26-10-1895: ‘Waterdale’, 56 Chapman Street, North Melbourne.

The house known as ‘Waterdale’ in Chapman Street North Melbourne was built for prominent colonial Cobbler and footwear salesman William Leeming in 1895. The house was purchased around 1970 by a branch of the Royal Children’s Hospital and is now known as Uncle Bob’s Child Development Centre. The building was classified by the National Trust in 1993 ( Place ID: 15743 File: 2/11/033/0369). There are Ferguson & Urie stained glass windows in many of the rooms as well as frosted/etched windows depicting bird life in the bathroom and walls at the rear of the house.

The stained glass photos were taken on 14th July 2011.

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The Building and Engineering Journal and Australasian Builder and Contractor News, Saturday, 26th October 1895.

“[…] the stained glass, which has been executed by Messrs. Ferguson and Urie. The sash frames are all fitted with transom lights, filled in with stained glass designed to suit the various apartments. The hall door leading to corridor is filled with an artistic panel representing night and morning. The front door panels and upper lights are treated in a conventional style introducing Australian bird and flower subjects. The doors and windows of the back corridors and bathroom, etc, are treated in floral and marine subjects, specially designed in embossed glass[…]”

The Age, Friday, December 8, 1972.


“Cobbler prospered at last.

The Advertising industry might well consider establishing an archive to preserve the memories of some of its notable 19th century practitioners, such as North Melbourne’s William Leeming. Born in Castlemaine in 1859, Leeming started in the footwear business a few years after leaving school, and by 1885 was able to open the Colonnade Boot Bazaar at 1 Errol Street, North Melbourne. Other shops followed, and some time before 1900 he was wealthy enough to build a fine house, Waterdale, in Chapman Street, North Melbourne. The one-storey house, of rendered brick, commands a sloping site. Outside it has in good measure the fashionable ornaments of its age – stone urns, cast iron fence, verandah and roof finials. Inside, it’s decorated to a degree rarely excelled. The house is now Uncle Bobs’ Club Rehabilitation Centre, a branch of the nearby Royal Children’s Hospital. It is a temporary home for 12 children, mainly asthma sufferers, who receive medical care, schooling, physical and occupational therapy, and other help needed to restore them to normal home life. Two house mothers, Miss Nan Smith and Miss Val Sullivan, look after them. According to his daughter-in-law, Mrs. Jessie Leeming, of Brighton, William Leeming also had shoe shops at various times in Swanston Street (on the capitol Theatre site), and nearby in Bourke Street. In the Cyclopaedia of Victoria (1903), he is further credited with a business in Prahran. The Cyclopaedia devotes considerable space, and a photograph, to Leeming and mentions what must have been one of the most daring advertising gimmicks. A keen racing man, he entered a horse called Leeming’s Boots in the 1900 Melbourne Cup. It failed to prosper, but another Leeming horse, Patronus, won a Williamstown Cup. Mrs. Leeming recalls that a photograph of Patronus used to hang in Waterdale’s billiard room, where Leeming was in the habit of retiring with his men friends.

Mythical beast.

Another ploy Leeming used was to give away attractive little gifts. The china shoes, plates and toys bore his trademark, a mythical beast known as the “gazeka”. He must have distributed many of these, for when one of his descendants talked out “gazekas” on radio, the station was inundated with calls from people who owned them, but refused to part with them. Although the Leeming family left Waterdale some time after World War 1, it was still a private house when the hospital, with the help of money raised by the Uncle Bob’s Club, bought it two and a half years ago.      It was then much as the Leeming’s must have known it, and although the kitchen and bathrooms have now been modernised, the hospital has managed to retain and restore most of William Leeming’s decorative features. The drawing room, now the children’s school room, is notable for its gilded, moulded ceiling; Deep curving cornices have friezes of classical figures entwined in foliage. The archway on the inside of the bay window is heavily moulded, too, and even the ceiling of the bay is decorated. The door panels are painted with delicate 18th century figures and jewel motifs in pastel colors. Over this, and other important doorways throughout the house, are pediments of wood carved with flowers in high relief. The door fittings themselves are ornately chased and ornamented brass. Elsewhere in the house they are mostly crystal or china. In the dining room, the ceiling and cornices are not only covered with moulded details, but colored in shades of pink, green and gold. Still in its place is the fluted, curving brass gas chandelier. The former study, now the doctor’s room, is fitted with glass and mahogany bookcases on either side of the fireplace, and the billiard room too has a moulded ceiling icicle-like bosses hanging from it. This is now the children’s recreation room, and the raised seats around the edge, from which gentleman onlookers watched others at play have gone, and the marble floored lavatory attached is now a cloak room. Yet more color at Waterdale comes from the glass panels of the front door, dining room to verandah door, and hall door. Set in stained glass are paintings of birds and female figures, and more birds perch in small colored panels above each of he windows in the three main rooms.

Happy Memories.

            For Mrs. Leeming, Waterdale holds many happy memories, for as a child she used to play there with the four children of he house, one of whom, Leslie, she eventually married. As far as she recalls, the Lemmings’ entertain extensively in their grand house until World War 1, when they threw it open each week for soldiers from the big army camp in Royal Park. “They would have the blinds right down over the front verandah, and we’d dance there,” Mrs. Leeming said.      The estate included land right up to Flemington Road, and each of the four children had a horse. Mrs. Leeming remembers there was a live-in staff of groom, cook and maid. Those wee the days of late shopping. According to Mrs. Leeming, William Leeming used to bring home the takings from his shop, and hide them overnight in a secret panel next to the bedroom mantel. “I wonder if it is still there?” she said.”

The Argus, Melbourne, Wednesday 27th July 1932, page 8.

Mr. and Mrs. William Leeming, of Echo, Burke road, Upper Hawthorn, will celebrate their golden wedding to-day. They were both born in Victoria. Mr Leeming commenced business in 1884 when he opened a boot shop in North Melbourne, and later extended his operations to the city, Prahran, and South Melbourne. The “Gazeka” sign adopted as an advertisement for his wares was the striking pioneer of that form of publicity. The name is still registered. Mr. Leeming at different times owned Patronus, Charmans, Pendil, Zephe?, Periloous, and Decollette, with which he won several important races including two St. Kilda Cups and a Moonee Valley Cup. In 1899 he entered a horse which did not exist for the Melbourne Cup under the name of “Leeming’s Boots”. This is no longer possible under the amended racing rules. Mr. and Mrs. Leeming’s two sons and daughter are ???? (unreadable word)


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