Local Landmark: Newtown Station

March 1st, 2024 - by Brad Gillespie

Newtown Station may be compact, with only two platforms, but no fewer than six tracks pass through it, serving three railway lines.

You can board at Newtown and travel to Central station and the city, or west on the T2 Inner West and Leppington lines.

A landmark on King Street, heritage listed Newtown Station has existed since 1855. We explore the fascinating history of this suburban station.

The only stationmaster with any experience

Newtown Station started as one of just four stops on the very first passenger railway line in NSW, which ran from Sydney to Parramatta Junction. Back then, its passenger facilities consisted of no more than a timber waiting shed.

According to the Australian Railway Historical Society, Newtown's first station master, Edmund Herald, started work on 24 September 1855, and lived on-site in a small office/residence. Mr Herald died at the age of 91 and an article at the time of his death (in 1922), relays the story of his original appointment:

“In his letter of appointment - one of singular brevity - Mr Herald was told to report to a tailor to be fitted for a uniform, and to present himself the day before the railway was to be opened, at the contractor's office in Bligh Street.

His uniform consisted of “a top hat, frock coat, and bell bottomed trousers”.

The article describes Mr Herald as a previous employee of The Eastern Counties Railway in England and the only one of six newly appointed stationmasters to have had experience in the job. He provided NSW Railways with a set of rules and regulations from the Eastern Counties Railway that it also used. These were read out aloud by a policeman at a meeting in the bar of a city hotel the night before the trains started running.

A growing and changing area

In 1856, a goods yard opened at Newtown, and the suburb grew rapidly around the station. Housing subdivisions from this era, and into the early 1900s, promoted their proximity to the new station as a major selling point.

By the 1870s, under Engineer-in-Charge John Whitton, NSW Railways had started replacing and adding new buildings to the original Parramatta line, including at Newtown Station. The Railways built a new, free-standing, two-storey brick residence for the Newtown Station Master in 1872, and a brick station building in 1877.

In the early 1870s, there was an old “toll-bar” outside Newtown Station, to collect tolls for road improvement, and this photo shows how undeveloped the area near the station remained.

In 1892, after more railway tracks were completed, the station moved to the other side of King Street and an overhead booking office was built (which still remains).

In 1898, a siding was laid to serve Mr Crago’s flour mill, which had opened in 1896 (the famous mill operated until 1984 and is now repurposed as The Newtown Silos housing).

If you’re wondering what Newtown Station was like in this era, the National Film and Sound Archives of Australia has some amazing footage of a train arriving at Newtown Station 1899, complete with ladies holding parasols and a dapper commuter in a suit and hat with his newspaper.

Meanwhile, this photo taken in the early 1900s, shows a horse drawn cart opposite the station, and trams running down King Street. And this photo from 1916 shows passengers waiting on Newtown Station.

The station itself was rebuilt in 1927, shortly after electric trains were introduced. This old undated black and white photo from the State Library of NSW shows a wooden fence, with the station platform in the distance. While another more recent image shows a retro version of the view we have today outside the station entrance on King Street at the intersection of Enmore Road, with its buses and busy shops and restaurants.

A short stint as a Mortuary Station

In the late 1800s, funerals were held at Rookwood Cemetery and, to travel there, mourners usually joined funeral trains (with the coffin) at Mortuary Station, near Central (the Gothic inspired sandstone building still stands today).

According to the Past/Lives website, in 1875 “a junior version of the Mortuary Station was set up at Newtown to provide a starting point for mourners unable to reach the city”. A new mortuary station was rebuilt in the early 1900s, but by the 1930s funeral trains had largely stopped, and the occasional service that ran on weekends and other days was officially terminated in 1948.

Newtown’s mortuary station was demolished in 1965.

Heritage listed and upgrades

In 1999, Newtown Station was heritage listed due to its age and contribution to the growth of surrounding suburbs.

The overhead booking office from 1892 is a distinctive part of King Street’s charm, and is given a detailed description in the historical listing:

“The hipped roof is covered in shingle terracotta tiles and surmounted at the centre by a square louvre-vented bellcote, which is clad with ribbed lead, and capped by a helmet dome… To King Street is a timber framed veranda, supported on six cast iron columns, with a skillion roof with corrugated steel sheeting. The columns have the name "G.Fletcher and Son, Waverley" cast into the bases. The King Street veranda was built in 1902 as an early station building addition.”

You can see how it was restored, by comparing the 1991 and 2021 photos at Sydney Then and Now. While many alterations have been made to the station over the years - including the 1927 platform building - it remains an important part of our local heritage.

The iconic old Newtown tram depot next door to the station (the oldest remaining tram depot in Sydney) was also heritage listed at the same time. From 1900 until 1957 it housed trams that ran the Glebe Point, Canterbury, Earlwood and Summer Hill lines, making Newtown a real transport hub. This photo from 1927 shows the hard labour involved in tram tracks being relayed outside the station.

In 2012, a major upgrade resulted in a new entrance to the station, but the tram sheds remain derelict, with its landmark “sawtooth roof” and circular windows visible.

Newtown Station today: the evolution of an area

In 2013, the Australian Railway Historical Society wrote:

“Newtown station possesses one of the most interesting histories amongst NSW railway stations. It has served a variety of functions throughout its 158 years of operation. Its Station Masters and Managers have seen the surrounding catchment change from rural, to semi-rural, to working and middle class housing, to 30 years of slum status, to trendy dwellings.”

If you’re interested in making Newtown your home, contact us today.