Local Landmark: History Of The Newtown Silos

March 18th, 2022 - by Brad Gillespie

A historic flour mill's landmark silos and timber grain storage bins have taken on a new lease of life as an iconic, award-winning residential complex.

The story of the F. Crago & Sons Newtown Flour Mill

The Crago Flour Mill, built in 1896 for Francis Crago and originally known as the Federal Flour Mill, was once considered one of the finest mills in the colony. Born in Cornwall, England, Crago served as mayor of Bathurst before relocating to Sydney to build his Newtown flour mill. Designed by Nixon and Allen and erected on the former railway reserve for the first Newtown Railway Station, it was the primary mill of several he built along the eastern seaboard.

The late 19th and early 20th centuries were an era of rapid change in the milling industry. The introduction of industrial machinery, the spread of railway infrastructure across NSW and the development of new wheat grains resulted in larger, more far-flung farms and the replacement of small regional mills with ‘mega mills’ in the city. Crago was an early adopter of new milling technologies, and the Newtown mill was one of the first to use modern steel rolling mill equipment. It was also ideally positioned on the railway line, giving it ready access to grain from regional NSW and the growing export market.

The Federal Flour Mill was rebuilt in 1901 after sustaining 20,000 pounds worth of damage in a major fire. When Francis Crago senior died in 1907, his son Francis Arthur Crago took over the running of the mill and in 1908 changed its name to Crago Flour Mill. The mill grew and changed over time as milling technologies evolved, with the iconic concrete silos added in 1936. Over the years, the mill added the production of stock feeds, self-raising flour and rye products to its range.

Crago Flour Mill was in operation for almost 90 years before it shut its doors for the last time in 1984. After its closure, the mill buildings were used for storage, a dance school and creative studios for artists and craftspeople.

The site is now listed on the local Inner West Council heritage inventory. The silos and the timber grain storage bins, two key architectural elements of the Newtown Silos apartment complex, receive special mention in the heritage listing. The silos are noteworthy as a relatively early example of a bank of reinforced concrete silos, and the timber-cribbed bins are fine examples of this type of once-common grain storage.

From industrial mill to chic home

Following the subdivision of the silos and timber storage bins from the mill building in 2002, their conversion began in earnest. The design, by renowned architects Tonkin Zulaikha Greer, saw the landmark silos and timber bins transformed into residential apartments and the construction of a new, adjacent building known as the Terraces. The 63 apartments, spread over 14 levels and three buildings, were completed in 2005.

The sensitive refurbishment has carefully retained the industrial heritage of the silos and the timber bins. The impressive timber and concrete structural forms of their ground-level bases shape the two main foyers of the new building. The apartments within the silos capitalise on the unusual and delightful circular room shapes to take advantage of southern views and northern sunlight. Throughout the buildings, original unfinished wall surfaces maintain a link with the building’s past. New signage on the ground level retells the building’s history, enhanced by the presence of some of the original mill health and safety signage.

The building’s heritage and environmental pedigree have been recognised with several awards, including the 2006 Marrickville Council Medal for Conservation and the 2006 National Trust of Australia (NSW) Conservation Energy Management Award and Adaptive Reuse Award.

The Silos today

It’s been seventeen years since the Newtown Silos conversion was completed, and today, its unique industrial features and heritage and proximity to Newtown Station make it one of the area’s most coveted developments. Domain reports that the average owner-occupier in this building stays for more than nine years, showing both how liveable and tightly held it is.

Apartment 57, nestled on the fifth floor of this highly sought-after location, is currently on the market. This chic one-bedroom retreat includes a study, internal laundry, secure parking and sweeping views across the Newtown streetscape.

The apartment features two private balconies, high ceilings and brand-new carpets, all within footsteps of cafes, restaurants, and the best King Street has to offer.

To organise a viewing of this slice of Newtown history and design, contact my team today.