Opening hours: The Watch House is usually open on Saturday and Sunday, 10am – 5pm for art exhibitions except for April, September and January when it is open on Saturdays from 11:30am to 4pm. See the Balmain Association’s website for information about the exhibition programme. Begun by Edmund Blacket in 1852, the original single-storey Watch House was completed by Kemp…
179 Darling Street, 1854, 1881 additions
The Watch House is usually open on Saturday and Sunday, 10am – 5pm for art exhibitions except for April, September and January when it is open on Saturdays from 11:30am to 4pm. See the Balmain Association’s website for information about the exhibition programme.
Begun by Edmund Blacket in 1852, the original single-storey Watch House was completed by Kemp in 1854, with four rooms: a guard room, a constable’s room, and male and female cells. In 1881, an upper storey was added, and two cells at the rear, each with its own privy and exercise area.
Watch houses were necessary in the colony for short prison terms, because of the long distances between gaols. The building was used as a lock-up until the 1920, when it became home to the local policeman, his wife and their twelve children. The old cells were used as bedrooms.
In the 1960’s, derelict and no longer needed by the police, the building was scheduled for demolition. The Balmain Association, formed in 1965 to maintain the historical value of the area, joined forces with the National Trust in a fight to preserve the building. As a result of public pressure the NSW Government transferred the building to the National Trust, which leases it to the Balmain Association as its headquarters. The Association maintains the building and manages it as an exhibition space.
The building exemplifies the simplicity of early colonial buildings, with the later upper storey designed in keeping with the early Victorian lower storey. The only decorations are the minimal chimney mouldings, the raised course between upper and lower storeys and the bas-relief stone frames around the windows. However, the building’s austerity is relieved by the colours and markings of the bare stone walls, and the ghostly stripes visible on the awning.
With its slate and iron roofs, copper guttering, wooden verandah posts and twelve-paned windows, the Watch House provides a sampler of early colonial style and materials.
Walk uphill to the corner of Colgate Avenue and Darling Street, where a memorial marks the former site of St Andrew’s Church. At the rear of the Watch House, note the stone privy (known locally as a dunny). Dunnies provided sanitation in Balmain until 1913, by which time nearly all properties were connected to the Bondi Ocean Outfall Sewer. A few examples survive in the inner suburbs of Sydney, but most are of brick and corrugated iron, rather than stone and slate. (For a history of sanitation in Balmain see Fergus Fricke’s Getting to the bottom of Balmain’s dunnies, Balmain Association 2012).