East Brisbane businesses

Butcher Shops in the 1900s

BUTCHER SHOPS in Brisbane in the 1900s were quite different from those of today. There were no ice boxes, cool rooms, marble surfaces or stainless steel benches. Meat carcasses would hang in the shop, meat was cut in front of customers on timber chopping blocks. Sawdust on the floor soaked up blood spills and odour. Often carcasses were hung outside at the front of the shop to allow fresh air to circulate. Butchers wore navy blue striped aprons , often with white shirts.

Watson & Son Family Butchers in East Brisbane. 1913 Mr Watson and his staff outside the butchers shop. The older butchers shop on the right was built in the 1880s. (SLQ 2–181763 ).
Lord Stanley Hotel, 994 Stanley Street
The Lord Stanley Hotel at East Brisbane. (BCC – no date)

This is another local hotel designed by prominent Brisbane architect RICHARD GAILEY who also designed the Story Bridge Hotel, Regatta Hotel  and the Chalk Hotel.

Portrait of architect Richard Gailey. (SLQ)
Notice of tender for the construction of the East Brisbane Hotel, placed by Richard Gailey, Architect.  Advertisement from The Telegraph, Brisbane, 17 July 1889.

The Lord Stanley Hotel was built in late 1889 for publican Walter Samuel Smith. At that time it was known as the EAST BRISBANE HOTEL and has had numerous changes of owners and publicans. During WWI it became known as the STANLEY HOTEL. It is entered on the BCC (Brisbane City Council) Local Heritage Register.

to be continued re origin of the name

Shops on Lytton Road, 1964
Shops on Lytton Road, East Brisbane, 1964.

Murek MWhere on Lytton Road is this?
Robyn M: I grew up in Northcote Street but was born in 1961. The crossing was on Lytton Road between Northcote and Heidelberg Streets. The shops I don’t recognise but it looks like they have had a fire and may have been rebuilt. That’s my guess anyway.
Jeff W: Not sure that I can explain this properly enough but if you look at the picture and observe that the tram lines are veering further away from the footpath on the right hand side than the left and combine that with the appearance of the two vehicles. The utility truck in front appears to me to be veering to the left which is Heidelberg and the shops also appear to be arching into where the corner of Heidelberg is. That section is where the dog-leg is in Lytton Road  where Heidelberg T-junctions with Lytton.
My memories are from 1969 into early 1970’s and there was a group of shops along that section which is the south-east side of Lytton Road and I do remember there being a hardware store there so they may have patched it up after the fire but I’m not exactly sure what the other shops were. Also in the next block between Heidelberg and Northcote there were a further series of shops and again further along in-bound between Northcote and Stafford another group of shops. All were on the south and south-east side of Lytton.
As far as I recall there were no shops at all on the opposite side of Lytton Road. In all three blocks the shops had that same old world appearance like awning over the footpath and with the posts at the edge of the gutter. That three block section had a very busy village style appearance with many people shopping and the buses and trams stopped there. The section Stafford to Northcote had a hairdressing salon, a butcher shop, green grocer (fruit and veg), newsagent and a florist which I think were exactly opposite the end section of Mowbray Park. There was also in one of those blocks a big grocery store not sure of name now but may have been Byers or possibly Barry and Roberts and there were clothing stores too like a dress shop. There was a boot repairer and a barber shop but I think the barber shop was very small and it was on the opposite side of Lytton but a bit around the dog-leg towards the left of this pic. Apologies for the length of this piece. The traffic was horrendous.
Ray G: Not too sure but it looks familiar. My guess is up the road from Mowbray Park from where the road curves to the left around these shops and heads to Canning Bridge over Norman Creek.
Trish M: I think that the little street on the far left (telegraph pole) of the picture could be Eskgrove St as it slopes downhill. Therefore the shops are east of that on Lytton Road at that bad corner opposite Heidelberg St and Heath Road because of the tramlines, street sign and pedestrian crossing in the middle of the photo.

Forsyth’s Rope Works (former) 1876-1997

Forsyth Rope Works on Lytton Road was one of the earliest commercial industries in East Brisbane. The history of the business can be divided into three distinct parts:
Part 1: Archibald Forsyth: the man behind the ropes
Part 2: Forsyth & Co. Rope Works, East Brisbane: Scottish migrant extends the ropes he knows so well
Part 3: The Rope Walk then and now: how long is a piece of rope?

Part 1: Archibald Forsyth (1826-1908) the man behind the ropes: Railway worker – Rope maker – entrepreneur –politician –philanthropist
Portrait of Archibald Forsyth in 1907, a year before his death (http://clanforsythaustralia.org)

Archibald Forsyth was born on 10 March 1826 in Garmouth, Scotland. The son of a carpenter, he worked in the railway and timber industry in his teenage years. In 1848, at the age of 22 he migrated to Sydney and worked in the cedar industry in the northern rivers and then tried his luck in the Victorian gold fields.

Archibald Forsyth and Sarah Corbett. (http://clanfortyhaustralia.org)

He married Sarah Corbett in Melbourne on 21 January 1854 and they had nine children. He worked as a sawmiller until 1862 when he founded Forsyth & Anthony, general merchants.

On the advice of his long-time friend and rope maker James Miller he sold the company and in 1864 founded the first ‘rope’ and ‘cordage’ company in Sydney.

Early photo of Sydney rope factoryfactory n.d. (http://clanforsythaustralia.org)

At this time of expansion of the maritime industry the business was successful and competitive in both quality and price against imported ropes. In 1868 he made his nephew John a partner. The new company A. Forsyth and Co. flourished and they soon needed bigger premises. In 1876 they extended their rope making business to Queensland, which had no such business at the time. They established the Kangaroo Rope Works in East Brisbane where they built a large factory and rope walk. (see part 2 for details)

As well as being a successful businessman Archibald Forsyth became a well-known public figure and community leader.

Article about the Ropeworks picnic in 1906. (The Sunday Sun, Sydney, 18 February 1906)

In 1873 he helped found the Animal Protection Society in NSW, later to become the RSPCA; he was appointed a Justice of the Peace in 1875 and magistrate in 1885; he was the founder and first president of the Chamber of Manufacturers in 1885; he was Governor of Sydney Hospital in 1887. As a keen bowler he was the first President of the City Bowling Club from 1880-83 and Founder of the Randwick Bowling Club. He was elected to the NSW Legislative Assembly in 1885 where he served as the member for South Sydney until 1887. Known for his strong protectionist views, and firm belief in the benefit of federation to protect local industries, he led the Protection Union in 1886. He retired from active business in 1885.


Archibald was regarded as a stern but fair, idealistic and generous man. One of his major donations was a new horse-drawn ambulance to the Civil Ambulance Brigade. He looked after his workers, and earned their respect and loyalty; the annual Forsyth Picnics held from 1898 were popular, big affairs for staff and their families.

A combination of careful management and strong staff support helped the business survive the 1892-1894 depression. The company was privatised in 1894 with 65,000 £1 shares held by Archibald’s relatives. Archibald was chairman of directors until 1897. In these challenging times, company survival meant keeping up with the changing trends in manufacturing and competition from imports. Things improved after electricity and automatic spinners were installed in the Waterloo factory in 1900, increasing annual production of rope and twine to over 1500 tons.

Portrait of Archibald Forsyth and family taken at Yarra Bay, La Perouse in 190, a year before his death. (http://clanforsythaustralia.org)

Photo details- Left to right
Top row
: 1 George Evans; 2 Robert Archibald (known as Roy) Forsyth; 3 Arthur Wilson Evans; 4 unknown; 5 Archibald Forsyth ; 6 unknown; 7 George Forsyth ; 8 unknown; 9 unknown; 10 Alice Forsyth; 11 unknown; 12 Keith Evans.
Second row from top: 1 unknown; 2 Isabella Anne Evans (nee Forsyth); 3-5 unknown; 6 Alice Forsyth; 7 unknown (on lap).
Third row from top:1-6 unknown; 7 Agnes Sander (nee Forsyth); 8 Archibald Forsyth (father); 9 Mrs A. Forsyth; 10 unknown; 11 Annie F. White (nee Evans); 12 Sarah Thorpe (nee Forsyth).
Front row: 3 Douglas F. Evans; 7 Ester Forsyth ; 10 Alice Evans.

Archibald Forsyth died in Randwick on 15 March 1908 at the age of 82. He was survived by four sons and five daughters of his first wife, and by his third wife Harriet Grace Walker, whom he had married at 80. He was buried in the Congregational cemetery at Long Bay by a Presbyterian minister. He left £43,500 to his descendants and £625 to ten charitable institutions.

The ‘man behind the ropes’ left a lasting legacy of the value of hard work, tenacity, commitment and community support.
(Sources: Australian Dictionary of Biography;  articles held by National Library of Australia  Geraint Gregory’s archives;  State Library of Queensland ; http://clanforsythaustralia.org/)

Part 2. Scottish migrant extends the ropes he knows so well

As discussed in Part 1, Archibald Forsyth, a Scottish immigrant, established the first and very successful rope-making factory in Sydney in 1864.

Ten years later, in 1874, he and his nephew John, partners in their company, A Forsyth & Co Ltd Rope Works, decided to establish a similar business in Queensland which at the time had no rope making manufacturer. They bought land for £600 from Joseph Darragh which extended from what was then Cleveland Road, Kangaroo Point (now Lytton Road, East Brisbane) along Factory Street (now Manilla Street).

Inside the Forsyth’s Rope Works in 1937. (State Library of Queensland. Neg: 105445)
A Forsyth truck ca. 1925. (supplied: Geraint Gregory)

Two years later, in 1876, they opened the Kangaroo Rope Works, one of the earliest commercial industries in Brisbane. The factory buildings were “of brick and roofed with iron. The main building is divided into a spinning room, a rope-laying room, a carpenters’ and engineers’ shop and a boiler and engine room. The “Walk” for making large ropes is built of wood only and is 1100 feet long by 15 feet wide.” (Brisbane Courier, 9 March 1877)

The Forsyth Rope Factory as it looked in 1960. (supplied: Geraint Gregory)

The business started with eight employees and was managed by Henry A. Maynard who was to become chairman of the Woolloongabba Divisional Board in 1882. Maynard Street in Woolloongabba was named after him. This was the beginning of a successful business supplying rope to the maritime and agriculture industry, especially the ships and boats transporting goods along the Brisbane River. They imported hemp from Manilla and flax from New Zealand which they stored in their own specially built wharf and store on the river at Mowbray Park near the current ferry terminal.

Advertisement for Kookooburra Brand. (Daily Standard, Brisbane, 8 February 1929)

The company symbol was a kookaburra holding a piece of rope, apparently named after a family of kookaburras in nearby Mowbray Park, but they spelt their brand Kookooburra.

The business became well established after Archibald Forsyth successfully lobbied the Queensland Government to remove import duty tax on the Manilla fibre. It became an important local industry which provided employment for many locals during the recession of the 1890s and 1930s as well as the two world wars. By the 1930s staff had increased to 70. Factory Street was re-named Manilla Street by 1890 in acknowledgement of the imported fibre from Manilla in the Philippines.

However, it was not all plain sailing as damage caused by fires on 24 January 1885 and 29 November 1926 severely tested the company’s resilience. Tragedy struck after a major fire on 20 April 1933 completely destroyed the factory and all materials.

Rope Works fire report 1933. (News of the Week, 27 April 1933)

The next day, a nine-year-old girl, Agnes Barley of Manilla Street, was among a group looking at the factory ruins when a bale of rope fell from a stack near the doorway and struck her on the left leg. She was taken to the Children’s Hospital but sadly died of her injuries three days later. While this was a tragic blow, the company did not give up. The workers pulled together and took a wage cut and worked towards a new building costing £3,540. ­

Brisbane Courier, 18 August 1933, p.5

Business continued to be challenging with the increasing international competition of cheaper goods, more rope factories in Brisbane, the need to modernise to remain competitive, and an overall reduction in the demand for locally-produced rope. By the early 1970s they were finally unable to continue and sold to James Miller & Co. This was somewhat ironic as James Miller had been the boyhood friend and rope maker who had originally encouraged Archibald to go into the rope making business in Sydney! Millers bought two other rope and cordage companies and continued to trade at the East Brisbane site as Miller Ropes, Twines and Textiles. Eventually they could not compete with cheaper imports and in 1978 were forced to close the factory and sell the buildings to another rope company, Geo Kinnear & Sons. Almost 20 years later, on 25 April 1997 Kinnears moved their business to a new site in Precision Street, Salisbury.
It was the end of an era of 121 years of rope-making at East Brisbane.
All that remains today is Ropeworks lane, parts of the now heritage-listed rope walk which will be the focus of Part 3.
(Sources: Australian Dictionary of Biography ; articles from National Library of Australia;  Geraint Gregory’s archives;  State Library of Queensland; Brisbane City Council  Local Heritage Register)

Part 3. The Rope Walk [ropewalk] then and now:  – how long is a piece of rope?

As we saw in Parts 1 and 2, Archibald Forsyth established the first rope works in Sydney in 1864 and in East Brisbane in 1876. The factories were large brick buildings containing a spinning room, a rope-laying room, carpenter and engineer workshops, a boiler room and an engine room.

Aerial view of the former Forsyth’s Rope Walk. (Brisbane City Council Local Heritage Register)

Another essential part of the rope works was the external ‘rope walk’ generally described as a long straight piece of ground where long strands of material were laid out before being twisted into rope. It was used to manufacture the long thick ropes needed in the shipping and mining industry.

Site of the Rope Walk exit into Mowbray Terrace. (supplied: Geraint Gregory)

The East Brisbane “Walk”, as it was then known, was 1100 feet (335m) long and 15 feet (4.5m) wide and ‘consisted of a roofed timber battened structure covering two metal tracks along which a small ‘traveller’ ran to stretch the larger ropes. The rope walk began at the back of the factory on Lytton Road and finished in Mowbray Terrace, running parallel to and east of Manilla Street and passing between the backs of the houses in Manilla and Geelong Streets.

The first process involved making the strands by securing the base yarns to hooks on the traveller (cart) which turned while the traveller progressed along the rails for the length of the ropewalk. A creel (or frame) bunched the yards together to form the strand and brackets supported the length of the strand as it was twisted.’ All that is left of the rope walk today is an uncovered concrete/bitumen lane. There is no visible evidence of the former metal tracks. (BCC Local Heritage Register)

The Rope Walk was entered on the BCC Local Heritage Register on 1 January 2005 for its significance as the last ‘remaining evidence of a process used in rope making in Australia for over a century.’

Ropeway Lane – the former Rope Walk in 2009. (Brisbane City Council Local Heritage Register)
A similar Rope Walk in action. (supplied: lowtachmagazine.com)

Although the factory has long been demolished and has given way to modern developments, its presence is not forgotten. It was the inspiration for the Corde Residences complex designed by Rothelowman architects who are known for incorporating historic sites into their designs and paying tribute to local history. The eight-storey apartment complex at 54-58 Manilla Street was named Corde after the French word for rope. It features a bronze metallic façade of overlapping patterns that resemble the rope making processes. The rope theme is also continued in the interior designs.



Read more at http://www.cordeapartments.com.au

Substation No. 75,  93 Wellington Road 

“This substation, number 75 for the City Electric Light Company, was erected in 1952-3 to meet the increased demand for power in the East Brisbane area. The three-storey face brick building was designed by H.S. Macdonald, formerly of architectural firm Addison and Macdonald (1928-1940). Among his other work, Macdonald was responsible for the designs of some of the City Electric Light Company’s structures in the interwar and post-war period.

This imposing building is a prominent landmark at the intersection of Wellington Road and Vulture Street and is a comparatively rare 1950s electrical substation.

The site is still in use as an electricity transformer station, run by the superseding body of the City Electric Light Company, Energex.”  (text – Brisbane City Council Local Heritage Register)