Fremantle Stuff > Places > Kings Square/St John's Square
[See also newspaper articles.]
See also David Hutchison's Walk 6: Kings Square, in his Fremantle Walks.
When John Septimus Roe drew the town plan of Fremantle in 1833, he provided for the public open space he called King's Square, but the Church of England somehow gained ownership of the land and built a church in the middle of it in 1844. The public open space had become a churchyard. It was a town square for less than ten years. The Council had to buy half of the Square back from the Church to build the Town Hall in 1887.
In the 1880s the High Street road reserve was made to cross the Square diagonally, and shops built along it, as seen in the photo below. A new Anglican church was built in one of the triangles, with the Town Hall constructed at one vertex of the other, with shops filling up the remainder of that triangle.
Later again, in the 1960s, High Street was closed, and the Square as a result had more open space where the road had been.
In 2019 a new council administration building will be built next to the Town Hall, where the 1880s shops were, following the unnecessary demolition of the 1950s council administration buildings.
(The Fremantle Council decided that the name of Kings Square should be changed to St John's Square 19 July 1982, tho this was not gazetted until December 1986. The name reverted to Kings Square 19 August 1991. Fremantle Library.)
Fremantle Library 1957 photograph no. 543. Aerial view of Fremantle taken on 9 July 1957 centred on St John's Square. Notes:
St John's Church. Foundation stone laid January 1879. Formally consecrated on 4th July 1882 by the Bishop of Perth, Henry Hutton Parry. Cost 7,500 pounds. Late 1906 or early 1907 the bell turret was added. May 1908 eight stained glass windows installed. 1914 - original sheoak shingles on the roof replaced by Welsh slates. 1977 - Welsh slates replaced by asbestos shingles. See: Lee, Bruce. "The history of St. John's".
High Street. Fremantle Town Hall and Central Buildings. The foundation stone for the Town Hall was laid by the Governor Sir Frederick Napier Broome. Opened 22.06.1887. Central Buildings demolished January 1966 for the Exhibition Hall. The other shops towards Newman and Adelaide Street were demolished July 1965.
Elizabeth Terrace corner Adelaide and Queen Streets, built by Captain John Thomas. Demolished 1976 to make way for City House.
Newman Street. Harris Scarfe and Sandovers demolished c1971 to make way for Myer (1985 Boans) which was opened on 1.08.1972. Dixon/Hutton/ Swansea demolished February 1967. Third building from left occupied by W.H.J. Hardie 1910-1930. Westralian Farmers Co-Operative Ltd demolished November 1962. Burns Philp and Co. Ltd. Constructed in 1898 as Monger's West Australian Stores Ltd. Architect Archer William Hoskings ( 1868-1911). Occupied by Burns Philp 1905/1906, demolished September 1971. See: 725.35 Miscellany File for history of the lot. Woolworths opened on the Burns Philp site 3.06.1972.
William Street. Manning Chambers 7-9 William Street. Built 1906; Architects: Cavanagh and Cavanagh; erected by Abbot and Rennie. See: 725.21 Miscellany File.
Federal Hotel opened July 1887, proprietor Mr J.A. Herbert.
Howard Porter Motor Body Builders. Site re-developed (1982) for Fremantle Malls.
Spicers (earlier William J. Detmold Ltd.), opened August 1899, demolished September 1970. (See: 725.4 as sources differ as to date of opening.)
Henderson Street. Warders Quarters. Courthouse. Rear of Kings Theatre (top, right). Built for James Gallop, the foundation stone was laid on 20.02.1904. Rear of Manning Buildings, South Terrace, 1902. Salvation Army Citadel, William Street, built 1898. According to Kerr, it was destroyed by fire in 1969 and demolished in September/October 1971. The site is now occupied by the Henderson Street parking station. Centenary Building, corner Newman and William Street, (behindTown Hall). Demolished April 1963. Note: toilets were behind this building, and the S.E.C. had a receiving office for accounts within the Centenary Building. When they were demolished, two temporary Calsil brick buildings were erected to house these facilities, behind the Wesfarmer Building. These buildings were in use for a couple of years.
Sirona's artist's impression of the current project as completed c. 2019.
Kings Square imagined with only the Town Hall and church on it.
My comments are limited to the likely impact of the proposed development on urban design and function of Kings Square as the only essential public space left in the heart of the city. In doing so I acknowledge that there are many other equally important aspects of the proposed development, which I don’t feel sufficiently informed or skilled to comment on. However in order to dismiss any likely criticism of limitations of my comments let me preempt my comments with the following notes:
In order to dismiss the City’s claim that it is prudent economic consideration and responsible financial management that demands maximising the proposed redevelopment of the square, I note the long-standing and publicly-raised objections to CoF selling $50 million of CoF investment property to Sirona for $29 million. Should the project proceeds as currently planned, it will erode the ratepayers’ asset base which has been built up over generations by close to $40 million. In my view this type of economic rational undermines any potential argument that reinstatement of the originally designed, proper city square, would come with a ‘hefty price tag’;
I note the City’s argument that “there is a need to achieve a significant increase in office workers in the city centre and to reinvigorate and tighten the retail core of Fremantle” (whatever it means). As countless research and examples around the world demonstrate, a properly designed town square contributes more to reinvigoration of the city centre than any maximisation of the already half empty places for rent and filling up the precious public space with brick and mortar. Should the Government Department of Housing relocated to the Fremantle’s site currently available for a compatible redevelopment in a proximity to Kings Square this goal would have been achieved without overdeveloping and commercialising the square;
I note but don’t buy the often raised ideological argument that “the Kings Square proposal plans to reinstate and reinforce the historic alignment of High Street through the square”. The reasons for extending High Street through the square are long expired and are dead (the trams, the need for parking next to the Town Hall, the horse drawn traffic). The original full square, like the urban design of the whole city, was a strategic urban design solution based on centuries-old European tradition, and the acquired knowledge of what makes cities work, as well as anticipation of the sufficient population increase in the long term future that would eventually make a good use of the sizeable square in the heart of the city. So the 20th century decision to cut the square in two triangles and filling up one of the triangles with brick and mortar has proven to be a short-term and mistaken solution, as the ensuing replacement of the historic buildings with the 1960s replacements indicates. The only lesson that can be drawn from the past mistakes is that the fragmentation and overdevelopment of the square has been a major cause of the failure for the misshapen, small size left over spaces to work properly as a square.
So let me focus on the core subject of my comments, the reasons why in my view the proposed redevelopment of the square represents yet another short-term and short-sighted solution, which can potentially become the ultimate nail in the coffin of Fremantle’s future as a vibrant and successful historic port city and a unique and well planned alternative to all other mixed bag regional centres of Metropolitan Perth.
The size of the square relative to the projected long term increase in population of the city is essential to the proper functioning of the evolving community ‘living room’ and a drawcard for visitors. What is often referred to as ‘activation’ of a public square includes many functions and complex activities involving social theatre, daily encounters and rituals, a meeting place and the place for public gatherings, civic functions, relaxation and pleasure and much more. So doing business is only a relatively small part of activating a public square as the countless local gurus and others from around the world, including Ian Gehl, Ruth Durack, Adrian Fini, Richard Weller, Dominic Snellgrove, Ian Molyneux, Linley Lutton, the Fremantle Society and many more, including myself, have argued as the reasons for reinstating the original layout of Kings Square in Fremantle. There are also countless examples elsewhere, but let me pick up only one, which I know intimately: the main square of Krakow laid down in 1410, at the time the largest square in Europe. It wasn’t designed to serve the then population of some 10,000 residents. It was designed to function as the heart of the city for centuries to come, and this is exactly what has happened. Almost a millennium later, the Main Square of Krakow remains largely intact in terms of its original layout and historic redevelopment and still functions as the heart of the so expanded city. It remains one of the most successful public spaces in Europe, not only in terms of activation of the civic functions, community activities etc but the viability and vibrancy of the city centre, serving some one million residents and matching number of visitors a year. The square functions 24/7, 365 days/year and has indisputably contributed to the economic success not only of the world heritage listed historic core of Krakow, but the surrounding inner city areas, the satellite local centres and the economy of Krakow as a whole. Equally, it was prudent for the Royal surveyor to design the layout of Fremantle with a large square in its centre with the visionary, long term planning at its core. So it makes sense to ensure that Kings Square is returned to its originally planned size and is properly restored and upgraded/enhanced as the major public space of the city with St John’s Church and the original Town Hall as its major features and places for communal activities.
The current decision-makers didn’t even have to work hard to follow the conventional path of Claremont, Joondalup or Armadale to proceed with its shortsighted plans to maximise the development by filling up the square with brick and mortar and predominantly commercial activities. Ten years ago, the City commissioned Local Identity and Design Code for Fremantle and the Urban Design Centre’s study as the basis for the best outcomes for inner city and Kings Square. And the new Council of 2010 promptly rushed to ignore both and came with the globalised, conventional vision for central Fremantle to become high-density and high-rise instead. Yet, the Centre’s report concludes that Fremantle deserves: “a true urban square - of appropriate size and dignity to anchor the heart of Fremantle ... this is the concept that speaks to the City’s confidence in its future ... and refuses to bow to the short term exigencies of a conservative marketplace”. The current decision-makers have instead chosen to abide by the conventional solutions that elsewhere have produced, at its best, mixed bag outcomes, or, at worst, failed, at least as far as a truly sustainable redevelopment of heritage cities demonstrate all over the world (see Donovan Rypkema or Dennis Rodwell).
Town Hall and its clock tower, like the Round House, has been Fremantle’s symbol as a city and a landmark since it was built. Visible from many vantage points it served the community as the reminder of time; allowed visitors to orient themselves around the city; proudly projected and maintained Fremantle identity; and has been associated with many historic and community events that have taken place in the Hall. Its 1980s and 2010s conservations of the interiors and the facades respectively won the WA awards. Yet gradually its landmark quality has been eroded by such degrading developments as Johnson Court (dwarfing the Town Hall views from Fremantle Park) or Myers building (from High Street east). The planned construction of the new Council building and redevelopment of the whole block of Newman/ Queen/William Streets with the bulky, 5-7 story tall, massive square blocks would further dwarf and downgrade the remaining qualities and role of the original Town Hall as a symbol of Fremantle. The planned top floor of the new building will intrude on the architectural view of the clock tower on the approaches to the City, particularly in the closer perspectives from William, Adelaide and Queen Streets.
The ill-conceived split of Kings Square in two triangles would be reinforced by the new Council building. Despite the dismissal of the opponents to the proposed development by at least one of the EMs, as being ‘hopelessly fixated on geometry as if all great squares are actually “square” in shape’, the same EM contradicts his own argument by admitting that: “the very earliest plan for Fremantle was for a square shaped area that had the original St John’s church in the middle”. More importantly, the originally shaped square has had plenty of room for growth and activation, gradually reinforcing its civic role and public use with the Town Hall and St John’s church as its major focus of its public function. The several majestic and magnificent Moreton Bay figs planted some century ago were meant to adorn the square and to provide shade and respite, both being two of the square’s many public functions. The Moreton Fig trees, contrary to the view-blocking/space-fillers/weed-like London planes, are urban trees with the sculptured trunks and sculptural branches and high canopies permitting the views to be seen at the pedestrian level and providing shade and respite from the hot, limestone built buildings and pavements. All of which in the harsh WA climate has been an essential component of the wise planning of an urban space. Instead the current split of the square into triangles, reinforced by the new Council building, would reduce the precious space currently available for planting trees, while the awkward shaped building of useless internal spaces (for example the sharp corner of Newman and High Street) would take up the area of the square that is otherwise still available for trees and public space.
The countless cases of the successful squares elsewhere fly in the face of the argument by one of the EMs, who has defended the current plan as: “most good urban designers know that it is better to have a smaller space fully activated rather than a massive Roman forum devoid of humanity”. It is a baseless argument and we shouldn’t search far to see its false premise. As the very success of the reconstructed Bathers Beach and the restored and upgraded Old Port area of Arthur Head A class Reserve demonstrates, it is all about the quality of design and considerate upgrade that makes a public space successful. In case of Arthur Head it was both, the quality of design and actual upgrade, based on the values of the local context and heritage as a driver of both, that ultimately has attracted the public. In addition the restoration and upgrade of the Old Port area has successfully activated the adjacent commercial activity of the former Fishermen Co-op building. It has happened without introducing any commercial activity to the area except permitting the local artists to continue working in Fremantle by providing the workshop space with public access for them in J-shed. As the result the former port depot that indeed was ‘devoid of any humanity’ before has evolved into the much loved public reserve, where the restoration of the dunes, vegetation and modest development of paths and boardwalks with gentle introduction of heritage interpretation, have become the basis and a drawcard for activation. These days it includes the daily sunset watchers, joggers and walkers, art lovers, visitors to Fremantle, artists, swimmers, diners and divers alike, complementing and mutually reinforcing attraction of the Fishing Boat Harbour. So the more appropriate quote for Cr Sullivan’s argument should be one of the Roman emperor’s saying: ‘build it and they will come’. The secret is in the appropriate, contextual, people orientated and creative urban design of the public spaces to serve people, not cramming it with brick and mortar and adding more excluding uses to the already oversupplied eateries and half empty commercial spaces in Fremantle.
Finally, considering the many places of cultural significance providing context to the square, including the Town Hall and the nearby heritage buildings of William and Adelaide Streets, why the proper process of heritage evaluation and heritage considerations hasn’t been adhered to in the current redevelopment plan? Has the Conservation Management Plan been prepared prior to calling design competition for the new Council building? Has the Heritage Impact Statement prepared for the City of Fremantle been done with due professional integrity, essential to an objective evaluation? The urban design guidelines begin with a principle, which states that the heritage values of the area must be maintained and complemented, yet by the end of the document, it is obvious the heritage values have been in large part ignored in the proposed redevelopment. The new Council building has nothing in common nor does it pay any respect to ‘the fine example of Victorian Free Classical style civic architecture’ of the Town Hall or the ‘Gothic revival style’ of the Anglican St John’s Church or the Victorian character of the western and northern ‘walls’ to the square. On the contrary, surrounded by the oversized, voluminous, buildings of unrelated architecture, these fine examples of Fremantle and WA heritage, will be dwarfed, overshadowed and relegated, just like many of the Perth heritage buildings, into insignificance.
For all of the above reasons, the current plans for redevelopment of Kings Square should be abandoned and start afresh with due consideration given to both Urban Design Centre’s study and Design Code for Fremantle. This is the last chance for Fremantle to build on its assets, with the relevant local context as its core objective and with heritage as a driver for reinstating and urban refinement of the originally designed square, based on the fundamental principles for sustainable redevelopment. As all successful examples around the world demonstrate, new redevelopment of a historic city needs to have a tangible relation to the genius loci of its place, to its spirit and its DNA. The design of new infill cannot be translated from the one place to another and should be specific, complementary and reflective of the local place while creatively integrating old and new. The locally specific urban vision and good architecture work well for historic cities. And contrary to the much of modern development, the old cities are already compact, pedestrian, sustainable, ecological, efficient and need only local solutions to become better.
The current plans for redevelopment of Kings Square are contrary to these principles by introducing the conventional, largely commercial, short-sighted and unrelated to Fremantle type of over development of the oversized new administrative building, turning the square into a claustrophobic triangle surrounded by more large, un-Fremantle like buildings.
Agnieshka Kiera, 21 January 2019
Ma Arch AICOMOS, CIVVIH, ICTC
On April 6 of the same year  the foundation stone of the old St. John's Anglican Church was laid by Governor Hutt. That church stood in the centre of King's Square, which comprised the block of land bounded on the south and west by Newman Street and William Street, and on the north and east by Adelaide Street and Queen Street, the site of the old church being that portion of the existing High Street which lies between the present church and the Town Hall Chambers. The High Street of that day, therefore, had a church at one end and a gaol at the other.
Mysterious Loss of Territory
The mystery of how the church acquired possession of King's Square was a subject of much controversy in bygone times. Both King's and Queen's Squares were originally set apart as breathing spaces for the people, but somehow it came about that a church was built in the centre of the former. Eventually it was decided to bisect both squares and run High Street through them. The Church of England claimed and established ownership over the whole of King's Square, and had to be bought out. When the erection of a new church was contemplated, the town bought from the church all that portion of the square south of the present church enclosure, retaining part of it for the extension of High Street and a site for the Town Hall, and selling the triangular portion east of the Town Hall, on which shops were later built. Hitchcock: 28.
The new Council building proposed for the Square.
This new church was built in the middle of King's Square which was originally surveyed and set apart as a public reserve. The first intimation of a desire to alienate it for church purposes is contained in a letter from the government resident of 11 March 1839. In reply His Excellency Governor Hutt advised that it was a matter for the Trustees of the Church Property to decide. In August of that year the proprietors of allotments facing King's Square petitioned the governor to sanction the church site in the centre of the square. ...
Apparently the petition was successful for on 9 February 1840 the government resident, Mr R. McBryde Brown, wrote to the Colonial Secretary, Mr Peter Brown, advising him that the site had been appropriated for church purposes following an application to the Trustees of Church Property. When it was subsequently decided to bisect the square and continue High Street in an easterly direction, the church claimed and established ownership over the whole of King's Square, and had to be bought out. When the present St John's Church was erected in 1879, it occupied the northern half only, while the town bought from the church authorities the southern triangular portion on which the Town Hall and a block of shops were subsequently built. Ewers: 30.
On the first town plan drawn by Surveyor-General Roe, Kings Square was placed at the corner of High and Pakenham Streets. When the plan was redrafted in 1833 the square was moved eastwards to its present location. At a later date the city plan was modified by what George Seddon (1994) describes as 'an intelligent planning device'.
This was the imposition of a second substantial public square, Queens Square, at right angles to High Street. Both in name and design intention, this formed a pair with Kings Square, set on a diagonal to High Street. Between them they had a significant role in clarifying the street pattern in a human and intelligent way.
As outlined in the Brief History, the square and its surroundings have undergone many changes in the latter half of the twentieth century. Seddon is critical of some of the changes, claiming that the present street pattern is bewildering and that 'early planning was forgotten and obscured excessively from 1882 to the present'. He also regrets the loss of public space in the square by the siting of the Town Hall and its later extensive additions. Hutchison: 168-9.
Statement of Significance
Historically significant as a key element of the original Fremantle town plan drawn in 1833 by J.S. Roe. Six Moreton Bay Figs are of aesthetic and historic significance. Socially significant as a meeting place in central Fremantle.
King's Square (and associated Queen's Square) is highly significant as evidence of the first town plan drawn for Fremantle in 1833 by Surveyor General J. S. Roe. Within King's Square are six Moreton Bay Fig trees, also highly significant as remnants of planting during the 1890s when the first concerted efforts were made to beautify the town. These trees are said to have been planted by Philip Webster, Fremantle's auditor and have been placed on Fremantle's Significant Tree Register by the National Trust, W.A. Also in the square is a Phoenix Canariensis, transplanted in July 1984 from Mosman Park as part of an upgrade of the square. King's Square lies at the heart of the City and is a popular meeting place.
Records indicate that the Moreton Bay Fig Trees (Ficus macrophylia) in St John’s Square were planted by Philip Webster in the 1890s.
Philip Webster owned Fremantle’s Esplanade Hotel in the 1860s and 1870s, and was listed as a nurseryman in the 1876. During the 1890s he was an auditor for the Fremantle Municipal Council and has been remembered as being ‘a great lover of flowers’. Webster owned a large house at 195 High Street where another Moreton Bay Fig planted by him in the late 1880s still stands. This tree is believed to be the progenitor or many of the Moreton Bay Fig trees in Fremantle, including the Proclamation Tree (which was planted in 1890), and perhaps, the fig trees in St John’s Square.
The six Moreton Bay Fig trees in St John’s Square trees were nominated to the Tree Society of Western Australia for consideration for entry on their Register of Significant Trees in 1987. Following an assessment process, the trees were included in the Register for their location, linking St John’s Church with the Fremantle Town Hall, and for being representative plantings of the late 1800s. The trees were accepted by the National Trust of Australia (WA) as being significant on 7 October 1987. At the time, they were considered to be in good condition, approximately 90 years in age, 12 metres in height with a circumference of 6 metres and a canopy spread of 18 metres.
King's Square is a paved and grassed civic square in the centre of Fremantle. It is bounded by William, Adelaide and Queen Streets and the Myer Building. It contains St John's Anglican Church and the Fremantle Town Hall. Other elements contained within the square include public art works including Tom Edwards Memorial, Pietro Porcelli sculpture, signage, seating, giant chess board, Sporting Hall of Fame pavers, playground equipment and several mature Moreton Bay Fig (ficus macrophylla) trees.
High degree of integrity (original intent clear, current use compatible, high long term sustainability, restored).
High degree of authenticity with much original fabric remaining.
(These statements based on street survey only). Heritage Council.
Abstract: The history and current status of public open space in Fremantle merit attention for two reasons. The first is functional: because of the strong demand for housing in Fremantle today, the Australia-wide trend towards increasing urban density is exacerbated. New houses are going up on subdivisions that are often 350 square metres, usually at the expense of private open space. A steady increase in traffic also puts pressure on public open space. The second reason is that of heritage: Fremantle has a fairly good record in the conservation of historic buildings, but there has not been adequate recognition that the street patterns, the street names, and the public open spaces are the most enduring record of early Fremantle. They too need to be conserved. George Seddon 1994, 'Fremantle's two squares', Historic Environment, Vol. 11, No. 1, 1994: 24-26.
March 1979. Fremantle Library photo no. 1307. Note the High Street Mall which was closed to traffic on a trial basis in November 1973 and permanently on 20th January 1975. Kings Square, with the Council Administration buildings and St John's Church, is in the centre.
March 1979. Fremantle Library photo no. 1306: This aerial view shows William Street before the development of the Malls in 1982. Newman Street in front of Myer and Coles was later closed to traffic and absorbed into Kings Square.
The current plan, September 2017
Plan for archaeological digs January 2018. See the mayor's blog: 'Archaeological dig set to unearth Freo’s first church'. Archeological dig on the site of the old church 15-21 January 2018.
Kings Square, also known as King's Square, is a town square in Fremantle, Western Australia. It is bounded by Queen, Newman, William, and Adelaide Streets. Though the square was originally a public reserve, it has been the site of Saint John's Church of England since 1843, and the Fremantle Town Hall since 1887. High Street was extended through and beyond the square in the 1880s, but the portion through the square was closed off in the 1960s. Today Kings Square functions as a civic and cultural centre of Fremantle, with modern events taking place adjacent to the historic buildings. Wikipedia.
*Note that Roe's March 1833 map shows Parry and High Streets crossing, as they do now. It does not show Queen's Square as an open space. That came slightly later, as Seddon notes.
The top photograph is beautifully reproduced in John Dowson 2003 book, Old Fremantle, UWAP: 137.
Cox, Shaphan 2014, 'Negotiating the civic-heart of Fremantle: past, present and critical perspectives of Kings Square', Fremantle Studies, 8: 47-61.
Ewers, John K. 1971, The Western Gateway: A History of Fremantle, Fremantle City Council, with UWAP, rev. ed. [1st ed. 1948]. *Roe's March 1833 map is (badly) reproduced pp. 242-3.
Hitchcock, JK 1929, The History of Fremantle, The Front Gate of Australia 1829-1929, Fremantle City Council: 28.
Hutchison, David, Walk 6: Kings Square, Fremantle Walks.
Seddon, George 1994, 'Fremantle's two squares', Historic Environment, Vol. 11, No. 1, 1994: 24-26.
Heritage Council page.
Kings Square Project, FCC.
Letter to the editor of The West Australian 30 May 1885 arguing against funding the Town Hall.
Sirona's Kings Square Renewal web site.
Sirona's Kings Square Renewal Facebook page.
Garry Gillard | New: 8 April, 2012 | Now: 17 February, 2019