Glimpse of Newcastle's history revealed

STILL THERE: Building project manager Ashley Vane takes a look at the old sign yesterday.- Picture by Simone De Peak
STILL THERE: Building project manager Ashley Vane takes a look at the old sign yesterday.- Picture by Simone De Peak

DEMOLITION of the old Tattersall's Club building in Watt Street to make way for the Surf City apartments has unveiled an intriguing piece of Novocastrian business history.

High on the north-facing wall of the adjoining building is a sign advertising two Newcastle businesses A.F. Toll and W.S. Bacon.

The sign has been visible to passers-by for the past few weeks but was yesterday disappearing behind scaffolding and will presumably be walled in again once the Surf City apartments go up.

The first name on the sign, A.F. (Albert) Toll was the founder of the national transport business that still bears his name today as the Toll Group.

The second name, W.S. (William) Bacon, turns out to have been a former sea captain who became a well-to-do businessman, shipping agent and general carrier.

He, too, began in the late 19th century and was one of more than two dozen carriers licensed to operate in Newcastle before 1900.

The best clue to the age of the sign could lie with Bacon's telephone numbers of 1702 and 1703, which appear to date the sign to about the turn of the century.

Regardless of when it was painted, it appears to have disappeared from view in about 1937, when the Tattersall's Club let tenders for about [PI9024]PoundSte12,000 worth of alterations to the premises it bought in 1934 from the Bank of NSW.

A heritage impact statement prepared for the demolition of the club shows the Watt Street site was originally owned by Alexander Walker Scott, who built a substantial two-storey mansion known as Newcastle House on the site in about 1840.

Walker Scott, as he was generally known, was a NSW Upper House MP between 1856 and 1864.

The Scotts were known as one of the Hunter's earliest big farming and business families.

His Watt Street house was apparently very similar to the Newcastle Club's Clarendon, which still stands two blocks west in Newcomen Street.

The Bank of NSW bought Scott's house from a subsequent owner in 1853, rebuilt it in 1870 after a fire in 1862, and sold it to the Tattersall's club in 1934.

The house and bank were both free-standing, meaning the sign could still be seen on the neighbouring building until 1937, when Tattersall's built its Art Deco frontage.

For a little while, at least, it is back.