Somes Notes about Singleton & Architecture


Singelton  Illustrations of classical styles of Architecture

The two buildings chosen to illustrate classical styles of architecture are both in George Street, Singleton.  Singleton itself being in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales some 110 kms inland from Newcastle. It was first settled in the 1850s and the two buildings selected involved with the growth of Local Government in the township and the surrounding area of Patrick’s Plains.

The construction of the first and oldest building, the Mechanics Institute (Photo. No 1.) commenced in 1866 and the building officially opened on the 8 July 1867. Its purpose being to bring together under one roof the School of Arts and the local Mechanics Institute. The architect was J.Pender of Maitland. In 1869 the building began a long association with local government and from 1869 to 1874 it was used by the Singleton Municipal Council. In 1906 it became the meeting place for the newly formed ‘Temporary Council of the Patrick Plains Shire’ until its own building was completed in 1911. In 1941 the Municipal Council bought the building and used it as the council chamber to  c.1981. It is  now used by local support and community groups.

Elizabeth Fink describes it as a classic Mid Victorian Georgian with Palladian references .[1] It is a brick two storey building with slate roof, and a painted stucco finish. The original plan had a hallway from the entrance to a large reading room which contained the librarian’s office, a library and three class rooms. A set of stairs from the entrance porch led to the second floor which contained a ticket office and a grand entertainment hall some 23 meters x 10 meters.

          The Institute has a symmetrical stone faced facade with the doorway a central focus flanked by the windows. The corners are highlighted by quoin-stones set proud of the face stones of the remaining facade. The decorative architrave of the entablature above the central doorway is repeated over the three second floor windows whilst the frieze between the cornice and the architrave is left plain. The windows on the ground and second floors are double hung large pane sash windows. There are two simple stone or plaster finials at the outer extremities of the low profile parapet. The parapet itself was originally engraved with the name ‘Mechanics Institute’ and the date but they have since been removed.

The second building was erected nearly forty five years later in 1911 for the Shire of Patrick Plains Council. The architect and builder have not been researched. (Photo. No.2.) The aedicule framed entrance door and the windows on the ground floor of this red brick structure sets a classic style to the building.  Whilst it is described by Fink as a Federation -Edwardian, Apperly and others would probably label it as ‘Federation Free Classical’[2].

The building is asymmetrical but certainly not without balance. The brickwork is laid in stretcher bond with the corners and direction changes highlighted by cream corner stones or quoins. It has now a gabled iron roof even though the roof was originally tiled. The roof line follows the practice of the period, being partly concealed behind the parapets, whilst the gable ends are finished in Dutch style. The front facade porch  presents the appearance of a portico even though it is practically flush with the facade. The panelled entrance doorway has a leadlight fanlight above it containing the words ‘Patrick Plains’. The entablature with its plain and simple segmental pediment over the entrance doorway is repeated over the ground floor casement windows. The second floor double hung windows are flush with the facade and partly protected from the weather by the roof eaves or the coping . The name of the building ‘Patrick Plain Shire Council’ is contained in the roughcast stucco on the front facade whilst the date ‘19 AD 11’ is inscribed above the doorway.


‘To what ideals and values have classical styles of architecture given expression to in Australia in the two centuries since British settlement.’

Implicit in this  is the premise that architecture is a visual expression of the ideals and values of a society. There would appear to be general agreement that such is the case. This is particularly so if we accept the sociological definition that the expression of these ideals and values, the  actions or outcomes represents the culture of that society.[3] This assignment will regard ‘ideals and values’ and ‘culture’ as being synonymous and  there are ample supporters of this notion. [4] Martin Boyd, the uncle of architect David Boyd, writes that it is in ‘our architecture where the bond of a common culture is most naturally and clearly expressed more so than in our art’.[5] The sociologist C. Wright Mills  suggests that ‘in every …age some one style … tends to become a common denominator of cultural life.’[6] This essay seeks to determine what these ideals and values, these ‘common denominators’ of culture are and how they were expressed in the classical style of architecture in Australia.

          In the early years of settlement J.M.Freeland contends that the buildings captured ‘the moral, philosophical, aesthetic and spiritual values of its people’ together with ‘the social, economic, technological and political conditions of its society’.[7] From the historical architectural evidence of the canvass shelters and the ‘temporary sufficient single-celled shadeless shelters’ it would appear that these early ‘philosophical’ values were more pragmatic than those of later years.[8] A concern with simple survival. Freeland might be ‘gilding the lily’ somewhat when he suggest that in their very simplicity there was evidence of a cultural background.[9]

Notwithstanding Freeland’s classical tents there is sufficient visual signs the Georgian classic style in particular was of significance in architect in Australia from 1788 to c.1850.[10] The essence of the classic style of architecture is claimed to be order, all the parts are to required to compliment each other in size and proportion.[11] Indeed an ideology, one could suggest that reflected the ruling class ideals and values as to the structure of English society, there was no room for deviants, they were transported .

This is more apparent in the architectural ideals and values of the gaolers rather than the governed. Whilst they were also concerned with survival it was the ‘servitude’ dimensions of their values that are implied in the classic public buildings of the period. As Robert Irving points out ‘Philip’s residence was a peculiar Georgian symbol…(it)…represented order, security, permanence, taste and, inevitably, subordination’[12]. It is contended that the ideals and values of a convict society were clearly expressed by the classical buildings of these early years. This synonymity of classicism with order, reflected in the penal colony of New South Wales, the eighteenth century ideals and values of a transposed Georgian society, one it is argued that was preoccupied with crime and punishment.[13]

Some thirty years later the social structure of the colony was changing from one of convicts to one of capitalist, from emancipsts to free emigrant, from  free emigrants to native born. And yet the desire to recreate in their public architecture ‘another England in the antipodes’ had not changed at least among those who were in power. [14]  For Lachlan Macquarie, regarded as the founder of the civil colony of New South Wales his ideals and values of a parent society where classicism stood for the ‘supremacy of the human intellect’ had to be seen in the architecture of Francis Greenway.[15]  The Hyde Park Barracks, (Photo 3),  the Courthouse at Windsor and St.James’ Church in Sydney represented for Macquarie ‘the civilised niceties of the Georgian taste’.[16]

This confluence of  classicism with legality, power, government were strengthened with the appointment of Mortimer Lewis as Colonial Architect. The original 1841 courthouse and lock up at Singleton, the ‘new’ Singleton Courthouse of 1868 and the 1884 Bank of New South Wales in George Street, (Photo 4), all contrived in the mould made by Lewis’s categorisation of Australian architecture.[17] All contributing to what Edmund Blackett later described as a ‘fitness of association’. [18]  It would almost seem that the colonial authorities perceived the classic style as a defacto legitimizing of the ideals and values of what was still perceived by the English, as a society of ‘thieves and bandits’. What ever the reason the classical architecture of the colony continued to display the ideals and values of England.
This preoccupation with classicism of public buildings was given an emphasis in Victoria when increasing affluence brought about by the discovery of gold were mirrored in the public buildings of Melbourne. A increasing  middle class, both in England and the colony sought the ideals of righteousness  in the Victorian virtues of progress, self independence, self achievement, materialism but above all respectability. The ideals and values of the nation were moving away from a social structure power base of property and patronage to one of the ownership of capital. The result was the so called ‘Gold’ style what Boyd describes as a ‘plump,…(and) ripe” but despite the Roman influence the new Parliament House of the Victoria was still in the ‘classical’ mould.[19] The style reflected the ‘the spirit of the age’[20]

It would be natural to assume that the growth of the movements towards federation were evidence of nationalism that would logically compliment a move away from the cultural baggage of England. However the curious contradiction existed that despite this growth in nationalism and a corresponding growth in the proportion of native born in the population, 83% by 1911, there still existed a self identification with the cultural and historical heritage of England, if not necessarily with the English. The Newcastle Post Office c.1903, the 1927 Newcastle Town Hall and that bastion of ideals and values, The Newcastle ‘Gentleman’s’ Club of 1920 all had a architectural style that was a amalgam of Rome and Greek but still the retained the classic form. Even in 1940 the new Singleton High School with its classical columns still expressed the affinity of the community for classicism and culture. (Photo 5). Whilst the classical styled National Library built in 1968 again reinforced these ideals and values of classicism and culture. All promoting what Collins describes in another context as ideals and values of ‘strength, respectability, community pride’[21]

In conclusion it is argued that the ideals and values represented in Australia in the two centuries since settlement have reflected that of the parent British culture. In a Australian context our classical style moved from the simple plain Georgian Greek Greenway styles of early settlement to that of the massive buildings of the 1860s and 70s with the ornateness of a Victorian period. The persistence of classic designs well into the architecture of the 20th century only continuing its two and half thousand year march. The classic architecture of Australia in these two centuries represented the ideals and values of a society. A society initially concerned with law and order, then one seeking as it were legitimization through its architecture. A society whose aspirations for independence and a national individualism inspired a mix or architectural styles but one which still maintains the under lying ideals and values of classicism as being a prerequisite for a cultural identity 



Applerly,R., Irving., Reynolds., R., A Pictorial Guide to Identifying Australian Architecture, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1995.

Arnold J.,Spearitt,P.,Walker,D., (eds.), Out of Empire. The British Dominion of Australia, Mandarin Australia, Port Melbourne, 1993.

Boyd,R., The Walls Around Us. A popular history of Australian architecture , Angus & Robertson, Sydney , 1982.

Cox,P., Stacey,W., The Australian Homestead, Lansdowne Press, Melbourne, 1972.

Crowley , F., (ed.), A New History of Australia, Heinemann, Melbourne, 1980.

Edgar,D., Introduction to Australian Society, Prentice-Hall, Sydney, 1980.

Fink, E., The Built Environment of the Shire of Singleton, Research Report No. 33, The Hunter Valley Research Foundation, Tighes Hill, 1979.

Freeland, J.M., Architecture in Australia, Penguin, Ringwood, 1968.

Harrison,J.F.C., The Common People, Fontana, London 1984.

McLachlan,J., (ed.), Souvenir. Back to Singleton September 15 to 26, 1926,Thos. Dimmock Ltd., West Maitland 1926.

Perkins,H., The Origins of Modern English Society, 1780-1880.Routledge, London 1981.

Sternbeck,M., The Catholic Church in Singleton, A Historical Look At Its People and Progress, Newey and Beath, Broadmeadow, 1981.

Thompson,E.P., The Making of the English Working Class, Penguin, Ringwood Victoria, 1986. 

Wright Mills,C., The Sociological Imagination, Penguin, Ringwood, 1975.


Collins, D., ‘ The 1920s Picture Palace’ in S.Dermody, J.Docker and D. Modjeska (eds.), Nellie Melba, Ginger Meggs and Friends: Essays in Australian Cultural History

Cox,P., ‘A Culturally Revelant Architecture: Desirable? Irrelevant? Determinable? Inevitable’ Transition: Discourse on Architecture, Nos 18/19, September 1986, pp.37-40

Irving,R., ‘Georgian Australia’

Lawerence, R.J., ‘Australian Colonial Architecture and European Influences’ Architecture Australia , Vol.74,No.4, June 1985




[1]  Elizabeth Fink,, The Built Environment of the Shire of Singleton, Research Report No. 33, The Hunter Valley Research Foundation, Tighes Hill, 1979. p.39


[2]  ibid.,p.45.

 Apperly,R.,Irving,R.,Reynolds, A Pictorial Guide to Identifying Australian Architecture, Angus & Robertson, Sydney,1995. p.104.


[3] Edgar,D., Introduction to Australian Society, 1980.p.129-133.



[4] Cox,P., ‘A Culturally Revelant Architecture: Desirable? Irrelevant? Determinable? Inevitable’ Transition:Discourse on Architecture, Nos 18/19, September 1986, pp37-40 in Resource Book, History 273/373, Department of History, University of New England, Armidale ,1996. p.3 ff.


[5] Martin Boyd, in Arnold J., Spearitt,P.,Walker,D., (eds.), Out of Empire.The British Dominion of Australia, Port Melbourne, 1993. p.201.


[6]  C.Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination, Ringwood, 1975. p.23


[7]  J. Freeland, Architecture in Australia, Ringwood, 1968.

[8]   ibid, p.13.

[9]  loc. cit.

[10]  Applerly,R., et. al. op.cit.. p.42

[11]   ibid, p.24.

[12] Irving,R., ‘Georgian Australia’ , Robert Irving (ed.), The History and Design of the Australian House, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1985 in Resource Book, op cit.. p.63

[13] Thompson,E.P., The Making of the English Working Class,  Ringwood, 1986.p.65.

[14]  Freeland, Op.Cit. p.97

[15]  J.J. Auchumy in Crowley , F., (ed.), A New History of Australia, Heinemann, Melbourne, 1980. p.63.

[16] Applerly, et al., op.cit. p.23

[17] Freeland, op.cit., p.95.

[18]  J.Jerr, ‘Early and High Victorian: The Gothic Revival Architecture of Edmund Thomas Blacket and John Horbury Hunt’ in Anthony Bradley and Terry Smith (eds.), Australian Art and Architecture: Essays Presented to Bernard Smith, Melbourne 1980, in Resource Book, op.cit..p.108

[19]  R.Boyd, The Walls Around Us. A popular history of Australian architecture, Sydney 1982, p.32.

[20] R.Boyd quoted by W.Callister, ‘The 1950s and 1960s Revisited: Chaos or Complexity’Transition: Discourse on Architecture, Vol. 21,September,1987,pp.30-2, in Resource Book op.cit, p.111.

[21] D.Collins, ‘The 1920s Picture Palace’ in Susan Dermody, et al, (eds.), Nellie melba, Ginger Meggs and Friends: Essays in Australian Cultural History, 1982, pp. 60-75, in Resource Material Op.Cit., p.133.