from the larger more traditional buildings. 

For much of its history, the post office has been responsible for a wide variety of community services including mail distribution, as agencies for the Commonwealth Savings Bank, electoral enrolments, and the provision of telegraph and telephone services. The town post office served as a focal point for the community, most often built in a prominent position in the center of town close to other public buildings, creating a nucleus of civic buildings and community pride. 

Paddington Post Office 

In 1804 Thomas West, an emancipated convict, received the first land grant in what was to become Paddington. West’s land was considered to be on the outskirts of the town, with only a rough track to the signal station at South Head linking the area to the town. The next grant in the area was not posted until 1817 when Governor Macquarie granted 100 acres to three partners to build a distillery. James Underwood, one of three partners, eventually bought his partners out in the 1820s and named his new holdings Paddington Estate. 

The start of any concentrated development in Paddington began after 1840 when the military barracks was transferred from York Street, Sydney to Old South Head Road (Oxford Street). The first subdivisions in Paddington were in direct response to the barracks development. Artisans and tradespeople moved into the area while they worked on the barracks, as did officers, soldiers and their families of the 11th North Devonshire Regiment, who were to occupy the Barracks upon its completion. 

Throughout the 1840s Paddington continued to develop as a village, with stores, hotels and other services establishing themselves. The first Post Office was established on 1 July 1851, while the first recorded postmaster, Richard Westaway, was appointed on 22 July 1857. In 1859 a letter carrier was appointed, with deliveries being made from the GPO on horseback each morning. 

During the same year, the residents of Paddington petitioned the government for incorporation as a municipality under the 1858 Incorporation Act, which was achieved on 17 April 1860. Paddington had 3,000 residents in 1860 with the population rising by 68% in the following ten years. 

During this period the Post and Telegraph Office were operating out of rented premises in Paddington. The Post and Telegraph Departments shared the £66 per annum rent that was being paid to Mr R. H. Adams. However, with the rapidly expanding population, it was recognised that a purpose-built Post Office was required. In 1879 a site was purchased with frontage of 38 feet to Old South Head Road from Mr H. W. Nixon for £750. This land was not suitable for the office and was sold on to Mr Thomas Garrett MP for £20 a foot in 1881. 

On 2 December 1881 Messrs Cass, Kirby and Company offered some allotments facing Old South Head Road to the Department, including allotments 16,17 and 18 on the corner of Old South Head Road and Begg Street (Ormond Street) at a rate of between £25 and £30 per foot. The offer was accepted on 27 February 1882. 

Plans were drawn up by the Colonial Architect’s Office under the direction of James Barnet and submitted in January 1884, with an estimated cost of £2,500. The tender was awarded to William Farley in May 1884 for the erection of the Post Office and residence at £2,235, and to be completed in five months. 

In November, a second tender for an outside clock was also approved for £40. The building was opened for business on 26 December 1885. There were repairs made to the building in 1890–91, while a telephone exchange was added in c1911–13. 

In 1979, with the centenary of the Paddington Office approaching, a major renovation was undertaken. The contract for the work, including additions, was given to McKenzie Building Co. Pty Ltd of Brookvale for $140,000. Work included the extension of the post office counter, new lighting in the style of c1880s gas lamps and new floor coverings. 

The ground-floor mail room was extended, with part of a rear courtyard being closed in for the purpose. On the first floor, modern staff amenities were added, while a bike shed was erected and a former addition to the rear of the building was demolished to allow for a new gate and driveway to provide access for mail vehicles.

Special thanks to http://www.heritage.nsw.gov.au/

 

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