Friday, February 10, 2017

The Thatcher Family - Building Our Heritage:

In the days since Europeans began settling in the south east corner, many builders & designers have played a part in the development of the area. None, however, could be said to have had the influence on the built environment locally & beyond than the Thatcher family. Three generations worked over a period extending from the 1880s through to around the 1960s, leaving behind them a precious, substantial & significant tangible legacy.

Renowned for the quality of their craftsmanship, family members were responsible for a wide variety of ecclesiastical, commercial, governmental, residential & community structures throughout the Bega Valley, Far South Coast, Monaro, Southern Highlands & Eastern Suburbs of Sydney. The fact that so many examples of their work survive today as a built document of the history & heritage of the region & state only strengthens this importance.

Robert Wallis Thatcher with his wife & one of his sons, Lance 
Corporal S.R. Thatcher. 
Courtesy of the Manchester Archives.
Robert Wallis Thatcher, a ship builder by trade, was born in Manchester, England, in 1861 to Robert & Charlotte (nee Wallis). Arriving in Australia via America in 1883, he moved to Bega the same year to take up a position with John Malcolm building the Bank of New South Wales. In March 1885 he married Emmeline Shorter & eight children followed.

Bega's Bank of NSW (left) & court house. R. W. Thatcher 
originally moved to Bega to work on the bank building.
Quickly establishing himself in the construction industry locally, by 1890 he had joined with Robert Underhill to form the longstanding Underhill & Thatcher firm of builders & contractors. A prolific pairing, the partnership undertook the development, renovation, alteration & extension of many structures in & around the Bega district as well as beyond. One of their first joint projects was the brick two-storey Bega Convent, constructed in 1890-91. The building still stands today, albeit altered & extended.
Bega Convent, as it appears today.
Due to ongoing health problems, medical professionals advised Robert Thatcher that a return to his English home land may help. To that end, the Underhill & Thatcher partnership was dissolved in November 1905 & the same month, the family boarded a ship bound for the “old country”, landing in England in December. By February 1906, Robert was contracting in Manchester while June found him working in London.

After just two years, however, he decided to return to Australia, arriving in Sydney in January 1908. The same month he made his way back to Bega & “…the good old firm…” of Underhill & Thatcher was quickly re-established. Shortly afterwards, they secured a major contract for additions to Tathra Wharf, a job which they completed in March 1909.

SS Cobargo at Tathra Wharf. 
Courtesy of the State Library of NSW.
Increasing Sydney-based projects saw the firm decide to relocate & in June 1912 local media reported on their departure complete with staff. However, by late 1914 Robert had returned to Bega where he had embarked on the design & construction of the Kameruka Hostel. By 1917, three of his sons were working in the business & in 1923, when he took a lease on the Drill Hall in Gipps Street, Bega, for his workshop & offices, he was trading as Thatcher & Sons.


A Thatcher design for a proposed building in Woodstock Street,
Waverly, in Sydney.
Courtesy of the Bega Pioneers' Museum.


Kameruka hostel.
Courtesy of the Museum of Applied Arts.
Kameruka Hostel.
Courtesy of the National Museum of Australia.
Robert eventually went into partnership with his second youngest child Arthur Cecil, forming R. W. Thatcher & Son, & he remained active in the firm virtually up until his death at Tathra in May 1948. Arthur took over the family business, establishing A. C. Thatcher Pty Ltd & subsequently undertook some of the largest building & construction projects on the Far South Coast. He passed away in 1964 at the age of 65 years. Robert’s grandson, also named Robert, became the third generation to enter the family’s building & construction business.


Having been in business over such a lengthy period of time, there can be little surprise that the Thatcher family made a significant contribution to the development of local & regional heritage.

Among the ecclesiastical projects with which Robert was involved were the Bega Presbyterian Manse (1892); Cobargo Roman Catholic Church (1897 & 1937); St. John’s Anglican Church Lych Gates (completed in 1934) & Parish Hall (1897); extensions to St. Patrick’s Church, Bega (1909); Cobargo Convent (1917); Wolumla Church of England church (1922-23); Bemboka Church of England church (1928-29); & Cobargo Church of England church (1923).

St John's Anglican Church, Bega.
St Lukes Anglican Church, Wolumla.
Christ Church, Bemboka.
Christ Church, Cobargo (above & below).

On the commercial front, he was variously responsible for the design & / or construction of buildings including the NSW Butter Company’s creamery at Dry River (1895); Bega’s Bank of Australasia (1904); Moruya’s Commercial Banking Company (1905); S. H. Pearce’s coach & buggy factory, Bega (1909); a picture gallery in Bega (1911); two double storey brick shops for the Gowing Estate in Bega, (1911); a brick built motor shop in Bega (1922); four concrete shops, also for the Gowing Estate, in Bega (1923); Bega Butter Company’s factory (1924); the State Electric Lighting Company’s powerhouse in Bega (1926); a bakery premises for Messrs Holzauser Brothers in Bega (1927); & a new brick hotel for Herb Turner at Cobargo (1937).


Above & below: a building in Church Street, Bega, originally
constructed for S. H. Pearce as a coach &and buggy factory.

Robert also undertook additions to the Central Hotel, Bega (1900); extensions (1901) & improvements (1909) to Bega’s Family Hotel; additions to Bega’s Metropolitan Hotel (1911); extensions to Candelo’s Commercial Bank building (1918); the addition of a balcony on the Bank Hotel, Bega (1923); & alterations to two double-fronted two-storey shops in Carp Street, Bega (1932).
Bega Family Hotel (above) & as the Bega Pioneers Museum (below).

Bega's Metropolitan Hotel, shown in the centre of the image.
Candelo's CBC Bank, C. 1908 (above) & as it appears today (below)

The Bank Hotel, Bega, C.1920.
Courtesy of the State Library of NSW.
The Bank Hotel building as it appears today.
Hand drawn & coloured plans for proposed shops, flats & office, 
Carp StreetBega (above) & detail of same (below), by 
R. W. Thatcher.
Courtesy of the Bega Pioneers' Museum.


Plans by R. W. Tatcher for a proposed brick residence, 
Heath Street, Bega.
Courtesy of the Bega Pioneers' Museum.
Never one to shy away from introducing unique design elements to his projects, Robert’s improvements to the Bega Picture Palace in 1911 included a unique roof fitted with pulleys, enabling it to be raised for open air showing or lowered when weather conditions dictated. In 1914 he commenced the design & construction of the Kameruka Hostel, reportedly modelling it on the Brighton Pavilion in England; & after undertaking enlargements, alterations & improvements to Bega’s Commercial Hotel in 1910, was awarded the contract for its demolition as well as the construction of new premises in 1926.

The Commercial Hotel, Bega, C.1925.
Courtesy of the State Library of NSW.

The Commercial Hotel, Bega, as it now appears.
In the wake of the disastrous 1936 fire that razed shops in Pambula’s Quondola Street, Robert designed & then constructed a new brick service station for Godfrey’s Motors, completing the work in 1937. He also undertook to design the neighbouring building for Mr. W. Whitby, with his son Arthur completing the building work in 1938. The same year, the firm also carried out renovation work on Thomas Brothers’ Federal Stores.

The Former Godfrey's Motors building in Pambula, 1997.

A 1938 advertisement for the newly constructed 
Whitby's Service Station.
Courtesy of a private collection.

The Whitby's Service Station building in Pambula, 2017.
The former Thomas Brothers' Federal Stores in Pambula, 1997.
The Thatcher family’s government projects included construction of the Wyndham Courthouse & Barracks (1897); a new store & other works at the Tathra Wharf (1908); Braidwood Courthouse (1900 – 1902); the manual training & science rooms at Bega Public School (1910); Housing Commission homes in Eden (1950s) & an ABC TV station on Brown Mountain (1964).  The firm also undertook additions to the Pambula Court House & Police Station (1897); additions & 
alterations to Bega Post & Telegraph Office (1903); & alterations to the Bega Post Office (1935).

Pambula Court House & Police Station, C.1900.
Courtesy of a private collection.
The Old Pambula Court House &Police Station, C. 1990s.
Bega Public School.
Among the many domestic & residential projects were “Farmhill” at Bemboka (C. 1880s); a “…substantial residence…” for Mr. Thomas Rixon at “The Corner” (1903); a residence in Parker Street, Bega (1904); Mr. J. F. Zieglar’s Carp Street, Bega, residence (1909); Mr. J. H. Tarlinton’s residence adjacent to the Cobargo Roman Catholic Church (1909); a brick residence at Meringlo for Mr. Sam Johnson (1911); a new residence at Wilgo for Mr. Harry Tarlinton, described as “…one of the finest on the South Coast…” (1918); & a “…very nice home…” for Mr. R. Grayson at Port Merimbula (1932).

161 Auckland Street, Bega.
36 Auckland Street, Bega.
46 Carp Street, Bega. 
133 Gipps Street, Bega.
217 Newtown Road, Bega (above) & the hand drawn & coloured 
plans for the same by R. W. Thatcher (below)
Courtesy of the Bega Pioneers' Museum.

Hand drawn & coloured plan by R. W. Thatcher of a 
residence for Mr. J. Rhienberger, Meringlo, near Bega.
Courtesy of the Bega Pioneers' Museum.
Detail of a hand drawn & coloured Thatcher plan
for a proposed Ravenswood Street cottage for
Mr. Weatherhead.
Courtesy of the Bega Pioneers' Museum.
Even septic tank systems received concerted attention by Robert
Thatcher, as this hand drawn & coloured plan shows.
Courtesy of the Bega Pioneers' Museum.
Hand drawn & coloured plans by R. W. Thatcher for a brick
residence for Mr. Benny in Cobargo.
Courtesy of the Bega Pioneers' Museum.
From a community infrastructure perspective, Robert Thatcher prepared plans & specifications for Bega A. H. & P. Society’s show pavilion (1903); worked on new wings added to Bega District Hospital (1903/04 & 1908); constructed a new grandstand for the Bega District Jockey Club (1933); designed the Bega School of Arts hall (1936); was the successful tenderer for additions to the Tathra Surf Club (1936) & constructed Candelo’s School of Arts (1936). He submitted “…a fine set of plans…” for the soldiers’ memorial wing of Merimbula’s Twyford Hall (1945) & took on the contract to build a ladies club house for the Tathra Surf Club (1946).

Bega Show Pavillion.
Bega Show Pavilion.
Courtesy of the State Library of NSW.

Above & below: Candelo School of Arts building.

Detail of plans drawn up by Robert Thatcher for
the Soldiers Memorial extensions to Twoford
Hall, Merimbula.
Courtesy of the Bega Pioneers' Museum.
The Thatcher family’s industry has left many valuable tangible relics throughout the region today, but perhaps one of the most outstanding examples is the Bega Soldiers’ Memorial Gates. Reportedly based on Sir Reginald Blomfield’s 1921 design of the Menin Gate Memorial’s triumphal arch in Belgium, Robert was responsible for the monument’s design & in 1923, Thatcher & Sons’ £1,897 tender was accepted for its construction. Completed & unveiled in May 1924, it, together with the Dr. Evershed Memorial Clock Tower, has become one of the most recognisable & identifiable symbols of Bega.
Bega Soldiers Memorial.
Bega Soldiers Memorial as it appears today.
Above & below: Commercially produced souvenir ware items illustrating
the Thatcher designed and built Bega Soldiers Memorial.
Courtesy of the Bega Pioneers' Museum.


In conjunction with this extensive built document, Bega Valley Historical Society holds a significant material culture collection relating to this outstanding firm at their Pioneers' Museum. Known, unsurprisingly, as the Thatcher collection, it is comprised of objects, furnishings & fixtures, archives, publications, photographic material, illustrations & art work, including around ninety hand drawn & coloured floor plans, elevations & positive & negative building blue prints. The most extensive collection relating to this pre-eminent family firm in existence, it is probably also one of the largest mixed material collections associated with a single building & design firm in a New South Wales public institution.
Part of the carpentry tools collection.
Courtesy of the Bega Pioneers' Museum.
Wooden tool chest in which the tools were kept.
Courtesy of the Bega Pioneers' Museum.
Above: former Bega Post Office counter made by R. W. Thatcher &
(below) detail of one of the decorative bracket on the counter.
Courtesy of the Bega Pioneers' Museum.


Above & below: Bega School of Arts ticket 
box, built by R. W. Thatcher.
Courtesy of the Bega Pioneers' Museum.

Punched metal name place on the Bega School of Arts ticket box.
Courtesy of the Bega Pioneers' Museum.
The individual items in this highly significant movable cultural heritage collection combine with the extensive remnant built document to create a rich, irreplaceable snapshot of the contribution the Thatcher family made to the building & design industry in & beyond the Bega district. 


Bibliongraphy:
  • Apperly, Richard, Irving, Robert, and Reynolds, Peter, A Pictorial Guide to Identifying Australian Architecture: Styles and Terms from 1788 to the Present, 3rd ed., Angus and Robertson, 1989.
  • Australian Institute of Architects, Register of Significant Architecture in NSW, http://www.architecture.com.au/docs/default-source/nsw-notable-buildings/register-of-significant-buildings-in-nsw.pdf?sfvrsn=0
  • Australian Town & Country Journal
  • Bega Budget
  • Bega District News
  • Bega Gazette
  • Bega Standard
  • Bega Valley Genealogy Society (Comp.) Bega, Pambula, NSW: Bega Valley Genealogy Society Inc., 2002 
  • Bombala Times
  • Braidwood Dispatch & Mining Journal
  • Braidwood Review & District Advocate
  • Canberra Times
  • Cobargo Chronicle
  • Construction & Local Government Journal
  • Cottee, Don, & Boleyn, Doug, Nomination of Tathra Wharf and Cargo Shed as an Couzens, Vanessa, Take a Walking Tour of Goulburn's Victorian Architecture, Australian Architecture Association, http://www.architecture.org.au/news/481-take-a-walking-tour-of-goulburns-victorian-architecture
  • Historic Engineering Marker, Engineering Heritage Committee, Sydney Division, Engineers Australia, October 2006.
  • Eden Magnet
  • Eden Magnet & Pambula Voice
  • Evening News
  • Farram, Graham, pers. comm., Bega Valley Historical Society
  • Florance, Sandra, pers. comm., Bega Valley Historical Society
  • Florence, Sandra, & Pryor, Diane, They Made This Valley Their Home
  • Freeman's Journal
  • Gaha, Ron, & Hearn, Judy, Bermagui - A Century of Features and Families, R. T. Gaha, 1994
  • Goulburn Post
  • Maitland Weekly Mercury
  • Newcastle Morning Herald & Miners' Advocate
  • Northern Star
  • Pambula Voice
  • Powerhouse Museum, Collection database, http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/collection/database
  • Shoalhaven News & South Coast Districts Advertiser
  • Shoalhaven Telegraph
  • South Coast Times & Wollongong Argus
  • Southern Record & Advertiser
  • Southern Star
  • St. John's Church - Bega, 1856 - 1956 (written history)
  • Swinbourne, Helen, & Winters, Judy, Pictorial History Bega Valley Shire, Kingsclear Books, 2001
  • Sydney Morning Herald
  • Thatcher, Doug, Building Designer - Mr. Robert Wallis Thatcher, 2000
  • Thatcher, Doug and Beth, Snow, River and Sea, D. and B. Thatcher, 2000

© Angela George.


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