Melbourne’s laneways

Image courtesy State Library of Victoria
Image courtesy State Library of Victoria
This is not a story of my family home but of my volunteer home – the Genealogical Society of Victoria. This is a story about the GSV’s home in the lower basement, or cellar, of 257 Collins Street in Melbourne.
Sometimes I am so engrossed in searching for stories amongst the books and memorials of various archives and family history societies that I neglect to look at the family history around me.
So it was a year or so ago I was in one of Melbourne’s small laneways off Flinders Lane. That day Flinders Lane was closed to vehicle traffic. As I had my coffee I watched a very large crane load an equally large and heavy duty truck close by with several combination safes.
I never thought more about it at the time. Should I have? Yes.
Should I be viewing my surroundings with a family history frame of mind? Yes.
I had never given much thought as to why there was cellar beneath the car park at 257 Collins Place before. If questioned I may have replied that the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney added it when they redeveloped the block in the early 1970s. But 257 Collins Street has been a bank premises for a very long time – from the 1840s and right through the Victorian gold rushes.
257 Collins Street
257 Collins Street

This summer the Carlton Clydesdales will again be delivering kegs to Melbourne’s hotels. Will this be more a show than an imitation of how beer was delivered in the early days of Melbourne’s settlement?
I grew up on a farm where the front door was rarely used. All the action on the farm went on out the back. It wasn’t until I looked at the parish plan for Melbourne that I paused to think. City businesses operate the same way.
Parish of Melbourne map
Parish of Melbourne map

There were no laneways as I know them. Just allotments facing Collins Street but also running right the way through to Flinders Lane. Next time I walked out the back door of the GSV I crossed Flinders Lane and turned around. The rear view of 257 Collins Street is quite different to the front view. Firstly, there is access to the carpark, not directly from Flinders Lane but from a laneway off Flinders Lane.
Lassi map
Lassi map

What had Governor Bourke intended when he visited Port Phillip with surveyor Robert Hoddle in 1837?
Bourke and Hoddle laid out Melbourne with wide streets and wide footpaths.
Image courtesy State Library of Victoria
Image courtesy State Library of Victoria

However, Governor Bourke recognized that if there was to be no encroachment onto the footpaths then lanes were required behind the buildings facing these wide streets and footpaths. So he requested that there be lanes between the streets. Flinders Lane between Flinders Street and Collins Street for example.
Even so, the blocks were quite deep and at just under half an acre quite large.
With an ever increasing population outstripping the ability to provide accommodation for them. For those fortunate enough to acquire land in one of the early Melbourne sales there was the opportunity to lease portions requesting the lease payment up front. Then the purchaser had the balance of the purchase price to be paid to the government by the due date.
So it was that Michael Carr leased portion of Allotment 15 Section 4 – the allotment on which the GSV is located.
Michael Carr had arrived in Port Phillip in November 1835 and operated the Governor Bourke Hotel in Little Flinders Street half way between Market and Queen Streets – on land he also purchased in the first Melbourne land sales.
It is interesting to note that the first person who leased part of the block from Michael Carr was the brewer Oliver Adams. He didn’t stay long before moving to the fledgling Geelong.
So how did a brewer and a publican get their supplies delivered to each in Flinders Lane? Not from carts coming down Collins Street but from carts coming down Flinders Lane as Governor Bourke had intended.
However, Michael Carr had a problem accessing Flinders Lane. Having leased the rear of his block he had no access to Flinders Lane for supplies. So he retained a carriage access or laneway which remains today as Flinders Way.
Furthermore, the two sub allotments became separated over time – the one part facing Collins Street and the one part facing Flinders Lane. The divisions can be seen quite clearly across Flinders Lane.
Carriage-Access
It was not until the CBC acquired the two in the late 1960s that Michael Carr’s allotment became one again. Well almost. The laneway is now the property of the Lord Mayor of Melbourne. What is interesting to me is that the laneway hints at how deliveries were made to Oliver Adams’ brewery and other businesses in Flinders Lane.
Often when I am walking about in Carlton and Fitzroy I come across a grate in the footpath. These grates can be lifted to give access to the cellar in the adjoining hotel. The grates also give light to these hotel cellars.
Where were the supplies to a publican, or a brewer, kept? Not at street level as this was valuable retail area. But in a cellar. The MMBW maps of Melbourne (accessible online from the State Library of Victoria) indicate that most of Flinders Lane had cellars, including the rear, at least, of 257 Collins Street.
MMBW-Sewerage (State Library of Victoria)
MMBW-Sewerage (State Library of Victoria)

But were they cellars in the manner I think of modern day cellars? Were they entirely below street level?
When I look at the building on the Swanston Street side of the GSV carriage access, or laneway, it seems to me that there is a foundation of bluestone underneath what would have been the bluestone walls of the cellar. This cellar has windows above the ground. Certainly to give light.
Window in Bluestone Wall
Window in Bluestone Wall

But the windows aren’t all that far above the level of Flinders Lane. Just far enough that the cellar ceiling would be high enough, or low enough depending upon your perspective, to have a loading dock above at the level of a cart or wagon used delivering or loading supplies. Probably not says my brother. It was more likely to have been done manually.
Window in Bluestone Wall
Window in Bluestone Wall

Nevertheless, it seems that Governor Bourke’s intention to keep the streets and footpaths wide and uncluttered is still the case. The purpose of Flinders Lane as a delivery access remains. Possibly with the same difficulties for complex deliveries. And our laneways seem to be a consequence of Governor Bourke’s recognition that to keep a clear front entrance requires more a complex network of landways to service all the buildings facing the main streets.

2 Replies to “Melbourne’s laneways”

  1. This is a really fascinating and thoughtful study of something we can easily overlook Patsy. I’ll be coming back to this post to look at the block my ancestor Joseph Aberline owned near the corner of Queen and Elizabeth.

    1. Thank you for your comments. I have spent a lot of my time researching land records but mostly in the rural areas of South West Victoria. Land records are an example of the often quoted maxim that 95% of the information is found in archives and not online. So yes, do look for your ancestor’s land in Melbourne. I am sure there will be a story there somewhere!

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