Victorian iron lacework


North Melbourne still has some magnificent buildings with iron lacework that takes us back to the days of its early settlement.

To quote from the article Marvellous Melbourne on the Melbourne Museum’s website: “Melbourne has more decorative cast iron than any other city in the world. By the 1880s it symbolised the city’s brash image. Virtually every new balcony and verandah was draped in an ‘iron petticoat’. John Ruskin, a noted English architecture critic, derided cast iron as ‘cheap and vulgar’.”

“Melbourne could not have cared less. More than 40 local foundries were kept busy, melting and casting pig-iron bars that arrived as ship’s ballast. By 1900, the foundries had registered 161 different designs.”

One foundry owner was William Hutchison, who arrived from Scotland in 1854, hoping to make his fortune on the goldfields. His lack of success led him to build a foundry in Little Bourke St, named after the town of his birth, the Falkirk Iron Foundry. He moved to Victoria Terrace, North Melbourne, in 1872 and stood for council the following year. Unsuccessful at his first attempt, he was elected on his second attempt in 1877. He was elected as the Mayor of Hotham in 1878 but he died early in 1878 from apoplexy (a cerebral haemorrhage) at the age of 50.

His success was evident from having exhibited in the Intercolonial Exhibition in Melbourne in 1866.

Robin Vowels, a Parkville resident, has published a three-volume work on Victoria’s iron lace work and Melbourne’s early iron foundries. The first volume won the Victorian Community History Award in 2013. Robin will give a talk to the Hotham History Project focusing on William Hutchison on November 29, 2022, at 7.30pm at the Bastow Institute, Victorian Academy of Teaching and Leadership in Queensberry St.

Arrangements will be COVID dependent. If the talk is oversubscribed, it will be available on Zoom.

For more up-to-date information please go to the Hotham History Project website.


Felicity Jack is a member of the Hotham History Project and writes regularly for the North City News. •


Caption: Cast iron decoration – Federal Coffee Palace, built at 555 Collins St in 1888 and demolished in 1972.

Caption: Victoria’s Iron Lacework by Robin Vowels, a Parkville resident.

John Buncle

John Buncle

February 14th, 2024 - Felicity Jack
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