Belford Knitting Mills And The Textile Industry

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Liverpool St. looking east from Riley St showing old English apartment units and small businesses. Belford knitting mills half way up slope.

The image above, showing Liverpool Street in Sydney, and highlighting the Belford knitting mills, s a stunning glimpse into the history of industrial Sydney. Today, Sydney is a very different city to what it once was, with almost all signs of industry having disappeared. Yet once, Sydney was a thriving industrial city, complete with wool and knitting mills – an industry which many may more readily associate with England in the Industrial Revolution.

For many decades, Australia had been seen as the country which rode on the sheeps back, yet almost all of our wool was sent overseas unprocessed for spinning and to be made into textiles. Although there were some very small woollen mills, even dating to as early as 1801 when female convicts at Parramatta jail began to make woollen blankets, bulk of Australian wool was bound for overseas mills, and then cloth had to be imported into the colony. In fact in 1904 only four percent of Australian wool was processed in Australia.

In the early 1900s though there was a growing interest in Australia processing a greater proportion of our own wool. By 1909, nine percent of Australian wool was being processed in Australia in a growing number of woollen mills, spinning mills and knitting mills. Over the coming years, as the mills proliferated, the amount of wool being locally processed grew, and the first world war, with its requirements for Australian soldiers uniforms was a further boost to the industry. By 1920 there were over 1000 textile related mills in NSW, contributing to all of the different phases of processing wool, and later, cotton. Belford Mills, in the image above, is just one of these mills.

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When Central Was New

New Railway Station Sydney NSW From Elizabeth Street (Central) Front

The image above, of the ‘New Railway Station’ is an amazing snapshot into the very beginnings of a station which so many Sydneysiders and visitors alike are familiar with – Central Station. Today, Central Station is such a vital link in the Sydney train system that we little think of how it began, or what came before.

Central Station is today the busiest station in NSW and the major terminus station for many services. Yet the foundation stone for the station was not laid until 1902, and the station itself did not open until 1906. Before this, there was another terminus station, in an entirely different place – Redfern. The Redfern Station, known as Sydney Station, opened in 1855 as what could best be described as a tin shed. In 1874 a new, more permanent station built of brick and stone was opened, on the same site. As Sydney grew though, a bigger station was needed to service the growing train network.

The plans for the new station, on the north side of Devonshire Street, were approved by Parliament in December 1900, but construction could not begin until the area was resumed. This included moving the remains and headstones from the Devonshire Street Cemetery, which cost over £27,000. Construction on the station itself began in 1902, with the foundation stone for the iconic Clock Tower being laid a year later. In 1906 a gold key was turned in the booking office by Premier Carruthers, and this officially opened the station, with the first train service, the Western Mail train, running through the station at 5:50am. In 1914 platforms 16 to 19 were added, and construction continued throughout the First World War. In 1921 the Clocktower began operation at 10:22am on March 3rd, and the two additional floors of offices were opened.

Tin Town

Tin Town Middle Harbour Sydney Front
The above postcard, dating to circa 1910, is a stunning, highly evocative glimpse into the life of poorer Sydney residents in the early 20th century. Located on the shores of Middle Harbour, the exact location of this particular camp is something of a mystery, though Mosman Library suggest it is overlooking Quakers Hat Bay near Cremorne.
Depression settlements and so called ‘Tin Towns’ like the one pictured above are most often associated with The Great Depression. However, such camps and settlements, clearly including the one above, predate the Great Depression by decades. Sometimes the settlements were home to the poor, but often they were places which people came to periodically, and as such they were only actually occupied on and off by people such as fishermen. The beginning of depression settlements and tin towns in Australia was arguably the Depression of the 1890s. However, it was the Great Depression which saw their size and number increase. Many Sydney residents had lost their jobs and without an income to support them and pay rent, homes were soon lost too. Often these people took only what they could carry from their lost lives, and set out for one of the many depression settlements around Sydney. People who had lost their homes and their jobs arrived, chose an empty space and erected a ramshackle hut, using whatever materials they could find – often corrugated iron or tin sheeting. Life in these camps was hard, but often a strong and very supportive community evolved.

Lithgow

Main Street Lithgow Front

The image above, showing the main street of Lithgow, NSW, is a beautiful snapshot which captures the essence of a thriving industrial town. Today, Lithgow is seen by many as a tourist town, and a base from which to explore the Blue Mountains, Central West and Jenolan Caves. Yet once, Lithgow was a thriving industrial centre.

The first European settlers to make the Lithgow area home arrived in 1824, and it was only three years later that the name Lithgow was bestowed on the area, by famous explorer Hamilton Hume. Yet over the next nearly forty years, only another four families made their homes in the Lithgow Valley, as it was relatively isolated. Then, in 1869, the Western Railway Line connected Lithgow to the Sydney township and the area began to thrive.

With the railway providing easy transport not only for people, but for goods, Lithgow began to transform into an industrial settlement. Coal mining was the first industry in the area, followed by iron manufacture in 1875. By 1900, Lithgow produced the first steel to have been entirely manufactured in Australia and a proliferation of other industries soon followed. In the early 1900s Lithgow manufactured everything from bricks to iron to pottery to small arms. In the wake of World War Two, the industries in Lithgow went into decline and in the late 1950s a power generating plant was built at Wallerawang, near Lithgow. Today, Lithgow is mainly seen as an historic tourist town.