The collection of buildings and laneway remnants on the corner of Spring Street and Little Lonsdale Street is the largest intact portion of Melbourne’s notorious 19th century red-light district, an area of substandard housing and poverty, as well as numerous brothels, hotels and workshops. The character of the area and its notoriety is clearly documented by the news stories from the 1850s to the 1920s that can be specifically located to the buildings and lanes in our proposed precinct.
See Life as it was lived in Little Lon. for a description of the more sensational events that occurred in and around this precinct.
In the 1890s Casselden Place was known as a place of substandard housing, and in the 1910s as ‘that notoriously unsavoury thoroughfare’, with many ‘houses of assignation’.
The Mission building represents two aspects of this history, being originally an 1872 ‘dance school’ that was ‘well known to the police’, later transformed into the Anglican Mission to the Streets and Lanes, staffed by Sisters who ministered to the women of the area.
The precinct includes five buildings currently individually listed for their architectural or historic significance, along with three unprotected early 20th century workshop buildings, and the stub ends of four laneways separating them.
There are buildings dating from the 1850s to the 1920s, the earliest buildings demonstrating the character of the notorious ‘Little Lon’ precinct of the mid to late 19th century. The light industrial buildings which replaced some of the housing in the early 20th century demonstrate the partial transformation of the area, but it still housed many poor and marginalised, and was the subject of sensationalist news stories into the 1930s.
It is an area which has been virtually frozen in time since the whole block was compulsorily acquired by the Commonwealth in 1948. In fact there are no buildings later than 1925, and none of the buildings have been substantially externally altered, which alone makes it worth considering as a heritage precinct.
The creation of a heritage precinct would mean that not only all the buildings and laneways should be generally retained, but opens the possibility for more detailed interpretation, bringing the area’s history to life. This is part of Melbourne whose history should be conserved and celebrated as a whole, not treated as a scattering of individual buildings that may (or may not) be retained in the same way other heritage places are treated.
Read the full report on the precinct here Proposed Casseldon Place Precinct (pdf)
See the Photo Gallery below