Anthony Hordern's and Sons, Brickfiled Hill, Ian Kirby's Memorie
ANTHONY HORDERN &
|I have a request. I am trying to put together a list and map of all the departments of the Emporium. If any one can remember some details, catalogue, or brochures, or a particular question I could answer about the building, please pass them on to John or myself. It would be appreciated very much. Till next time. email@example.com|
|bc||I was sitting at my computer, as one often does,
trolling through Google, seeing what is happening to the
quickly rotating world of today, when Blam.
My past was thrown up at me, full in the face. Five years
of my misspent youth, bounced before my eyes, in glorious
colour. Sadly, it was not the real thing, but only
portrayed in pictures. Sadly the real thing had been
forcibly demolished, to make way for the intermittent
repose, of humanities, internal combustion
engine-equipped, non-equine, transporting device. What
those in the lands of the stars and the stripes call, the
As an aside, I hope like the dickens, that the demolition team had the devil's own job, dismantling that fine old building, bordered by Pitt, George and Goulburn Streets, Sydney. As you read on, you will learn, I know and still remember, most of the insides of that building, from the top of the tower right to the very bottom of the building, some of it even went three floors underground. I also remember that in 1909, the Palace Emporium was constructed with thick, strong walls of stone, marble and cement that had over fifty years to mature and harden, so as to last a very long time, in all weathers, not like today's aluminium and glass. Some of the latter, falling on the passing general public, strolling innocently below.
Enough of this prattling on, by a 70 year old fart, with nothing much else to do, and finally get down to reality. In 1953 or thereabouts, I was apprenticed to the maintenance department of the great and mighty, now sadly defunct and demolished, Anthony Hordern & Sons Ltd, Universal Providers. Located at Palace Emporium, Brickfield Hill, Sydney. I worked in that building for five years. It was my first job, straight out of junior high school. As an apprentice electrician, engaged in installation and maintenance work, I can truly say that, I have been into every room in that building, at least once, in the five year period. Even into the office and private dressing rooms of the chairman.
There were, working the building at the time, some two thousand people. There was the sales staff; Office and accounting staff; Cleaners, storemen, delivery and truck driving personnel. There was a restaurant, two cafeterias, the staff dining room and a tea / coffee shop, with all their staff. Sitting up at the top of the corporate ladder, was the upper management and secretarial staff. The departmental buyers and floor walkers. There was also the display staff, window dressers, plus special display constructors; and a pianist for the restaurant's Steinway concert grand piano. There was even a house doctor and his nurse in their own little surgery, to keep watchful eye on the staff's health. Also, they attend to any of the customers, who happened to feel queasy while parting with their money, during the purchase of the high quality goods available in the Palace Emporium at all times.
All of the above, were held up, and kept running smoothly from below in the basement. The department was known as The Engine Room. I will explain its naming later. There, worked (?) the maintenance staff of plumbers, fitters, refrigeration mechanics, two steam boiler attendants, a man to service all the fire extinguishers and the electricians. The carpenters had escaped from the basement and worked in a workshop they built for themselves and the French polishers, up on the roof. There were painters, who were not to share where they stood, because they always had their work rooms full of brushes, paint, turpentine and cover cloths. Home was where their work was.
Oh, and also there were the guys that did the repairs of domestic appliances such as domestic refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, irons, toasters and radios etc. Oh, I nearly forgot. There was also a printing shop, well equipped enough, to put out a small town's newspaper. They used to print all the sales brochures, forms, work and time sheets, sales books and all the other paper war type forms that it takes to run a large Palace Emporium. Okay, we can add telephonists, ticket writers, they do price tags. Hair dressers; yes, we had a women's beauty salon. Never, oh never forget the lift drivers for the sixteen electric or hydraulic passenger lifts. [Never call them elevators, please.] Oh dear, I nearly forgot the whole reason why that great edifice was planned and erected in the first place, to make money. There were the cashiers, the money counters, and the security staff. Plus the two guys that looked after the Lampson tubes. We were just getting the new National Cash Registers. They were big electro-mechanical things, with from one to six cash drawers, [one for each sales assistant on the particular counter or sales island]. The technicians had their own workshop. You know what Lampson Tubes are, don't you? The Palace Emporium had a beautiful brass system. Unfortunately they are a dying breed, but I see some Coles and Woolworths supermarkets are getting to use them again. But only the nasty plastic type, these days.
I did mention before that the company employed two thousand people at the palace emporium. But you say, In total there was actually three thousand, where were the others? They were spread out around the city and suburbs. Anthony Hordern's had, at the time I was employed, a bulk store or warehouse located in three buildings around Sussex Street, the Haymarket; two buildings at Redfern, divided into a number of factories. A complex at Camperdown, containing a furniture store and a service and storage facility for the company's fleet of trucks and delivery vehicles. There was a special garage, set aside for the express purpose of storing Santas Sleigh. This vehicle, that looked more like a parade float was, I believe, based on an old Dodge truck chassis. This vehicle was only bought out once a year and under all the covers of glitter was the driver and a couple of mechanics, complete with bags full of the appropriate tools, ready to spring into action, should the ancient vehicle come to a spluttering halt. But I digress. More about Santa, later. In earlier times, so I have been told, the Camperdown facility once contained the stables and facilities for looking after the company's team of draft horses and drays, used to deliver the companies goods. I understand, these horses were quite famous and well respected by the general public of the time.
And last but, oh least, the company had its own sports oval, complete with a small grandstand, and a caretaker's residence / club house. A tradesman and myself were sent out to this small wooden house, with a corrugated iron roof. I might add that it was the height of Summer. We were told by the Foreman that there was a fault in the wiring and to fix it up. We inspected the fault, and found that the ancient wiring, all of it covered with rubber insulation, had perished, and it would be a complete rewire. Being the apprentice, guess who got the job of going up into the corrugated iron topped roof, it's me. This experience was one of the things that made me vow as soon as I finish my apprenticeship I would quit the electrical trade and turn my sights onto the then small but fast growing trade of electronics. And that is another story. Suffice to say, oh boy, was it flaming hot.
The complex at Elizabeth street, Redfern, contained a number of factories. The list contained a timber mill, a cabinet maker's shop. A French polishers shop. A shirt and pyjama factory, a factory for making Royal Easter Show ribbons for exhibits such as horses and cattle etc. A factory for making jockey silks including caps. The lawnmower repair work shop, in which my father worked for a few years until being retired after a stroke. The complex also had a very tall brick chimney, which then, served a large incinerator for burning the wood scraps and saw dust produced by the timber mill and furniture factories. In earlier times there was also a steam boiler to supply steam to an engine driven DC generator for the new electric light thingy. The generator was at that time I was there, still at the complex, shoved into a corner and covered in sawdust. It was an ancient two pole shunt machine generating 100 volts with the capacity of delivering 100 amps. The engine would have to have been rated at something of fifteen to twenty horsepower. I do hope that the old generator was sent to a museum and not the scrap yard.
The engine room located in the basement, was the base workshop for the plumbers and fitters with one of them specialising in refrigeration maintenance for the whole building. The emporium was never air conditioned, heated, or force draft ventilated. The only air extraction was in the kitchens of the restaurant and other eateries, plus over the five diesel generators, located in the engine room. The Emporium relied on its design and construction, to use natural convection and wind flow to ventilate the inertia. A number of light wells were built into its design. One of the floor walkers' tasks, was to open and close windows to allow natural wind flow through the building according to ambient conditions and make sure that they were all closed last thing at night. The engine room originally contained two gigantic hydraulic pumps each one driven by a very large direct current, variable speed electric motor. These pumps supplied the high pressure water, to operate the passenger and goods lifts. [Never use the word freight, on pain of death.] When the building first opened in 1909, there were no electric lifts, only water powered ones.
Next to the engine room were two horizontal colonial boilers to supply steam to heat all the hot water, used in the wash rooms and kitchens. It also heated the tea and coffee urns, Bain marries, plate warmers, and soup boilers in them as well as supplying steam for the pressure cookers. Both boilers were originally coal or coke, hand fired. During my time both were converted, at different times, to diesel distillate oil-firing, but no automatic equipment was installed. The fire men having to turn off and relight the burners, plus adjust the boiler feed water, as the heating load varied. The steam pressure was set at about seventy five pounds to the square inch.
Most of my work for Anthony Hordern's was what we
called the Conversion. I am not too sure, but
we had to fill in separate time sheets, and stock forms
for conversion jobs, because the state government paid
some proportion of the expense, since they thought of the
ides in the first place. I think it would take an
electrician or electrical engineer type to understand the
complexities of converting a seven story building, half a
city block sized, from DC to AC supply. We had in the
building two 240 / 415 volt supply inputs from the Sydney
County Council. One supply came in via Goulburn Street,
under the square tower, at six hundred amps per phase,
direct mains running from a substation underneath
Goulburn Street. The other supply came from a special
substation, in our building, just next to the engine
room, but owned and serviced by Sydney County Council.
This supply was 1,000 amps [this is enough power to run
an 800 horse power motor] per phase, at 240 / 415 volts.
The two substations had an input of 11,000 volts. The
miles of wire and cable, most of it in metal conduit,
[plastic conduit had not come out then], we installed,
plus, setting out and constructing switch and fuse
boards, mounting switches and fuses, [circuit breakers
were too expensive in the quantities we used].
When engineers design buildings, they all sit in ever decreasing circles and decide, Where can we put this motor, where it will cause the poor electrician who has to install and repair the great heavy and cantankerous monster of a thing, the most blood, sweat, tears and grief? And the dimwit that puts the beast in the most inaccessible spot in the building gets the prize. That's how good it is to replace all types of motors ranging from one quarter horse power to eighty horse power. Actually there was two of the cumbersome monsters driving the centrifugal suction fans, used for creating the vacuum in the Lampson Tubes.
The older sparks will tell you now, that in their time: We were taught how to do things the right way; well, I don't know about that. But, I do know, we did things the hard way. We had six electricians and three apprentice electricians in our workshop. We had amongst us nine, one electric hand drill. No such thing as tungsten carbide drill bits. We had to use a hand punch and flogging hammer to drill into fifty year old mature concrete, to hold saddles on metallic conduit to a wall. Oh, and none of your fancy red or green plastic wall plugs, then, oh no, we were, I mean, I was sent all the way, to the carpenter's workshop to ask the foreman chippy, if he could spare some timber suitable for making masonry plugs. Usually I was abused for finding his hidey hole where he sat and had a quiet drag in the boss'es time. Also, for having the gall to call him by his Christian name instead of using MR. We did it hard. There was very little in the way of commercially built combination power points. Now called [G. P. O.s] Flush mounted light and power switches were few and far between, only to be used by the rich and famous. All switches and three pin sockets were mounted on wooden blocks. [And they were not pre-drilled either].
Instructions on how to install a new power point in the ladies' knickers department of Anthony Hordern's and Sons Company Very Ltd. Located at the Brick Kiln. Down the the oldhill. [All power points, were of the two round holes type, for use with old two round pins type plugs. They all had to be replaced anyway, this is because of not having a third earth hole or pin. (Eh!!)]. First of all, you take a pencil out of your tool box or bag, and make a mark on the wall, at random, where you think it ought to be mounted, because it's the easiest place for you to work. You then discuss at length, the pros and the cons, of the marked position you selected, with snooty-nosed departmental Floor Walker. After he / she or it, decides where it should eventually go, six feet to the right or left and eighteen inches up and / or down. It doesn't really matter which way. You explain, with a very knowing face, that because I happen to know, that hidden, deep inside the very thick, and fifty year old hard concrete wall, is a very high pressure water main coming from the hydraulic lifts' pluming, and, because of the new electrical installation regulations, that have just come, in the form of a government type publication, stating that. Thou shalt not place, or cause to be placed, within the distance of a randy old dogs balls width, from, an offending high pressure defined drop forged steal pipe, or any of its fittings, thereafter attached to sane, that may or may not cause a ruction, at the time, between the aformentioned randomly installed objects, is there for, not permitted under the scheduled subsection 6, of another publication, which ain't been written yet, so there. [Refer to the S. A. A. Wiring Rules. As printed for the Crown by the N, S. W. State Governor Printer & Scribe.]. [You then take quick shifty at the nearest clock or Bundy, to see if it is clock-off time or not].
So you explain to the poor sweating Floor Walker, that you will have to put it where you made your mark in the first place. Also, you tell the cross-eyed sod, that if you don't put it where you marked it, he will have to get the painters in to repaint the whole bloody wall at great expense to his budget. Seeing, he thinks, he owns the whole bloody department, and the coin of the realm, to pay for the paint, comes out of his own pocket, you win. You then apologise profusely, using a huge grin, for using an indelible pencil on his nice newly painted wall. Yes folks, there were some bloody good laughs in the old place.
But now I see, that I have made, what started out to be a few words about my youth, and while doing so, thinking of a wonderful old building, has turned out from me, a dissertation on the history of all sorts of things. I was carried away by the thoughts that came flooding back of a wonderful old building, that is not even there any more. It was somebody's dream. It was given to others, who planned, nurtured and erected it. To me it was my cradle into the work place. If it is the right words, then. My right of passage into the way of life. This is the yardstick that I have and continue to gauge all other buildings by. I have had some absolutely wonderful times in that building. And at times, I have hated that building with all the hatred my heart could muster, and I wished I would never see or hear of its very existence again. I have learnt, in the bowls of that edifice, the true meaning of the statement. Mans inhumanity to man. But it also taught me to respect and nurture all things that man creates. I might not like or understand some things about how or why, man invents and creates what he does, but, I do appreciate man's ability to engineer and assemble objects and surroundings around him, that not only bring in financial rewards, but also give a pleasure and a well being to our senses of sight, and sound with a feeling of security, strength, and permanence.
You may not agree with what I have just said, but, give it time to sink in, wait till you reach the ripe old age of three score years and ten, and maybe, just maybe, you will see some things just as I do.
One year, it was modelled on Walt Disneys Peter Pan. The idea was that the kids and their parents went through a cave. Along the walls of the cave were dioramas depicting scenes from the animated film. The figures were about four feet tall, and being fixed in place, moved their bodies and / or arms by means of strings made from nylon fishing line. Placed behind the scenes were two string pulling devices made up in our workshop by one of the fitters, Bert Leat. These devices consisted of an electric motor, driving through V belts, a cam-type shaft that moved a number of levers; connected to the end of each lever were some nylon strings. Each cam on the shaft was of a different shape, giving different types of movement and frequency of movements as the shaft revolved. Sound was provided with the aid of the then new technology, the tape recorder. [Tape recorders were an invention from Germany, during the second world war].
We made up a system of endless loops around a guide frame, using about a dozen typewriter empty ribbon spools. These were hung on nails partly driven into vertical planks, mounted six feet apart, the nail heads kept the spools from falling off, but the spools were free to rotate. The tape recorder was mounted in between the battens. A loop of tape was threaded through the recorder and using the spools as a guide for storing the loop. This gizmo gave out a recorded character voice or sound effect.
For instance, Captain Hook said, I'm the wicked Captain Hook, for buried treasure I will look. Over and over again.
We had about four of these gizmos, but the quality of the base material used for the manufacture of the tape was not up to today's standards. Often the tape would snap, and we would be called in to find a tangled messy mass to sort out. At the other end of the cave the families came in to a grotto complete with Santa ready to hear the wish list.
Santa, while I was with the company, was performed by a gentleman by the name of Toby Hynard. Toby was an ex-professional vaudevillian. Toby used proper grease paint, wigs and beards. He made all his own moustaches. He was very good with the children, and was naturally built for the portrayal of a round happy Santa. When not being Santa, Toby was a lift driver, even on some of the old hydraulic lifts. Some days when things were quiet in the late afternoons, I would go to his lift and he would tell me of his time on the vaudeville stages around Sydney. The old lifts were fitted with a bench seat across the back wall, and Toby would sit and rest his weary bones. I would close the doors and he would tell me to drive the lift up and down, stopping at various floors, but not opening the doors. This would move the floor indicator, pointer, over the top of each floor's door, giving the impression to floor walkers etc., that Toby was still awake and not snoozing. Toby and I became very good friends, in those five years. I don't think he had any enemies in this world. R. I. P. Toby Hynard.
The Queens Visit; what has this to do with Santaland? Well, all the scenery and figures etc., were made by and old gentleman and his daughter. I think they did a bit of scenery building for live theatres, such as J. C. Williamson. For the 1954 royal tour, Sydney turned on its finest decorations. All the city buildings decorated themselves in bunting, flags and ribbons plus extra displays and promotions. Anthony Hordern's did the same. One extra display that I was involved with, was an illusion, designed and built by the same people as Santaland. This involved a display in one of the George street display windows. All the windows had numbers, this one was 16. Two figures about four feet high, one dressed as Queen Elizabeth the First, with the other dressed as Queen Elizabeth the Second. Both were in their finest gowns, complete with the crown jewels. Both dolls were standing, and in the same pose. There was only a small opening in the window, about three feet wide. When you looked in, there was only one doll visible, and after about one minute, it seemed that the doll slowly transformed itself into the other. No, it is not done with mirrors, but, a plain sheet of glass. My involvement was to help wire the special lighting and motor driven dimmers for the effects.
Unfortunately the decision came a few days before the first night time passing. It was then decided to tear up the rule book and throw anything we had in the store or could purchase, on to the awning to light that side of the building in two days. After the storeman listed what we could muster, plus the wholesale distributors could supply, the decision was made to lay a line of fluorescent tubes along the gutter on the outside edge of the awning.
The company had stored hundreds of four foot long by one inch and a half diameter, fluorescent tubes, starters and ballasts , to be installed in the building when the AC conversion was complete. Unfortunately there weren't any holders for the starters or the tubes, but if push came to shove, we could do without them. We also did not have much cable that was allowed to lay on the metalwork of the awning. Most of our rewiring was installed inside of correctly-earthed metal conduit. Another thing we did not have was the metal boxes that the ballasts had to be mounted in.
Poor old Arthur, the foreman, nearly tore out his remaining hair, but the chief engineer said. Dont worry, just do what you can with what you got, or else we will all be out in the cold, without a job. So to work we went. There were hundreds of tubes laid out along the gutter; we had to keep all the cartons so we could store them all back again. Miles of building wire was just laid down, straight on to the metal awning, and hundreds of connections were made.
I often wondered if H R H really knew what went on behind the scenes, to make places Just like they ain't.
Hobbyco and Levensons
What do you think the average young boy, growing up in Sydney during the 1940s and 50s, would think about in his spare time? Rule out sports, food, or anything else resembling the usual junk kids ram down their cake holes. Also rule out the growing curiosity about girls. Well this young boy thought about trains, and the growing wonders of things electrical, and the wonders of radio. The trains of the time, except for the electrified suburban system, were of course hauled by steam. The radios back then had valves.
When I started work at Anthony Hordern
& Sons, heaven was just across George Street:
Hobbyco. I would go there at lunch times and drool at the
model railway equipment in the windows and show cases.
Eventually I purchased piece by piece all the bits and
pieces to build myself a model railway, using Hornby
Dublo OO gauge three rail tracks, and rolling
When I first saw your mention of
Levensons Radio, I first thought of the
Talking Weighing Machine" outside the front
door in Pitt street. I don't know how much they paid for
it, but it must have paid for itself many times over.
Most other public weighing machines required One Penny;
this one was more. I can't remember how much, but I can
remember my late mother whinging about the expense. Like
most things built in the good old days, it
lasted for many years. And when I was walking past one
day, the cash draw was being emptied, and I saw its
Both companies had an influence on my future life. Hobbyco, because I never lost the interest in trains or model railways. Levensons, because I too was fortunate to have one of their crystal radios as a Xmas present one year, to experiment with and listen to. Then directing the path, my future followed. As soon as my apprenticeship was finished, I left Anthony Hordern and found work as a hearing aid technician with several Sydney companies, before moving to Brisbane to work for another hearing aid company. I settled and made my life here. Steam? I spent thirty four years of my spare time helping to restore and run a 1925 Scottish built steam tug, till Mr Parkinson came along and messed up my life.
THE BIG SQUARE TOWER
Why was it there? Maybe it was just the fashion of the day. If you had a building as big as an Emporium, then it had to have a tower. I remember seeing a picture taken about 1947, just outside Randwick Racecourse. There were about a thousand men who had just come out of the course, waiting to be permitted to enter an area containing about 15 trams. The photo displayed a sea of humanity. My father showed the picture to me and said, I am in that picture. But I could not find him in the mob. Every one of those men were wearing the same outfit. Dark suit, white shirt, dark tie and faun hat. They were from all over Sydney. It just happened to be the fashion of the day to wear on a Saturday afternoon, when going to the races at Randwick Racecourse.
What does it do? Does anybody live in there? Is it an observatory? Is it just there to hold up the flag pole? No. When I worked at the Emporium, it was part of my job to check at intervals, the lights etc., in and around the tower. A proud part of the finished building when it opened in 1909.
You have to go back to 1901, when the previous department store in the Haymarket burnt down. The massive fire was disastrous, with a great loss of property and life. I would consider that the tower and its contents was part of the owners' and engineers' thinking, when designing the building. Preventing and restricting the movement of any fire would be uppermost in the minds of the architects from the very first conceptual meetings.
If you were to see the building looking straight down from above, [plan view], you would see that the building was divided into five separate vertical blocks. These were named A through E inclusive. From conception, the Palace Emporium would be no higher than five floors [because in the 1901 fire, most of the deaths were above the fifth floor. The local fire dept. in 1901, did not have equipment capable of rescue any higher than five floors]. The five blocks had independent electrical, water, drainage, hydraulic mains and fire sprinkler systems, that could be isolated and controlled.
Each of the five vertical blocks could also be isolated by rolling into position, thick fire-proof doors or double thicknesses of fire-resistant shutters. This not only prevented the movement of fire from one block to another but also acted as a security system as well. Each fire-proof door or shutter was fitted with a switch that indicated the door was closed in a fire-proof manner. All of these doors or shutters were also fitted with some form of automatic device to, without human intervention, close the aperture should a fire occur when the building was closed, at weekends, or overnight. Most of the fire-proof doors were hung from steal rails above them. The rails were either parallel to the ground, or sloped down a few degrees towards the closed position. Others hung on big solid hinges. The closing trigger was the same for all the doors and also the roller shutters. There were two small lengths, about two-inch, copper bars overlapping each other. The copper pieces were soldered together with special solder, giving the trigger sandwich a special melting point. The door on the sloping rail is easiest to explain. The door was kept from rolling closed by a chain connected through the copper and solder sandwich to a post on the rail. If a fire happened, the solder melted and the door rolled down the rail and closesd off the doorway. The doors on the parallel tracks and the ones on hinges had weights on steel ropes to pull their doors closed. The sandwich on these doors actually supported the weights, making it easy to close the doors for out of hours security. The roller shutters were operated by hydraulic rams, and were powered by the same high pressure water system that powered the hydraulic lifts. The system was, that water under pressure kept the shutters up and open, should a fire be detected on a floor by one of the aforementioned copper and solder sandwiches, then the water would be let out and the shutters would close slowly.
The entire building was covered by a Wormold-type sprinkler system. As stated before, the building was divided into blocks, each having its own sprinkler system. This involved miles of heavy steel pipes with sprinkler heads about every nine feet. A sprinkler head is an automatic water tap, that is held shut with a plug. The plug is held in place by a little glass vial filled with a red liquid. Should a fire happen, the heat from the fire heats the liquid into steam that shatters the glass vile, and that shattering lets the plug fall out. Out flows the water, and in theory puts the fire out. A special valve detects the sprinkler's water flow, and sounds the alarm and if connected, automatically calls the brigade. The system was connected to the city's water mains. After the initial burst, the flow from the triggered sprinkler head or heads is keep flowing from the city's water mains. In some circumstances the city supply pressure may fail, and in some large installations, such as in Anthony Hordern's found it wise to provide extra backup, by installing massive tanks, as high as economically possible. This is where the tower comes into the picture. Inside the tower, were three massive square water tanks, and they took up most of the space inside. I must admit I have forgotten the actual amount of water that was stored in the tower, but I think it was something like 600 tons. They were big, riveted, wrought iron, cement lined, solidly built, monsters, supported by huge steal beams. Ever watching over the Palace Emporium for all its life, without fail, or complaint.