Built in 1937 as a combination of residential and commercial premises for shady gold miner and financier Claude de Bernales, London Court is designed to look like a Tudor street scene. It opened with an ‘Olde English Fayre’, complete with Elizabethan costumes and traditional music.
At the Hay Street entrance, a blue-faced clock is a replica of the Great Clock at Rouen in France, with four knights who circle in the window when the clock chimes. A second clock is located on St George’s Terrace entrance, with a miniature St George doing battle with the dragon.
The twenty-four flats boasted they had diamond leadlights for windows, but otherwise were up-to-date residences, including a new form of air-conditioning which could cool in summer and warm in winter. At the St George’s Terrace end was a large basement occupied by the Old English Inn, with a moulded ceiling depicting sailing ships and walls covered in old maps, shields and swords. It also advertised an all-hours grill room and chickens turning on the spit.
Today, London Court continues to attract local and international visitors with its unique architectural style, statues of Sir Walter Raleigh and Dick Whittington and a feeling for the narrow streets of a past era.
Claude de Bernales was a shady gold miner and speculator who has variously been described as anywhere between larger than life and a con artist. However, he has left Perth an enduring legacy in the mock-Tudor shopping arcade, London Court.
London Court was sited on what had been a collection of back lanes, locally known as ‘Gun Alley’. It had been owned by another property speculator, and previous Mayor of Perth, Tom Molloy, who was responsible for erecting His Majesty’s Theatre.
Inspired by the Liberty department store in London, which is a mock Tudor building erected in 1924, De Bernales conceived of an arcade providing a thoroughfare between St. George’s Terrace and Hay Street. He established London Arcades Ltd. to manage the project and commissioned Melbourne architect Bernard Evans to design the arcade in association with local firm Oldham, Boas and Ednie-Brown.
Work commenced in August 1936, and construction was completed in 1937 when fifty-three shops, a basement inn, fifty-five offices and twenty-four residential flats were ready for occupation. London Court was designed in an imitation Tudor style with wrought iron gates at each entrance and half-timbered walling. The walls featured gargoyles, masks, shields, crests and wrought iron signs. The gabled roofs, weather cocks and lead lighting also contributed to the creation of a Tudor style. At the interior ends of the arcade are statues of Dick Whittington and his cat and Sir Walter Raleigh.
A special feature of both the St. George’s Terrace and Hay Street entrances were two unusual animated clocks. Above the St. George’s Terrace entrance was St. George slaying the dragon while Hay Street has four knights who move in a circle. The figures moved in and out to celebrate the chiming of the quarter hours.
Although it has proved an enduring tourist attraction, London Court was somewhat controversial when it opened. Architects lined up to condemn the design as imitative and not suited to the ‘modern era’, and there were even accusations that a City of Perth councillor had been bribed to get the design through the planning committee.
London Court was opened by Sir James Mitchell on 29 July 1937. Sir James described the arcade as ‘unique in Australia’, ‘an ornament to the city’, before noting its design was appropriate since “we Australians pride ourselves on being intensely British”.
The opening was celebrated with a three-day ‘Olde English Fayre’ which was intended to raise money for the Perth Hospital. Thousands of visitors were entertained by volunteers dressed in Elizabethan costumes and shows, including excerpts from Twelfth Night, madrigals and folk songs.
Despite its appearance, the actual building was erected using very modern techniques. Built of steel and concrete its shops, offices, and residential flats were up-to-date in design, and included air-conditioning and electric elevators.
Each of the twenty-four flats had a living room, bedroom, kitchenette and bathroom, with a front entrance staircase facing London Court. The living rooms were “fitted out with a special air-conditioning service not previously installed in this State, which will create a cool atmosphere in summer and warmth and comfort in winter”.
At the St George’s Terrace end was a large basement occupied by the Old English Inn, with a moulded ceiling depicting sailing ships and walls covered in old maps, shields and swords. It also advertised an all-hours grill room and chickens turning on the spit.
The construction of London Court signalled that the building industry in Perth had recovered from the depression in the first half of the 1930s. Around the same time, De Bernales also built the Plaza Arcade and Plaza Theatre between Hay and Murray Streets. In contrast to London Court, this arcade was designed in a restrained modern fashion. He also invested in the Piccadilly Arcade.
After the collapse of his companies, following police investigation, around 1950 London Court was sold to London Court Pty. Ltd. Today, it is still a popular shopping arcade and office block, although the inn is currently a board games retailer. The place is popular is also an important tourist site, depicted on promotional materials and postcards of Perth. The clocks, with their animated figures, are still an attraction for tourists and local families alike.
State Heritage Office assessment, London Court
‘Attractive Residential Flats,’ Sunday Times, 20 June 1937
‘London Court,’ Western Mail, 12 August 1937
‘London Court,’ Western Argus, 19 October 1937
‘Civic Inquiry,’ Kalgoorlie Miner, 12 July 1938
‘London Court,’ Kalgoorlie Miner, 10 August 1950