Sherlock Holmes: Who Needs Him? (Happy Birthday House! 2)
Fact one is that the house was built in 1885.
Before that, it was a mere twinkle in the eye of one James D P Edwards, 'builder and architect', who lived in the same block. He was ideally located because his neighbours included two gardeners, two ironmongers, two carpenters, a mason and a hatter (whose services, I'm sure, were indispensable for tradesmen braving Melbourne's icy winters). No doubt James D P utilized many of those neighbours' talents constructing his residential empire.
I forgot to mention that the tradesmen's ranks also included a coach painter, Mr John G Hawkins. Together with his wife 'Mrs J Hawkins (Professor of Music)', John G was our home's first occupant and the person for whom I believe the house was custom built. I know that is quite a claim, but hear me out.
|Our stable - oops - kitchen ceiling|
As I mentioned in my last post, I was lucky enough to have been taken under the wing of Lina Favrin, Information Services Officer, at the Fitzroy Library. Lina managed to locate our house on one of the earliest Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works maps. In what is now our kitchen, there was a beautifully inscribed 'S', which indicates the location of a stable.
This made sense because the kitchen ceiling is very different from the ornate plaster ceilings elsewhere in the house. Its burnished planks have always reminded me of below decks on a boat, so it seems fitting that the kitchen was probably the site of transportation, even if of a non-nautical nature. It's easy to imagine visiting horses tethered there, feed bags around their necks, waiting patiently for John G to put the finishing touches to their owner's coaches.
Speaking of horses, I'm aware that last time I promised you a tale of Run-away Horses. This really did happen in old Fitzroy, at least in one instance I discovered. And that day the hero was none other than James D P Edwards himself.
I was proud to learn via the local Fitzroy City Press, under the heading 'A Miraculous Escape', that our builder was not only a skilled designer but a man of steel.
One day in 1886, the very year that the Hawkins moved into our house, James D P was being driven around on business by 'his man', who 'turned a corner too sharply' with the result that their gig overturned and they were thrown violently to the ground. (It's just so hard to get good staff!). Fortunately, our hero managed to keep his head as well as catching the horse's, thus preventing the horse from bolting. While the men only suffered a 'severe shaking', the gig's splash board was broken - perhaps to the advantage of John G's coffers.
The talents of James D P Edwards didn't just stop at design/building knowhow and physical strength. He was also a fine word smith and, something that I greatly appreciate, a local activist. And it's to him that I owe the second tale that I promised you last time - Illegal Burial Grounds.
|Dead dogs' cemetery no more: the magnificent Edinburgh Gardens today|
On his morning constitutional in the nearby Edinburgh Gardens one day in 1883, James D P spotted something disturbing. Noticing a 'huge box with trap door attached' adjacent to patches on the ground that had obviously been recently dug, the intrepid builder concluded that people were burying dead dogs in the park. He promptly shot off this protest letter to the Mercury and Weekly Courier: 'I should like to know if this is what we pay rates for, to have brought into our midst the germs of typhoid fever... We have enough to put up with in the obnoxious vapour arising from the numerous stagnating pools around us, without making a cemetery for dead dogs in the centre of what is placed at the disposal of the resident as a recreation reserve, as well as to improve the healthiness of the locality.' Go James D P!
Check out my next post for another true story from the seamy side of early Fitzroy: Obscene Demands of Docile Young Woman.