Expedition to Surry Hills – 2 – The Shakespeare Hotel

See also my 2011 post Revisiting Surry Hills: The Shakespeare Hotel and Devonshire Street and more recent Surry Hills posts.




Been there for a while in Devonshire Street, hasn’t it? It is also one of the few left in pretty much original condition, though cleaned up rather…

I wonder what it would have been like in August 1914?  Here is a Harold Cazneaux photo from the area in 1914. Very poetic.


See the Dictionary of Sydney:

Poverty and survival

The early decades of the twentieth century saw Surry Hills at its peak as a residential enclave of Sydney, even as its reputation was at its lowest ebb. Encouraged by the provision of adequate suburban transit systems after 1880, the middle classes were in the process of fleeing the ‘zone of blighted living conditions’. The Depression of the 1890s and the intermittent nature and inadequate wages of working-class employment meant that Surry Hills families lived precariously close to real poverty. There was no margin to cater for unseen circumstances, and so sickness, unemployment or sudden widowhood could plunge a family into chronic destitution. And in coping with long-term poverty, many Surry Hills families were forced to adopt one or more of a range of mostly unpleasant survival strategies.

One was turning to charities, and the Benevolent Society and the Sydney City Mission, among others, were active in the area. But the charitable institutions never tried to attack the causes of working-class poverty, although they did rail strongly against its symptoms – alcoholism, gambling, prostitution and crime. The resort to crime was probably the most drastic of the survival strategies, and gave the area a long-lasting reputation, as did drinking and sex work. But the reality of prostitution was far less sensational that the lurid imaginings of the newspapers. For many women, sex work was an almost inescapable consequence of widowhood, desertion, long-term unemployment, or alcoholism.

‘Crime’ became a byword for Surry Hills. Probably most famous at the turn of the century were the larrikins. Such gangs had long been part of Sydney’s history, and by the 1880s Surry Hills, like most inner-city neighbourhoods, boasted at least one local gang. Early in the twentieth century, Crown Street Public School had a reputation as providing a good grounding for prospective larrikins: the afternoons were spent collecting gravel, chunks of blue metal and half bricks (‘Irish confetti’ as it was affectionately known) which were used later in the evening for gangland battles….