Four steps to house histories

Old Brisbane comes to life through the history of its houses. Each house provides a wonderful example of life in an earlier time, with a worker’s cottage able to yield as much interesting information as a grand house. State Library’s resources provide wonderful ways to grab a sneak peak at the past by searching for the life of a dwelling and those who sheltered in it. If only those walls and floorboards could speak! Well, they can!

As an example, I will look at a house in Windsor Road, Red Hill. Named “Westwood”, the Post Office Directories indicate that the Spink family lived there from the turn of the century to the mid-1920s.

Step one – Searching the Certificate of Title

The first step in undertaking an accurate house history is to search the Certificate of Title at the Titles Registry Office, at 53 Albert Street, Brisbane. The Certificate of Title relates to the land, so it will not tell you exactly when a house was built or in what style. In the case of “Westwood”, it was unclear whether the house was at 86 or 88 in Windsor Road, Red Hill. The Post Office Directories and Electoral Rolls indicated the house by name only. The Certificate of Title Search in this case showed that Spink is listed as one of the names on the title for 88 Windsor Road. A full Certificate of Title Search will take you back to the original Deed of Grant. This one was in 1865 and was personally signed by Governor Bowen.

Governor Bowen's Signature

Governor Bowen’s Signature

The cost of a single Certificate of Title is $17. However, there may be six or eight (or more) historical titles to make the journey back to the original Deed of Grant. On the title for “Westwood”, it shows that originally there were two blocks of land, numbers 524 and 525, on the same title.

Two blocks in Enoggera

Two blocks in Enoggera

Later two separate titles were created, and the one that we are interested in following, number 525, was sold to Mr A Robinson, a grocer in Red Hill. It then became the property of the Spink family in 1901, with a notification on the title that the ownership was transmitted in 1946 upon the death of Andrew Spink’s wife, Martha, to the executor of her estate.

Martha Spink's Signature

Martha Spink’s Signature

Step two – Searching estate maps and plans

The second step is to search estate maps and plans to find out when the estate was subdivided. This estate dates from the 1880s. Brisbane City Council Water and Sewerage Maps, called “Detail Plans”, show the estate and its long narrow blocks of land on Detail Plan number 731 of 1924. The contours show that the land is very steep, with the house built on narrow frontage on Windsor Road and the land stretching down into the gully behind. The plan shows that there was a water closet (toilet) in the back garden.

Step three – Look at the construction and plans

Now we know something about the land, the next step is to look at the house, its construction and any plans that might survive. Very few houses had architects, but many were built to standard plans made available by building companies. “Westwood” was a simple rectangular house with a verandah across the front. Built by the previous owner, Arthur Robinson, the title documents show that there was a mortgage to the Queensland Deposit Bank and Building Society. Using the portion number, 525 of the Parish of Enoggera, we can search digitised Australian newspapers in the National Library of Australia’s Trove database. Newspaper advertisements at the end of the 1890s indicate that the house was for sale. It had a coach house as well as eight rooms. The Queensland Deposit Bank catalogue, issued in 1887, shows a number of wooden cottages available to be built, and the titles show that land was acquired by Mr Robinson in 1888. However, the house on the land today appears to have been built in the 1920s. This is consistent with a mortgage on the title in 1927, which may mean that the Spinks rebuilt the house, possibly to rent as an income in their retirement, which was spent at Sandgate.

Step four – Find out who lived in the house

The fourth step is to find out about the people who lived in the old house, named “Westwood”. Mr Arthur Robinson was a Grocer at Red Hill. A photograph in the John Oxley Collection shows his business and staff.

But who was Mr Andrew Spink? Andrew and Martha Spink came from Beverley in Yorkshire in 1883, where he had trained as a coachbuilder. In the late 1880s, the Spink family moved to Red Hill, where they raised five children. They named their home “Westwood” after the grazing common near the town of Beverley in Yorkshire.

A tireless worker for the rights of the working man, Andrew Spink was instrumental in proposing that the first Brisbane Trades and Labour Council Building be erected in Turbot Street. In 1902, he ran for the seat of Toowong for the Labor Party. The seat of Toowong was important to both sides of politics in the 1902 election, following the historic seven day period of the world’s first Labor Government in Queensland in 1899. The key was to secure Brisbane seats, which were mostly held by the conservative government of the day. Although he came relatively close, Mr Spink accepted his defeat graciously. Andrew Spink was the Grand Master of the Grand United Order of Oddfellows in 1903, the first President of the Friendly Society Association of Queensland in 1905, the President of the Brisbane Associated Friendly Society Dispensary and Medical Institute, and a Council Member for the new University of Queensland. He represented Queensland at the opening of the first Federal Parliament in Melbourne in 1901.

This rich story emerges from the undertaking of a house history. On 3 July, State Library of Queensland is holding a public seminar on how to undertake the history of your house. What could you learn about your dwelling and the wonderful stories from the families who sheltered in it?

See our website for more information or to register now.

Christina Ealing-Godbold
Senior Librarian, Information Services