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Published June 16th 2020
Rundle Street East Historic Remnants
Most of us would be familiar with the vibrancy of Rundle Street East in the city of Adelaide, with its wonderful diversity in restaurants, pubs and cafes as well as its boutique shops.
However, if you look more closely, there are also reminders of the past which still give you a good indication of how this area would have looked and felt back in the nineteenth/early twentieth century.
Rundle Street East runs between Pulteney Street and East Terrace in the city. It is named after John Rundle, one of the original directors of the South Australian Company and was established to ensure the economic success of the new colony of South Australia back in the 1830s.
Here are 9 remnants of the past, which you can find if you wander down Rundle Street East.
Most of the East End of the city was centred around the development of the East End Markets, established by Richard Vaughan in 1867.
Prior to 1860, gatherings were already starting to occur of traders of fruit and vegetables, although it was not legally sanctioned. These traders mainly came from the Adelaide Hills. Apparently, during the 1850s, the only legal place where this form of trading could occur was in Victoria Square.
During that decade, a scathing report was written in the Adelaide Observer newspaper stating this area, near the present-day Stag Hotel, had "carcasses of dead cats and dogs, rotting in the sunshine, and decayed vegetable matter of every description, helping to form the gas so fatal to human life..."
Vaughan created what was seen as a formalised market, providing infrastructure and shelter for farmers and their produce. It was rented, which meant the experience was much safer and easier for purchasers, with sellers being able to arrive later rather than compete for a pitch.
Incidentally, Vaughan was also responsible for building, the Botanic Hotel, and nearby Botanic Chambers on land that he had owned for some years.
During 1869, a group of traders broke away from the East End Markets due to the fact that they did not like the rules and regulations being imposed upon them. They set up another market near Grote Street. This today, as we all know, is the Central Market which has gone on to thrive.
By 1899, the East End Markets were becoming crowded and unsanitary, particularly when horses were also accommodated within the market infrastructure buildings (up to 400 adjacent to the market stalls)
It was then in 1900 that a greengrocer based in Rundle Street, William Charlick, saw the need for an expansion of the site. Charlick ended up starting his own market, which at the time was known as the Adelaide Fruit and Produce Exchange. This initially was in opposition to the original East End markets. The new market was much larger, grander and more modern than the ageing old market. It also had space for up to 280 vehicles, rather than the previous 150 at the old site.
Evidence is still around today of the old facades fronting Rundle Street, Grenfell Street and East Terrace, showing how important these markets were to Adelaide. The East End market continued to trade until 1988, when it finally ceased to be, moving out to Pooraka.
Many of the pubs around the East End of Adelaide were thriving due to market traders and patrons stopping in for a quick ale and something to eat.
The interesting thing about this part of East Terrace and the nearby east end area was that in its early years, it was very industrial, unlike the grand imposing mansions further down East Terrace. In its heyday, it boasted a tannery, soap making factory, taxidermists, umbrella making premises, jam factory, timber merchants as well as a sawmill and many other industries, all within an area bounded by North Terrace and Pirie Street.
As industry developed within the East End of the city, so did the growth of the residential population who lived close by to their places of work. Local businessman William Peacock, who had a nearby Tannery business, decided to erect two sets of workers cottages during the 1850s to provide accommodation for his workers. These became known as "The Rookery", which eventually were notorious as over-crowded and sub-standard housing for the poorer classes.
There were other buildings erected in the Rookery prior to 1850, with evidence that by 1849, one extended building housed approximately a hundred people. Apparently the upper tenements were only accessible by stepladders from the outside.
It was reported at one time that in one row of twelve cottages, there was only one "privy" or toilet between all of them. Another row of nine cottages reportedly had one room each, measuring approximately 3 metres x 6 metres with a hearth and a shingle roof.
One can imagine the pollution coming from the tannery and other nearby factories, as well as rubbish being dumped in the East Parklands right up to the 1850s.
In 1899, the Rookery was finally condemned by Adelaide City Council's Health Inspector, as "unfit for human habitation". At that time the tannery was also demolished to make way for the Adelaide Fruit and Produce Exchange.
Today, if you wander in off Rundle Street or East Terrace into Charlick Circuit, you can still see evidence of some of the footings laid originally for "The Rookery" together with a plaque commemorating the site.
The Stag Hotel was one of nine hotels operating in Rundle Street by 1850, dating from 1849, It is one of the city's oldest hotels.
In its early years, The Stag Inn, as it was known, was on the site of the original East End Markets, with its stockyards, weighbridge, large stables accommodating horses and vehicles of the livestock and produce buyers. In essence, the Stag was the centre and hive of the East End market activities as well as later being a "watering hole" for the early morning market gardeners and patrons.
The first licensee of the iconic pub was George Taylor, who owned it until 1902 when it was sold to Thomas Richardson. Richardson proceeded then to demolish the original building, however, he did retain a double fronted western section which had been built during the 1870s.
Until 1884, The Stag also had a dance and concert hall at the rear of the premises. A new two-storey building was then erected in 1903 around the only remaining 1870's section, designed by architects Daniel Garlick and Herbert Jackman in Queen Anne style with its return verandah and balcony. This style of building was quite popular around the time of Federation in 1901.
The enlarged hotel was able to provide further accommodation for market patrons.
Today the distinctive turret and facade are still a testament to the work of Garlick & Jackman and the old stables at the rear have been fully renovated, becoming part of what is known today as Nola, a New Orleans-inspired bar and eatery on Vardon Place in the city, just off Rundle Street.
The Stag has gone through periods of its history when it has ceased trading, however fortunately it is again alive, albeit subject to COVID-19 restrictions.
One of the other iconic pubs along Rundle Street East is the Hotel Austral, distinctive by its lead lighting which captures the colour and texture from the shining sun.
The complex of 14 terraced three-storey shops and hotel was built as a commercial complex for the South Australian Company back in 1880. The architect was William McMinn, who had been responsible also for the Governor's former summer residence at Marble Hill, in the Adelaide Hills.
Like many of the hotels around Adelaide, this one had several names over the years, starting out originally as Cohen's Family Hotel, becoming The Austral in 1898.
The Austral made the news back in 1915, when a horse startled by the backfiring of a motorcycle, bolted and crashed through a window into the front bar. Fortunately, both the horse and patrons were unharmed, however, there was some damage to the hotel premises.
During the 1950s, the hotel had a bit of a reputation for illegal gambling occurring on the premises, however, redeemed itself some years later.
Today the pub still operates and with its bank of outdoor tables and umbrellas, continues to attract patrons from all walks of life, looking to relax with a drink and some grub and watch life go by.
The pub is operational again following lockdown during COVID-19, however, you will need to check any restrictions and procedures before venturing there again.
By the early 1880s the complex, comprising 14 terraced shops and the Hotel Austral, was finally completed, in a popular Italianate style at that time.
One of the well-known businesses housed within the complex was Malcolm Reid Furniture . It was the brainchild of Malcolm Reid, an astute businessman with fingers in many pies (enterprises), including starting up originally as a Timber Merchant.
Reid worked for a company called D & J Fowler and learnt the timber trade. Once silver was discovered in Broken Hill, Malcolm lost no time in setting up a timber merchant business there, realising that shoring timbers would be required for mining, let alone the buildings and infrastructure which went along with the mine's development.
Reid also spent time in South Africa, particularly around Johannesburg, establishing a timber merchant business during the time of the expansion of the Rand goldfields.
Reid later opened a furniture shop in Broken Hill, knowing that young families would be looking to set up house. Reid then established another timber business down at Port Adelaide in 1882 through to the early 1890s.
This is when he took over the premises at the iconic location in Rundle Street, which was previously operated by a C Segar as a furniture showroom, specialising in better quality English and Australian made furniture.
Finally, the business was transformed in 1911 to become known as Malcolm Reid & Co Limited. During their expansion period in the 1930s, Malcolm Reid also opened a store in Melbourne. The company was doing so well that branches were also opened in Johannesburg and London.
Reid himself lived in a property called Eothen on East Terrace (later to become St Corantyn) from 1912 through to 1928. He was living on LeFevre Terrace at North Adelaide at the time of his death at aged 75.
Today, gratefully the Malcolm Reid building still stands, with the Malcolm Reid signage still visible along Rundle Street.
You're probably thinking where is The Grand Central Hotel. Well, you would be right in that it no longer exists, however, the site today is occupied by Hungry Jacks and a multi-level carpark, located on the corner of Pulteney Street and Rundle Street in the city.
The site, since 1850, has been associated with hotels, as originally a hotel by the name of the York Hotel thrived until 1909. The hotel during this time had been also used as a boarding house which attracted touring theatrical artists visiting Adelaide whilst performing.
The Grand Central Hotel was built to replace the York in 1910 as a grand five-storey structure with bay windows rising to almost the full height of the hotel, with the corner bay window capped with a turret.
It was believed the interior of the hotel contained 150 rooms plus lounges, two saloons, a billiard room as well as writing and smoking rooms. The dining room reportedly accommodated up to six hundred people. Other features were an immense central light court, electric lifts and artificial heating. The flat roof was apparently designed originally to house a tennis court and a tea garden.
The hotel in its heyday attracted various colourful guests, including royalty when the Prince of Wales visited Adelaide in 1920 as part of a royal tour. The famous author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, of Sherlock Holmes fame, also stayed in the hotel as well as Mark Twain, the author of American classics such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
Unfortunately, by 1926, the hotel was not prospering too well, and it was bought by a one time renowned Adelaide department store, Foy & Gibsons.
The building was eventually sold to the Electricity Trust of South Australia (ETSA) and was finally demolished in 1975-76 to make way for its current building and purpose.
In October 2008, the carpark was given a facelift with the launch of the Rundle Lantern, a feature illuminated with vibrant lights, moving imagery and digital artworks, which operates from dusk until midnight each day. The lantern is created by computer software and is 100% green-powered and carbon neutral.
Grand Central Hotel c 1924 State Library of SA
7. The old Synagogue
One thing which Adelaide and South Australia can pride themselves in has been our multi-culturalism, which dates right back to our beginnings as a colony during the 1830s. Apart from early German settlers, there were Afghans who came to become camel herders and traders in central Australia, as well as Chinese who came to work the goldfields in Victoria during the 1850s. There was also a wave of Jewish people who migrated to South Australia in the early years.
Their importance in our society is evidenced by the old Synagogue, which is located just off Rundle Street in Synagogue Place.
By 1860, the Jewish population in Adelaide had already reached 360. The Synagogue in the East End of the city was built in 1850 after many Jewish people had begun to establish businesses nearby. Many lived in premises above these businesses and it made sense that a place of worship also be built in the area.
In fact, from the period of the 1850s through to the 1920s, Adelaide had fur Jewish Mayors as well as seven members of Parliament, one of them being Sir Lewis Cohen having been elected five times during the course of his career.
The location for this Synagogue was selected by the Adelaide Hebrew congregation on land bought from George Morphett, one of our early pioneers and businessmen.
The original building was quite small with only room for approximately 150 worshipers and was only utilised for around ten years up to 1860, due to its continuing growth of the Jewish population. It was around this time that the site was developed further with meeting chambers as well as an extension to the women's gallery.
A new synagogue was designed and built in 1870 by the architects Woods and Hamilton in an Italian style adjacent to the original synagogue. This new stone building would have the capacity for 370 people, with the old synagogue being converted into a classroom.
During the 1890s, more development was occurring along Rundle Street with the need for retail premises and the Rundle buildings were erected on the corner of Rundle Street and Synagogue Place. The original synagogues had fronted onto Rundle Street with an elaborate entrance featuring a fountain and lawn. The idea was that the Jewish community could reap the benefits of retail businesses along the main Rundle Street strip.
With this re-development, the synagogue was moved further down Synagogue Place. Moving forward to the 1930s, both the Rundle buildings, as well as the synagogue were given an art deco frontage facelift by architect Chris Smith. Smith had also been responsible for several art deco movie cinema complexes including the old Chelsea Theatre in Kensington (now called the Regal Theatre).
The synagogue remained the focus of Jewish worship in the city until 1990, when a synagogue at Glenside became the new hub.
Since that time, the site of the synagogue has been used for varying nightclubs, currently being vacant. Grundy's Shoes in the Rundle Buildings has been operating since 1896 and are using the site for storage.
You can still view the facade of the Synagogue located in Synagogue Place.
As I have already mentioned, Adelaide and South Australia also saw an influx, particularly during the 1850s of Chinese immigrants, many of whom had arrived in Australia to work in the goldfields of Victoria as labourers.
By the turn of the 20th century, there was already a well established Chinese population, mainly gravitating towards the western end of the city. However several had already set up businesses in the vicinity of Rundle Street, including two Chinese stores operating on the south side between Pulteney Street and East Terrace.
The first woman in South Australia to incorporate a business and import goods was born here to Chinese immigrants originally from Guandong province in China - her name, Gladys Sym Choon.
Gladys studied bookkeeping at Adelaide High School, which gave her the necessary skills to eventually establish her own business at 235A Rundle Street, specialising in selling luxury goods to wealthy clientele including fabric, lingerie and decorative china. The business was known as the China Gift store and opened in 1924 with her sister, Dorothy.
The business required Gladys to travel to China and Hong Kong regularly to secure imports, after which she expanded the business during the period 1930s to 1950s, opening up a store in Regent Arcade.
Gladys married in 1939 and moved to Tasmania, handing over the day to day management of the company. The China Gift store continued to operate until 1985, when it was bought by Joff Chappel and Razak Mohammed. Sadly, Joff passed away recently having built the business even further over the years. The store with Glady's name still operates today in Rundle Street.
Another one of Adelaide's heritage pubs along Rundle Street is the Exeter Hotel, which was originally built in 1851 and still thrives today for patrons to enjoy.
The hotel, as we know it today, was re-built during the 1880s as a response to direct competition from a former pub nearby, the Tavistock Hotel, which was located on the corner of Rundle Street and Frome Street. The Tavistock was finally demolished during the 1960s to make way for Frome Street as we know it today.
The distinctive green glass tiles we see today on the exterior of the Exeter were added in 1929 as a result of the overall refurbishment of the hotel.
Like many of the hotels around the city in the early years, The Exeter was subject to reports of illegal gambling as well as flouting of Liquor Licencing laws. There was one particular case, where three women, as well as two men, were found drinking in the front bar after hours. It was not until the 1970s that women were finally allowed to drink in front bars of hotels in South Australia.
You will find the Exeter Hotel at 246 Rundle Street in the city, where you can still enjoy a relaxing drink, either inside or outside, some good food and live entertainment.
Trying to remember where the Beat Basement used to be in East Rundle Street. A popular nightclub back in the 1960's where one could catch up with local bands after their concerts (Masters Apprentices, The Twilights etc) - often doing jam sessions until early in the morning. Only coke and soft drinks were served at the bar (but hip flasks of whisky, rum and brandy in the coat pockets helped the atmosphere). Have a feeling it was where the Gladys Sym Choon shoe store is now, or not that far away.