1899: Queen Victoria Building, Sydney, New South Wales.

Advance Australia Coat of Arms Window

Artist/Studio: Ashwin & Falconer
Location: Sydney
Building: Queen Victoria Building
Photos taken 12th December 2013

Abridged version of an article entitled The Stained Glass Windows in the Queen Victoria Building by Karla Whitmore.

Article contributor, Karla Whitmore. Photography by Ken Burke.

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(Additional detailed photos can be found on the Stainedglassaustralia photo stream on Flickr).

The windows are an integral part of the Queen Victoria Building and yet received little comment when the building was opened.  Their history before the restoration of the 1980s is, like some of the windows themselves, rather fragmented.  The fanlights over the main entrance in George Street and the York Street entrance and the heraldic window on York Street are original.  The window below the fanlights on George Street was destroyed well before the Hilton bombing in 1978 as suggested in the conservation management report.  The fanlights were damaged and repaired prior to the building’s restoration.  An early photo shows the central window in the George Street entrance filled with a granite plaque inscribed with the names of Lord Mayors R. Meagher and Sir J. Joynton Smith under whom the building was remodelled in 1917-18.  The adjacent window spaces have timber shutters.  The plaque was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald in November 1920[1]. Even earlier an aneroid barometer was installed in place of the central stained glass window over the eastern porch in August 1905.  The metre wide barometer was installed by the jewellers Angus & Coote of George Street[2].

The entrances in Druitt and Market Streets originally had no windows; the contracts for these were awarded with the first awnings in 1899.  The contractors Messrs Pope & Maher unofficially engaged designer W.C. Marshall who retained the contract for the glazing of the openings in the awnings[3]. The stained glass in the Druitt Street window was replaced in 1947 after suffering damage in a hail storm on New Year’s Day.  The Sydney City Council requested replacement with clear glass as the window was already patched with opaque glass and clear glass provided better light[4].It was likely to have been the same design as the surviving Market Street window.

While the contractors for the original building were noted in reports at the time, there is no mention of who made the stained glass.  The Heritage Council of NSW says the heraldic window on York Street is by an unknown maker.  A video produced by Sydney University Television Service in 1980[5]suggests the designer was probably John Radeski (Radecki) from the firm of John Ashwin & Co.[6] The online Dictionary of Sydney entry on the building attributes the work to Radecki working for Ashwin & Falconer.[7] Radecki trained and worked with Frederick Ashwin and became a partner in John Ashwin & Co. which was established in 1910.

Fortunately, the designer of the Queen Victoria Markets windows is noted in a minute paper of January 1899 in the City of Sydney Archives.  It is by the City Building Surveyor R.H. Broderick and concerns the awning glazing.  Broderick wrote: ‘In the case of the end windows I…chose Mr Ashwin’s design … being in character with the general design of the Markets, and with the present large windows particularly (work which Mr Ashwin carried out to the general satisfaction of all)’.[8]  At the time Frederick Ashwin ran Falconer & Ashwin which was one of the major studios supplying stained glass windows in Sydney and regional centres. There are other Ashwin & Falconer patterned windows which have similar elements as those designed for the Markets building.  Several have circular patterns or medallions with pastel cathedral glass and two windows in the northern clerestory of St Andrew’s Cathedral from 1907 have coats of arms with intertwined geometric patterns. Ashwin & Falconer’s civic windows include the dome in the vestibule of the Town Hall from 1877.

The wheel windows over the George and York Street entrances are set above sandstone archways with a span of 9.75m divided into three sub-arches.  The fanlights are supported by upright steel supports to which curved crosswise saddle bars are tied and framed by trachyte columns with acanthus leaf capitals.  Below the York Street fanlights the central window depicts the Advance Australia coat of arms, a precursor to the official coat of arms granted in 1908.  In this window, which the Heritage Council notes is one of the best representations , the Southern Cross divides the quarters of the shield in which are shown the three-masted sailing ship, garb of  wheat, pick and shovel and fleece, all representing prosperity.  The top left quarter with the fleece was missing and reproduced during the 1980s restoration by Rodney Marshall and Stephen Taylor of Sydney Stained Glass.[9] Above the shield is the rising sun representing Australia and below is a vibrant pattern of acanthus leaves, grapes and intertwined geometric shapes which also form a border around the shield.  The colour scheme is pale yellow to gold, blues and brown.

On either side are windows featuring a shield with the initials CM supported by heraldic dolphins and a patterned border similar to the central window.  The initials can be interpreted as the first two letters of McRae’s name or as City Markets.  Below the statuary by MacIntosh are carved the initials SCM which suggests those in the windows refer to the building rather than the architect. The windows were restored using photographic reference and releaded.

The fanlights have a vertical pattern with acanthus leaf border at the bottom and a band of beaked and clawed creatures and intertwined geometric patterns with creatures with crests.  The columns are repeated in the design creating a shadow effect. Stephen Szabo, Secretary of the Australian Heraldry Society, suggests the fanciful creatures are in the style of medieval grotesques more inspired by illuminated manuscripts and Gothic sculptures than by heraldry.  They certainly enliven the design.  Features such as eyes and shading on bodies and acanthus leaves are painted in an assured linear style characteristic of Frederick Ashwin.  In relation again to medieval design the intertwined geometric shapes, chevron and curling foliage and berries reference early medieval grisaille windows. These have a Celtic vitality about them which is seen in other windows by Ashwin & Falconer.

The fanlights over the George Street entrance are similar to those on York Street with a varied colour scheme of pale yellow crested and long beaked blue creatures.  A report in a rural newspaper in January 1919 noted that they were smashed in a storm.[10]  Rodney Marshall says the poorly done restoration at the time meant substantial repair, repainting and releading was needed.  The restoration of all the building’s windows took from 1985 to 1987 and a short video made at the time shows the intricate work in progress.[11] The glass used to match the original was from Wissmach in West Virginia, USA.  Marshall suggests the original glass may have been English from pioneering glass manufacturers Chance Brothers of Birmingham.  The glass used looks to be cathedral, muffle, bulls eye, streaky and flashed glass.

The Queen Victoria Building’s stained glass reflects the elegance and opulence befitting a grand Victorian shopping arcade, use of antique glass, high standard of craftsmanship and skilful design for the architectural setting.  The brief references to them at the time contrasts with detailed reports of the Town Hall windows designed by Lucien Henry in 1889.  Captain Cook and a female Oceania figure are described amidst a colourful abundance of emblems including waratahs which Henry promoted in the decorative arts.  Depictions of royalty such as Lyon, Cottier & Co.’s King Edward window exhibited in London in 1908 also elicited comment.  The Queen Victoria Building’s windows were primarily designed to blend with the landmark architecture which received most of the attention.   This is perhaps why there were no detailed reports of them at the time.  With restoration and sympathetic reproduction they continue to resonate due to their decoratively heraldic design, attractively muted colours and heritage value.

Notes

[3] Minute paper, R.H. Broderick, 24 January 1899, City of Sydney Archives, Item 26/304/207.  W.C. Marshall set up in business in 1897 after working for Lyon, Cottier & Co.

[4] E.P. Austin, SCC to Town Clerk, 27 March 1947, City of Sydney Archives, Item 1378/47.

[5] The Queen Victoria Building, a Tour with David Earle, University of Sydney Television Service, 1980.

[6] John Radecki (1865-1955) is known for the altar window in Christ Church, St Laurence and the windows in the ceiling of the foyer of the Commonwealth Bank in Martin Place.

[8] Broderick, 24 January 1899, City of Sydney Archives, Item 26/304/207.

[9] The windows below the George Street fanlights are reproductions designed by the architects of the 19885-87 restoration Stephenson & Turner/Rice Daubney and made by Sydney Stained Glass.

[11] The QVB Story, Arrow Films, Sydney (undated).

© Karla Whitmore 2013

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