10-07-1891: The Ferguson & Urie warehouse, Franklin Street, Melbourne.

In 1891 the Ferguson & Urie stained glass company were either consolidating or downsizing their operations. The earlier stock market crash of the 1890’s must have wreaked havoc on many market dependent businesses but this following information gives the impression that the company was having one  last act of defiance as it consolidated all its business into one huge four storey warehouse in Franklin Street Melbourne. By this time senior partner James Urie had died a year earlier and in another three years James Ferguson would also meet ‘the man with the keys’ (St Peter) who had been depicted in so many of the company’s works of art in stained glass.

The Franklin Street warehouse building still exists but has been substantially modified. It’s now known as ‘Burbank House’ and a tribute plaque affixed to the front of the building gives more recognition to the site as being the location of the first Victorian Ice-works and the inventor of the refrigeration process, James Harrison. There is no mention of the actual building as being the location of the historic Ferguson & Urie stained glass establishment whose works of art can still be found all over the eastern states of Australia.

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The North Melbourne Advertiser, Friday 10th July 1891, page 2.

“MESSRS. FERGUSON AND URIE’S ESTABLISHMENT”

“The above firm is one which is known throughout the Australian colonies as the designers and manufacturers of many a handsome chancel window, radiant with the forms of saints and apostles, clad in those rich garments, which the artistic piety of the middle ages loved to clothe the Founder of the Christian Church and His disciples, while the secular side of the art of glass staining is exemplified by specimens of the firm’s work in the colored crests and historical pictures on hall windows in the homes of the wealthy colonist. The new premises are in Franklin-street, and are four stories high, being commodious and comfortable throughout. The top flat contains large quantities of ornamental glass and samples of work, indeed these latter abound throughout the building, and greatly enhances the general effect. The name of the firm is shortly to be fixed on the summit of the roof, with the letters delineated on variegated glass, which will be a novel and striking announcement. Beneath the top story is a department where sheet glass is stored and descending to the next flat more of this article is discovered, but the sides of the store are covered with some beautiful specimens of the glass stainer’s art. One of the most striking of these is a pair of windows representing “Tragedy” and “Comedy”. The colouring is faultless, and the drapery most effectively arranged. These windows would show to great advantage in the main hall or conservatory of a mansion, or in the dress circle corridor of an elegantly appointed theatre. Representations of Lord Nelson and Bacon are here displayed, and would greatly adorn a library or some educational institute. Those who have a weakness for seeing the crest of their ancestors emblazoned in rich and varied hues in their homes, Messrs Ferguson and Urie can accommodate to a nicety, as their heraldic designs in colored glass are most effective. The most interesting part of he building is undoubtedly the artist’s room, where Mr Jackson plans and paints amid representations of angels, cherubim, Madonnas, scenes from Christ’s Passion, and various other representations that give his chamber the appearance of the scriptorium of some wealthy monastery in which Art is wedded to Religion. Here all designs are drawn, and the firm’s clients exercise their choice and are informed as to estimates. The paintings are executed in water colours, and the stock of samples extensive and original. On the ground floor is the general office and private apartment for the principals. Round these are specimens and examples of what the firm can turn out, including embossed margins for door side lights and slides for large hall lamps. Plate glass is kept on the ground floor in large quantities, some of the sheets being of great superficial measurement. At the rear of the building is a bending kiln, used as its name denotes, for bending the glass. This is one of the largest structures of its kind in Melbourne, and is substantially put together. The works of the firm are in Curzon Street, North Melbourne, but it is at the Franklin-street depot that the beautiful results are to be viewed. Ferguson and Urie are household words among those possessing artistic tastes, and have been so for many years, and not withstanding the importation of several specimens of ecclesiastical stained glass from Belgium and Germany, still continue to take the lead in beautifying the churches and public buildings of Australia.”

The Franklin Street building still exists but has had substantial modifications to the facade and is now known as ‘Burbank House’ which hosts a number of small businesses, as last seen in March 2012.

Some of the information quoted below about the building and its history was obtained from The Melbourne City Council Heritage review document, and I have made my comments where I have doubts as to the validity of the information stated.

Melbourne Council, Central City Heritage Review 2011, page 61 to 67 (accessed 4 Apr 2012).

“HISTORIC & DESCRIPTION
96-102 Franklin Street, was constructed c.1867 as a five storey warehouse. The designer and builder are not known although it appears to have been built for Ferguson & Urie, Glass Merchants and McEwan & Co ironmongers 2. It is an early example of Italianate design within Melbourne. The building has been stripped of many of its decorative elements and now retains the form but almost none of the detail of the original design. The building is in good but considerably altered”

The heritage review document makes reference to the building as also being built for ‘McEwan & Co,’ but I have found no evidence of this company as ever been at Franklin street. The reference to “Keep Bros, and Wood, saddlers and Ironmongers” is correct, but this company only tenanted the premises in October 1899 after their Lonsdale street warehouse had burnt down, and most likely only in response to advertisements in October 1899 for the Ferguson & Urie Franklin Street warehouse being for rent. “Keep Bros, and Wood” remained tenants possibly until 1945 when they purchased another site in Elizabeth street.

The earliest known reference to the Franklin street site is to a “James Harrison (1816?-1893)” who pioneered the revolutionary design of a refrigerator: “In 1873 he won a gold medal at the Melbourne Exhibition by proving that meat kept frozen for months remained perfectly edible …”. A brass plaque affixed to the front of the 100 Franklin street building (currently known as Burbank House) reads:

“A TRIBUTE TO AN EARLY PIONEER
THIS PLAQUE COMMEMORATES JAMES HARRISON INVENTOR OF THE REFRIDGERATION PROCESS AND FOUNDER OF THE VICTORIA ICE WORKS ON THIS SITE 1859.
DONATED BY THE AUSTRALIAN INSTITUTE OF REFRIDGERATION, AIRCONDITIONING AND HEATING. APRIL 1985.”

Whether the existing Franklin street building was originally built as the James Harrison’s ice works is extremely doubtful, but the Argus newspaper article from 1891 about Ferguson & Urie’s new premises says: The new premises are in Franklin-street, and are four stories high, being commodious and comfortable throughout …”

This gives the impression that the Franklin street building was only built circa 1891.The article goes on to give the impression that the building was solely occupied by Ferguson & Urie who occupied every floor of the building with no mention at all of any business or the company name of “McEwan & Co”. Ferguson & Urie had also affixed their company name to the top of the building:
“…The name of the firm is shortly to be fixed on the summit of the roof, with the letters delineated on variegated glass…”

Additional weight is added to this theory from an article published in July 1899 during the final phases of the closure of the company. A sale notice published the following line;..The above affords an unusually favourable opportunity of acquiring one of the oldest-established businesses in the colony. The stock is large and varied, and the premises were specially erected for the trade…”

A photo showing the Franklin street warehouse in the top left corner of a general city scape, taken post 1891, clearly shows the name “Ferguson & Urie” in large letters at the top of the building, on the side facing Elizabeth street  and facing Franklin street above the top floor is “Glass Stainers and Manufacturers of Church Windows”. Above the floor below this is the words “Plate Glass Warehouse”. Whether the signage was actually made of “variegated glass” appears to be unlikely as it looks to be simply painted on.

Regardless of the Franklin street buildings history, before and after Ferguson and Urie had occupied it, there is undoubtedly a more significant historical meaning to the history of the building as being one of the cities greatest artistic establishments that created many of Australia’s oldest and most historical stained glass windows which can still be seen throughout Melbourne, regional Victoria, the eastern sates, and rare instances in New Zealand.

Ferguson & Urie’s very first workshop building was in Curzon Street North Melbourne where they first advertised as being located at the north east corner of the Benevolent Asylum  in Curzon street (the Asylum was demolished late 1911) [1]. The original workshop building still exists at No: 42 Curzon Street opposite the Union Memorial Church. Advertisements for the company first appeared in August 1853 but it’s likely that the workshop/warehouse wasn’t built until after 1858 (based on information in the Drape diaries). The company’s other warehouse at “Yarra Bank South” (Normanby Road South Melbourne) was a wooden structure and was destroyed by fire on the 31st January 1888.

Related posts: (about Franklin Street)

16-04-1891 > 10-07-1891 > 01-08-189122-07-1899 > 29-07-1899 > 10-08-1899 > 06-09-1899

Footnotes:

 

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