Carlton Community History Group


Vale Judith Biddington

Judith Biddington (left) receiving her Award of Merit from Richard Broome in 2019

Dr Judith Biddington, founding President of the Carlton Community History Group (CCHG), passed away on 13 December 2023. She will be sadly missed by CCHG and the broader community. Judith and her husband Ralph, who died in 2019, lived in Drummond Street, North Carlton, since the 1970s. She was a teacher and education academic by profession, and had a passionate interest in history. In this capacity, she identified the need for a local community history group covering Carlton, North Carlton and Princes Hill. In 2006, Judith placed a notice at the Carlton Library in Rathdowne Street and, together with several like-minded people, held a series of meetings with presentations from people on living, growing up or working in Carlton. Within a year the Carlton Community History Group became incorporated and had achieved affiliation with the Royal Historical Society of Victoria. From the start Judith's approach was to engage with local people directly – shopkeepers, teachers, potential speakers for meetings, long term residents, representatives of religious organisations like churches and the local mosque – gathering history on the ground and, most importantly, involving and engaging people.

Along with several other hard working and dedicated members, Judith began recording a series of interviews with present and former Carlton residents. These oral histories have now been digitised and made more accessible. She also began a series of special events and regular publications produced by CCHG, commencing with her own booklet "Some Women of Davis Street : 1891 and 2008". Judith edited Des Norman's book "Through the eyes of a child : A street in Carlton 1939-45" and contributed a chapter to CCHG's publication "Carlton Voices", launched in October 2018. In addition to her presidential responsibilities, Judith was not above taking on mundane tasks to get the job done. She was known to hand-deliver minutes of meetings to members who lived locally, and her full commitment to CCHG was both a strength and weakness. Judith was also active in the "Friends of the Carlton Library". As the workload increased, Judith stepped aside as President in 2012, but she maintained a lifelong interest in CCHG. She was presented with an Award of Merit by the Royal Historical Society of Victoria for "meritorious service to a historical society" in May 2019.

I first made contact with Judith in 2007, not long after CCHG became incorporated. Finding no information online, I used the old-fashioned method of looking up the telephone book and found a listing for "Biddington" in Drummond Street. This proved to be correct and Judith, who answered my call, seemed a little surprised that someone would be contacting her out of the blue. When I mentioned the lack of a web presence and offered to create a basic website, she seemed even more surprised. Sixteen years later, the CCHG website is still basic, but has grown in scope and content. Judith was a regular contributor, writing articles and book reviews. She had a good writer's knack of selecting text from various sources and turning it into a story. Judith was a stickler for keeping printed copies of documents, not fully trusting the longevity of the electronic versions. Like many seniors, she just wanted her computer to work without having to upgrade the software or hardware all the time.

Judith Lorraine Biddington (née Russell) was the granddaughter of Delia Constance Russell, a well known community worker and social activist. Delia died in 1938, when Judith was a young child, but she would have been proud of her granddaughter's achievements. CCHG has grown through Judith's vision and leadership, for which we give our heartfelt thanks. Our condolences to her sons David, Peter and Jon.

Susan C. Crowe
Website Administrator
Carlton Community History Group
December 2023

Pillar Box Man

Image: CCHG
Restored Pillar Box outside 428 Rathdowne Street North Carlton
Note that part of the "fist" door handle is missing on the right hand side

An historic pillar box in Rathdowne Street, North Carlton, had a makeover in November 2023, with its paintwork restored to original colours of red and gold on a black base. The restoration work was done by a pillar box enthusiast, who initially began his work on a voluntary basis and is now paid by Australia Post. The pillar box is located directly outside 428 Rathdowne Street and this building has historic connections with early postal services in the area. Prior to the opening of the new purpose-built North Carlton Post Office at 546 Rathdowne Street, postal services were provided at several different locations in North Carlton. The first North Carlton Post Office premises recorded in Sands & McDougall in 1888 was a shop at 783 Rathdowne Street, near the Macpherson Street corner. Miss Eliza White was the postmistress and she shared the premises with Mrs G. White, a stationer. Miss and Mrs White remained at the address until 1892, when both moved to 797 Rathdowne Street, a short distance north of the Macpherson Street corner. The next move occurred in 1896 to 428 Rathdowne Street, on the east side, and the last recorded listing at this address was in 1913. The North Carlton Post Office, on the corner of Richardson Street, was closed in October 2022 and relocated to 607 Lygon Street, Princes Hill.

Related Item: The Last Post for Rathdowne Street

Bye Bye Babajan

Image: CCHG
Lavinia House and Babajan
711 and 713 Nicholson Street North Carlton

Nicholson Street, North Carlton, has lost another popular business with the closure of Babajan in September 2023. Since taking over the Troy Café in 2016, the bakery café at 713 Nicholson Street has attracted customers from the local area and beyond – even having a favorable review published on the New York Times website in 2018. However, the business suffered during the COVID 19 lockdowns, costs have risen and Babajan has never fully recovered. Towards the end of trading, Babajan had a clearance sale of food products and this harks back to the building's early days as a grocer.1,2,3

The two storey shop and residence, on the corner of Pigdon Street, was built for Henry Hocking in 1884/85. Mr Hocking was a grocer by trade and he also owned the adjoining shop (now a newsagent), built in a similar style on a narrower block of land. This building was named "Lavinia House", almost certainly after Henry's wife Lavinia. Henry Hocking retained ownership of the shops for a few years only, selling both in 1887. In the mid 1880s, the northern end of Nicholson Street was developing into a business and shopping precinct to rival Rathdowne Street. The Nicholson Street cable tram service commenced in August 1887, eighteen months ahead of Rathdowne Street, and that brought more business and customers to the street. Banking services were provided by the English, Scottish & Australian Chartered Bank, which opened a branch on the north west corner of Pigdon Street in September 1885, under the management of Mr James Birrell. This bank branch was to feature prominently in the history of 713 Nicholson Street. In 1888, the bank moved across Pigdon Street to Henry Hocking's former grocer's shop, under a leasing arrangement with the new owner Michael Charleston and, after his death, with Annie Maria Charleston. The bank remained there until 1911, when a new purpose-built branch opened further south, on the corner of Richardson Street.4,5,6,7,8

Following the bank's departure John Spicer, a tailor and mercer, moved into the corner shop and he was another long term occupant until the 1940s. After a few years of residential occupancy, a dressmaker named Mrs F. Catmull shared the premises with Mrs Florence Blair and her daughter Mrs Vera Thompson, who most likely lived upstairs. The 1950s saw several different business, all under the name of "Culhane". There was butcher's shop for a few years, followed by a milk bar and a ladies' hairdresser. The 1950s also marked a significant change in property ownership. For nearly 70 years, the buildings at 711 and 713 Nicholson Street were kept together when ownership passed from one person to another. The land was subdivided in 1953, with the corner shop going to Muhamet Ali and the adjoining premises (Lavinia House) to Frank and Tanina Interdonato. Frank Interdonato operated his real estate business from 711 Nicholson Street and ownership of the property remained in the Interdonato family for the next three decades. Muhamet Ali had a milk bar and confectioner's business at 713 Nicholson Street from the 1960s, and he retained ownership until his death in 1985. The milk bar became a Turkish kebab shop and later Troy Café.9

Henry Hocking's grocer shop has been through quite a few changes over its long history and, following the departure of Babajan, is set to enter a new phase of its life.

Notes and references:
1 The Age, 13 September 2023
2 Sydney Morning Herald, 26 July 2016
3 New York Times, 21 June 2018
4 Australian Architectural Index, Record No. 78872
5 Australian Architectural Index, Record No. 78905
6 The Age, 2 September 1885, p. 6
7 Certificate of Title, vol. 1965, folio 948
8 Australian Architectural Index, Record No. 80240
9 Building ownership and occupancy information sourced from land title records, Melbourne City Council rate books for Victoria Ward, and Sands & McDougall directories.

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