Technically I reside in Ashbury but Ashfield is the suburb I feel I live in. The diversity in its buildings and its population is amazing. Ashfield has one of the highest population densities in Australia and this already high population density is increasing as more and more high rise unit blocks are built. Many of the homes in Ashfield that once had leadlight have been demolished and others have had it renovated out of existence. Others have retained it and the purpose of this site is to document it.
A potted history
There is a great diversity in the nature of the homes in Ashfield and this is as a result of its history. There are a few small cottages built in the Victorian era (c.1840 - 1890), a couple of mansions from this period which would have had huge estates attached, and Victorian terraces (both single and two storied). During the Federation period (c. 1890 - 1915) further subdivisions resulted in a large number of Federation homes being built and many of these, and their lovely leadlight windows, still exist today. During the Interwar ( c.1918 - 1940) many of the homes in the older subdivisions were demolished and replaced with Art Deco blocks of flats and some of these have retained their distinctive leadlight panels, particularly in their stairwells. There were a large number of semi-detached dwellings built during this time as well. This interwar period also saw the construction of many Californian Bungalows and many of these also have retained their leadlight windows.
Getting from Sydney to Parramatta was a bugger in the early days of the colony as it still is today. The solution in 1791 was to build a road, well at least a footpath. In 1797 the then Surveyor General, Augustus Alt, surveyed the road to make it 20 feet wide (6 Metres). Alt became one of the first recipients of a 100 acre grant in Ashfield 1794. The Colony’s first Chaplain, Reverend Richard Johnson received a grant of 100 acres the year before in 1793 in the area of what is now Holden and Princess Street South Ashfield.
The suburb now known as Ashfield is, to a large extent, geographically defined by Parramatta Road, Liverpool Road and Canterbury Road in the South, and the alignment of Iron Cove Creek (Frederick Street) in the west.
Parramatta Road is now the northern border of the suburb of Ashfield. The land between Iron Cove and the Cooks River was then known as the Kangaroo Ground. Most of what is now Ashfield was called Ashfield Park and lay between Parramatta Road and Liverpool Road. Ashfield owes its name to Joseph Underwood, who came from the parish of Ashfield in Suffolk.
The impetus for the construction of the Great South Road that became Liverpool Road was provided by Governor Macquarie. While Parramatta Road defines the northern border of Ashfield, Liverpool Road is its bitumen alimentary canal, passing through the centre of the suburb.
The early land grants and large estates began to be subdivided in the 1840’s. The oldest building in Ashfield, the Church of St John the Baptist was built in 1840 and with it the village of Ashfield began to grow and be recognized. The construction of the railway line between Redfern and Parramatta in 1855 transformed Ashfield from an area of large agricultural estates, to a village with mansions and dwellings within walking distance of the station. In 1860 Ashfield had a population of 1000 people living in 200 dwellings.
Some of the surviving mansions built between 1860 and 1890 are stunning. Many have been restored and some are undergoing restoration. Some have been demolished while others have been turned into flats. Milton House in Blackwood Avenue was built prior to 1860. Thirning Villa was built in Arthur Street in 1863. Neither of these two houses have leadlight. In the 1870’s Victoria Street became a fashionable place to build mansions and many still survive.
Victoria Square, with its central parkland (recreation area) was an unusual development in 1876 but it was repeated in Palace Street and Brunswick Parade.
A very large subdivision of Ashfield occurred in 1879 when over 300 lots between Liverpool and Parramatta Road and extending as far west to Chandos Street went up for auction. Many of these original dwellings have been demolished and amalgamated for the construction of units of units, some in the Interwar period but with an explosion in the 1960’s.
When the railway was opened in 1855 there were about 50 dwellings in Ashfield and a population of about 200 people. By 1890, 35 years later the population had grown to 11,000. In 1872, there were enough residents for the area to be granted a municipal council.
The 1890’s saw the first really big ‘developments’ in Ashfield. Further subdivision of the estates resulted in more modest dwellings and even terrace houses being constructed. Then, as now, Ashfield was a developers dream and all because of the railway. It was in the more modest houses in Ashfield that leadlight really began to find a home. There is leadlight in some of the Victorian homes in Ashfield but only those that were constructed for the more affluent. From the Federation years, when subdivision increased the construction of more modest homes, leadlight began to appear with greater frequency in the front windows and doors of most new houses and completely changed the streetscapes of some areas. There are still a few ‘precincts’ in Ashfield where the Federation homes and Interwar Californian Bungalows are largely intact and their leadlight remains.
Date of observations and photographs taken: July 2017