Boston fern appeared in the late 1880’s and early 1890’s. It was seen predominantly in and around Melbourne, it was one of many designs featuring the Australian ferns in particular the tree fern, as it is seen in the Fishfern design.
The Birdsville design illustrates the sulphur crested cockatoo, this design originated around 1880 in and around the country towns and cities of NSW. It was registered by D&R Bradford on 3.12.1884.
A magnificent verandah panel featuring the cockatoo was registered on 3.12.1884 as was the lacework, an example of this design can be seen in Picton NSW.
Another design featuring the Kookaburra is now rarely seen. It was a familiar sight in Melbourne suburbs including Prahran and Victorian country towns including Ballarat where it can still be seen today!
The Kooyong design was registered by A.Macleon on 5.06.1880, however another design he registered was the Vase Key frieze this was registered on 8.06.1886
Many properties come under National Trust preservation orders, many examples of original cast iron lacework and balustrade can be seen on these properties.
Registration of designs
Registrations of designs of lacework , balustrade panels and other cast iron pieces of architecture began in 1870. However many designs were made earlier than this period and used on many buildings. The commonwealth designs act became effective after federation in early 1907.
Design registrations were incorporated into the commonwealth register, these were from all the states and territories of Australia. These are now lodged in Canberra and can be viewed at the department of Science and Technology.
Approximately 350 designs were registered from 77 foundries, the majority from NSW & Victoria however some registrations were received from Queensland and South Australia.
Many foundries registered the same or very similar patterns, this was possible as these products were being manufactured up to fifty years prior to registration, and patterns were copied and altered.
Many products manufactured today in lacework and balustrades were never registered. They have been manufactured in recent times and have little reflection on original Victorian architecture.
Registrations continued to lapse, foundries closed and some registrations still current were sold. It was evident that very few designs would be available, and most of these were manufactured by a number of foundries around Australia. There were however many designs that could be manufactured if the demand warranted its reproduction.
The first design registrations were in the 1870 period. A large number of designs in NSW originated from Victoria. Many of these original designs are scarce although there are a few designs manufactured today. Many similar designs are manufactured today in both aluminium and cast iron. A popular original design was the V5 & V25 Panels. These were registered by Cross & Laughton in 1872. The V22 Panel was registered on 6.9.1883. An extremely close resemblance of the V1 Panel was registered on 16.8.1881, the V24 Panel was also registered on the 24.04.1884, the V6 panel on the 8.05.1885, the V8 Panel 15.12.1884 and the V26 panel was registered on the 6.09.1883. The V8 Grecian Lady panel originated from Flora, the roman goddess of springtime as depicted in Bottice Ilis La Primavera (1483) Inspiration for the carving more than likely originated from “Flora” , as its motif include May blossom, a flower associated with her worship! The Sunflower and Victoria Panel originated through the influence of renaissance urns & flowers, which came from the Palazzo Veckhio in Florence.
49 Manufacturers registered 175 designs, this is approximately half of all the foundries and the designs registered. The V6 Panel was also registered in Victoria on 4.8.1877 together with the V7A newel. This was a very common design. It was registered by A.Maclean. Another popular design registered by the same person on 15.9.1886 was the V30 Panel.
The V27 Panel was registered on 30.12.1875, and the V32 Panel was registered by the well known foundry of Cochrane & Scott in November 1887.
72 Designs were registered in QLD. Many of these designs were the same or similar to those registered in NSW. The designs registered can be seen in Brisbane and North Queensland including Townsville, Maryborough and Rockhampton. Many designs were unique to these areas and rarely seen else where.
The V4 Panel was registered in Queensland on the 7.9.1886 as was the C54 Panel on 19.01.1887. John Crane and Co of Brisbane registered the R2 Panel and the V2 Panel in approximately 1880 in Brisbane.
South Australia Registrations
Stewart & Harley of Adelaide manufactured a range of decorative products, some of these designs they produced were the V30, V10 and the Carnbrae Panel and Corner. They also produced the Kenyon panel to match the Kenyon Lace, they traded under the name of Sun Foundry and had a catalogue of over 100 Pages.
Guide Lines to Restoration
Original terraces tended to use white or pale shades, however recently there has been a move back to the more traditional colour schemes as seen used through the Victorian period.
Many variations of colour has been used in many original properties especially on verandahs where broad stripes were often used to complement the lighter colours. During the boom lace period of 1880/1890 it was not uncommon to see the lace designs having been picked out of the lace or balustrade designs. This was particularly noticeable in the many fern , flower and bird designs.
Sandblasting an original piece of lace can on occasions provide some interesting detail, not necessarily evident from the casting, with many years of paint covering it.
Replacing the iron work on a Victorian house is a very gratifying task, as this is one of the most dominant features of the fascade.
Its rehabilitation immediately refreshes the character and charm of the house. Original lacework can be reproduced in aluminium without loosing any of its authentic qualities, so important when restoring a property. It does have the advantage of being much lighter to work with, and with the added advantage of not rusting and being easier to paint, the popularity of this product is increasing.
Care should be taken when replacing the lacework on an old home. It is important to try to replace it to match it to designs within the immediate neighbourhood. It is interesting to note in the case of terraces, the matching of lacework, corners and frieze on the one terrace was more common in Melbourne then Sydney. For instance if using the Bird design it would normally be accepted the appropriate matching design would be used, however this was not the case in Sydney.
Be careful when trying to buy a matching panel or piece of lace, as the castings look the same, however in most cases the sizes vary. In this case reproduction of the casting would be the best option.
If you are planning on having the cast reproduced take care when removing the original samples, as they are generally brittle and easily broken.
Aluminium castings reproduced correctly look so authentic they are very difficult to distinguish from cast iron, especially when installed in balustrades etc.
Incorrect use of lightweight aluminium castings can have a detrimental effect on the reproduction of an old building. It is important to make sure in an old building the woodwork is level and sound, otherwise trying to install to an uneven surface will be unsatisfactory.
Balustrades were generally installed using a timber top rail. A wide range of authentic looking aluminium rails are manufactured today. However in Sydney the majority of rails were smaller and made of steel or aluminium. The large range of aluminium handrail made today have the added advantage they look like timber, are maintenance free, are much lighter to work with and will not rot or corrode.
Restoring an Old home
In restoring an old home, rehabilitation of the iron lace and the study of its design are more important than any other task. It will give a fascinating insight into the Victorian attitudes and those who built and lived in the house during those years of confidence. The pattern proudly displayed across the fascades of mansions and lining the streets of working class terraces throw light on the cultural baggage of those who come to settle here. We can also trace the outlook of indigenous artists who looked at the distinctive texture of the native vegetation and fauna for inspiration. What a colonial pattern maker had in mind when he carved a piece of timber that would be repeated in iron by a foundry was unsure. But this is where the patterns were first introduced.
The idea on ornamentation on homes originated from England. The patterns and forms of cast iron were very different from one country to another. However the period in which it boomed world wide was similar. The forms of ornamentation varied greatly within the Australian States. In Australia it became fashionable to use cast iron, as it was a cheap item to produce.
Creating the design through carving the timber pattern was the only creative aspect of the manufacture of this product. The ability to create casting was a labour intensive operation. The demand for upmarket lace and decorative balustrades especially on terrace houses exploded after the gold rush, during which time the population quadrupled. This was during the years of 1851-1857. Many miners decided to stay in Melbourne and inner city areas, they lived in upmarket houses in order to compliment their newfound wealth and importance.
The merchants as they were known, who had profited greatly from the gold rush settled in Melbourne and built many large mansions using cast iron, especially for external usage. Many of these properties are in existence today!
The boom in cast iron decoration ceased at the end of the nineteenth century. This was as a result of a number of factors including the new architectural styles. In Melbourne in 1893 a depression followed the collapse of the land boom, there was little money for building. As the industry slowly recovered so did the design of houses that had been popular overseas. Federation style homes were becoming popular.
Wrought iron gates and fences were primarily manufactured using cast iron. During the period of 1890-1900 many of these old Victorian fences are still standing today in some inner city parts of Melbourne and also country Victoria including Ballarat. Wrought iron was made of cast iron as the manufacture of wrought iron required greater skill, which was not available. It was also very labour intensive. The amazing part of producing a cast iron panel was it had to be carved in wood prior to pouring at the foundry. Imagine the cost of trying to do this today. Often an original casting was brought out from England. This was used as a pattern; this is why many English designs are evident on homes built around 1900.
It was a very strong item when cast however it had the disadvantage of becoming brittle and shattering especially with age.
A wonderful example of cast iron coming into Australia from over seas is the Corio Villa. It originated from Scotland in 1855 where it was manufactured and exported to Australia. It included inside and outside walls, stagnations and the complete verandah. It can be seen on the Eastern beach in Geelong Victoria.
These are the most typical & stereotyped of all buildings in Melbourne. These terraces are based upon those built in England, they are composed of a number of houses separated by dividing walls. Light and airflow is only available through the front and rear door unless you live in an end terrace. Dividing walls were generally made of stone or brick, they had to be a certain thickness to prevent fire. The houses are all uniform in design, the only variations are superimposed features such as the patterns of the cast iron architecture!
Verandahs on the early terraces abutted into the street. A small garden area appeared in the front. Very few terraces were built after 1920 as councils prohibited their construction, however they did provide very economical accommodation and today are very fashionable as town houses!
The age of many terraces is unknown. Some have the date built recorded in the pediment, however others are more of an estimated time period, as limited records are kept.
The date of registration of the ironwork is not a true guide, as some was registered many years after it was first manufactured. Researching the dates of the building can be a long and exhausting experience, with few guarantees a successful result will be achieved!