Saturday, 13 December 2008

The Argyle Cut: Sydney Sandstone Tour Part 6

It looks a bit like an Italianate loggia, but it is the staircase to the cycle way across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, taken from the sandstone cutting in Argyle St, The Rocks - "The Argyle Cut". It was a major early engineering feat, begun by convicts in 1843 by convicts with hammers and chisels, and completed in 1867 with the help of explosives. For some time until 1900 it was the underground home of thugs, petty gangsters and rats. The site was cleaned up after the plague forced authorities to sanitise the area.

While Sandstone gives Sydney it's paerticular "look", at first it was seen as a hindrance because the sandstone is not very far below the surface, and the soils are thus thin and sandy. It was not very good for agriculture. The earliest housing was made from people hewing out the stone, literally from their own backyards, and making themselves a little rock cottage on The Rocks. Very early on, the convicts were put to work, quarrying out huge amounts of sandstone so that by the 1830s they were tunnelling the Argyle Cut.

Using sandstone for major public buildings took off in the 1850s. Skilled masons came from Scotland, France and Italy in the 1870s. It fell out of favour in the 20th century as skyscrapers of glass and steel came to dominate, and there were attempts to demolish some of the most magnificent examples, but fortunately actions in the 1960s and 70s saved many of them. I'll start showing some of Sydney's wonderful buildings from tomorrow.


  1. Working in archaeology as I do, I find anything about stone interesting. But your sandstone saga is just amazing!

  2. Golly you have put heart'n'soul into this series. Really engrossing, Sally. Good one ...

  3. I love how the building is made from the same material as its base — it blends so well with its environment. and for a minute there, I thought the bare branches were a design feature of the windows!

  4. Fabulous building, image and write up.