Homebush Town Centre

By Cathy Jones

Hales Butcher, 1 Rochester Street Homebush c.1912 (now The Cheesecake Shop)
Hales Butcher, 1 Rochester Street Homebush c.1912 (now The Cheesecake Shop)

The small shopping centre at Rochester Street Homebush is known by some as the Village of Homebush, the name derived from the 1878 partial subdivision of the Underwood Estate.  The auction of lots from this Estate was marketed as the ‘Village of Homebush’ Estate.

Residential development within the Village of Homebush 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.  The Crescent was then called Homebush Crescent and is located opposite Homebush Railway Station.  By 1894 eight businesses are shown, 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.

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.

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 enrollment centre. From The Crescent – West side [this starts from 1 Rochester St, though there no lot numbers detailed in the assessment book].

Business Building Type Owner/occupant
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.

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. The oldest shop is probably 1 Rochester St, which currently operates as ‘The Cheesecake Shop’.  This shop 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.  However, the 1914 valuation records are correct, the current shops in the course of being built in 1914.  This business appears for the first time in Sands Directory 1914.  5-7 Rochester St, which was owned by the King family is noted on the 1914 records as a brick structure.  It is difficult to determine when this was built based on records.

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.  Most of the shops on The Crescent are already heritage listed.

© Cathy Jones 2005. This article is subject to copyright and may not be reproduced without permission of the author.

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