Our History

In 1843, Robert Cooper, an emancipated convict, who was an established and successful hotel keeper and distiller from London, built a row of sandstone cottages in this location for housing his workers. Cooper came from the Stepney district in London where his family had established businesses. In 1812 he was sentenced to transportation for receiving illegal goods (raw silk and ostrich feathers). Although he was sentenced to fourteen years, he was emancipated after only 5 and spent his following years in Sydney as a property developer. It is claimed that he wanted a seat in the Legislative Council and therefore built the cottages for his workers—in the first place, in order to qualify them to vote.

Cooper established the Brisbane Distillery in this area and his employees quarried stone locally to build the infrastructure. 1845 Municipal Assessment Books record twelve of these cottages and another forty on a nearby street, parallel to Parramatta Road. The twelve were constructed down the laneway now known as Chandlers Lane and also Elim Place to the north. They were known as Cooper’s Cottages until 1894 when James Chandler purchased them and they changed name to Chandler’s Cottages. Chandler was a galvaniser and he refurbished no. 20 City road inside and out to use as his own residence.

By 1913, the cottages (including no. 20 City Road) along with nos. 22 – 24 City Road were purchased as part of the Grace Brothers Retail Empire. The Grace Brothers, Joseph Neal and Albert Edward Grace, built their empire from a small retail drapery business on George Street West in 1885. In 1887 they purchased the land on Parramatta Road, Broadway and established the large shopping centre we now know as the Broadway Centre. The flagship Grace Brothers was built between 1904 and 1923.

This building was changed again and used as a bulk store and commercial retail space when the Grace Bros took over. It was converted to a two storey building with skillion roof and parapet awning at the front. The only original fabric that remains is the sandstone wall on Chandlers Lane. The bulk store was accessed via Chandlers Lane. A bronze plaque on the face of this building marks its existence.

Perhaps the most significant and deleterious changes to no. 20 City Road was made during the mid to late 20th century. During this period its skillion roof was converted to a pitched roof with gabled end (facing City Road) and out of context with the adjacent parapet fronts and streetscape consistency. Windows on the first floor were closed up and the openings down the southern elevation of the building were also closed with bricks and then rendered. This changed the aesthetic of the building entirely.

All that remains now is Cooper’s sandstone wall that is a testament to the expanding—and sometimes dangerous—early colony of Sydney created by the efforts of the colourful people who lived there and the ingenuity of entrepreneurs like emancipated convict, Robert Cooper.

Source: City Plan Heritage February 2011

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