FFF 71. Friday Facts & Fotos Friday 1st December 2023

Octopus Act

It is hard to discuss the massive expansion of activities at the recently opened New Newport workshops in 1888, without studying the background of the explosion of activity in the state of Victoria due to the discovery of gold near Ballarat. Gold discovered in other areas rapidly resulted in three railway construction bills compressed into one 1884 Act which authorised 1700 miles of railway expansion mostly into regional areas. Most of these new lines were operating by 1892.

The Williamstown railway workshops was overwhelmed and totally inadequate to produce what was needed. The demand for new locomotives, carriages, and freight wagons was so great, that one of the buildings purchased following the 1880 Melbourne exhibition was set up near the Newport railway station specifically to build and repair carriages. It opened in 1882 to relieve the Williamstown workshops of carriage building pressure.

The plan for the new workshops at Newport was rushed through the parliament in July 1884, and before the end of that year foundations works had started at the new site. The complex was modelled on the Nine Elms railway workshop of the London and South Western Co in UK. The Williamstown Chronicle of 14 July 1888 published a detailed description of the new buildings and operations and describe it as ‘a credit to the colony, being one of the most complete both in arrangement and labour saving machinery, in the world’. The frontage measured a thousand feet, by a depth of 300 feet.

An A.R.H.S. article in 1979 says that even by the turn of the century the new workshops lacked room for its many activities. Many had to be accommodated in temporary tarpaulin-covered huts around the spacious yards. So the beautiful front brick facade of east block, the central offices, and west block were soon forgotten with the rush to provide more covered space.

In the first three decades, production of wagons and carriages in east block spilled over into the huge area between the 1888 buildings and the southern boundary of Champion Road. This more than doubled the size of the original building.

These notes are from the citation of the National Trust of Victoria which listed Newport workshops in 1997.

Next week we will look at the extension behind west block in more detail.

Photos: The East block southern extension under construction as new wagons were being built below! Recent roof repairs in East Block.

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