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Living at Work - the Newington Residences

The Military Quarters

At the time (1897-1898) that the Military Magazine was constructed at Newington, it was common for some staff to live on site. In that era personal transport was not available to most, and the establishments were often in remote locations. Having staff close by meant that out of hours business was made easier, and that people were available to deal with emergencies that might arise.

It's not surprising, therefore, that the initial complement of buildings at Newington included a Warrant Officers’ quarters (now Building 123) and four men’s quarters (now Buildings 118 and 126). The Warrant Officer's quarters was a free-standing cottage on the highest part of the site, whilst the 4 men's quarters comprised two pairs of semi-detached cottages, both downhill from the Warrant Officer's quarters, one (Building 118) to the West, and one to the East (Building 126). The design of the men's quarters suggests that they were intended for married soldiers as they are houses, not single men's barracks. All the quarters were on the north side of the road between the Magazine entrance and the area later known as the crossroads. They are all of brick construction with timber roof frames, slate tile roofing, timber floors and joinery, stone window heads and sills and some use of corrugated galvanised iron for verandahs.

View an album of photos showing the surviving buildings constructed at Newington in 1897-98, including the quarters.

The names of the soldiers who lived in these quarters are unknown to the writer, with the exception of Sergeant, later Warrant Officer, Thomas Walker. Walker may have been the first officer-in-charge at Newington, although the earliest I can definitely place him there is in 1902, when he was the Sergeant in charge. He was certainly living there in 1919. On 26 April 1919 the Sydney Morning Herald contained a funeral notice for Walker’s son John. This referred to "Warrant Officer and Mrs T. Walker and family, of Newington Magazine". He would have been about 60 years of age at this time, and may have continued in charge until the Navy took over the site in 1921.

Obituary for Thomas Walker

Obituary for Warrant Officer Thomas Walker

The Navy Years

After the arrival of the Navy, and until at least the end of World War 2, Building 123 seems to have been mainly occupied by a Foreman, and the other 4 quarters by Naval Dockyard Police, although a continuous record of the tenancies isn't available. At this period, management oversight would have been provided by Armament Supply Officers, such as W.R. Cox, who lived on Spectacle Island. In 1929 the 5 residences were occupied by a foreman, storehouseman, sergeant and 2 constables.

Sometime early in World War 2 (probably between October 1941, the date of the specification) and November 1942 (when the residence is listed in an inventory) a sixth residence was constructed for the "Naval Officer in Charge". This residence (Building 122) was built opposite Building 123, i.e. on the south side of the entrance road. It was timber framed, with a corrugated iron roof and fibro-cement sheeting walls, partially faced with weatherboard from the ground to the window sill level.

Photo of residence at Newington

Officer-in-charge's Residence (122) in 1949.

Definite information about the first occupant of this new residence is lacking, however it may have been William Thompson, who is known to have been in charge of Newington, as the Armament Supply Officer (Magazine), between 1943 and 1948 and possibly later. Between about June 1951 and 1962 the house was occupied by Stan Atherton and his family.

The "Scorched Earth Denial Plan" dating from November 1942 lists the residences at that time as being for the Officer-in-charge, Foreman and 4 police.

Amongst the properties resumed for the expansion of the Newington depot during World War 2 were at least 3 suburban cottages, located in the southern portion of the depot, near Egerton Street. One of these (Building 103) was located close to explosives storehouses, and was probably never used as a residence. The other two (Building numbers 185 and 186) were, although for what periods is uncertain. In November 1952, one of these houses (no. 185) was occupied by the family of R.W. Brown, a Deputy Armament Supply Officer. They were still tenanted in the early 1970s.

Photo of residence at Newington

Brown Residence (185) November 1952 - note the dog. (Photo courtesy of Stan Atherton's daughter, June Madden)

By the 1960s, with most families having access to a car, living on the Depot became less attractive. Stan Atherton was the last officer-in-charge to live there, and the residences had ceased to be tenanted by the Naval Dockyard Police. However the residences continued to be used as such for some time, although Buildings 118, 122 and 126 were all converted to offices at some stage. Building 122, after a period as an office, reverted to a residence between 1979 and 1984.

Harry Creighton, a fomer resident at Newington, recalled, in an oral history interview around 1996:

"Oh, you'd say it was very primitive ... The old dwellings were not of [a high] standard - [left] a bit to be desired. But most of us improved or had improvements made to the residences as things progressed. Like, you know, we had rooms added and (more or less) hot water systems put in with the pure coppers. A few things like that. Electric stoves because they had fuel stoves. So, yes, it was fairly primitive. But you've got to reflect back to those days, particularly just after the war, accommodation was a premium. Everyone who got married in those days went to live with their families, To get a house was nearly impossible, you know. So, it was a kind of different era altogether. You get an understanding of that and you'd say you were lucky to get a residence anywhere. That's why you grabbed them at Newington."

"Well, the next door neighbour at that time was I think the ... I think the police were still there, they used to their patrols in those days ... but not for very long. Arthur Townsend was the next door neighbour when I went down there. I think that was his name and he was in the dockyard police. Over at the other residence - Billy Bell who was the foreman of stores. And who was the OIC down there? It could have been Stan Arthurton. Then the other residence was Colder - he was the sergeant in charge. And ... I can't remember but he was another one of the police."

"It all depended on who was in residence at the time ... A good question but ... there used to be, I think. There was a lot of ANSOs or AANSOs who took up residence there when they got drafted from Navy office and melbourne and that. Yeah, I think it was. Or due to the geographic location between the residnces, you nevre kind of lived in each others pockets because they were fairly well spaced. The two blocks of residences were semi-detached so that was all right but the senior foreman's residence was up on the hill. By the way, I mentioned that Billy Bell who occupied one of the residences. But before him, that's when I first started at Newington, I worked under his father. He had the same job - George Bell. He was a pretty nice bloke too." (Heritage Assessment - RAN Newington Armament Depot, Schwager Brooks and Partners in association with Wendy Thorp and UNSW Centre for Community History, May 1996 - Oral History Interviews pp.5-6)

Former Residents

This is a list of people who definitely or possibly lived at Newington, in most cases with their families.

Amis, Herbert, Sergeant

Amis is believed to have spent much of his Naval Police career at Newington, including as the resident Sergeant. Documentary evidence places him at Newington in 1942. The writer worked for Amis' son, Harry Amis, who sometimes talked about life growing up at Newington, including mention of prawning in the river.

Ashton, Don

Member of clerical, later administrative staff - lived in one half of Bldg 118 c. 1950s/60s

Atherton, Stanley (Stan)

Armament Supply Officer (Magazine)/Officer in charge - lived in Bldg 122 1951-1962 (Transferred from Navy Office for duty as ASO at Newington on 1 June 1951)

Photo of Stan Atherton and Harold Bugg

Officer-in-charge Stan Atherton and Shepherd/Handyman Harold Bugg in the Garden of the OIC's Residence at Newington in the Early 1950s (Photo courtesy of Stan Atherton's daughter, June Madden)

For more information and photos regarding the Atherton family, view June Madden's Photo Album and Stan Atherton's entry on the Executive Staff page.

Bell, M.

Mrs M. Bell advertised in the Sydney Morning Herald of 6 June 1934 to locate the owner of a stray cow that had wandered into the Newington Magazine. (In 1953 an M. Bell was a Storehouseman at Newington.)

Bell, George

Foreman of Storehouses - lived in Building 122.

Bell, Billy

Foreman of Storehouses - lived in Building 122.

Brown, R.W.

One of the residences in the south of the depot was occupied by the Brown family in November 1952. A daughter was named Annette.

Colder

Sergeant of Naval Dockyard Police?

Creighton, Herbert (Harry)

Foreman of Laboratory - lived in one half of Building 118 c. 1950s/60s

Gloster, Arthur

Gloster probably filled in as the Armament Supply Officer at Newington between Thompson's departure and Atherton's arrival on 1 June 1951. It's not definitely known that Gloster lived in Building 122.

Miller, John Templeton

Resident with family in early 50s. Resumed duty at Newington 10 October 1950 after 12 months training in the UK. According to June Madden (pers. comm. 3 September 2011) they lived in Building 126.

Photo of Atherton and Miller families

Stan and Thelma Atherton (centre) with the Miller Family at Newington in the Early 1950s (Photo courtesy of Stan Atherton's daughter, June Madden)

Muddyman, Thomas

Father of Gerald Dalton Muddyman, who died as a result of injuries sustained in an explosion on 19 March 1924. Thomas was a storehouseman, and newspaper accounts of the accident say that he and his family were resident at the depot.

Stainsby, Barry

Former Naval Armament Cadet - was known to be resident in depot c.1965 - possibly in Bldg 122. Was permitted to use a depot car (probably "on repayment" - they were parsimonious times) to attend church on Sundays.

Thompson, William M.

There is a veterinarian's certificate for a Newington horse dated 14 October 1943 addressed to Thompson as Armament Supply Officer (Officer-in-charge) so Thompson's tenure at Newington was probably at least 1943 to 1948. Not positively known to have occupied Bldg 122, but likely given that the residence was for the wartime Officer-in-charge.

Townsend, Arthur William

Member of Naval Dockyard Police. Date of birth 24 February 1921.

Walker, Thomas, Warrant Officer

Possibly resident in Bldg 123 from 1897-98 to at least 1919, although the earliest dated reference I have to him at Newington is from 1902, when he was still a Sergeant. On 26 April 1919 the Sydney Morning Herald contained a funeral notice for Walker's son John. This referred to "Warrant Officer and Mrs T. Walker and family, of Newington Magazine". He would have been about 60 at this time.

Wood and Igoe Families

These families are inextricably linked through the murder of Mary Jane Wood by her husband William Wood on 6 December 1926.

William Wood and James Igoe were both Newington employees. In July 1926 Igoe's wife, Louisa, died at age 53 at her residence at the Naval Magazine, Newington. It seems that the Wood and Igoe families shared a house, or perhaps occupied adjoining semi-detached cottages. Around October, Mary Wood left her husband and moved into one room of a house at 431 Riley Street Surry Hills with James Igoe. Mary took her youngest child aged 2 and Igoe his son aged 13. William Wood may have remained at Newington, or perhaps Auburn, with his remaining 6 children.

Several days before the murder, Gwen Wood, aged 15, left her father, due to his violent temper and harsh treatment of her, and moved in with her mother and Igoe.

On the day of the murder Wood met his daughter in Liverpool Street and followed her home where he confronted her mother. She agreed to talk to him outside, whereupon he produced a paper parcel which he unwrapped to reveal a revolver. She fled and he followed her and shot her through the lung. He then turned the gun on himself. Both were declared dead on arrival at Sydney Hospital. Igoe was not present at the time.

For more information, visit the Newington Chronology page.


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Robert Curran
borclaud @ tpg.com.au