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| House histories
Researching the history of a home is popular overseas but not in Australia and yet it can reveal interesting facets that can enhance family history. A number of readers will know that the ABC program, Who's been sleeping in my house? has just returned for its third series. While telling a good story like many popular television programs, they fail to reveal the work behind the scene, never let facts get in the road of a good story, and focus of the more sensational. All that aside the program does put some rather silly rumours to rest.
As family historians we are more interested in the hidden research that reveals the so-called secrets of homes and buildings in general. There are several specific classes of records that can help reveal a building's history but these alone need to be complemented by other records such as birth, death and marriage certificates of past residents and their Wills if available as the core records lack this personal detail.
Recently Who's been sleeping in my house? focused on a property at 181 Sturt Street Adelaide and the company behind the series approached the writer to do the initial research although if you read the credits at the end of the program you would not have found any mention of this contribution nor in fact the contributions of a number of other researchers!
Firstly the Certificate of Titles from the Lands Titles Office and now available online revealed the string of owners of the property at
181 Sturt Street:
• 1865 – Francis Corbert Singleton and Richard Bowen Colley
• 1866 – Robert Wilson - grocery assistant
• 1874 – Daniel Donohue & Mary Donohue. Daniel Donohue, a police constable died 24 Sep 1878
• 1879 – Franz Herman Holzerland, a police constable died 9 Jul 1899
• 1895 – John Cooper, a chemist died 19 Sep 1908
• 1908 – Ernest Samuel Cooper b. 19 Jul 1868 son of John, chemist
• 1923 – Harold Chappell
• 1938 – Mahomet Allum, an Afghan herbalist
• 1952 – Elemer Steiner, café owner
• 1960 – Hilti Fixing Systems Ltd
• 1972 – Asio Tognetti & Margaret Tognetti, restaurateurs
• 1983 – Tognetti leased property to Remo Ambrosinii, restaurateur
• 1992 – Romani International Inc consisted of Melita & Wendy Morrow, Robert Ernest Young & Martin Thomas Littleton
• 2003 – Alison Clarke & Matthew Clarke
• 2013 – Lois Boswell & Donald Fraser
Armed with this information, The Adelaide City Council records can provide details of the building itself although some is speculative.
The Assessment Books reveal that the first person to build on the site was Robert Wilson, the grocery assistant and the construction was commenced after he purchased the vacant land in October 1886 and the house was unfinished when the rates were collected in mid-1867. Although the titles suggest otherwise it would seem that the City Council considered W Leigh the owner of Town Acre 549 in 1865 and by the 1866 assessment he had subdivided it and so pieces already had new owners but not the property of interest.
||Land (all Town Acre 549)
||£5||Leigh||vacant||Land (Acre 549 subdivided)
||House and shop
||£52||Cooper||Cooper||House and shop
Now it seems to indicate that significant building was undertaken between 1895 and 1896 when the assessment nearly doubled the rate. The description strengthens this theory that up until the property was purchased by the Coopers and set up as a pharmacy, it was a home only. A search of the photographic collections held by the Adelaide City Archives and the State Library will likely assist in making this determination. Other records held in the City Archives can assist:
1. Return of Surveyor of Notices Received for Building Work under Section 51 of the 1881 Building Act 1882 to 1895 (acc 4920)
2. Return of plans submitted to Council and Local Board of Health under Sections 27, 28 and 53 of the 1881 Building Act 1882 to 1895 (acc 4919)
The latter reveals the information sought albeit attributing it to the wrong Town Acre 550!
||Addn & shop etc||Sturt Street 550||4 Apr 1895
All such anomalies in research need to be verified and so another look at the Assessments to check if Cooper had property on the adjacent Acre as well was undertaken:
||£40||Fredk May||J Cooper||Shop
It seems most unlikely that Cooper would refurbish May’s shop especially when he had purchased the adjacent property and so the theory is that the planning application is incorrect seems feasible and should read, Sturt Street 549. It would suggest that Cooper purchased the property (then 163 Sturt Street) and operated his business in May’s property while he had a shop constructed with his new home and once that was complete he relocated.
The television program seemed to suggest that the pharmacy was a rather isolated commercial premises but in fact the street to the west of Whitmore Square was a local shopping centre. In 1935 on the south side there was a barber at 135, a bootmaker at 141, mixed businesses were located at 153 and 167 on the corner of Logan Street, a greengrocer operated at 175, 185-7 was a drapery, 201 a general store, 203 a wood merchant and 205 a fish shop. On the north side from Whitmore Square to West Terrace was a butcher at 174, a greengrocer at 176, 188-90 a grocer and a milk shop (delicatessen) at 214. Other stores are pictured below...
Above: Sturt Street was a shopping precinct—a grocers store at 188-90 next to the Star & Garter hotel (north side and across the road, since demolished and occupied by Rexel Electrical Supplies):: SLSA PRG-287-1-13-11 - ca1945)
Below: The Star & Garter 192-6 Sturt Street but previously on west cnr Frederick Street until 1880 (demolished1961 and occupied by Rexel Electrical Supplies): SLSA B-10564 - ca1941
Below: Another shop on the south side of Sturt Street to the western neighbour of 181: SLSA B-46510 -ca1895.
Turning to the construction in 1895/6 it is difficult to determine if it was a makeover albeit significant, of Robert Wilson’s original home or a completely new building. Whicht ever, the almost doubling of the rate indicates a very significant change. The architecture style, Italianate, enjoyed a lengthy period of popularity although was on the wane by the end of the nineteenth century. Moreover it could be that just the façade enjoyed the makeover as we do have a mortar & pestle in the façade. I am not an architect and nor have I had an opportunity to inspect the building at close range but I am inclined to suggest that the building was constructed by Wilson in 1866/7 and underwent a major renovation by Cooper in 1895/6. This idea is supported by the outline of the building in the 1880 Smith Survey that looks the same as the later footprint although I do acknowledge that it is possible for a new building to have the same footprint as its predecessor!
Knowing the above information and trawling newspaper columns, seeking out Wills and court records it is possible to develop further information about the residents of the property.
Franz Herman Holzerland was a police constable. He was born in Prussia on 26 Aug 1842 and formerly a labourer. He joined the police force in 5 Jan 1874 and resigned in 16 Dec 1884. He lost a prisoner on two separate occasions. He was fined £1 for the first offence and was allowed to resign for the second.
John Cooper made the major renovations that created the facade, shop and upper storey. His son, Ernest, with his brother Sidney Alexander took over the business.Sidney Cooper was a tenor who toured with Nellie Melba.
The shop was a pharmacy from 1896 until 1938 when Mahomet Allum set the premises up as an alternative medicines outlet. Mahomet Allum was born in Kandahar in the late 1850s. He was one of the Afghan cameleers who worked in the Western Australia outback in the late nineteenth century. He moved to Adelaide in 1928 setting up his business as an herbalist at his home in Sturt Street and advertised his services regularly in newspapers. Some of these also featured Allum’s generosity and charitable works for the poor of Adelaide. He was later charged with ‘imposture as a physician’ under the 1919 Medical Practitioners Act in 1935.
From 1952 until 2003 it operated as a cafe/restaurant apart from an interlude in 1960 to 1972. Steiner ran a café called the Blue Danube in the shop.
The Tognettis ran a successful restaurant called Asio that was popular with Adelaide celebrities. In 1983 they leased it to a restaurant owner Remo Ambrosini. When Romani International purchased the property the restaurant took on a gypsy theme with tarot readings in the basement.
The Clarkes refurbished the by then run down facility into a private home in 2003. Ali was a breakfast DJ in Adelaide and Matt was a former AFL player and development coach for the Adelaide Crows.
Below: the property when owned by
Hilti Fixing Systems Ltd in the 1960s: SLSA B-17669.
From the 1920s the street gradually transformed into light industrial. Sometimes using the existing buildings as depicted in the photograph above but more often with purpose built structures as indicated below with the SW corner with O'Brien Street pictured in 1928 and 1929. SLSA B-5036 & B-4777.
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