A Tale of Two Cottages

On historic Barrack Street in central Hobart, a road that’s now often crammed with traffic, two tiny cottages have stood side by side for more than 150 years. If you happen to be passing by, take a glance in their direction. Both cottages are listed on the Tasmanian Heritage Register and are important as simple cottages dating from the early settlement of Hobart. In contrast to many other cities in Australia, we are lucky in Hobart (and in Tasmania generally) that little buildings like these have managed to survive the pressures of modern development and ‘urban renewal’. It’s also notable that their primary residential use hasn’t changed over the years. Historical information can help us understand any changes that may have taken place and often the most useful resource is early photographs. The photo below is part of the ER Pretyman collection, available from the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office on the LINC website. These photos were taken on glass plate negatives and are of such high quality that you can zoom in to see an amazing level of detail.

On closer inspection the photo reveals the rear of the Barrack Street cottages (highlighted) and shows that number 49 was originally one of three conjoined houses, with number 49 being built to the streetfront boundary and the other two conjoined houses stretching back away from Barrack Street.

If you’ve passed the two cottages in the past year, you may have noticed some changes are underway. Both owners have been slowly but surely carrying out building work, undertaking some alterations and, in the case of number 49, some additions. It’s important that cottages like these remain in use and, to support this use, that a resonable level of modern amenities are provided.The Heritage Council recognises the importance of maintaining the historic use of heritage places and encourages owners to think carefully when contemplating making changes. Although the basic exterior forms have stood the test of time, the cottages have undergone many layers of changes over the years, including some modern interventions.

For number 55 the owner was keen to strip away modern finishes, which included the careful removal of umpteen layers of green paint to reveal the original sandstock brickwork. Internally the old floorboards are being patched and repaired, the 1980s bathroom refitted and insulation added to the attic bedroom. The program of work was supported and approved by certificates of exemption.

For the neighbouring house (number 49) the scope of changes was more wide-ranging. The block is very tight and before the current work was undertaken the tiny cottage offered cramped living areas and a small attic bedroom, all with limited outlook and natural lighting. The architects did not have much room to play with. A modern dormer addition was removed and replaced by a new link and addition fronting Barrack Street. The new extension is simple in form, echoing the character of both cottages. The work is nearing completion and the clever design has transformed the house, by adding a new study and a sun-filled living/kitchen opening into a courtyard garden, whilst retaining the essence of the original house. The new work is distinct from the historic form of the cottage, yet sits comfortably in the streetscape.

Property owner Matthew Cooper said that 'when first thinking of this extension many years ago I always had its heritage in mind. With help from the architects (Preston Lane), we established a great working relationship with Heritage Tasmania in relation to our shared vision for this property.  The outcome of which has been in the best interests of not only the  building itself, but also still speaks to its rich history and the general public as a whole. It hass been challenging but very rewarding for myself and for the people who have worked tirelessly on it to get the finished product just right. All in all I hope people enjoy it.'

Small heritage houses like these pose many challenges for owners and architects; however in both cases the owners are to be commended for their consultation with Heritage Tasmania and also for their commitment to ‘doing the right thing’, ensuring a bright future for the cottages.

Thank you to Deirdre Macdonald and the property owners for supplying this article.

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