Sydney Architecture Images- Gone but not forgotten

Victoria Arcade


Corbin & Nicolle


grand facades facing Elizabeth and Castlereagh Sts


Built-  1888  Demolished- 1965


Victorian Italianate


Rendered brick Stone


Shop Arcade.
The demolished arcades- Royal Arcade, Sydney Arcade, Victoria Arcade, Imperial Arcade
Summary The Victoria Arcade was one of five grand arcades built in the city in the late 1800s, the only survivor today being The Strand.
Above- Interior, Victoria Arcade, 1892
Above- on the site today.
Above- great map of arcades in Sydney, circa 1890.
It was not long after this that Corbin & Nicolle embarked on their great project, the Victoria Arcade.

For a decade they had been operating in Castlereagh St right behind Maurice Clancy in Elizabeth St. For a few years the Corbins had lived there - brother and sister were living back-to-back - it seems very likely that the Corbins and the Clancys would have had a 'back gate' connection between their properties.

Perhaps someone noticed, sometime over those ten years, that it was a very convenient location for a thoroughfare (a private one at that stage), being directly opposite Rowe St and thus giving access to the General Post Office. Perhaps it was Maurice who noticed the potential, for it was he who would have enjoyed the shortcut through the Corbins' place to get to the GPO. Maybe Maurice himself proposed the idea of combining their properties and building an arcade. One can imagine he and James and Phillip Nicolle chatting about it at Maurice's place. But if so it was a dream for the future and Maurice died before the dream could be realised.

With James moving his family to the mountains, it appears he would not have had a major city project in his plans at that stage. Maurice's death, however, would have changed that. James and Phillip, with the cooperation of Maurice's widow Annie, could see an opportunity to acquire and consolidate a number of old properties surrounding the Clancys and the Corbin & Nicolle premises. Maybe they could build the grand arcade they had dreamed about. Sydney was in a period of prosperity when much of the old town was being pulled down and many new projects were on the go - city property would not be getting any cheaper, the time to act was now.

Of course the above account is speculative, it may not have happened quite like that, but what we do know is this - by 1882, within four years of Maurice Clancy's death, James and his family had moved back to Sydney, and, with a series of properties acquired in both Castlereagh and Elizabeth Sts, the Victoria Arcade project was underway.

About this time the old shops and houses that Corbin & Nicolle had acquired, along with their own workshop and Maurice Clancy's old house, were all pulled down, and work on the new arcade got underway. Corbin & Nicolle moved into a workshop in Park St. The Sydney Directory lists them as 'carpenters & joiners' but they would have had little time for other clients while the arcade was going up. Unfortunately no building plans or other construction details of the arcade are known to have survived.

The Victoria Arcade was completed in 1887/88. It was a four-storey building with grand facades facing Elizabeth and Castlereagh Sts, and an unusual oval-shaped interior space with a central kiosk and spectacular glass roof.

There were 100 tenants. According to council rate books, most of these tenants paid their rent to the 'Victoria Arcade Company', however the shops on the Elizabeth St frontage were under the control of partners 'Goodlet, Corbin & Nicolle' - maybe this was the partners' proportion of the financial return, while the financiers took the bulk of it.

John Hay Goodlet was a wealthy merchant dealing in timber, brick and most other building materials. (He was also a philanthropist and church leader.) He was the major supplier of building needs, including stained glass, to The Strand Arcade. He would have played a similar role at the Victoria Arcade. His partnership with Corbin & Nicolle as landlords on the Elizabeth St frontage was presumably a form of payment for his services.

The name 'Corbin & Nicolle' was built into an archway at the Elizabeth St entrance, and many of James' descendants had it pointed out to them by older relatives over the years. The Victoria Arcade was one of five grand arcades built in the city in the late 1800s, the only survivor today being The Strand.

From the book 'Saga of Sydney' (1962, p208):

Opposite the Castlereagh Street end of Rowe St is the Victoria Arcade. This glass-domed arcade was built in 1887, with 24 small shops and 4 island kiosks and had also many offices and studios in its upper three storeys. Like Rowe St, it was a resort of Sydney's Bohemia, and a thronged shopping centre. A project for extending the Carlton Hotel may involve the demolition of the Victoria Arcade.
And so it happened - by 1965 the Victoria Arcade was gone. Within another decade there was a raised public awareness of heritage which saw buildings like the Queen Victoria Building saved and finally refurbished. If only the Victoria Arcade had lasted those few extra years it might still be with us today. The Carlton Hotel & Arcade, which replaced the Victoria Arcade, has itself been replaced - the site is now occupied by the BNP Paribas Centre. It too has an arcade, a small one called Verandah, thus maintaining a tradition on this site started by Corbin & Nicolle.

With the opening of the Victoria Arcade, James was at the peak of his powers. In 1889, when the firm moved from Park St to No.86 Hunter St, they were no longer mere 'carpenters' but began describing themselves as 'builders and contractors' and promoted themselves in the Sydney Directory. (The address 86 Hunter St no longer exists, it is now the location of Chifley Square.) Optimistic of the country's future, James invested - eventually he owned a number of houses and properties around Sydney as well as development land in Western Australia. In 1890 he registered a patent for a hydraulic lift mechanism, presumably determined to improve on the lift at the Victoria Arcade which was only hand operated. 


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