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Three Cottages, Aberdeen Street

Although no longer used as residential dwellings today, the cottages at No. 62, 64 and 66 Aberdeen Street area are rare surviving example of early housing in the Northbridge area.  They form part of a significant streetscape in an area that rapidly lost its older dwellings due to the changing uses of Northbridge and Perth city more generally in the latter 20th century, although the area has again become popular for inner city living.   

These three cottages on Aberdeen Street – originally called Lamb Street – were built by Henry Righton Gibbs who acquired Lot Y75 in 1869.   Gibbs was born in Western Australia and became a successful dairy man and racing identity in the Wanneroo area and was also member of the local Roads Board.  In the early 1860s he married Margaret Duffy and they had three sons and five daughters.  In addition to his successful dairy business, Gibbs also purchased several city properties as investments to rent out which brought him and his family some wealth.  

The original cottages built in the 1860s/70s sit behind the later additions to the front which were added in the 1890s.  The style and finish of the original cottages, which were fairly simple and unadorned, contrasted to the later more elaborate additions which significantly changed their appearance from the street.   The Gibbs moved to Perth in 1891 to retire, however only two years later Gibbs died in 1893, at the age of 59, and was remembered as one of the oldest colonists in the State.  After Gibbs’ death, his wife Margaret, brother William Lacy Gibbs and brother-in-law Bernard Duffy became owners of the cottages.   

Margaret Gibbs died in 1909 aged 66, and her death notices records her as one of Perth’s best known and respected colonists.  William Lacy Gibbs then became sole owner of Lot 1 which contained No. 66 and his sister Mrs Rose Fountain owner of Lot 2 which contained Nos. 62 and 64.  William and Rose retained ownership until the 1920s, continuing to rent them out as did the subsequent owners. 

From the 1960s and up until the late 1980s a great proportion of properties in Northbridge were resumed by the State Government through the Metropolitan Regional Planning Authority in anticipation of construction of the northern city bypass, being the Graham Farmer Freeway and Northbridge Tunnel.   The Aberdeen Street cottages were included in these acquisitions.  Although they were not required to be demolished for the bypass, they had significantly deteriorated.  In 2000, major conservation works were undertaken to fully restore the cottages for office use with careful consideration given to recycling original material and removing any elements that did not match the original character and ‘fabric’ of the buildings. 

Detailed Description

The earliest development of the area north of the city after the Swan River Colony was established was mainly small farms and market gardens because of its rich soil and good water supply.  From the 1860s, as Perth further developed, the area began to attract light industry and commercial development, as well as the working classes who were looking for houses in close proximity to the central city area.   Although no longer used as residential dwellings today, the cottages at No. 62, 64 and 66 Aberdeen Street area are rare surviving example of early housing in the Northbridge area.  They form part of a significant streetscape in an area that rapidly lost its older dwellings due to the changing uses of Northbridge and Perth city more generally in the latter 20th century, although the area has again become popular for inner city living.   

The three cottages, located on Lot Y75, were built by Henry Righton Gibbs who acquired the land in 1869.  The section of Aberdeen Street running from Beaufort to Lake Streets where Gibbs’ land was situated was then called Lamb Street.  Gibbs was born in Western Australia in c1834 and became a successful dairy man and racing identity in the Wanneroo area and was also member of the local Roads Board.  In the early 1860s he married Margaret Duffy who had arrived in Perth with her parents and brother Bernard Duffy in 1859.  Gibbs and Margaret met when she moved to Wanneroo with her mother and brother after the death of her father.  They had three sons and five daughters.  In addition to his successful dairy business, Gibbs also purchased several city properties as investments, including the land in Lamb Street.  Although he built the cottages, the Gibbs never lived in them and they were rented out.  

The original sections of the cottages as built by Gibbs in the 1860s/70s have characteristics of Colonial architecture while the later additions, dating from the 1890s, are more in the Victorian/Federation style.  The original cottages, which sit behind the later additions to the front, were built of brick laid in English bond, with high pitched hipped roofs clad in shingles and with modest brick chimneys.   The interior of all the cottages very much reflected their simple working class nature with the floorboards butted rather than tongue and groove, no decorative cornices or ceiling roses, and simple moulded timber joinery and verandah posts.   

The Gibbs who had acquired considerable wealth, moved to Perth in 1891 to retire, first moving to their house in Bulwer Street.  However only two years later Gibbs died in 1893, at the age of 59, and was remembered as one of the oldest colonists in the State.  After Gibbs’ death, his wife Margaret, brother William Lacy Gibbs and brother-in-law Bernard Duffy became owners of Lot Y75.  They then subdivided the land into five Lots with the three cottages now divided over two Lots – Lot 1 which had cottage No. 66 and Lot 2 which had the cottages then numbered 56 and 60 (now 64 and 62).  In 1897, Perth City Council revised many of the city’s street names and Lamb Street was changed to Aberdeen Street.   

It was around the late 1890s, when the cottages were still owned by Margaret, William Lacy and Bernard, that the additions to the front were made.  In contrast to the original cottages, the additions reflected the increased wealth from the gold boom when Northbridge was a popular residential area and attracting the growing middle classes.  The brick, laid in stretcher bond, was tuck-pointed at the front, the chimneys were prominent and there were more decorative features such as stucco banding, half-timbered gables and elaborately moulded timber joinery and posts greatly enhancing the cottages appearance from the street. The interiors were also more elaborate, featuring tongue and groove floorboards, moulded plaster cornices, ceiling roses and picture rails.  The corrugated iron used on the roofs of the 1890s additions was extended to the original cottages, covering the old shingles.   

However, maybe because they were rental properties and poorly looked after, in 1904, the four brick, wood and iron cottages on Lot Y75 (Nos. 56, 60, 62, 64) were advertised as condemned by the City of Perth being unfit for human habitation along with a list of many other properties in the city mainly owing to poor sanitation.   It seems as though cottage No. 66 was being well cared for as it was not included in the condemned list.  

Margaret Gibbs died in 1909 aged 66.  When she died, she was living at her home “Botanicville” at 167 Palmerston Street.  Her death notices records her as one of Perth’s best known and respected colonists, and many well-known Perth residents attended her funeral with T. G. Molloy (Mayor of Perth) and T. F. Quinlan (Speaker of Legislative Assembly) among her pallbearers.  After Margaret’s death, William and Bernard became joint owners, then in 1910 William became sole owner of Lot 1 and his sister Mrs Rose Fountain owner of Lot 2.  William and Rose retained ownership until the 1920s, continuing to rent them out.   

The auction notice for Lot 1 of Lot Y75 in 1920 was interesting in that it describes the land as having 2 semi-detached houses one of 5 rooms and the other 4 rooms and being a good central city investment.  However when originally subdivided, Lot 1 only had the single cottage No. 66.  At some stage prior to 1904 additions were made to No. 66 to the east side, which created two dwellings.  This additional semi-detached house which also contained a shop at the back (greengrocers and herbalist) has sometimes been called the “lost buildings” as it was variously listed in early Post Office directories as either No. 62 and/or 64 Aberdeen Street (and included in the condemned list of 1904).  At one time it.  However, these additions were demolished sometime after the 1950s and No. 66 once again became a single residence and the other two cottages formerly numbered 56 and 60 were renumbered 62 and 64.   

The Aberdeen Street cottages were regularly bought and sold by subsequent owners and mostly purchased as rental properties as well as used as lodging houses.   The cottage No. 66 was lived in until 1962 and Nos. 62 and 64 occupied until 1982 by which time they had all been acquired by the Metropolitan Regional Planning Authority as had commonly happened in this area.  From the 1960s and up until the late 1980s a great proportion of properties in Northbridge were resumed by the State Government through the MRPA and then leased out at a low rental in anticipation of construction of the northern city bypass at which time a fair number of buildings were to be demolished.  Owing to the future uncertainty of what would happen to the properties acquired by the MRPA, little to no maintenance was carried out on them and many would deteriorate significantly even before they were potentially earmarked for demolition. 

Although the MRPA boarded up the openings and installed fencing in an attempt to secure the cottages, with all three of them vacant for some time and no maintenance carried out they suffered from deterioration having been used by squatters, as the target of vandalism and also from illegal removal of timber and other fittings and fixtures.   However, the Aberdeen Street cottages were not required to be demolished for the construction of the bypass, named the Graham Farmer Freeway and Northbridge Tunnel which was located immediately north of the cottages.  In 2000, major conservation works were undertaken to fully restore the cottages for office use with careful consideration given to recycling original material and removing any elements that did not match the original character and ‘fabric’ of the buildings. 

 

Daily News 27 July 1893 p. 3 

West Australian 9 August 1904 p. 3 

WA Record 14 August 1909 p. 13 

West Australian 29 May 1920 p. 3 

Location