Industrial reminders: Kensington to North Melbourne

I walked from Kensington through North Melbourne on a quiet, warm Sunday in March. Melbourne is basically a Victorian city and when you look around this part of town there are many reminders of its industrial history, including some fine buildings of the practical rather than ornate variety.

I picked up the trail on Elizabeth Street, outside the Allied Mills flour mill. Unlike Younghusbands, the woollen mill just down the road which is no longer in use, this is still very much a working industrial site.

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Allied Mills is continuing a long tradition here – there’s been a flour mill on this site since 1887, though those silos are obviously a more recent addition. For many years, W.S. Kimpton’s produced flour here, for biscuit makers throughout Australia.  The company was technologically advanced for its day and was around until 1980. After many complex mergers and takeovers, Kimptons ended up as part of the Allied Mills business.

The mill is strategically located beside the railway. Wheat deliveries used to arrive from the north, and flour would be despatched to the heavily populated suburbs nearby, and to the docks for export. Younghusbands, the woollen mill just up the road, no doubt used this bit of railway too. The noise and the bustle must have been tremendous – hooters, machines, trains, thousands of people filling the streets when the shifts changed.

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There’s not much evidence of Kimptons now and some of the buildings in that picture have gone, but the tallest one survives. If you look closely you can still make out a ghostsign with the name of W.S. Kimpton on the south wall.

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Below is the view from the other side, Elizabeth Street. The name of W.S. Kimpton & Sons has been painted out, but if you really strain your eyes you can just about discern it. Ithink I can see the word ‘stores’ in the second line.

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That little white square is a small sign indicating the Self Raising Department.

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No need for motivational speakers here – we are the self raising department.

Kensington has some very long bluestone laneways, laid down in the mid 19th century, which are great to walk along these days – but whose former purpose was to enable the ‘night soil men’ to bring their carts to collect and remove human shit from suburban dunnies.

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I headed down Bruce Street, connecting up with Lloyd Street. On my right were the spaghetti-like cables and pylons of the West Melbourne electricity terminal station, which supplies electricity to the surrounding suburbs. In the background are the CityLink and the ‘Melbourne Star’ observation wheel.

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At Moonee Ponds Creek, I turned off Arden Street and headed along the trail for a short distance. It’s not exactly a rural idyll – you’ve got cars and trucks zooming overhead along a more recent construction, the City Link, and beside you is the train line heading north from North Melbourne station, with sawtooth factory buildings beyond.  All the same, you do get a sense of nature in the heart of the industrial zone, and the path is popular with joggers and cyclists.

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I’m no birdwatcher but I did notice seagulls, ducks, and a couple of black swans that swam over to say g’day.

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On Macaulay Street I passed a fine old Victorian building on the left, originally belonging to the Melbourne Gas Company, and now naturally enriched by the addition of an ill-matched excrescence named Pumphouse Apartments.

The Pumphouse

Next door is the former premises of Stokoe Motors, covered in ghostsigns. Stokoe Motors appears in my 1946 Sands and MacDougall directory; I don’t know how much further back the company goes but they must have been a significant business here for several decades. Perhaps some of the players from North Melbourne footy club, whose oval is just over the road, used to get their motors fixed or even worked here, in the days when footballers had real jobs.

Well before that, though, the Stokoe building, built in 1873, was the stables of the Melbourne Omnibus Company. The company – which was Melbourne’s first public transport organisation – kept its horses and vehicles here. The stables closed in 1890, when omnibuses were superseded by cable trams.

Stokoe Motors ghostsigns

The former stables of the Melbourne Omnibus Company, North Melbourne

The transport theme continued when I doubled back down Arden Street a short distance and took a left into Laurens Street. On the right is a nondescript red brick building, now apparently some kind of training facility for somebody – doesn’t look as if it gets much use, though. Set into the bricks is a much older stone bearing the legend ‘G & MR 1857’. This might be something to do with the Geelong and Melbourne Railway Company, a short-lived private railway company that was around in the 1850s and 1860s. Who knows how the stone ended up here? I know nothing about the history of Melbourne railways, but no doubt some rail enthusiast could explain.

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The final stop on this walk was the Thomas Guest biscuit and cake factory between Laurens Street and Munster Terrace. I’ve long been an admirer of the many layers of ghostsigns on this building, which like so many others has been converted to apartments. For many years, Guests was one of the city’s most famed makers of cakes and biscuits, renowned – among other things – for teddy bear biscuits. Perhaps he used to get his flour from Kimptons.

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Next walk: A walk along Victoria Street, part one

Previous walk: From cattle to candles, Kensington

Map of the walk on Google Maps

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13 comments

  1. I really enjoyed this post – this area with its industrial buildings always looks very interesting from the train. Great ghost sign spotting, I love the ‘self-raising department’ sign.

  2. I can see “Flour Stores” on the bottom half of the Kimptons sign.

    That certainly is an interesting area – have you checked 1945.Melbourne to see if any of the old buildings on the old aerial maps correlated ejtb your finds?

  3. If you look up some footy videos on youtube from the mid 70s until North Melbourne stopped playing at Arden St in the 80s you can see the advertising benefit of Stokes motors and the large billboard on the gasworks next door.

  4. All of these pics remind me of one or another nostalgic moment in ,my early life. You see I was borne in North Melbourne (1936 ) went to school at Kensington State school, played up the lanes of Kensington stood in awe of Kimptons Flour Mills, snuck into Househusbands Wool store to romp amongst the great bales of wool and scampered like billy’o from the watchman who chased us, with out too much enthusiasm, from the premises. Yes trains forever lined up at the special siding that serviced both Kimptons and Younhusbands, workers not in their thousands but certainly in their hundreds trudging the streets of kensington at the end of their shift. heading for homes that were rarely more than three roomed single fronted timber cottages. Never the less they were homes not just houses, wonderfully warm and comforting with blackened stoves that were fueled by bits of coal dislodged from the great steam locomotives and garnered from the rail line by children ever eager to please their parents.
    By the way Dr Morses Indian Root pills were, as my mother used to say, good for coughs, colds, sore holes and pimples on the whisker.
    Oh I could describe so, so much more, of the place of the time of the scenes of the people but I fear I may be taking a liberty

    1. Thank you so much for those recollections Edwin, you have really brought the places to life! I hope you will comment whenever you feel inclined, if my posts trigger your memories.

      1. Memories of North Melbourne.
        My first memories of Little Lothian St are quite vivid, and although I must have been no more than three years of age I can recall sights and sounds, that to this day, still thrill me with their simplicity and beauty.
        I was enthralled by the sight of the magnificent Clydesdale horses dressed in their shiny black harness and hitched to the brewery wagons ;laden with great oak kegs of beer. The excitement I experienced when a rainbow materialized in the tiny droplets of water that spouted from the horse’s nostrils when they snorted after drinking their fill from the water trough out front of the Homebush Hotel.
        Sometimes I would sneak out the back gate and past the Pussy Willow tree to the corner of what I now know to be Arden Street, where I’d watch the cartage contractors stacking their carts with bags of John Bull rolled oats. From an opening on the second floor of the “Melbourne Flour Mill” bags of oats would appear, from where they came and how they got there, was, at that time a never ending source of mystery. But appear they did, one after the other, each heavy bag slid down two parallel planks to the cart and with deft positioning of the planks the cart was loaded, without the need of the contractor to lift even one single bag. It was of course magic, it had to be magic, and I wasn’t able to figure out how it was all achieved.
        Around this time my parents decided they needed to live in a proper dwelling, rather than a converted stable, as Little Lothian Street actually was, premises in the suburb of Newmarket where of interest and duly secured at the rate of ten shillings and sixpence per week . Now if you have never been to Newmarket I wish to tell you you haven’t missed much. Newmarket was a suburb squeezed up between a stock saleyards, an abattoirs and a racecourse and the whole of Newmarket generally smelt of shit, of one description or another, as a child I had great difficulty in keeping the offensive stuff from soiling my boots, much to my mothers disgust.
        I have so much to tell about Newmarket, of Kensington and Collingwood. Stop me if needed

      2. Hi nickgadd
        some history of the Newmarket sale yards.
        In the 1840s the people of Melbourne considered the the marketing of livestock offensive to their sensitivities so in order to remove the cattle sales from the fringe of Melbourne town, alternative sites came under consideration
        On the 10th April 1849 the Melbourne Market’s committee approached the trustees of the Melbourne racecourse at Flemington who in turn agreed to give land on Saltwater Creek (now known as Maribynong River) for the siting of abattoirs and saleyards The area from which the land was carved had been known as “Dutigallar” and then became known as Dutta Galla and the new market became known as Newmarket. The total area set aside for saleyards and abattoirs was 57 acres the contractors for the building of the saleyards were Parker and Plant and were completed on 15th October 1870. (See ‘On The Fall of The Hammer” Keith Vincent, State Library Victoria).
        Your picture of the underpass at Epsom Road was known as the Black Hole and was constructed sometime during the second world war. Epsom Road was used extensively by the United States armed forces as a pathway between their then Ordnance Depot situated in Kenisington Road south Kensington (now known as Footscray Road) and the Royal Melbourne Showgrounds, where a great number of US troops were billeted.
        Consequently the importance of movement of troops and trucks took precedence to livestock crossing the road. However it is clear in my memory that the Black Hole was never able to cope with the vast movement of cattle so at times cattle were driven over Epsom Road which often led to supreme confusion. The US of A wasn’t about to give way to a bunch of cowboys and their”Beeves”. However toot tooting the motor lorry’s horns did little more than frighten the already stirred up beasts , who, more often than not, bolted in every which direction, so the “Yanks ” were subjected to some good old Aussie tongue tripe. The whole situation was the root of much disenchantment by both parties and there were bound to be consequences.
        Due to the close proximity oft he Showgrounds, South Kensington and Camp Pell, which was bounded by Flemington Road, Gatehouse St and Elliot St, there were always a lot of American troops walking around and about Newmarket, they drank in any of the five hotels situated in Racecourse Road,and of course they used the several brothels that had sprung up around the area. This didn’t auger well with the local drovers and slaughtermen, they blamed the Yanks for turning their women into harlots and worse still, for drinking their liqueur, which was rationed and mostly only available via the black market. As a consequence there was always a blue on somewhere, which was supposed to even up the score. However the Yanks were on a hiding to nothing as Newmarket’s drovers and slaughtermen were, to a man, formidable fighters and sooner or later American Military Police would invariably arrive on the scene swinging their batons on a long lead, belting the bejesus out of, the by then, already well beaten American soldiers.
        Each of the hotels in Racecourse road were subject to varying degrees of social acceptance, Mag Whitty’s was a blood house and the site of much brawling while the Dutta Garlla attracted the serious drinkers intent on a quiet drink and a bet or two with the SP bookie who operated in the lane behind the hotel, further up the road the Newmarket was somewhat sectarian as it was frequented by mostly patrons that were of the Catholic religion, then there was the Pastoral Hotel, some claimed this to be a gentleman’s pub after all it;s salon bar was larger than the main bar and it could also lay claim to a well patronized “Dinning Room’.
        Now I am compelled to tell you about the Racecourse Hotel which was situated on the corner of Racecourse and Ascot Vale roads and it’s main claim to fame was that it was a “Richmond Pub” and a Richmond Pub only sold Richmond beer, which of course was to its determent, Richmond Beer was not exactly considered the nectar of the gods, to be honest, as I later found out, it was bloody awful. All in all the Racecourse Hotel only attracted the desperate drinkers, and those who’d been barred from one of the other pubs. My father was a quiet and kindly man, that is until he got a little too much grog into him and then he would cause some sort of a ruckus, which mostly led to the publican putting the barr on him, invariably my father would tell the publican so shove his pub up his arse, but this course of action necessitated he do his drinking at one of the other for pubs. Usually, after three or four months, the matter was forgotten, or the publican’s greed got the better of him and my father would be welcomed back to the fold, therefore over a period of a year or so he would have been a regular at all of the five hotels. I remember how he complained bitterly about the taste of the beer, when it came the turn of the Racecourse hotel to get the benefit of his patronage, sadly it never prompted him to sign the pledge however.
        Do you want to read about “Cockbill” killing a downer, it is quite humorous and yet sad because it used to happen regularly?

        https://melbournecircle.net/2015/04/11/industrial-reminders-kensington-to-north-melbourne/?replytocom=523#comment-form-load-service:Twitter

      3. Great stories Edwin, yes that ‘Black Hole’ under Epsom Road would be way too small for a big herd of cattle, the chaos when the cows going one way crossed paths with the troops going the other would have been quite a sight. And you would need to be made of strong stuff to venture into those pubs. It’s all a lot more peaceful these days. I’m interested to hear what your phrase ‘cockbill killing a downer’ means …

  5. Having decided to expand my horizons to the fullest, I was anxious to venture into the saleyards complex and in company of Jim Shorten, who already had a good knowledge of the area, I set about the task. Traversing the endless lanes and yards of the abattoirs was a voyage of discovery and to my dismay I quickly discovered a watchman, in the company of several mongrel dogs, patrolled this restricted area. When it came to kids being on his turf this watchman was a mean spirited bastard, but basically he was bone-lazy and too damm tired to give chase, he just set his dogs on those who dared challenge the system. And when he did, you had better be ready to run, relentless in pursuit these dogs were inbred mongrels intent on biting the bejesus out of any leg, arse or whatever they could clamp onto. Our only defence was to climb the railings to the elevated walkway and not come down until the watchman ambled up and secured his dogs.
    Inevitably we’d cop a good kick in the arse for our transgression, a punishment I considered preferable to being bitten by dogs.
    Nevertheless, despite the risk of being caught, the fascination and excitement would draw me back to this place. It was a kaleidoscope of sights, sounds and smells. Cattle bellowing, sheep bleating, the continual banter of auctioneers cajoling the extra shilling or two from reticent buyers, or the call of spotters as they detected almost imperceivable bids from those who were not so reticent. The misty rain, cast a haze over buyers and sellers clad in gumboots and Dryazabone’s and they talked the special language that only stock and station men understand. Drafters, cutting out sheep and dispatching them to an appropriate pen where they would either be shipped to new properties or driven to the slaughterhouse. A myriad of drovers, some walking and some on horseback, constantly moving the many thousands of livestock in a never ending cycle that was predetermined by a chit of paper issued from an agent’s box.
    With so many cattle and sheep being driven here, there and everywhere, it was inevitable some would stumble and break a leg, or very often just get down and not be able to get up again. When this happened to a sheep it was not much of a problem, the unfortunate animal would simply be thrown into a horse drawn dray and carted off to “Cockbills” rendering works to be boiled down for tallow and fertilizer. With cattle, it was another story altogether, the stricken beast would have to be put out of its misery and word would spread quickly.
    Cockbill, who I suspect held the license from the Melbourne City Council to collect all such animals, was on his way to a downer!
    The two horse heavy duty dray, driven by Mister Cockbill, lumbered along at a leisurely pace and by the time he arrived at the site a large assemblage of rag tag and scabby kneed kids would be waiting to view the proceedings.
    And I have to tell you nothing ever changed; the whole procedure was as well orchestrated as a first class performance from the Tivoli theatre.
    Cockbill, resplendently dressed in suit coat, black trilby and long curled moustaches would, after alighting from the dray, remove his coat, neatly fold it and place it carefully beneath the seat of the dray. Next came the Trilby, which he’d painstakingly dust off before placing it on top of the coat then he’d cover the lot with a piece of black cloth. Removing his gold mounted briar from the pocket of his weskit; Cockbill would light up and blow voluminous clouds of smoke in the air.
    An examination of the stricken beast was the next of Cockbills theatrical manoeuvrings after which he’d declare his intention to the assembled crowd.
    ‘This animal has suffered severe trauma, it’s my opinion it would be better suited being put out of its misery and I intend to dispatch it to kingdom come as quickly and humanely as possible.’
    The crowd, reacting to his statement, would render a chorus of boos, hisses and humorous snide comments.
    ‘Ya wouldn’t know what humanely was even if it was shoved up ya arse ya poofter.
    Why don’t ya say wot ya mean ya cruel mongrel.
    The beast is buggered an ya gun’na shoot it ain’t char, boil it down and make soap out’a it ain’t char, there be more fat in ya’r head than be in that there poor beast, ya cruel bastard!’
    The perpetrators of such outbursts would become clear favorites with the crowd and be rewarded with loud cheers and clapping, which had no influence what so ever in altering the order of Cockbills performance.
    Now came the uniform of death, each piece caked in congealed blood, a leather apron plus leggings and gauntlets were produced from the back of the dray, as were a sharp knife and a captive bolt gun.
    To a chorus of jeers from the assembled crowd, Cockbill would don his uniform, steel his knife and load a point 22 blank cartridge into the bolt gun.
    Unperturbed by the heckling, Cockbill would place the gun on top of the beasts’ head and with a heavy maul strike the firing pin, there’d be a resounding crack and the beast would slump motionless to the road.
    Once again the crowd took up the chorus.
    ‘Bastard.’
    ‘Dirty Prick.’
    ‘Arsehole.’
    ‘Son of a Whore.’
    Statements that drew no more than a wicked sneer or a theatrical twist of his long moustaches from the man they were directed at. Next came a thorough steeling of his knife then he’d pull the animal’s head back and cut the beast’s throat. A huge gush of blood would spurt onto the road and run down the gutter attracting a swarm of flies. The spectators would cheer their approval then promptly go home to enjoy their dinner, leaving Cockbill to load the beast onto the dray and the fly’s to feast on the blood in the gutter.

    What about my recollection of dads army and the ARP during war time?

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