Dictionary of Sydney

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Lincoln House

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Lincoln House

Lincoln House was built at 280 Pitt Street in 1925–26 as the new city headquarters for the bicycle and motorcycle manufacturers, importers and retailers, Bennett & Wood. When it was constructed, its L-shaped design, fronting both Pitt and Bathurst streets, wrapped around the company's earlier office and retail building on the north-east corner. Designed by Spain & Cosh, the L-shaped design is one of only two in Sydney (the other being Culwulla Chambers designed by Spain, Cosh & Minnett). In March 1996 the building was purchased by the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts as its new city home, and the school moved into it in March 2000.

Earlier buildings

On 17 December 1831 the Sydney Gazette advertised in its Government Notices a description of Section 17, Parish of St Lawrence in the Town of Sydney, land which had been claimed and which deeds of grant had been made for. Allotment 18 was claimed by Thomas Marr. Marr's parcel faced Pitt Street, one allotment north of the corner with Bathurst Street and equalled 23 perches (582 square metres). [1]

Although Marr was granted the deed in 1831, the property had been developed some time before that, with buildings shown on the site on an 1822 plan of Sydney and another dated 1831. This end of Pitt Street was sparsely developed before the 1840s and the building was probably a small house. Sydney City Rate Books for Macquarie Ward in 1845 describe the building on the site as a single-storey brick dwelling with a shingle roof and five rooms. This could be the early house structure shown on the 1822 plan.

Industry and enterprise

By 1845 Marr had sold his portion to Robert White Moore, who leased the dwelling first to William Lancaster and from the early 1850s to John Jordan, a cabinet maker. Jordan lived and worked from the building until 1879, using the site for his workshop and furniture shop. [2] On one occasion in December 1850, Jordan was reported as having risked his life in extinguishing a fire in the adjacent building by climbing on the roof with two wet blankets and some buckets of water. [3] No doubt, with a shop full of furniture and timber, Jordan was all too aware of the potentially disastrous effects of fire spreading to his premises.

In 1870 Robert White Moore died and the property passed to his wife, who sold the site to John Macintosh in 1880. Macintosh had been a City Councillor for the Macquarie Ward from 1861 until 1877, was elected to the Legislative Assembly for East Sydney from 1872 until 1880 and was later appointed to the Legislative Council from 1882 until his death in 1911.

Macintosh had migrated from Scotland in 1839, becoming an ironmonger in 1846. He proceeded to build a hardware business through the 1850s and when he purchased Moore's former shop and dwelling he converted it to an iron foundry, erecting sheds and workshops to the rear. From this site he ran his iron and hardware business, J Macintosh & Sons, one of Sydney's largest hardware suppliers in the later nineteenth century. One of his major contracts was the supply of iron and hardware to the New South Wales government for the construction of the Garden Palace Exhibition Building in 1879. Macintosh was also a supporter of the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts, serving on the committee from 1863 and as vice-president in 1875.

By 1886, with over 40 employees and the distribution or sale of over 500 tons of hardware per month, Macintosh's business had outgrown the site. [4] Although he retained ownership, he began leasing the site to other industrial companies including Dunn & Webb auctioneers.

In 1892 the workshops were sold by Macintosh to James B Moore, who leased them to JC Howard, engineers, agricultural implement and general machinery importers. Howard operated from the site until 1907 when it was leased to Fauvel Bros & Maillard. Achille Fauvel, Marcel Fauvel & Jules Maillard were importers and retailers of motor cars, with exclusive rights to the French motor cars of Richard-Brasier, made famous after they won the 1904 and 1905 Gordon Bennett races in Britain. In 1906 Fauvel Bros & Maillard imported several Brasiers on the strength of the race win and all were sold within a week of their arrival. The firm later became sole Sydney agents for the equally popular Berliet cars. [5] The Fauvel brothers' firm was the first of three motor companies to occupy the site. In 1908 Motories Ltd established their garage and sale room on the site and in 1913 they were replaced by the firm of Mitchell & Mitchell, motor engineers and auctioneers, who operated there until early 1920. [6]

Lincoln House

In 1914 the garage and workshops at 280 Pitt Street were purchased by Bennett & Wood, a Sydney bicycle and motorbike manufacturing, retail and importing firm, famous for their brand Speedwell. Bennett & Wood had been established in Sydney in 1882 with a shop in Clarence Street. In 1908 they moved to a new headquarters on the corner of Pitt and Bathurst Street, a four-storey retail and factory building where they produced and sold bicycles. It was duly named Speedwell House in honour of their most popular brand.

In 1916, Bennett & Wood purchased a site adjacent to their corner block in Bathurst Street and combined this with their 280 Pitt Street to form an L-shaped allotment around their corner headquarters. The well-known Sydney architects Spain & Cosh were hired to design the new building, which in keeping with the site was completed as an L-shaped office building that folded around the existing headquarters on the corner. The new building was briefly named Speedwell House as well but the name was changed from 1927 to Lincoln House.

Bennett & Wood expanded into the new building in both Pitt and Bathurst streets, using the ground floor as showrooms while renting the upper floors to other businesses, including Lincoln Records and Universal Films. From 1927, Bennett & Wood ceased using the ground-floor showrooms, instead leasing the entire Pitt Street building to different tenants, which they continued to do until they sold the entire site in 1962, when they moved their operation to Zetland.

In 1996 Lincoln House was purchased by the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts, which had recently moved from its original home at 275 Pitt Street. The School of Arts renovated the building, with a library, auditorium and seminar rooms on the first three floors. The rest of the office building was retained as leasehold for other businesses and not-for-profit organisations

Lincoln House remains the headquarters of the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts.


[1] Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 17 December 1831, p 1

[2] City of Sydney, Rate and Assessment books, Macquarie Ward; Sydney Sands Directory

[3] Sydney Morning Herald, 19 December 1850, p 2

[4] Martha Rutledge, 'Macintosh, John (1821–1911)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol 5, 1974, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/macintosh-john-4100/text6551, viewed 20 March 2012

[5] Sydney Morning Herald 9 January 1906, p 4; 16 April 1908, p 3

[6] Sands Sydney, Suburban and Country Commercial Directory 1900–1920