Threat To Richmond’s Industrial Heritage

October 2023


The RHSV has urged Heritage Victoria to refuse a permit for a proposed development on a unique industrial complex in Richmond. The Bryant and May factory complex at 560 Church Street, Richmond, is one of the finest remnants of Richmond’s industrial heyday. Being substantially intact, it provides an excellent example of industrial organisation and design in the early 20th century. The Victorian Heritage Register, on which the site is listed, describes it as ‘a superb, largely intact Edwardian factory complex’ which is ‘of historical significance as evidence of the development of industry in Melbourne from the early 20th century’ and ‘a rare surviving example of modern factory conditions and amenities’ reflecting the ‘Quaker principles of the original English founders’. The proposed development on the site involves the construction of two towers, one of 13 levels and the other 12 levels, which the RHSV believes would have an unacceptable negative effect on the heritage value and importance of this unique heritage-listed complex.


The Bryant and May site has social significance as an important long-term part of the Richmond and inner Melbourne landscape. For most of the 20th century the company was a major employer in working class Richmond. It was also notable for operating as a model factory, providing workers with conditions and amenities that even today seem generous. These included a dining hall, and sports facilities such as a tennis court and bowling green constructed in the 1920s. One of the first industrial nurses in Australia was employed at the factory from 1922. The factory was also the location for the manufacture of ‘Redhead’ matches, Australia’s most popular brand through most of the 20th century. ‘Redhead’ matches are still a popular brand of matches in Australia, although they are now manufactured in and imported from Sweden.


The Bryant and May complex consists of a major freestanding redbrick building of three and four storeys, complete with clock tower, running back from the Church Street frontage. The original part of this building was constructed in 1909 with other smaller buildings in a matching style being added in 1910 and 1917. A large addition was made to the rear of this building in 1921–22, which had an extra floor with prominent signage. Also added at this time were a new chimney stack, boiler house, offices and a hall known as Brymay Hall. The prominent clock tower, which is visible from some distance and from the nearby elevated rail lines, has become a prominent landmark for both local residents and other residents of Melbourne, a familiar sight for generations of train travellers and visitors to Richmond.

Bryant and May ceased manufacturing matches in Australia in early 1987 as a result of import competition. The complex has since been converted for use as offices and showrooms, but is still very well preserved.


The proposed development

The permit application currently before Heritage Victoria is for a major redevelopment of the site. This includes the demolition of some non-heritage buildings, and the preservation, restoration and adaptation of the administration building, Brymay Hall, dining hall, boiler house and chimney stack – which are welcome and to be commended.

But these will be negated by the deleterious effects of the main proposal, which is for the construction of two towers, one of 13 levels and the other 12 levels, on the northern half of the heritage-listed site. The RHSV believes that these towers would overwhelm the site and stand out in stark contrast to the heritage complex. They would create a wall to the north and northwest of the site and thus have the effect of partially isolating the site and obscuring important views of the two main landmark aspects of the complex—the clock tower and chimney stack.


The view towards Brymay Hall and the chimney as it is today.

An artist’s impression of the same view in the proposed development. (Source: Lovell Chen).


Heritage principles go beyond focusing just on preserving heritage buildings to include protection of sufficient of their surrounds to maintain their contextual integrity and primacy. Otherwise they become islands in a forest of high-rise buildings that conceal their significance. The RHSV believes that the scale and design of the upper levels of the two towers, especially the ultra-contemporary wedge shape of one of them, negate such attempts and detract from the heritage buildings. The height of any development of this site should be limited to that of the proposed podiums of the towers, which are close to the height of the main buildings on the heritage site.


The RHSV does not oppose the removal of structures that have little heritage significance, and supports the adaptive reuse of heritage buildings. However it is opposed to over-development and development that obscures the visibility of the heritage site by overshadowing and destroying views and sightlines, as this proposal does. The height and bulk of the proposed development threatens to overwhelm the buildings on the site and undermine the heritage value of a remarkably intact industrial complex. Hence it has urged Heritage Victoria to refuse a permit for the proposed development on this unique industrial site.

To read the RHSV’s October 2023 submission to Heritage Victoria click here.