‘Playfair Terrace’

4-14 Ridge Street, North Sydney

Originally called ‘Earlscolne Terrace’, the seven dwellings that comprise present-day ‘Playfair Terrace’ are the grandest expression of terrace housing to be found in North Sydney.

The row was begun in 1881/1882 by Arthur Muston and sold to Thomas Playfair who completed them. Playfair was an English immigrant who arrived in Sydney in 1859 and went into business as a butcher supplying meat to the many ships departing the busy docks on the south side of the Harbour. In 1871 Playfair was elected to the Sydney City Council representing Gipps Ward around Millers Point and the Rocks where he had his providore business. By the time he served as Lord Mayor in 1885, Playfair had acquired considerable real estate on both sides of the Harbour.

Playfair named his new terrace building after the place of his birth, Earls Colne in Essex. A great many building and place names in North Sydney carried such immigrant associations. Thomas may have intended to live in the grandest dwelling, No.2, which occupied the corner site and extends to three storeys. However, there is no indication of this in Council records. Playfair died in 1893 but the houses remained in the family well into the 20th century. In 1893 the terrace was home to George Azzopardi whose watchmaking business was in George Street in the city, and prominent architect, Howard Joseland who was working extensively in the North Sydney area.

By the 1960s the dwellings were being reconfigured internally as commercial offices. Architectural firm Ancher, Mortlock, Murray and Woolley acquired No.12 as their office. At some point the buildings became known collectively as 'Playfair Terrace' after the family that first owned them.

The structure is finished with the delicate ironwork typical of the terrace buildings that characterised Sydney suburbs, such as Paddington and Glebe, developing in the affluent 1870s and 1880s. 'Playfair Terrace' has iron balcony railings, brackets, flat grille columns on the balcony and round columns below. There were many filigree patterns produced by foundries across the colony and at least 38 patterns registered in New South Wales between 1879 and 1892. Most drew upon floral motifs. At 'Playfair Terrace' the patterns differ between the primary corner residence and the other six. The design of the balcony railings on those dwellings is very similar to pattern No. MI 489 sold by the Sydney hardware store F Lasseter and Co.