Thursday, 30 January 2014

The Queen Victoria Building

Today I want to take you on a walking tour of one of my favourite buildings in the heart of Sydney, the Queen Victoria Building (QVB).  We visited just after Christmas.  I have been there dozens of times, and each time I fall in love with it all over again.  The building covers an entire city block and is bounded by George, Market, York and Druitt Streets.

I had to filch this photo from the web, because we actually entered the building via a tunnel from Town Hall station, and I forgot to go outside to photograph the exterior!  This is taken from Town Hall and you can see the Royal Wishing Well on the left and Queen Victoria's statue on the right.  York Street is on the left of the building and George Street on the right.  Druitt Street is directly in front.  If you are wondering why the domes are green it is because they are made of copper.

The site has been a market since the earliest days of Sydney.  The book "Picture of Sydney and Strangers Guide in NSW for 1839" by James Maclehose mentions it as the New Market on page 68, and the Plan of the Town and Suburbs of Sydney August 1822 reproduced in "This Was Sydney" by Suzanne Mourot clearly shows the market lying opposite the Town Hall.

The QVB, was designed by George McRae and completed in 1898, replacing the original Sydney markets. It was built during a severe recession in Sydney by a Government which wished to create jobs for out-of-work craftsmen such as stonemasons, plasterers, and stained window artists.  It originally provided for a concert hall, coffee shops, offices, showrooms, warehouses and a wide variety of tradespeople, such as tailors, mercers, hairdressers and florists.  You can read a bit more here.

The Australian Town and Country Journal (NSW : 1870 - 1907), printed on Saturday 25 June 1898, pages 19, 26, 27, 28, has a wonderfully detailed illustrated article covering the opening of the building:

One of the occupants in the early years of the QVB was the Singer Manufacturing Company.  The image below is their showroom in the QVB in 1898. 

Can you see the treadle machine in a cabinet centre front?  Another machine cover is bottom right, and there are at least two more machines on the right and to the rear of the show room.

But back to the present.  There are a number of stunning features in the building.  One of the most famous is the Royal Clock, which has a performance every hour, beginning with the music of the Trumpet Voluntary by Jeremiah Clarke (love that!) played by miniature trumpeters who pop up from the top of each of the clock's four turrets. If you don't know that piece, there is a YouTube video here. After the trumpeters finish, there are 6 scenes in the form of dioramas which display an animated scene from English royal history.  The window lights up, the scene is presented, the light dims before the next scene is displayed.  Some of the scenes are gruesome - the beheading of Charles I for example.

The second clock is the Great Australian Clock, designed and made by Chris Cook.  It includes 33 scenes from Australian history seen from both Aboriginal and European perspectives, just under its roof.  An Aboriginal hunter circles the exterior of the clock continuously, representing the never-ending passage of time.

These stained glass windows form an arch above one of the main entrances and depict the arms of the City of Sydney.

The central dome consists of an interior glass dome and a copper-sheathed exterior, topped by a domed cupola.  Check out the ornate plaster work!

Much more contemporary is the elaborate model railway built behind a glass partition in the HobbyCo shop.  Here is Thomas the Tank Engine on his relentless journey around the track.

And on the other side, the fun fair, complete with rotating round-abouts and ferris wheels, facing the little town on the riverbank.  The goods train is going by, and there are little boats on the river.

I must be in my second childhood, because I stood there transfixed for ages!
And then there are the tiled floors, mostly original.  This is looking down from the second floor to one of the entrances on the ground floor.  Stunning tiling!

And from the escalators going from the third to the second floor - you can see all the way down to the basement level. Each floor has a different tiled design.

And the quilt designs......

And look at these quilt borders?
There is also a wonderful lift with old fashioned iron lace, and the original machinery still visible, but immobilised.  I couldn't get a decent photo of that.
So that is my favourite city building.  There are others I like, but none are a patch on this one.  Hope you have enjoyed your little tour with me today.


  1. What amazing architecture. I will have to visit it if I ever get to Australia! My sister & I are trying to plan a trip next March.

    Thanks for visiting my redwork/ embroidery blog. I try to make my own patterns because so many redwork patterns are either poorly drawn, or too folksy for me.


  2. Thank you SO much for sharing this gorgeous building with us. Oh, I wish I could visit it! I like the drawing that shows the side of the building and how deep it it. I would ride the elevator over and over, I'm sure. I love the old-fashioned ones. What a national treasure for you!

  3. Absolutely grand. I love beautiful, old buildings that are still full of life. The clocks are treasures, and the windows!!! Oh, how I love armchair travel! Thanks for the show!


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