Unwins Stores

After Photo

Unwins Stores “Before “photoAfter Photo

A “Georgian ” Building constructed in around 1846, some 60 years after the end of the Georgian epoch. That year Neptune was discovered, Britains Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel introduced the “corn Laws ” to Parliament, the Island of Venice was connected to the Mainland by a causway and railway , and the Fashion in building design was the Romanesque style, or that of the Gothic Revival.

George Unwin then, caused to be built  a simple utilitarian structure , with no regard for the then current Architectural trends. There is no simpler way to build a solid masonry structure, even the mouldings,copings cills and string course are purely functional. That is not to say that the building is not well constructed, relieving arches occur above evert lintel .

Returning to Historical context, the Sydney Shipping Gazette of 1846records daily departures and arrivals of of various vessels: the Steamship “Driver ” is mentioned carrying 500 tons of coal to Aukland. Sail predominated though  with Barques of 500 odd tons and Schooners of 100 tons or more travelling to and from New Zealand , often carrying Troops and Artillery  to the Bay of Islands to deal with the Maori uprising.Cargoes are listed in detail, down to nails and other iron and steel, all of which had to be brought in from Britain by ship, when shipping losses were high. It wasn’t until the late 1860s that the Lighthouse network on the east coast of Australia  was completed . I once worked on Fingal Bay  Lighthouse in Port Stephens , the Iron Cupola was, according to a hand inscribed makers plaque, was cast in Long Acre , London in 1865.

The Rocks area then would have been teeming with activity, and Unwins Stores , perhaps recently completed ,or perhaps having Welsh slate from the hold of a recently arrived Barque installed to its roof, looking down on it all.Through two word wars, the Great Depression , and near miss from the wreckers ball in the 1970s.

So to the present day with The Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority (SHFA) commissioning a refurbishment of the Terraces:  The work entailed repairs to the timber roof structure, re roofing in Welsh slate, replacing box gutters, rainwater heads and gutters in copper, completely repointing, and replacing eroded sandstone where required.

The “before” photo shows the George Street elevation was covered with a layer of peeling pink acrylic paint , under which it turned out were successive layers of lead based paint. As the “after ” photo testifies , the underlying Sandstone was in surprisingly good condition, the Masons pick marks remaining sharp and deep.

As you travel North along George Street and the Terraces come into view, they appear as a “New” building , as though the 1840s original had been transported through time, and planted there. The intention was certainly not to achieve an as new appearance , this was just one of those rare occasions where a careful understated approach yields a spectacular result.

Unwins stores is not  a preserved facade , fronting a modern structure , but an intact early Victorian Building. A genuine survivor , in the heart of a modern city. For me and my team of Stonemasons , it was a privilege to play a part in its preservation.


Author :  Ted Higgins.

The Rifle Volunteer.

This Marble Trooper has stood in Tambar Springs NSW SINCE 1917.  Through the Great deppression , another World war , drought flood and fire. For the last several years withpout a rifle.

Sadly these Memorials are vandalized at times, often by people trying to souveneer the rifles, as was the case here. So there I was , tape measure in hand , looking at a three quarters lifesize figure , carved from solid  from Bianco Staturio ( White Statuary Marble ) with the rifle missing. The question was; what type of rifle was it ? and what did it look like ?

Standard issue in WW1 was the SMLE (Short magazine Lee Enfield ) I proposed then to make a scaled down model in Hebel block as a pattern from which to carve a replica. Fortunately , just in time a parcel arrived in the post from the Gunedah RSL, contianing broken fragments of the original rifle. After some head scratching I assembled the pieces with “Italian glue , and it was immediately obvious that  it was not a 1914-18 issue rifle at all , but a Boer war era Rifle , known coloquially as a “long Tom ”

When Australian and New Zealand volunteers went to Gallipoli ,they would have been given whatever was available from locally, rather than rifles of the latest manufacture issued to the troops serving on the Western front. The Sculptor then was accurate and diligent in his representation, and extremely detailed, carving the screw head that secures the action to the stock, almost hidden from view on the statue.

So I was obliged to take similar pains ( yes I carved the screw head ,and calibrations on the rear sight ) to make sure our Trooper is properly equipped for Anzac day 2012



A Tale of Three Hammers epilogue

A tale of three hammers epilogue

@#$! you Rommel

A Tale of Three Hammers

Each hammer was made specifically to work Stone. All have a balance and power far superior to any modern hammer.  They came to me at various times in my life, and are strongly associated with the Men that gave them to me.



The first belonged to George Buck, a mason from South London, who, close to retirement gave me ; an Apprentice, one of his Hammers. “Too heavy for me nowadays boy”.

George was what was known as a “Workhorse”,in his prime in the 1930s. The term described one of those people life throws up that have a particular gift. In his case it was the ability to work stone faster than anyone else in the London Stone yards. Trollope & Colls, and Southwestern employed 100 stonemasons and 50 apprentices each between the wars. George was paid an extra penny an hour to set the pace. If you wanted to avoid being “given your cards” on Thursday  you had to stay somewhere near “Bucky”.

Depression era Stonemasons did what they had to do in order to keep their families fed. There are stories of older masons deliberately incorrectly marking up stones, having a smoke as the younger journeyman followed suit, watching as the younger man cut into his job, thus destroying it. Then calmly rub the lines off their stone, and then re- apply the moulds and mark it up correctly.

George was a gentler man when I knew him, and passed on some of his skills, and his Hammer to me.


The second Hammer, came from Ron Johnson. Ron was a raconteur, with a sense of humour on the dry side of arid. This was lost on many and caused him to be banished from the mason’s shed to a windblown lean-to, where he would work away, unfiltered Camel cigarette in the corner of his mouth, smouldering, along with his anti-establishment, anti-authoritarian sentiments.

Once I was checking levels through a “ Dumpy” , and asked Ron to take a look through the eyepiece. He claimed he could not see “a bloody thing”, and knowing I came from the Old Dart said  “ I’m used to squinting into the Australian sun Higgins, not peering through a London smog”.

Some of his messages were far less subtle. When asked to move a pallet of stone with a forklift, Ron said that this was not Mason’s work. The Quarry owner insisted. Ron proceeded to climb into the seat and drive the new forklift into a dam.The machine was completely wrecked, the Quarry owner apoplectic and Ron no doubt to his secret satisfaction, was never asked to drive a forklift again.

The Hammer, Ron insisted, was made by the Gosford Quarries Blacksmith “from the breech block of a 25 pounder cannon” and had  in its previous life “hurled cannon shells at Rommel”.

Whatever the truth of the matter, whenever I use the Hammer, I think of the late Ron, the carbon monoxide bubbles rising to the surface of the dam as the Forklift breathed its last, and Germany’s celebrated General, cowering behind a rock, as the Hammer went about its deadly work.


The third Hammer, a ‘Fisher” was the stuff of legend.Spoken of in hushed , almost reverential terms by the older Masons in London. I never saw one myself and doubted they actually existed. I was told that “some bloke at Lincoln Cathedral” had one and I simply put it down to one of the tall tales apprentices are often the victims of and forgot all about it.

Decades later, my friend Phil Gates told me about a hammer head he had picked up at a farm sale in Eugowra in Central NSW. He told me it had a Makers mark stamped on it. “Was that Fisher”? I enquired. Phil said that he wasn’t sure, but would bring the Hammer head to work, which he duly did.

One morning, the big four pound Hammer head sat in my hand, a rumour given substance in cast steel, with the makers mark “Fisher” stamped on its sides.

Phil, being the generous and selfless person he is gave the Hammer to me.


So that completes the Trilogy. One day the Hammers will be “too heavy for me “ , and I will pass them on.