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Reminiscences of Watt Street

Newcastle




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Newcastle Historian Wilfred Goold described Watt Street -

Watt Street was known as High Street or George Street (after King George) prior to 1823. It is said that the first track was formed by convicts carrying barrows of coal from the coal mine down to the wharf at the foot of the street. Lieutenant Menzies informed Governor King in November 1804 that 'A well built stone wharf is nearly completed - length, one hundred and eighty six feet; breadth, thirteen feet, depth of water at high water, eight feet two inches, and at low water, two feet.

Later, this wharf at the foot of Watt Street grew eastward as moored ships dumped ballast over the side. In
James Wallis' time (c. 1818) the wharf was enlarged and by 1846 square cut stones sent from Sydney were used to form a more solid structure. The stones were laid by convicts working under Major MacPherson.[1]

In 1908 the buildings on Allotments 3 and 4 in Watt Street were demolished in order to extend Hunter Street through to the beach.

The Newcastle Morning Herald published an early history of Watt Street in December 1908.......

'The two buildings which have just been demolished in Watt-street to clear the way for the opening up of Hunter-street to the beach are among the oldest in Newcastle.

At the time of their erection in the early fifties, Watt-street was the main thoroughfare of the city, and easily out rivalled Hunter-street in importance. All vessels arrived at the foot of the street, and passengers reached the shore by means of a plank.

As far as can be ascertained, the building, until recently occupied by Mr. H. H. Lang, was built in 1852 by a
Mr. John Baker, of Dempsey Island, who opened it as a fruit shop.- Subsequently it was put to other uses, and at one time is said to have been occupied as pay office for the A. A. Co., (Australian Agricultural Company) but this cannot be verified.

The other building pulled down was occupied in the fifties by Mr. George McKensey (McKenzie) as a bakery, and it was here that
Mr. John Limeburner, the present licensee of the Centennial Hotel acquired his taste for sweets, he having been in Mr. McKensey's employ for a considerable time.

At the rear of this building the late
Mr. Harry Rouse was born, and he took a delight almost up to the time of his death in Inviting his old friends, to the anniversary of each birthday, to assemble at the spot where be first saw the light. Between Watt street and the beach in those days there were numerous sand hills, many of them -rising to a height of 40ft and 50ft. In order to prevent the sand finding its way into the town, a substantial brick wall was built, extending from Scott-street to King-street, and Mr. C. H. Hannell, who remembers the wall well, says it is still there, though unseen. The wall had not long been erected before it was completely covered with sand.

The oldest building in the street still stands, but it is hidden from view by the council chambers. It was built In 1818, and was occupied by the officer in charge of the Commissariat. (
Select here to see John Armstrong's 1830 Map). Afterwards it did duty as a post-office, and in 1872 it was handed over to the borough council, being used as a municipal chambers until the new council chambers were erected.

The Commandant's residence, named the Government House, was situated in the line of Watt street, about 100 yards from the corner of the barrack wall in Church-street. This building was destroyed by fire in 1820. Upon the destruction of his residence
Major Morisset, the commandant, occupied the Government offices at the top of Watt-street, which were subsequently converted into a Presbyterian manse. The military barracks were higher up the street, the site of the present asylum grounds. These were the principal buildings at the top end of the street.

The
stockade stood on the beach near where the Custom-house now stands, and was destroyed by fire in 1851. Prior to its destruction portion of the building was used as a post-office, Mr. George Tully being the first postmaster. The shipping' office, a small room 8ft by 10ft, was also in this building, and Mr. Hannell, the shipping master, experienced much difficulty in conducting the business.'

'The Steam Packet Hotel, kept by Mr. H. Williams, was in Scott-street, just off Watt street.

The site of the Great Northern Hotel was occupied by Wise and Smith, grocers, etc. These gentlemen were on their way to, the Port Curtis rush in Queensland, but upon reaching Newcastle they ascertained that very little gold was being obtained, and they decided to remain here. Mr. D. Miller was employed by the firm, and a prosperous business was done.

The Bank of New South Wales had premises at the rear of the present building. This dwelling was formerly the residence of
Mr. John Bingle, and stood back from the road, fronted by a pretty garden, with date palms growing in front of the house.

Then came an archway, with the Albion Hotel adjoining; This hotel was kept by a
Mr. Magney, who ran coaches between Newcastle and Maitland. Dalby's boot shop was the next building, and on the other corner was a dwelling, the site of the Club House Hotel.

A butcher's shop stood, where the Metropolitan Hotel at present stands, the building being erected by
Mr. Simon Kemp. The land was vacant between the butchery and the building which subsequently became a Post office. '

'On the opposite corner, in Hunter-street, where the A.J.S. Bank now stands, was the
Commercial Hotel, kept by Mr. (Joseph) Croft, father of Mr. J. Croft, late colliery manager for the Newcastle Coal Mining Company. A theatre adjoined the hotel, and continuing along Watt-street was, a draper's shop, kept by Mr. Solomon, and Mr. White's butcher's shop.

The
Queen Victoria Hotel, kept by Mrs. McGreavy, was a popular hostelry, and almost at the rear of the hotel was a store, which served as the Roman Catholic Church until the land was sold in 1852.

Early next year it is expected that Hunter Street will be extended at the beach. The demolition of the two buildings previously referred to is the first step towards the extension, and it now rests with the City Council to fulfil the contract entered into with Mr. H. H. Lang, the representative of the
Croasdill Estate.

The cost of putting the street through is estimated at £700, and it is expected that that sum will be included in the estimates for 1909. Once the money in available, there should be no delay, as the congested state of Hunter-street on Saturday nights warrants something being done to relieve the traffic, and that relief can only be obtained by extending the main street to the beach
'. ..........Newcastle Morning Herald - 25 December 1908