The 1887 Former Cable Tram Engine House on the corner of Brunswick Road and Black Street at Brunswick, including the Tram Substation added within it in 1936.
The former Brunswick cable tram engine house was built in 1887 to service the cable tram route along Sydney Road. The engine house handled the longest cable on the cable tram system, extending from Brunswick Road to Flinders Street station and return, a distance of about 9.6 km. The steam-powered engine house was a large brick shed with a tall brick chimney attached, and had a fuel yard and stable at the rear. It was often known as the Sarah Sands engine house as it was at the rear of that well-known hotel. Melbourne's cable tram routes were progressively electrified from the 1920s, following the formation in 1919 of the Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board (M&MTB). Its aim was to integrate, electrify and extend the existing cable and electric tram routes in Melbourne. In the 1920s the M&MTB built several impressive brick substations in the inner suburbs where the high voltage alternating current obtained from the State Electricity Commission (SEC) was converted to direct current at a lower voltage to power the new electric trams. By the time the Brunswick cable tram route was converted to electric traction in 1936, the Great Depression necessitated a more cautious financial approach and instead of constructing a new building, the substation equipment was installed in part of the redundant engine house. The remainder of the building was leased to private businesses.
The Former Cable Tram Engine House consists of two parallel hipped roof brick structures with central gabled roof vents. It is a long single storey red brick shed-like building with the substation located since 1936 in the northern part. The facade has rendered string courses and bichrome decoration around the openings on the Black Street and Brunswick Road elevations, though the southern part of the building has been painted. There are offices in the front section along Black Street, and behind this the large open spaces typical of the interiors of such buildings have been retained. The substation remains in use, with modern equipment installed, but it retains some early machinery, including a rotary converter, a transformer and switching gear, overhead pulleys for moving heavy equipment within the building, as well as a display of assorted gauges and other small pieces of equipment. The former engine house building has the potential to contain significant nineteenth century archaeological remains relating to the cable tram system, including deep brick-lined pits and cable races that span the length of the building. Remains of an underground tank, and footings of the chimney stack and weigh bridge may remain under the more recent buildings on the west and north of the site.
This site is part of the traditional land of the Wurundjeri people.
How is it significant?
The Former Brunswick Cable Tram Engine House and Tram Substation is of historical, architectural and archaeological significance to the State of Victoria. It satisfies the following criterion for inclusion in the Victorian Heritage Register:
Criterion A Importance to the course, or pattern, of Victoria's cultural history
Criterion B Possession of uncommon, rare or endangered aspects of Victoria's cultural history
Criterion C Potential to yield information that will contribute to an understanding of Victoria's cultural history
Criterion D Importance in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a class of cultural places and objects
Why is it significant?
The Former Brunswick Cable Tram Engine House and Tram Substation is significant at the State level for the following reasons:
The Former Brunswick Cable Tram Engine House, with its Tram Substation, is historically significant for its association with the development of Melbourne's transport system in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The building demonstrates two of the major stages in the development of Melbourne's tram system: the cable tram system developed from the 1880s and the electric tram system which replaced it from the 1920s. The cable tram system played an important role in the development of Melbourne and its suburbs and was one of the largest and most complex in the world. The substation is associated with the electrification of the old cable tram routes from the 1920s. Its installation within the former engine house, rather than in a new free-standing building, is a reflection of the financial constraints imposed by the 1930s Depression, during which the Brunswick line was electrified. (Criterion A)
The Former Brunswick Cable Tram Engine House is a rare and relatively intact surviving element of Melbourne's cable tram system, which was converted to electric power in the early twentieth century. It is the only example of the reuse of an existing engine house adapted for use as an electrical substation, thereby demonstrating two major stages in the development of Melbourne's tram system. (Criterion B)
The Former Brunswick Cable Tram Engine House is archaeologically significant for its potential to contain significant nineteenth century archaeological remains relating to the cable tram system. (Criterion C)
The Former Brunswick Cable Tram Engine House is architecturally significant as a largely intact example of the engine houses constructed by the Melbourne Tramways Trust from the 1880s to power Melbourne's cable trams. Those in more prominent locations tended to be grand architect-designed structures designed to impress, but this one, in a less visible location, is an architecturally more modest example of its kind. (Criterion D)