By Cathy Jones
The small shopping centre at Rochester Street Homebush is also known as the ‘Village of Homebush’, the name derived from the subdivision of the larger Underwood Estate. The ‘Village of Homebush’ was subdivided and offered for sale from 1878.
Residential development in area of land, which is now the Rochester Street shops, commenced soon after the first blocks of land were sold. The first shop recorded in Sands Directory was carpenter Andrew Calder in 1887. By 1892, a small group of shops was established on Rochester St and The Crescent Homebush.
The Crescent was then called Homebush Crescent and is located opposite Homebush Railway Station. By 1894 eight businesses are shown in Sands Directory, rising to fifteen businesses by 1915. Most of the early shops were timber cottages, later replaced by brick dwellings. Though early directories note that shops existed on Rochester St they are unlikely to be the same structures as those which are currently standing.
Rochester Street connection to Parramatta Road
At one stage, Rochester Street extended to Parramatta Road and crossed the railway tracks, linking the Rochester Street shops with the Parramatta Road shops, which included the Homebush Theatre and hotel [Horse & Jockey]. Later access ceased by the realignment and elevation of the railway tracks. Road access between the two sides is via Subway Lane, which runs under the railway tracks at Homebush. The small part of Rochester St connecting to Parramatta Road was renamed Knight Street and from 1906 -1947 was located within Homebush Council, which amalgamated with Strathfield Council in 1947.
Town Planning codes
In 1920, Strathfield Council proclaimed most of Strathfield Municipality as residential but made some exceptions for established commercial areas such as the Homebush Shopping Centre. The building regulations adopted by Council, with powers granted by the Local Government Act 1919, also established building regulations prohibiting the building of wood or timber structures. The Council view was that timber structures were fire hazards and the building codes only allowed for brick or stone structures in Strathfield. Until this time, many of the shops at Homebush were timber structures. Most appear to have been rebuilt in the 1920s with brick constructions containing first floor residences. Gradually the wooden shops were replaced.
Early Council records do not generally note the type of structure. Records such as valuation or rates books note the owner, lot details and occasionally the tenant. However the 1914 Strathfield Council Valuation book for Homebush Ward records more specific details of the Homebush shopping centre. These records show the types of shops which were operating in Homebush but also the building type. 1914 was also the commencement of World War 1 and the records note that one of the shops was leased to the Department of Defence as a drill hall or possibly enrolment centre. From The Crescent – West side [this starts from 1 Rochester St, though there no lot numbers detailed in the assessment book].
|Butcher||Brick shop and dwelling||Under lease to Walter Sydney Hales for ten year period. 8 inhabitants.|
|Tobacconist||Brick shop and dwelling||Under lease to Frederick Lever. 5 inhabitants.|
|Grocer||Brick shop and dwelling||Operated by owner Mrs Gentila King. 4 inhabitants.|
|Greengrocer||Wooden shop and dwelling||Under lease to Ah Sing. 2 inhabitants.|
|Unoccupied.||Wooden shop.||Owned by George Happ|
|Bootmaker||Wooden shop||Under lease to Joseph Berg. 1 inhabitant.|
|Estate Agent||Wooden office||Under lease to Larkin & Co. 1 inhabitant.|
|Defence Department – Drill Hall.||Wooden building.||Under lease to Defence Department.|
|Plumber||Wooden shop||Operated by owner Thomas Swain.|
|Baker||Brick shop & dwelling.||Operated by owner Arthur Stephens. 4 inhabitants.|
|Bootmaker||Brick cottage named ‘Le Roy’||Operated by owner James Keggan. 4 inhabitants.|
|Plumber||Brick shop and dwelling||Operated by owner Bertie Smith. 5 inhabitants.|
|Not specified.||Wood shop and dwelling.||Owned by John King. 7 inhabitants.|
|Fitter||Wood cottage.||Operated by owner John Moss. 3 inhabitants.|
|Newsagent||Wood shop & dwelling||Operated by owner Alex McFarlane. 6 inhabitants.|
Earliest brick shops
This valuation book notes that two brick shops with dwellings are in course of building on the east side of Rochester St for Thomas Smith. This would appear to be the current 4-6 Rochester St, which current trades as Urbano Cafe. It was originally occupied by Bert Smith, a plumber.
The oldest shop is probably 1 Rochester St, which was built in 1912 and operated as a butcher shop for over 60 years. The other buildings still in existence and built pre-1920 are 4-6 Rochester St, which has been previously identified as being built in 1907.
Most of the other shops on Rochester St appear to be built in the 1920s. Two groups of shops have had fires and been replaced, breaking the consistency of the building shopfronts. 3 Rochester St, which operates as a takeway food shop and hairdresser was replaced c.1960s. This building is one storey in height. 31-35 Rochester St, which includes a barber and Bar Cortona Café, was burnt out in 1958 and replaced with a two storey shop and dwelling.
Most shops in Homebush have frequently changed use, which may account for very few ground floor shopfronts being in-tact. The longest continuous business would appear to be the Chemist at 23 Rochester St, which was established in 1927 as Cutcliffe’s Chemist. The Newsagent at 19 Rochester St also has a long period of continuous operation.
From its earliest times, the Homebush Shopping Village has been a small neighbourhood shopping centre offering basic services to local community such as grocer, fruit shop, butcher, newsagent, cake & bread shop, cafes & chemist. In recent times, more food outlets including cafes have commenced business. Strathfield Council recently endorsed the inclusion of this shopping area in a heritage conservation area. Many of the shops on The Crescent, including the former Post Office are heritage listed.