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The Fremantle Markets: A heritage icon

Kris Bizzaca

Bizzaca, Kris 2012, 'The Fremantle Markets: a heritage icon', Fremantle Studies, 7: 1-13.

The first of the convict ships arrived at the Fremantle port on 1 June 1850 under the direction of Captain Edmund Henderson, Royal Engineer and Comptroller General of Convicts. It was decided that part of Fremantle would be set aside for infrastructure to accommodate the convicts and the officials who accompanied them. The next year, in 1851, the Colonial Government allocated Fremantle Lots 150, 151, 152, 175, 176, 177 and 178 on a rise to the east of the townsite for use by the Convict Establishment. This incorporated the site upon which Fremantle Markets was later built. 1

Henderson drew up the plans for the Convict Establishment in 1851 with construction on the prison and associated buildings commencing in 1852. This main core of the Convict Establishment was largely completed by 1859. Limestone walls were also erected during the period to enclose the place and to separate the various functions within. 2

Among the residential accommodation provided for the convict officials were separate residences for the more senior members. These included three buildings constructed by c1858 at the corner of South Terrace and what became known as Henderson Street for the ‘instructing warders’ and their families. 3 The instructing warders were ‘charged with supervising and disciplining convicts in their labours’ and ‘Were deployed in prison workshops, on working parties between Fremantle and Perth and rural road gangs throughout the colony’. 4


Plan of the Town of Fremantle, Western Australia, as marked out on the ground in 1844 (19R, Cons 3868, Item No 126, SROWA)

Two of the houses for the instructing warders were located on what we now know as the Fremantle Markets site. The semi-detached residences faced South Terrace, were single-storey, and were of stone construction. The buildings were enclosed by a stone fence/wall and had their own well/ water supply. 5

In 1886 the government took possession of Fremantle’s convict establishment and it became the main prison for Western Australia. 6 Following this, a number of groups acquired land from the original convict grant. In 1890, Scots Presbyterian Church was erected at the corner of South Terrace and Norfolk Street and in 1894/1895 land on the opposite corner was purchased by Fremantle’s Jewish congregation for the purposes of establishing a synagogue. 7


The houses for the instructing warders and their families. Western Australia Fremantle Harbour Works Plan showing extent of works constructed and provided for, (31/7/ 1898, PWD 6409)

The Fremantle Council also took an interest and secured property at the corner of South Terrace and Henderson Street, later to become the Fremantle Markets site, in 1891 as well as Barrack Field for recreational purposes (later Fremantle Oval) in 1894. 8 The former instructing warders’ quarters continued to be used for residential purposes until the mid to late 1890s. 9

The discovery of gold in the 1880s and 1890s had a significant impact on the development of Western Australia. Like other areas, Fremantle was transformed as a result of the economic prosperity of the gold boom and the huge increase in population due to the goldrushes. In 1895 alone 19,129 prospectors travelled through the port town, which was more than a third of the state’s population at that time. 10

Within a short space of time the number of people living in Fremantle had more than doubled. The rapid growth in population resulted in demand for housing and brought about the residential development of Fremantle’s outlying areas. Larger land locations in places such as South, North and East Fremantle were subdivided to small blocks upon which hundreds of homes were constructed for local Workers and their families. Substantial residences for Fremantle’s elite were constructed in places like the hill above the prison and East Fremantle’s Richmond suburb. 11

With the rapid growth in population came the demand for fresh food and produce. The Fremantle Council recognised this need and as early as 1889 sought land for the establishment of a fresh produce market at which such goods could be sold to the local community. In April 1891 the Director of Public Works made the land at the corner of South Terrace and Henderson Street available to the council for the development of the market. 12 However, it was several years before any further action occurred. This was mainly due to lack of resources, which was later met by a grant of £3000 from the government in 1896. 13

In November 1896, the Fremantle Council resolved ‘to call for competitive designs for a public market on the market site’. 14 First prize in the competition was awarded to the architectural firm Oldham and Eales. 15 The builder was Mr Kinnaird. 16


An 1899/1900 photograph of Fremantle Markets (Fremantle City Library Local History Collection Photograph: 532)

Sir John Forrest laid the foundation stone for the new building on Saturday 6 November 1897. Enclosed within the stone were that day’s morning newspapers, a description of the proceedings and current coins. 17

The Fremantle Markets was officially opened on 17 June 1898. The opening was held at the new building with His Worship Elias Solomon presiding and honored guests Sir John and Lady Forrest in attendance. 18

The West Australian provided a detailed description of the place:

The Markets have a frontage of 178ft. 9in. to South Terrace, and 95ft. 8in. to Henderson-street, with a rear extension of 268ft. 8in. The design is so arranged that ready access is obtainable from an entrance in either street. There are capacious vestibules in the main market halls, which give excellent assistance to the display from the good—sized stalls and shops, 15 in number. The architectural study has been so complete that the shops have a double display, one set of windows being on the street and the others within the market place. The buildings further consist of 13 interior shops, with fronts facing the hall inside. There are eminently adapted to the display of fruit, vegetables, fish, etc. Another portion of the market provides commodious stores suitable for wholesale traders, and being situated in the main thoroughfare and adjacent to the weighbridge affords the best means of handling goods. Caretakers quarters and the inspector's offices are also well placed and designed. There is considerable yard space, with excellent sanitary conveniences. The main market halls are covered throughout with a wrought iron trussed roof of elegant design. This is a distinctive feature of the whole plan, and it is said that there is nothing of its magnitude in a similar building in the colony at the present time. The largest span of the roof is 68ft. 101/2 in. In its construction the architects have carefully observed the necessity for ventilation. Provision was made in the original details for electric lighting, but as the Municipal Council contemplated did not come to a practical stage, specially designed gas illuminators by Mr. E. S. Newbold were installed. These have aggregately 2,100 candle power, and from tests made give excellent results. The architects state that as each incandescent gas burner consumes a value of one-fifth of a penny per hour, or costs £1 13s. 3d. per year of 2,000 working hours, the value of the system of illumination employed must be apparent to ratepayers. The floors of the building are laid throughout with the best asphalt, with cement and concrete foundations. The contractor was Mr. D. Kinnaird, who had a foreman of works, Mr. Tom Kennedy. The special roof was constructed by Messrs. Mephan Ferguson and Co., the well-known engineers of Melbourne. The handsome ironwork of the entrance gates is by Messrs. Wright and Gibbs, of the City Foundry, Perth. 19

The Direct Supply Company was one of the first tenants of Fremantle City Markets. It was located in the corner shop and managed by Arthur Whatley. Records show there was a total of 18 businesses in the building during its first year of occupation including a newsagent, produce merchants and grocers, a refreshment rooms, a tailor and a dressmaker, a confectioner, a fishmonger, a butcher and a bird (poultry) dealer. 20


A 1916 plan showing the Fremantle Markets ( Metropolitan Sewerage, City of Fremantle, Sheet No 2051, Revised December 1916)

The total cost of construction of the markets was £8268. This was less than the estimated £10000 - for which the council was most grateful - and, with an expected annual income of £1924, the council was reportedly most satisfied with its new speculation. 21

It is doubtful, however, how pleased council would have been when it began to receive various complaints about the building, in particular about the damage caused by water leakages. It was in 1904, only six years after its completion, that the entire guttering had to be replaced. 22

It was also in this early period that the Fremantle Markets became the location of a business that was to be its longest known tenant. This belonged to the firm of fruit and produce merchants HJ & F Simper Ltd, which was established at Fremantle Markets from as early as 1903. 23

In the early 1910s, HJ & F Simper Ltd made plans to expand their premises at the Fremantle Markets. Cool storage rooms for storing fruit for export were installed by contractors Messrs Bradley and Rudderham. 24 By 1911/1922, HJ Sc F Simper Ltd not only occupied the corner store, but had also taken up much of the internal warehouse-style space of the building, including numbers 22-27 of the internal shops. 25


A 1919 advertisement for HJ & F Simper Ltd (Fremantle City Library Local History Collection Biographical File: B/Simper)

Michael Scanlan joined the Simper brothers in partnership in the auction business in about 1923 and the firm became known as Scanlan and Simper and continued to operate from the Fremantle Markets up to the early 1970s. By this time, however, it was primarily a packing and distribution centre for exports 26 and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia took over their corner shop premises. 27

In the broader context, the 1950s and 1960s brought about significant changes in the planning and development of the Perth metropolitan area. According to the guidelines set out in various schemes Fremantle was to develop as a ‘sub-regional centre’. This coincided with the council’s plans to encourage and implement new development in the town. Among the major works planned were large retail and commercial projects and road and traffic widening that threatened the destruction of a number of historic buildings. 28

Other changing trends such as suburbanisation, the development of the shopping centre and supermarket and the growth of use of motor trucks for transport led to a decline of the business of the Fremantle Markets. Local producers and clients alike were said to prefer the variety of the Perth Markets with only a few weekly auctions held at the Fremantle Markets from the 1950s up to the early 1970s. 29

By 1974 the place was mainly vacant and the building had fallen into disrepair. This left some believing that would be more beneficial if the building was removed to make way for new development. 30

In fact, Henderson Street had been a particular focus of the Council’s development plans. This was based on a perception that this area was derelict and the buildings of such little significance that any redevelopment would be of greater economic benefit to Fremantle. Based on this approach, it was believed the demolition of the Fremantle Markets building would allow for the land to be reused to maximum potential. 31


This 1950s photograph shows alterations to corner shop and the addition of tiles to the street elevations. Subsequent to this, the original verandahs were demolished in line with a common view by local governments that these structures were a potential liability (Fremantle City Library Local History Collection Photograph: 3315)

However, attitudes towards preservation had changed within the community itself. The Fremantle Council had established the Cultural Development Committee in 1969, which had some success in guiding decision-making in relation to development in the historic town. In addition to this, the 1972 formation of the advocacy group, The Fremantle Society, led to increasing support for heritage issues from within the local community and this resulted in the election of a number of its members to council. This meant that when it came time to discuss the Fremantle Markets site, council staff were able to seek different options for the future of the historic building. 32

This more secure position allowed City Planner Henwood to formally recommend the restoration and reuse of the Fremantle Markets in 1974. Council later adopted this proposal and, in January 1975, architect R McK Campbell was asked to prepare a restoration plan for the markets building.  33

Expressions of interest for the site’s redevelopment as retail markets were also advertised. Of the three expressions received, council determined Donaldson and Murdoch Investments Pty Ltd had the best scheme as it was based on knowledge of similar stall markets operating overseas in locations such as London and San Francisco; a concept which the council hoped to achieve.“

With the assistance of a $25,000 grant from the Federal Government’s National Estate Grants Program, the conservation of the Fremantle Markets began. In an agreement with Donaldson and Murdoch, the council took on the restoration of the exterior of the building and the developers the renovation of the interior. This allowed them to undertake work in view of their tenancy requirements. 34


A 1975 photograph of the reopening of the Fremantle Markets (Fremantle City Library Local History Collection Photographs: 154E)

The reopening of the newly refurbished Fremantle Markets occurred on 31 October 1975 to coincide with the beginning of that year’s Fremantle Festival. Newspapers claimed that the start of trading was marked by ‘traffic jams outside and pedestrian jams inside’. 36 It was also reported the place had about 140 stalls selling a wide variety of goods, including food, meat, seafood, art and craft, and clothing as well as fruit and vegetables in stalls located in an area that became known as ‘Farmer’s Lane’. 37

Several years later, in 1980, the verandahs to the building were reconstructed at a cost of $33000 with funding provided by the City of Fremantle and Donaldson and Murdoch Investments. 38

The 1980s and 1990s saw official recognition of the cultural heritage significance of the Fremantle Markets culminate in its entry into the State Register of Heritage Places on 20 November 1992. The place was permanently registered in November 1993 thus ensuring its future preservation. 39

During this time, negotiations took place between the council and the operators of the Fremantle Markets regarding the building. This was eventually resolved when the City of Fremantle agreed to provide a permanent structure to ‘Farmer’s Lane’ where stallholders had been making do under inadequate shelters like umbrellas and tarpaulins. The permanent building to this space was completed in 1993 to the design of Brian Klopper. It utilised recycled timber from one of Fremantle’s old Woolstores and allowed for vendors to have display and storage areas. The building was awarded a Royal Australian Institute of Architects Commendation in 1993. 40

In November 2006, the Fremantle Council voted in favour of the extension of the lease of the Fremantle Markets to long-time operators the Murdoch family. This decision pre-empted the ending of the existing lease so as to allow the operators some certainty in planning and undertaking renovations to the building. Following this, questions were raised about Council’s decision and the matter became the subject of much contention and debate in the local community. 41

Since 2006, various works have been carried out to the Fremantle Markets building. The most substantial of these changes was to the Henderson Street and South Terrace corner. Under the direction of Kelsall Binet Architects, the 1970s facade was removed and the original design reinstated which included the return of arches, face brickwork and shopfronts. 42


The reinstatement of the original facade near completion (Alan Kelsall, Kelsall Binet Architects)

In 2011, it is evident that what started in 1897/1898 and then reinstated in 1975 provides the basis for what the Fremantle Markets is today, and what has become one of Fremantle’s, if not Western Australia's, well known and much loved heritage icons.

Fremantle Studies Day 2009


1 M Bosworth, Convict Fremantle: A Place of Promise and Punishment, UWA Press, Perth, 2004, ch 2; James Semple Kerr, ‘Fremantle Prison: A Policy for its Conservation’, prepared for CAMS on behalf of the Fremantle Prison Trust Advisory Committee, 1998, pp 1-4; Government Gazette, 7/ 10/ 1851.

2 Bosworth, Convict Fremantle, ch 6; Kerr, ‘Fremantle Prison’, pp 3-4; Heritage 8c Conservation Professionals, ‘Fremantle Justice Precinct Conservation Policy’, prepared for CAMS, 1999.

3 Kerr, ‘Fremantle Prison’, Figure 2; M Gibbs, ‘The Convict Places of Western Australia’, in J Sherriff (‘Sc A Brake (eds.), Building a Colony: the Convict Legacy, Studies in Western Australia v24, Centre for WA History 8L UWA Press, 2006, p 84.

4 M Trinca, ‘The Control and Coercion of Convicts’, in Building a Colony, p 30.

5 Kerr, ‘Fremantle Prison’, Figure 2; Fremantle City Library Local History Collection Photograph: 3414; J Dowson, Old Fremantle: Photographs 1850-1890, UWA Press, 2003, p 102; Plan of the Town of Fremantle, 18/12/1892; Western Australia Fremantle Harbour Works Plan showing extent of works constructed and provided for, 31/7/1898, PWD 6409.

6 Gibbs, ‘The Convict Places’, p.76; Kerr, ‘Fremantle Prison’, p 4.

7 ‘Scots Presbyterian Church’, Heritage Council of Western Australia (HCWA) assessment documentation, 1999, pp 4P5; ‘Fremantle Synagogue (Former)’, HCWA assessment documentation, 1991/1992, p 1.

8 ‘Fremantle Markets’, HCWA assessment documentation, 1992/1993, p 1; Heritage 8c Conservation Professionals, ‘Conservation Plan for Fremantle Oval’, prepared for the City of Fremantle, October 1996, p 9.

9 Wise's Post Office Directories, 1893 - 1898; Plan of the Town of Fremantle, 18/12/1892; Western Australia Fremantle Harbour Works Plan showing extent of works constructed and provided for, 31/7/1898, PWD 6409.

10 C T Stannage, The People of Perth, Perth City Council, Perth, 1980, pp 193 - 194; T Rubinich, Plympton to East Fremantle: A Century of Schooling 1898 - 1998, East Fremantle Primary School, p l; John Taylor Architect, ‘Heritage Study of South Fremantle’, prepared for the City of Fremantle, June 1993, pp 5-6, 32 & 33.

11 ‘Heritage Study of South Fremantle’, p 8 & Section 6.3; J Lee, This is East Fremantle, Publication Printers, Perth, 1979, pp 2-4.

12 W Kerr, ‘Architecture in Fremantle 1875-1915’, UWA thesis, 1973, p 64.

13 City of Fremantle Council Minutes, 24/11/1896, cited in ‘Fremantle Markets’, p 1.

14 ibid.

15 Western Mail, 3/9/1897, cited in ‘Fremantle Markets’, p 1.

16 The West Australian, 18/ 6/ 1898.

17 The West Australian, 8/1 1/1897.

18 Western Mail, 24/6/1898, cited in ‘Fremantle Markets’, p 2.

19 The West Australian, 18/6/1898.

20 Wise's Post Office Directories, 1898 Sc 1899.

21 The Inquirer and Commercial News, 12/1 1/1897, cited in ‘Fremantle Markets’, p2.

22 Kerr, ‘Architecture in Fremantle’, p 65; Fremantle Mail, 12/7/1904, cited in ‘Fremantle Markets’, p 4.

23 Wise's Post Office Directory, 1903.

24 The West Australian Mining, Building and Engineering journal, 15/4/1911, in Fremantle City Library Local History Collection Misc. File: 658.87.

25 Wise's Post Office Directories, 1911 8c 1912.

26 Wise's Post Office Directories, 1920 - 1925; ‘Fremantle Markets’, p 2; Information provided by Ron Rummer to Gena Binet, July 2007.

27 Fremantle Markets Building, 21/4/1975, Drawing No 575/1 8c Plan showing detail at Fremantle Markets, 14/4/1975, both located at the City of Fremantle.

28 K Bizzaca, ‘The Heritage Movement in Fremantle 1955-1982’, in Fremantle Studies, Fremantle History Society, v 2, 2002, pp 1-2.

29 Information provided by Ron Rummer to Gena Binet, July 2007; ‘Fremantle Markets’, p 2; Fremantle City Library Local History Collection Misc. File:658.87.

30 Fremantle Markets’, p 2; Fremantle Markets Building, 21/4/ 1975, Drawing No 575/ 1 8c Plan showing detail at Fremantle Markets, 14/4/ 1975, both located at the City of Fremantle; K Bizzaca, ‘A history of the development of the heritage movement and the establishment of heritage policy in the City of Fremantle (1955-1982)’, Murdoch University thesis, 1997, Ch 3.

31 Bizzaca, ‘A history of the development of the heritage movement’, Ch 3.

32 ibid.

33 City of Fremantle Council Minutes, 16/9/1974 8c 20/1/1975.

34 City of Fremantle Council Minutes, 20/1/1975; ‘Transcript of Oral History Interview with Mr Stan Parks’, 1993, Fremantle City Library Local History Collection, p 63.

35 ‘Transcript of Oral History Interview with Mr Stan Parks’, p 63; ‘Fremantle Markets’, p 4; Fremantle Markets Building, 21/4/1975, Drawing No 575/1 8:, Plan showing detail at Fremantle Markets, 14/4/1975, both located at the City of Fremantle.

36 The West Australian, 30/10/1975, cited in ‘Fremantle Markets’, p 2.

37 ibid; Fremantle Gazette, 18/12/1990, cited in ‘Fremantle Markets’, p 2.

38 The West Australian, 7/8/1980 84 11/12/1980.

39 HCWA Online Database No 1006.

40 ‘Fremantle Markets’, p 2 84 5.

41 Information from various newspaper articles in Fremantle Herald and Fremantle Gazette.

42 Information provided by Alan Kelsall, Kelsall Binet Architects, 29/2/2012.

Garry Gillard | New: 28 April, 2018 | Now: 16 December, 2018