The Gothic Bank and Its Museum

This post is the first in a series I’m hoping to write about small museums and libraries, their histories and collections. They will predominantly be in Melbourne and surrounds, but I’ll add the odd international one too. These sorts of posts give me the excuse to explore my city and my state. To find new ways to look at the places I’ve probably driven or walked past hundreds of times and to explore the fascinating small pieces of history that they hold.

I am beginning with the Gothic Bank in Melbourne and the banking museum that is underneath the building.

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The banking museum itself is under the gothic bank in a space that was used for many years by Australia Post. It was first opened in May 1985. It was part of the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of a Royal Charter which was granted to the Bank of Australasia, which was one of the banks from which ANZ originates. The museum was significantly refurbished in 2007, when ANZ redesigned the layout of the exhibits and updated the content.

While I was unable to take any pictures inside the museum it is a fascinating little institution. It tells the story of banking in Australia, beginning with the indigenous economy and going right up until the 21st century. I actually learnt a lot that I didn’t know.

For example:

From 1817 until 1910 Australian banks issued the bank notes. In 1910 the Commonwealth took over with the introduction of the Australian Note Act.

In World War I close to half the staff of the Union and Australian banks volunteered. Women were employed to fill the vacancies but they weren’t allowed to handle cash or deal with the customers.

The museum is open from 10-4 (traditional bankers hours) on weekdays and entry is free.

Now while the museum itself is interesting it is the building that it stands in that for me was more fascinating. As a medievalist living in Melbourne, I don’t get many chances to see medieval architecture and while the bank and its interior is Victorian Gothic, rather than the real thing, it is still very lovely.

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The bank was a collaboration between banker Sir George Verdon and architect William Wardell. Verdon was appointed General Manager of the English, Scottish and Australian Bank (which is now part of ANZ) in 1872. In 1881 he invited 3 architects to submit designs for a new headquarters in Australia. Wardell was successful. Work began in 1883 and the final cost was just over 77 000 pounds.

I especially like the attention to detail

IMG_1926IMG_1922And the gargoyles.

IMG_1932All buildings should have at least one gargoyle.

As magnificent as the exterior is, it is the interior that really shines

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IMG_1953The columns and brackets are cast iron which were made in a foundry in Carlton. They were covered with canvas, fixed with white lead and cement and had five coats of oil paint. The ceiling was hand painted and gilded. In the centre of each panel are the shields and arms of England, Scotland and Australia as well as the arms of the bank and the arms of the main cities in which it operated.

The sky light is a later addition and the banking room was expanded in the 1920s to include the entrance to the former stock exchange building.

The gothic bank does not stand alone. The stock exchange building was added in 1891 with architect William Pitt winning a design competition in 1888. The vestibule of the stock exchange, most of the actual work went on upstairs, is an impressive 20m by 15m. It contains six Harcourt granite columns which weigh between 16 and 20 tonnes. They are capped by white Tasmanian marble. They were transported all the way from Bendigo by teams of 30 horses. It is unsurprisingly known as the cathedral room.

IMG_1939The details on the walls are truly impressive

IMG_1943The beautiful tiled floor is not original but it was based on the original colours and patterns.

IMG_1940There is also a magnificent stained glass window. Up the very top you can see a miner ‘panning off’ which is meant to represent the origins of the wealth of Victoria. The central figure is a woman representing ‘labour’. The window also depicts the coats of arms of both Britain and Australia and symbols of the four divisions of the globe.

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There is also other decorative stained glass work.

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The other building constructed at the same time as the stock exchange is the Melbourne Safe Deposit. It was also designed by William Pitt and was completed by 1890. It is six stories above the ground, but there is a vault beneath it which holds 3000 safes. The floor was concrete which was laid directly onto rock. The walls were 1m thick. The actual strong room was raised off the floor and was built of wrought iron boiler plate and it was lined with un-drillable steel. The whole thing weighed nearly 200 tons. It was the first safe deposit building in Australia. It is still in use today. It is not open to the public sadly, but it is pretty incredible from the outside.

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In 1989 ANZ found itself with three significant and beautiful gothic buildings. More than 20 million was committed to restoring the old buildings and a linking atrium was built.

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At the same time a modern ANZ headquarters was being built and it retains elements of the gothic style to mirror the original buildings and to bring them all in together as one complex. IMG_1957

The gothic bank and its museum are a truly beautiful and fascinating building that are well worth a visit. I’m just pleased that this is the sort of thing I can go at look at in Melbourne. Exploring these sorts of buildings is why it can be so incredible to really look at your own city, to find the places that you’ve never noticed. To find the small corners of history that each city holds.

References:

Site visit 2018

ANZ’s Gothic Bank: A commitment to preservation (booklet)

The photos are mine.

Cardiff Castle

 

IMG_4844Cardiff castle is a fascinating amalgam, part Roman foundations, part 12th century shell keep, part 19th century victorian gothic palace and part WWII bunker. It manages to encompass many of the key eras of British history, at the same time as being linked to some of the most interesting stories and people of the medieval period.

For me, naturally, the medieval section of the castle is the most interesting and the most important. I do, however, have a real soft spot for the Victorian gothic section, because it doesn’t pretend to be authentic medieval and it is just so gloriously over the top.

To begin from the beginning though. There is nothing much left of the Roman origins of Cardiff Castle. There were four roman structures on the site between c.54 and 400 CE, the final one was an 8 acre fort with ten foot thick walls. It was a central point for communication for the area. It was abandoned when the Romans left the area at the end of the 5th century CE.

The site was appropriated by the Normans, when they arrived in the late 11th century, to build the original motte and bailey castle. The castle you can see today dates largely to 1140 and was originally built by Robert of Gloucester, the illegitimate oldest son of Henry I of England, though the gatehouse is a 15th century addition. You can see the castle from several angles below.

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This is a classic shell keep, meaning that there would not have been permanent rooms in the interior of the keep. There would have been a collection of timber buildings and the structure would not have been roofed. The holes you can see in the walls are called putlog holes and are where the beams of the timber buildings would have been inserted into the wall.

This particular keep has 12 sides, a moat that is roughly 23 m and 2 m thick walls. The castle has two key claims to fame. Firstly that it was the final prison of Robert Duke of Normandy, also known as Robert Curthoes. He was the oldest son of William the Conqueror and was left Normandy as his inheritance. After various conflicts that are too convoluted to go into here, however, his younger brother Henry I of England captured Robert and took Normandy for himself. Robert spent the last 8 years of his life held in Cardiff castle until he died in 1134.

The other key claim to fame for this castle in the medieval period was the kidnap of its lord. In 1158 Welsh lord Ifor Bach stormed the castle and carried off William Earl of Glamorgan and his family. He was forced to ransom his freedom back.

The castle was also threatened by the Welsh in the 1200s and Gilbert de Clare, who held the castle at that point, had the black tower built in what is now part of the outer wall. It was linked to the keep by a massive wall, the remains of which you can see in the photo below. The wall was demolished by Capability Brown in the early beautification of the castle.

 

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The castle played a role in Owain Glyndwr’s revolt in the 1400s as well. It was severely besieged and almost lost before a relief garrison arrived.

Capability Brown  may have redesigned most the grounds in the 1700s, including filling in the moat, but it wasn’t him who made the castle what it is today. It was a collaboration between William Burges and the 3rd Marquess of Bute in the mid 1800s.

They re-excavated the moat, re-landscaped much of the grounds, uncovered the Roman foundations and built the ridiculously intricate Victorian gothic mansion that you can still see today. The mansion is very much based on medieval design, and a romanticism of the medieval period.

Burges mainly re-modeled exisiting buildings rather than building from scratch, but he did build the 150 foot high clock tower between 1867 and 1875. You can see some of the exterior below.

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It is, however, the interiors which are truly remarkable. The interiors are an amalgam of styles from the beautifully ornate Arab room:

IMG_4913To the library

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IMG_5033To the utterly magnificent banqueting hall which depicts key scenes the life and career of Robert Earl of Gloucester on the walls. Incidentally Robert of Gloucester was the father of William of Glamorgan who was captured from Cardiff in the 1150s.

IMG_4903IMG_4902IMG_4904IMG_4905IMG_4906IMG_4909There are beautiful hidden corners all over the 19th century palace, especially in the windows and the ceilings. Below are just a few examples.

IMG_4895IMG_4896IMG_5031After the 19th century the castle stayed in the hands of the Butes until 1947 when it was given to the city of Cardiff by the 5th Marquess of Bute.

The castle wasn’t severely damaged in World War II, through Cardiff was badly bombed. The outer walls however did serve as air raids shelters, which could hold up to 2000 people. You can see one of the areas used in the photo below.

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The castle stands at the centre of Cardiff, both literally and figuratively. The streets of the city radiate out from it, and it has been key to most parts of Cardiff’s long history. It is a truly fascinating place to visit.

References:

Site visits 2012 and 2015.

Welsh Castles and Historic Places ISBN: 9781850130307

Castles in Wales: A handbook by Gerald Morgan ISBN: 9781847710314.

http://www.cardiffcastle.com/

All the photos are mine.