Something is finally happening to the Denton Mills building on Nicholson St

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.

13 Replies to “Something is finally happening to the Denton Mills building on Nicholson St”

  1. Development of the building is good but how much more traffic can Nicholson Street take? The Hoddle street dodgers in the morning and evening peak hour make it very unpleasant and now the Convent, markets and childrens farm make Nicholson street a major thoroughfare on weekends.
    Nicholson Street needs an interruption to through traffic. Maybe some better speed humps? More traffic lights? Closed to through traffic? Closure of the slip lane at Johnston Street?
    Its great people come to our suburb but use the bus, train, tram, bike, walk!

  2. I went and had a look at the display suite today. It’s a nice looking apartment, and there is a good scale model of the whole development in the adjacent showroom. The yellow planning application stuck on the wall of the building indicates that there will be 60 apartments, and, from memory, 145 car parking spaces. The only entrance to the car park will be from Little Nicholson St, the lane that runs behind the building.

  3. I will be one of the 60 odd residents living in Denton Mills when it’s completed end of 2008. The heritage listed building will remain untouched in terms of the facade, with new terraces being built behind it, along Lt. Nicholson St.

    There will be no other facilities other than a central courtyard (no 25m lap pool!) and a cafe in one of the ground level commercial tenancies (the corner of Nicholson and Mollison Sts). And yes, there are only 60 apartments in total, with 145 underground parking spaces, only accessibly from Lt. Nicholson St.

    Building commences July 2007.

  4. If you want more information – check out their website and download their e-brochure.

    I was definitely sold on these points:

    1. Location, location, location
    2. City views
    3. Finishings, quality of work and value for money

    It will be an absolute privileged to live in this part of town.

  5. I have a buisness card of my great, great grandfather James Hobson Turner, which depicts the original factory if you are interested.

    1. Simon, James hobson Turner's daughter sarah Ethel married my Grandfather William Pitt in geelong and theirchildren included my mother Eileen pitt who married my father Francis Renehan . We are doing the family tree and would appreciate more Turner info if available . Michael Renehan

      1. Hi Michael
        I am James Hobson Turner's great granddaughter. I have a little info about him – you may be interested.
        Rosemary Smith(nee Turner)

      2. Uncle Michael have you completed the tree?
        so the William Pitt who built the Rialto is the same that married Ethel Turner?

  6. A moment in time, – , interesting reading of history, although no mention of a Mr. William Thomas Vernon who deceased while at work on the 9th Nov 1933.
    Mr. Vernon was a Hat Blocker by trade and well respected by management, learning his skills in England as a youth.
    He was born in Wigan, England 22nd Aug 1868 and a descendent from the Vernon Family of 1066.
    Any noises in the building at night ?

    1. I have been looking for William Thomas for years! He was my great grandfather. Have you any more information.

      Jeanette Horsfield

  7. I live opposite the Denton Hat Mills building in Abbotsford. I moved here 2 years ago without realising the history of the building. I was born and brought up in Denton, Manchester and my grandfather worked as a hatter in the mills there. I can't believe it

  8. Hi Lucille. I can't believe it either. I lived in Denton for the first 30 years of my life. I found that William Thomas had deserted his wife and my grandfather and left for Australia. I managed to get his death certificate and he had about another 10 children. Denton has changed so much in the last few years.

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