Kensington Street Chippendale

December 13th, 2018 - by Brad Gillespie

Kensington Street is one of the liveliest parts of the revitalised Chippendale precinct, with famous restaurants, funky cafes and Instagrammable architecture.

It is also one of Sydney’s oldest areas and has managed to clean up its act in a very big way.

Foodies who frequent the eateries may be surprised to learn that in the 1850s a City Health Officer described Kensington Street to be "in the most wretched condition, so far as ventilation and cleanliness are concerned."

Even in the 21st Century, Stanley Quek, who purchased the street in its entirety, noted that the area was unpleasant. “There were squatters, drugs. It was unsafe to walk on the street,” he said.

So how did Kensington Street come so far in such a short time? Here’s a little bit of information about its journey.

The Suburb

The swampy marshland surrounding Blackwattle Creek was granted to William Chippendale by the Crown in 1819. The nearby water was utilised by various industries and drew workers to the area.

By the 20th century, the district was grimy and the living quarters quite Dickensian in appearance. In 1900, it was the Sydney area that was hit hardest by the bubonic plague.

The Street

Also in 1819, Major George Druitt was granted eight acres of land tethered to Parramatta Road, which at the time was on the outskirts of Sydney. Fifteen years later he sold a portion of it to John Tooth who founded the Kent Brewery.

In 1842, Druitt sold another portion of his subdivision containing the bulk of Kensington Street. John Tooth and his nephew Frederick Tooth, bought several lots on the street.

Kensington Street became an official street in 1849 and much like the rest of Chippendale it consisted of poor quality, low-cost, rental housing for its working class inhabitants. The tenant turnover was high.

During the late 19th Century, the Tooths began to purchase residential properties surrounding Kent Brewery and absorbed it into their expanding property.

By 1911, all of the houses on the west side of Kensington Street were bought by the Tooths and demolished. The Tooths continued their purchasing spree onto the east side of Kensington Street, buying houses as they became available.

Factories and warehouses were built in the place of the demolished houses. Those terraces that did remain were leased to tenants and were often in dilapidated condition. Even by 1940s standards, things were bad. Some houses did not have electric lights and most did not have proper bathrooms.

Due to their poor state, many houses were boarded up after they became vacant. By default, the lack of maintenance ensured that their architectural integrity remained, even though the fabric of the houses had deteriorated.

The Brewery

The grungy jewel of Kensington Street was always the brewery. It was established in 1835 by Tooth & Co and made use of the abundant water supply of Blackwattle Creek.

The creek became known as a swamp, and was dubbed “eau-de-cologne valley” a sarcastic reference to the slaughter-house waste and raw sewage odours that were emitted from the run off.

Still the Kent Brewery expanded and in the 1930s the brewery signed a deal supplying the army with beer and continued to grow until the 1950s.

In the fifties and sixties, the company ran into trouble due to a shortage of building materials and brewing ingredients. Equipment was said to be “antiquated to the point of being dangerous.”

Still, working at the brewery had its perks: Employees were entitled to three schooners per day, one for their morning, afternoon and lunch break.

By the 1980’s the product became both too expensive to buy and too expensive to make. All of the Kent Brewery buildings were demolished, except for the main structure which was purchased by Carlton and United Breweries (CUB).

In 2003, the brewery closed its doors.

New Life

In 2007, the site was purchased by international property mogul Stanley Quek, who at the time was the Chairman of Frasers Property Australia. Quek said the area still smelled of hops.

The 5.8 hectares that made up the CUB complex were transformed into Central Park and the remains of the brewery were refurbished by Tonkin Zulaikha Greer to become the Old Clare Hotel; A hipster Mecca, with original bare-brick walls, where the hotel lobby is essentially a pub.

Quek has some friends in high places and called upon Sir Norman Foster and his head of design, David Nelson to come up with a master plan for the precinct.

The buildings with little historical or aesthetic value were knocked down while the prime row of heritage terraces were meticulously converted into galleries and restaurants. Quek requested a jaunty colour scheme in lieu of the standard terrace exteriors, which are usually painted in muted greys and beiges. While the backyards of the terraces now form Spice Alley, which consists of Asian hawker style stalls.


Kensington Street is a visual delight and a culinary adventure, one that most neighbourhoods crave to have in their vicinity.

If you’re interested in buying or selling in Chippendale get in touch with our team today.

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