Fremantle Stuff > Places > Kings Square/St John's Square
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Kings Square/St John's Square

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 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 city square for less than ten years - if it ever was used as such at all. The state had to buy a bit more than half of the Square back from the Church. High St was built to cross the Square diagonally, and a new Anglican church was built (1882) in one of the triangles, with the Town Hall constructed (1887) at one vertex of the other, with shops filling up the remainder of that triangle. Later again, High St was closed, and the 'Square' as a result had more open space. In 2018-19 a new council building will be built next to the Town Hall, where the 1880s shops were, after the demolition of the current council building.

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. FHC.


FHC 1957 photograph #543. Aerial view of Fremantle taken on 9 July 1957 centred on St John's Square. Note: Adelaide Street to Queen Street.

Fremantle History Centre

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 in 2019 .


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.

kings square

Kings Square imagined with only the Town Hall and church on it

JK Hitchcock

On April 6 of the same year [1842] 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 currently (2017) proposed for the Square.

JK Ewers

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.

David Hutchison

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 [sic] 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' [Hutchison: 19-61], 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.

Heritage Council

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.
Physical Description
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.

George Seddon

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.



FHC photo #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. Taken March 1979.


FHC photo#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. Taken March 1979.


The current plan, September 2017

dig plan

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.

Notes, References and Links

*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 2006, Fremantle Walks, Fremantle Arts Centre Press: 168-9.

Seddon, George 1994, 'Fremantle's two squares', Historic Environment, Vol. 11, No. 1, 1994: 24-26.

Heritage Council page.

Kings Square Project, FCC.

Wikipedia page.

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 December, 2017