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When Europeans first explored the Parramatta and Duck rivers in 1788, the area now known as Granville – a suburb of the City of Parramatta – was covered in a dense forest of stringybark, blackbutt, box and ironbark trees. The junction of the two rivers (site of the suburbs of Camellia and Rosehill) was a significant meeting place for the Cadigal from the east and western Dharug peoples, such as the Wategora, Burramattagal and Bidjigal. An Aboriginal forest track also connected the coast and the headwaters of the main river feeding the harbour, and it appears that colonial authorities adopted it to build the road connecting the settlements at Sydney Cove and Rose Hill (Parramatta). This road – the colony's major artery – ran through what is now Granville.
Early land grants
Granville remained relatively untouched by European colonisation for many years. Early governors did make land grants to soldiers, officials and a handful of families who had established themselves as the elite of Parramatta. For example, John Harris (of Harris Park) and John Macarthur (of Elizabeth Farm in Rosehill) extended their estates south into the Granville area. The Wentworths (D'Arcy Wentworth and his son William Charles) held land on the Duck River. But the largest landowner in the district was the merchant Garnham Blaxcell, who snapped up some small grants given to members of the New South Wales Corps, and then received a massive consolidated grant of 1,125 acres (455 hectares) in 1806. The area is now bounded by Clyde Street and Parramatta, Woodville and Rawson roads. Blaxcell never lived there but used the land as collateral for his commercial enterprises; as these began to fail he mortgaged the estate to Sir John Jamison, who took it over when Blaxcell fled the colony in 1817. Jamison was another absentee landlord, who ran some cattle on the land but left much of it undeveloped. The forest was a resort for timber-getters, charcoal burners and men who trapped the prevalent native dogs; the original name for Woodville Road was Dog Trap Road.
In the 1850s, the construction of the Sydney-Parramatta railway brought large-scale deforestation; much of the useable timber was cut out by 1860. The railway line, opened with much ceremony in 1855, actually terminated on Dog Trap Road at a station called Parramatta Junction, and the name was attached to the surrounding area. In 1860, however, the railway was extended into Parramatta proper and the original station was moved back to a site between Bold and Good streets.
During the 1860s, subdivision of the old Jamison estate began. Although James Bergan established a tweed mill close to the railway, many of the first buyers were orchardists and farmers. There was room also for middle-class villas, occupied by men who were responsible for renaming, not just the disreputable Dog Trap Road, but the whole area. In the 1880s it became Granville, in honour of the then British Foreign Minister, Lord Granville. Five years later, the Municipality of Granville was declared: it encompassed all or part of the modern suburbs of Camellia, Rosehill, Harris Park, Granville, Clyde, and South Granville. The municipality – which took in Guildford in 1906 – lasted until 1949 when it was subsumed in the enlarged City of Parramatta.
Granville municipality grew quickly in the 1880s and 1890s, as industrialists were attracted by its road, rail and water access: the municipality also gained gas street lighting and a connection to the metropolitan water supply in this period. Hudson Brothers, manufacturers of railway rolling stock, chose a site on the Duck River at Granville to establish works, which opened in 1883 and covered 14 acres (5.6 hectares). Other new enterprises in Granville included James Brunton's six-storey flour mill and William Ritchie's factory producing agricultural machinery. The workers in these large factories – along with those in smaller tanneries and brickworks – boosted the area's population and stimulated the subdivision of existing farm lots. In 1882 Robert Hudson imported ironworkers from the Clyde region in Scotland and that name was given to the area around the Hudson works, with its workers' housing, and to the railway station that had been built in 1880 to service the developing industries. When Hudson Brothers succumbed to the 1890s Depression, the works were taken over by a company that actually called itself Clyde Engineering. The expansion of that company – after it won a contract for steam engines from New South Wales Railways in 1905 – reinforced the distinct identity of Clyde. But, confusingly, the district that was then recognised as 'Clyde' was larger than the suburb that now bears the name. The original Clyde Engineering works was definitely located within the current boundaries of the suburb of Granville.
Centre of industry
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the state government ratified Granville's industrial role: the Department of Technical Education had been conducting classes in the School of Arts since the 1880s, but in 1909–10 a new Technical College was built between South and Lumley streets. It produced engineers and technicians for 'the Birmingham of Australia'. During the 1920s, developments in building and the growth of motor transport brought more manufacturers to the Municipality of Granville, especially the areas covered by the current suburbs of Camellia, Rosehill, Granville and Clyde. For example, Goodyear Tyre and Rubber Company of Australasia had a plant in Rosehill, while Clyde Batteries produced car batteries next to Clyde Engineering. Private developers and the War Services Homes Commission tried to meet the resulting demand for housing: between 1921 and 1933 the number of 'occupied dwellings' in Granville municipality rose by 54 per cent. By 1933, however, the Depression was devastating the area. Male unemployment was over 20 per cent and the Granville Council struggled to provide relief works, but it did manage to build the swimming baths in 1935–36. Factories were closing, although work on the Sydney Harbour Bridge kept Clyde Engineering going, and the company also took to making bathtubs and lawnmowers. Predictably, Granville industries were revived by the demands of the war effort after 1939: Clyde Engineering produced aircraft parts and artillery as well as rolling stock, while the essential commodity aluminium was produced in Rosehill.
After World War II, state planning policies – which designated Parramatta as a growth centre – and federal immigration programs impacted on Granville, which had been reduced in size and status to become one of many suburbs of the City of Parramatta. At first, industrial expansion continued, but mainly in South Granville, while the Housing Commission built estates to accommodate an urban population growing as a result of the baby boom and immigration. The suburb developed with an unusually high proportion of low income and/or non-English-speaking families.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Granville sustained the shock of factory closures – notably the end of Clyde Engineering – and the state's worst rail disaster. In 1977, a train from the Blue Mountains crashed into the Bold Street bridge, killing 83 people, injuring hundreds more and traumatising survivors, rescuers and many residents alike.
By the 1990s, the local press was featuring stories of youth crime, illegal brothels and complaints about the run-down Granville shopping centre. In 2000 the Lord Mayor of Parramatta described Granville, with a population of over 20,000 people, as 'the most urban decayed area in Sydney'. Since then, the Parramatta City Council and the state Department of Housing have begun collaborating on a Greater Granville Regeneration Plan.
T Kass, C Liston and J McClymont, Parramatta: A Past Revealed, Parramatta City Council, Parramatta NSW, 1996
J McClymont, Parramatta & District: A Pictorial History, Kingsclear Books, Alexandria NSW, 2001
T. Kass, Granville Heritage Study, compiled for Parramatta City Council, 1985;
Granville Historical Society Inc, Granville; Forest to Factory, Granville Historical Society, Granville NSW, 1992
Granville files, Local Studies and Family History Library, Parramatta City Library