Signs have gone up on the long vacant and semi-derelict Denton Mills building in Nicholson St heralding an ambitious apartment development. I have no problem with it being turned into apartments — what else to do? — but hope increasingly pessimistically that some modern structure is not going to sprout out its arse: consider these words:
“Denton Mills will be a living masterpiece – featuring both the historic mill building, as well as a new modern [sic.] complex. The 3 storey mill building, which dates back to 1888, will be transformed into 39 unique apartments on the upper levels, and 9 commercial tenancies on the ground floor. A new structure, to be integrated with the existing mill building, will contain 72 contemporary apartments overlooking a courtyard featuring a 25 metre lap pool.”
If you have any intelligence on this development, let me know. If you want to participate in focus groups being arranged by the developer, call the Marketing Manager, Sandra Spencer, on 9328 0199. If you go, tell them we’d like a reasonably priced breakfastry as one of the 9 commercial tenancies. There are some more photos below, along with interesting bits about the Mills’ history.
This photo is from the newsletter of the (English) Denton Historical Society, from which I have also taken this extract:
“Hat manufacturing was supposedly started on the Denton Hat Mills site in 1874 in a two-storey building shown still surviving in photographs of the Mills in the 1890’s. A Melbourne University thesis (Barrett, A. H. B., (1970) The Making of an Industrial Environment; Collingwood Victoria 1851-91) suggests that the factory was a logical development from the fell-mongering, skin-washing and tanning industries that gathered here because of cheap land along the river Yarra, industries that helped create the notoriously squalid living conditions that the area became associated with.
The way in which entrepreneurs forged ahead with industrial projects is summed up by this quotation from a Councillor who wanted ‘as many factories on the Yarra as possible; this would be the only way to make Collingwood a second Manchester,’ (Robert Dehnert reported in The Observer 6 August 1874).
The directory for 1874 carries very little Information about the streets that intersect at the Denton Mills site (the north-south Nicholson Street and the east west Mollison Street). This is not surprising as Melbourne was only 40 years from first settlement and although the colonial government had created street and road reserves and sold off large blocks of land, building was still intermittent. Given the lack of house numbers, names are listed in order from one end to another.
The 1875 directory, however, lists a Turner and Martin Hat Factory on Mollison Street, and a Turner, James H, living in an adjoining Street. There is a little confusion in the directory about where exactly on the Street the factory was, but comparing later editions with names common to both shows that it was indeed at the site of the future Denton Mills site. Barrette (1970) confirms that it was Councillor James Hobson Turner, proprietor of a tannery across the road, who established the factory in 1874. It was claimed to be the first steam powered hat factory in Australia. A special hatting edition of the Melbourne evening paper, The Star (13 September 1934) claimed that the first felt hat in Australia was made here in 1878 (perhaps this date is wrong).
Business was reportedly initially slack while the public was being weaned off imported hats but improved after 1876 under a new manager-lessee, Thomas Shelmerdine, who, according to Barret, was the son of a Lancashire hat manufacturer.
Around 1882, Shelmerdine left the Denton Mills (or whatever the business was then called) to build Collingwood’s second hat factory a kilometre to the north and installing an innovative 20hp gas engine said to be unique in Victoria. He appears to have been a very innovative businessman, his Austral Hat Mill becoming the locally well-known Austral Silk and Cotton Mills.”
See also part 1 of the article.