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History of St Kilda Hill

by Tony Browne
The area bounded by Wellington Street, Chapel Street, Alma Road  and High Street ( now St. Kilda Road) was owned and farmed by Octavius Browne, who kept cattle and pigs. Octavius’s name (he was the eighth son) is preserved in Octavia Street.

Did you know?
Sir Zelman Cowen, Australia’s Governor-General from 1977 to 1982 and whose family later lived in Lambeth Place, was born in St. Aidan’s maternity hospital in Octavia Street. The entrepreneurial Dr. Murphy lived and had his practice in the grand ‘Simla’ (9 Crimea Street) and built a hospital in his back yard, with his wife doing the hospital washing. The hospital is now the white painted stand alone block of flats at 76 Octavia Street.

Grand Charnwood House


Charnwood House 1860



In 1853 Mr Octavius Browne built the former grand Charnwood House as his residence (from which the names of Charnwood Crescent, and the later Charnwood Road and Charnwood Grove were derived). His house was built on the highest point in St. Kilda, facing High Street with kangaroos, emus and goats roaming freely in its large paddocks. It was subsequently bought by Matthew Harvey, a wealthy squatter, who sold it when he lost his fortune; he was later found dead in the bush. The house was demolished in 1963 (black & white picture from 1963) and the site is now occupied by the flats at Nos.8 and 10 Charnwood Grove. We suspect that the Canary Island palms in the front of 6 Charnwood Grove and the synagogue on the other side, are last remnants of Charnwood House’s extensive garden.
By 1869 all of Octavius’s farm had been sold. ‘St. Kilda Hill’ was in great demand for the construction of substantial houses catering for the wealthy, in particular those who made money, one way or another, out of the gold rushes, who wanted a semi-rural life close to the Bay.

Sir James Service, a leading St. Kilda resident and Chief Secretary (and Premier)  said : ’People came to live in St. Kilda ,in order that they might enjoy the luxuries and pleasures of the country, without losing the advantages of proximity to Melbourne’. One of those luxuries and pleasures was being able to keep a pig to dispose of domestic waste and provide pork . Service was writing to the St. Kilda Council to object to a proposal that pigs be banned. He kept his pig.
Often the residences  were mansions on large lots. Royston Manor, which now faces Redan Street (No.27), originally had a deep frontage to Alma Road.
Houses were frequently built as speculations by ‘architect builders’ to let to people who were willing and able to pay high rents for ‘country living’. These were mostly terraces, but not always. In the early 1880’s Frederick Millage built five basically identical two storey freestanding houses in a row in Crimea Street to rent. These still stand, in a number of cases with substantial modifications over the years, as Nos.1 to 9. In addition a number of ‘worker’s cottages’ were built, mostly in the side streets, to cater for servants and others.  No.7 (St. Hubert’s) was reworked into 4 apartments in the late 1910s to include the bizarre series of balconies, verandahs and porches you can see today. It is important from a heritage viewpoint as one of St. Kilda’s most eccentric buildings.

With the decline of ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ following the 1890’s depression, land values slumped. Over time, the mansions on large lots were demolished or, if not, the surrounding land was sold off. For example, the Tintern mansion was built on the land now occupied by the four blocks of flats at 22, 22A and 22B Crimea Street and 2 Redan Street, the last preserving the name.
The land freed up by demolitions and land sales was used for more intensive housing development, particularly for flat construction, and also for institutional use such as St. Michael’s school and the Temple Beth Israel in Alma Road. The remaining mansions, and the original houses on smaller lots, were often converted into flats, or survived as rooming houses, serving, in particular, migrants who came to Australia after the Second World War.
A good example of ‘flat conversion’ is the building at 40 Alma Road, on the corner of Charnwood Crescent. Look into the driveway from Charnwood Crescent and you will see the magnificent classical façade of the mansion around which the ‘flats’ were constructed.
St. Michael’s library, 16 Crimea Street, was originally the St. Kilda Baptist Church and after that the Masonic Hall.

The land surrounded and enclosed by Marlton Crescent (other than Marlton Mansion, now part of St. Michael’s) was subdivided into 30 lots and offered for sale in 1882. In 1872 the St. Kilda Hebrew Congregation built a synagogue in Charnwood Crescent. In 1926 it was replaced by the present synagogue, which was built next door on what was once the garden of Charnwood House.
All Saints’ Anglican Church, on the corner of Dandenong Road and Chapel Street, was opened in 1861 and served a wealthy congregation. Until relatively recently the adjoining hall housed All Saints’ Grammar School. The church houses a pair of handsome brass candelabra which were originally presented by King George II to St. George’s Chapel at Windsor in England, the royal burial place.
Alma Park was originally the Church Reserve. In 1865 it was apparently under threat of housing development, but the Mayor, Judge Bunny (father of the artist Rupert Bunny) persuaded the Minister of Lands and Survey to reserve it permanently for recreational purposes, for which many dog owners and others are deeply grateful. In 1866 the park was fenced.
Sir John Madden, who was Chief Justice and Lieutenant Governor of Victoria, was a prominent St. Kilda resident. He lived in a grand mansion, Cloyne, 12 Chapel Street but facing Alma Park, with a ballroom and musicians’ gallery.

No.29 Crimea Street was owned by the Joffa family, the last one being Harry, who died in the 1990s. The family owned the Yoffa Hosiery and Knitting Mills, taken over by Hilton Hosiery in 1959, and commissioned Danila Vassilieff, the Russian-born ‘father of Australian modernism’, to paint large murals in the front rooms.

The reconstruction of St. Kilda Junction in the 1960s involved the demolition of 156 houses, 52 business premises, 42 shops, 3 service stations and 3 hotels. Before the reconstruction the trams which now run down Queensway/Dandenong Road ran down Wellington Street. In 1897 Wellington Street boasted two pubs, the Adelaide at the St. Kilda Road end and the Royal Mail just east of the present milk bar building, built between the wars to replace two shops(see photos).

81 Wellington St Heritage81 Wellington St - Milk bar delivery heritage
St. Kilda Road between the Junction and Carlisle Street (formerly High Street) was once St. Kilda’s main shopping strip. It was a narrow street, lined with shops and pubs and with trams running down the middle, between the wide St. Kilda Road north and the equally wide Brighton Road to the south . Not surprisingly this led to traffic chaos. It all changed in the 1970’s, when over 150 dilapidated buildings were demolished on the western side to produce St. Kilda Road south, with the same width as St.Kilda  Road north and Brighton Road.

Until 1994 the north side of Wellington Street was in the municipality of Prahran (Stonnington) and not St. Kilda.
The building at 105 Wellington St currently occupied by St Michael’s School Design & Technical workshops was originally the Windsor Cable Tram Engine House that was built in 1891 (Port Phillip) and is today protected by a Victorian Heritage overlay and listed as having “State” level significance. For many years until the new underpass at the Junction was completed trams ran down Wellington St and a number of what are now apartment blocks on the north side were originally built and operated as offices.

Make your contribution:  If you have any stories  about our area’s history, or any corrections, we would love to hear about them. My email is    tonybrowne@ozemail.com.au



1. Rita - November 18, 2015

As a long time resident of St. Kilda since the 1950’s I am fascinated with the history as I regard St. Kilda as my home town. I would like to know about the history of a group of stucco houses opposite the Synagogue in Charnwood Grove as they are completely different to any other architecture I have seen in St. Kilda. I hope you can enlighten me as to who and why they were built.

2. jaagstkilda - January 22, 2016


Charnwood Oaks:   Originally the land occupied by this complex of eight flats formed part of the gardens and paddocks attached to ‘Charnwood House’, which was the first house on St. Kilda Hill, built by the wealthy Matthew Harvey. In the 1880’s the garden and paddocks were subdivided and substantial houses built on the lots, including ‘Cooma’ and ‘Rosedale’.

As was the fate of many such houses in St. Kilda, by 1920 the houses appear to have become rooming houses, and ‘Cooma’ had been substantially extended. In that year Mrs. Davidson, who owned both, commissioned architects Haddon and Henderson to construct the present ‘arts and crafts’ building. This incorporates the two houses, with the only new building being ‘Charnwood Oaks’ itself, a small block of two flats one above the other. The block is described as a careful balance of the horizontal (a string course over the ground floor windows and parapet capping) and the vertical (a central decorative render motif penetrating the parapet capping as a flagpole).

John Cooper wrote in 1931 that “The old house (Charnwood House, now replaced by flats) , divorced from its once ample garden and paddocks, is hemmed in with modern houses, such as the group called ‘Charnwood Oaks’”.

Sources: City of Port Phillip Heritage Review, Citation No. 867.      J.B. Cooper, The History of St. Kilda, 1931.

3. Paulette Gittins - December 4, 2016

I was a long-term resident of St. Kilda as a child and am contemplating writing a novel about my beloved old stamping ground. I seem to recall, in the 1960’s, a pub right next door to the Astor Theatre, now on the corner of Chapel St. There were also a number of small shops on either side of Wellington Street in those days. Does anyone have any recollections of this?

4. Peter - January 26, 2017

It’s sad the the block of flats on Octavia Street have been seen merely as a money making property by the owners and minimal repairs and property upkeep have happened. It is in need of some real TLC from someone who actually cares about the historic building.

5. Glenda Irvine - October 28, 2017

I lived at 25 Octavia Street throughout my childhood. I knew all the laneways and hideouts around that part of St Kilda. It was our playground. I was sad some years back to see the four old roughcast flats where I lived replaced by a block of very modern flats. Especially as the giant jacaranda tree in the front yard was gone. It was my fairy tree.
The little Stucco hoses in Charnwood Grove also fascinated me as a child. We called them goblin houses.

Glenda irvine - March 4, 2020

Hi Melinda, I remember you. I think you had a brother, Rolf. Christine is my sister. I have two other sisters, Carolyn and Pamela. They were born after we moved from St Kilda. I think your house is still there, the flats where we lived have gone. I live in Queensland now with my husband and two daughters.

Glenda Irvine - March 4, 2020

Hi Melinda, I do remember you. I think you have a brother named Rolf. Christine is my sister. I have two other sisters, Carolyn and Pam;born after we moved from St Kilda.

6. jaagstkilda - October 30, 2017

Thanks Glenda for pointing out the error, we have amended our copy to Charnwood Grove.
Editor: Mike Sabey

7. June Lidstone - May 20, 2018

I lived in 9 Moodie Place for 40 odd years and my parents owned it for 50. (bought it in 1934 for 950 pounds) Mum said that cattle were driven up Crimea St into Wellington St and down Upton Rd on their way from (presumably Dandenong market) to Newmarket, after midnight. They found this out because one night they came home late,(walking of course, we never had a car) and had to stand inside the gate of one of the large houses in Crimea St until the cattle passed. She said many neighbours did not know this but they sometimes heard the stockwhips in the early hours. This would have been in the 30’s.
It may interest you to know that about 10 years ago through a strange set of circumstances, the ‘kids’ of the 40’s in Moodie Pl., had a re-union. Most of us hadn’t seen each other for around 50 years. Great!

Anna Gulyas - June 15, 2021

Hi , I think I would have been your next door neighbour no 7- 1976-1982. Still miss living there – it was a friendly neighbourhood.

June Lidstone - April 26, 2022

Just found this site again Anna. I remember you and your mother and son. I now live in Gippsland…June Lidstone

8. Hugh - December 1, 2021

Interesting information and contributions from everyone. I might add, If you walk down Wellington St you’ll notice the metal poles/gantry that supported the overhead catenary electricial system the trams used to run down Wellington St. I only noticed this by accident, they are identical to the current Dandenong rd metal poles/gantry tram system. You’ll also notice they are evenly distributed in pairs all the way down to the Junction.

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