Rochford Street History: A Living Remnant of Erskineville’s Past

June 8th, 2018 - by Brad Gillespie

Stretching from King Street Newtown to Erskineville Road, Rochford Street is a quintessential Erskineville street, full of character, charm and history.

Like many Erskineville streets you can’t drive straight down it - a tiny open space with pedestrian-only access bisects Rochford Street at Victoria Street, giving it a quiet residential focus and dividing its Northern and Southern ends with their own distinct feel. It’s also home to a little pocket park at number 111, giving residents somewhere to relax, play and catch the sun.


The history of Rochford Street is a convoluted one. It was part of a 210-acre parcel of land that belonged to the estate of Nicholas Devine. In 1827, Devine gave Bernard Rochford, his servant, the right to manage his affairs. Rochford – who the street is named after – sold off some of this land during Devine’s lifetime. After Devine’s death in 1830, Rochford subdivided the area into smaller farm plots and larger estates and sold those parcels off as well.

Land Dispute

In 1852, John Devine, who was related to Nicholas Devine, travelled from Ireland and tried to reclaim the original 210-acre estate. At that point, the sold segments of land belonged to prestigious figures in Sydney, such as Henry Knight, the owner of the brick factory and nearby brickworks.

Devine’s legal battle, called the Newtown Ejectment Case, was the biggest that the colony had experienced at the time. It took eight years to resolve and deterred many from buying land in the area.

Devine lost the case. However, the property owners established a fund and partially compensated him through it.

The Inhabitants

During the case, the population of the suburb began to evolve from predominantly market gardeners to brick makers and tanners. The architecture adapted along with the dwellers, and narrow Victorian Cottages and terraces were built to house these workers. This is why the housing along Rochford Street is so compact.

The Name

In the days of Nicholas Devine, the area was known as Macdonaldtown – named after Stephen Macdonald who owned land in the southern part of the suburb. However, in 1893 it was renamed as the Borough of Erskineville. This was in reference to Erskine Villa, which was the home of Reverend George Erskine, built in 1830 and found on 63 Erskineville Rd.

Significant Buildings

  • 160 Rochford Street - Commune coworking space
    Embracing the inner city vibe is a co-working space in a converted warehouse.
  • 166A Rochford Street – Hillsborough Terrace
    This two-storey Victorian Filigree-style building was erected a decade before Macdonaldtown became Erskineville. It sits on the original land granted to Nicholas Devine in 1797 and was built in 1882-84 during the residential boom on Rochford Street. Many of the terrace’s original features have been preserved including the elaborate parapet and cast iron balustrading.
  • 193 Rochford Street – former post office
    The post office and store was built by Henry Knight, who was a renowned builder and owned the local brickyard, for his son Henry Knight Junior. Knight Junior was the postmaster and lived in the residence from 1874. Knight Senior became the Mayor of Macdonaldtown in 1872 and his son was an alderman on Macdonaldtown Council.
  • 195 -199 Rochford Street – Henry Knight Cottages
    Right next to the former post office was a warehouse building that was constructed at the same time. Next door, 199 Rochford Street was the early residence of Henry Knight’s Cottage, the maid’s quarters, the horse stable, carriage shed and cobblestone courtyard. These were some of the first freestanding working-class dwellings in the area.

If you’re interested in buying or selling on Rochford Street Erskineville contact our team today.