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Jarrah Block Paving

Jarrah blocks were exposed in Mouat Street during works to replace pipes, 23 July 2020. And a few days later in Phillimore Street.

The Fremantle Society is excited by the exposure and is campaigning for some of the paving to remain permanently on display.

Photo courtesy of Roel Loopers >
He commented in his blog as follows:
The roadworks by the Water Corporation for the Pipes for Fremantle project have uncovered some of the original jarrah blocks ... which were used for road surfaces in the past.
Up until WW1, jarrah was WA's biggest export with the blocks used to pave the streets of cities such as London and Berlin.
It would be a shame to just cover them up again, so wouldn't it be nice if they could be retained as a visual reminder of Fremantle’s past. Maybe narrow the road and make the blocks part of the wider-footpath pavement, or as a traffic island?

Excerpt from Ian Visits:
Wood from Canada, from Scandinavia, and best of all, from Australia could be found on London’s streets. Australian Jarrah proved to be the most durable road surface, being both hard wearing, and resistant to absorbing horse urine.
So desirable was the Australian wood, that in 1898, the Jarrah Timber and Wood Paving Company was set up with the specific purpose of buying up forests in Western Australia, and shipping the timber back to London for use in road blocks.
In Islington, a small section of a side road still has a few rectangular wooden blocks:

This next photograph, from 1905, from Old Fremantle, shows jarrah blocks being cleaned for re-use:

John Dowson's caption:
Cleaning jarrah street blocks for re-use in September 1905, just months after tramlines began to be laid throughout Fremantle. The photograph was taken in what is now known as Pioneer Park, opposite the railway station. The building on the left is the 1858 Manning Building, so big and with so many windows it was known as Manning's Folly (demolished 1928). The Tolley Building is still standing, though occupied by Tolleys only from 1901 to 1911.

Another photo from Old Fremantle. John Dowson's caption:
Laying tramlines, 1905, looking east up High Street to the Town Hall from the intersection at Market Street. The jarrah blocks which had only been laid in 1898, are here being teporarily removed. Vast quantities of this Western Australian timber were used to pave city streets in Australia and overseas. Later, there were problems with water getting between the tram lines and the wooden blocks.

Tram track construction in High Street at the Market Street intersection, 1905, looking west towards the Round House. The J.A. Hicks building further down High Street is now the Wyola Club. (Dowson)

The Wooden Streets of Fremantle Part 2

[Fremantle Society post 30 July 2020]

The top photo shows Phillimore Street today, with works halted, so archaeological finds discovered can be assessed - possible historic wooden boxed conduit.
The major Water Corporation Pipes Project is replacing cast iron pipes dating back to c1898. They have lasted longer than most of the wooden blocks which covered the streets above them - High Street wooden blocks were laid in 1898, with Mouat and Cliff Streets in 1903.
Very little of the streets of wood remain, but talk of wooden streets in Australia goes back before Western Australia was even settled.

Wooden Streets in 1826

The very day, 2 December 1826, that the Hobart Town Gazette reported Major Lockyer visiting for a supply of water on his way to form a settlement in Albany, the newspaper discussed the use of timber on roads in Europe: "We should remark here the practice in Vienna, and other cities of the Continent of Europe, where open courts and blind alleys are usually paved with blocks of hard wood."
In 1839 The Colonist (9 February) recommended wooden streets for Sydney, reporting that merchants in the world's most famous shopping street, Oxford Street, were so keen to have wood paving, they offered to pay for a section themselves. They turned up at a council meeting with a New Yorker who attested to the success of wood paving on Broadway, "the greatest thoroughfare in America."
But, the satirical Punch magazine thought London's streets in 1846 were such a mess they were fit for a steeplechase: "The grand fun of a steeplechase seems to consist in the risk people run, and the difficulty they encounter in urging their horses across yawning chasms, and other kinds of obstacles." Drivers "if their horses will gallop fast enough, would induce them to plunge without hesitation into the midst of sewers and gas pipes, or to go bounding over lumps of granite, blocks of wood, and every other obstacle which the paving, lighting, and watering authorities are constantly offering to the traffic of the metropolis."

1862 Governor Hampton Arrives in WA

It took John Hampton, Governor of WA 1862-1868, to get wooden roads in WA. He had seen them in Canada, and ordered three miles of Stirling Highway to be paved as a test. Convicts cut down 300 year old jarrah trees and made 30cm thick discs, later to be known as "Hampton's Cheeses."
Hampton also paved parts of the road to Guildford, which followed a well worn Aboriginal track, and the beginning of the Albany Road, with wood. A section of the Guildford Road timbers (now Great Eastern Highway) in Belmont were discovered in 2012. The mayor proudly announced that his council was "committed to preserving its history", so 6 of Hampton's Cheeses have been moved and will one day be displayed (moving heritage is the last thing that should be done in such cases).
The use of Western Australia's precious "Swan River Mahogany" for mundane purposes like sleepers and wooden streets, exploded in the 1890s, and 90% of our great forests have gone to the ends of the earth.

Fremantle's Wooden Streets

In Fremantle, after new water mains (the ones now being replaced), were installed, High, Cliff, and Mouat Streets were paved with wood.
High Street was paved from the Town Hall to Cliff Street with 320,000 seasoned blocks dipped in boiling tar, installed against jarrah kerbing, on an 8 inch concrete base, by three teams working 24 hours a day.
The intersection of Mouat and High was regarded as the busiest in Fremantle, and indeed one of the State's busiest. In 1910 Millar's Karri and Jarrah Company (1902) Limited asked council for specimens of the 9" long x 6" deep x 3" wide wood blocks laid there in 1898, in connection with tenders the company was lodging for orders outside the State. The wooden blocks were found to be "practically as good as new."
Last week The Fremantle Society reported that numerous blocks in this same area had been rediscovered.
The discovery is a highly significant scientific find in a world class heritage town. It vividly tells the story of what has gone before.
The Fremantle Society will do whatever it takes to get these blocks conserved where they are. and presented to the public where they are, through a covering of bullet proof glass and with detailed interpretation .
The project should begin now, not in the future, when people have forgotten where they are.
A fund for $50,000 will be aimed at. How much will you contribute?
Phillimore Street: John Dowson
Cutting Street Paving Blocks: H. Webb photo from "A Glimpse into the Jarrah Timber Industry in Western Australia" c1905 (Dowson collection)
Cape Town Street paved with jarrah blocks: "Millars' Karri & Jarrah Company (1902) Limited" c 1908 (Dowson collection)

27 July 2020

Wooden Street Project - Needed to be Implemented NOW

Exciting Find of Wooden Street Blocks in Mouat Street

Last week a substantial section of Western Australian wooden blocks was unearthed in Mouat Street. This is shown in the first two photographs, provided by Archae-Aus archaeologists of North Fremantle, overseeing roadworks for the Pipes for Fremantle project.

The streets of Fremantle were once paved with wooden blocks put down 130 years ago, but most have disappeared, and Fremantle Council was not able to provide details of what remnants exist.

The blocks have now been covered up, and council is saying:  "Deciding how to best to conserve, display and interpret these items will be complicated and needs to be carefully considered." And, "The archaeologists report..... may provide us with useful information for future interpretive work on the history hidden under our streets."

Given the appalling record of Fremantle Council on heritage, these weasel words are not good enough. The previous council under Mayor Tagliaferri spent $250,000 drawing up extensive plans for a major archaeological interpretive centre in Pioneer Park for visitors to enjoy as soon as they hopped off the train, but the Pettitt council threw those plans in the bin, and 11 years later there has been no effort to do the project. The same will happen here. There will be promises of future "investigations" into what may be revealed with this wooden street section, but nothing will happen unless the public put a rocket under the pathetic heritage record of council, and get this project done NOW. $50,000 needs to be urgently allocated to find a way to:

a) uncover the wooden blocks again and undertake professional conservation.

b) find a way of revealing the blocks in situ with state of the art protective glass, and if need be, extend the footpath to protect the blocks.

c) provide signage and interpretation of this exciting and important story of what happened under our feet 125 years ago.

Given the grief caused to local businesses for months and months by the necessary but intrusive Pipes for Fremantle, an archaeological discovery like this made visible to the public would be a great drawcard and a positive outcome after so much disruption.

The Pipes for Fremantle project is itself worthy of archaeological interpretation. It has been a major project replacing most pipes, many over 100 years old. Under our feet now are state of the art water pipes for the next 100 year

Many streets around the world were paved with valuable Western Australian timber. An astonishing amount of jarrah and karri was used. So little remains.

Karri was laid in Flinders Street Melbourne as long ago as 1889.

Camberwell UK laid over 12 miles of blocks. After 10 years they were taken up, and 65% were able to be recut, and reinstalled on their 8 inch concrete base.

Similarly, just in the UK, Hamsptead, Ramsgate, Edinburgh, Newbury, Bolton, Cheltenham, Southampton, Batley, Bermondsey, Bristol, Southwark, Wimbledon, Harrogate, Cambridge, Plymouth, and Newcastle Upon Tyne used shiploads of WA timber after 1895.

Patten Barber, engineer of Islington, London, where the third photograph above was taken of remnant blocks still in the street today, stated in 1903: "Granite setts are condemned on account of the noise made by the traffic passing over them, and asphalt because of its slipperiness and the bad foothold it affords to horses, especially in starting with heavy loads. Wood is undoubtedly the material most approved of by the public, whose demand for a noiseless pavement is not likely to be relaxed. Business is impossible and residence distressing in a busy street paved with material on which the traffic produces a continuous clatter.... jarrah from Australia led to the softer wood being to a great extent abandoned. Jarrah is now in almost universal use."

But, Karri was often preferred. The Chief Engineer of Paris wrote: "Karri up to now seems to me to give very good results, much better than those of jarrah". Fulham, London agreed, adding "Jarrah and karri are shewn to be both cheaper in the end than creosoted deal, and karri the cheaper of the two."

Even when the tramways arrived with problems of inserting rails into streets, hardwoods were extolled. In 1909 Biggs & Sons Municipal Engineering stated: "Macadam is out of the question; granite is noisy; asphalt is forbidden as a tramway edging; soft wood is unsanitary and short-lived; there is nothing left, therefore, but the hardwood block for such a position."

Of millions of jarrah blocks used for streets around the world, few remain.

Showing the exciting wooden street discovered in Mouat Street to passersby is a project not expensive or difficult, given the expertise in Fremantle. Join us in raising funds. Let's get this project done, now.

John Dowson
The Fremantle Society
27 July, 2020
9335 2113
Photos: First two provided by archaeologists Archae-Aus, North Fremantle 94331127.
Photo 3: Gerry Gillard's Freo Stuff
Photo 4: Regent Street London covered with Karri blocks, from "Karri & Jarrah Timber," 1905, Dowson collection (Copyright)

From the Fremantle Herald, 31 July 2020:

Jarrah Street 'Needs Display'

CENTURY-OLD jarrah road blocks uncovered during pipe laying in Fremantle’s West End should be preserved under thick glass says the Fremantle Society.
The blocks date back to 1897 when High, Cliff and Mouat streets were bustling with trade from the port and the state was booming on the back of the Goldfields.
Society president John Dowson said the discovery was a highly significant scientific find in a world-class heritage town.
“It vividly tells the story of what has gone before,” Mr Dowson said.
He told the Herald scattered blocks had previously been found in Fremantle but the current discovery is are easily the biggest and most intact example.
“A few years back I asked the council if they had a register of what had been found, but they had no idea,” Mr Dowson said.
“The Fremantle Society will do whatever it takes to get these blocks conserved where they are, and presented to the public where they are, through a covering of bullet-proof glass and with detailed interpretation.”
The council’s heritage co-ordinator Gena Binet says the blocks have been covered back up after being mapped to preserve them, and works replacing Freo’s even older cast iron water pipes have been redesigned.
Ms Binet said the blocks are damp and if left in the open air could disintegrate rapidly.
She said different coloured bitumen above could be used to indicate their location and interpretive signage installed to let people know what’s below. Steve Grant, Fremantle Herald, 31 July 2020.

References and Links

Dowson, John 2003, Old Fremantle: Photographs 1850-1950, UWAP. Photos 3-5 above are from pages 174, 172, 173.

Grant, Steve 2020, 'Jarrah Street "Needs Display"', Fremantle Herald, 31 July.

Ian Visits blog.

Garry Gillard | New: 24 July, 2020 | Now: 31 July, 2020