Moonee Ponds Court House
Courthouse (c. 1890)

The Moonee Ponds Court House is the headquarters of Essendon Historical Society (EHS).

The Museum will be open every Sunday from January 16, 2022, between 2pm and 5pm.

Please adhere to COVID-19 restrictions.

Essendon Court House 1890

The Essendon Court of Petty Sessions has been located in five different locations dating back to 1860. On 5 August 1889, the Essendon Borough Council received a letter from the Crown Law Department informing them that a new Court House was to be erected in Moonee Ponds. Plans were drawn up by prominent Public Works architect, Samuel Edward Bindley and on 14 October 1889, a tender from Brunswick contractor, Henry Franklyn, was accepted.

The Essendon Court House opened on Monday, 18 August 1890. Adjudication of minor offences occurred in this court, whilst in the case of serious charges, the matters were generally referred to a higher court in central Melbourne. The Court House’s name was changed to the Moonee Ponds Court House from 1 May 1949, and it remained the seat of justice for the district for a further 24 years. The final case to be heard in this building was in 1975.

By 1972 a replacement court house was being planned with the old building to be demolished. On 27 April 1973, the new court house was opened on a site in Kellaway Avenue, adjoining the old building, which was used for several years as an overflow court.

The fight to save the Old Court House and establish a home for the Society

Initially the EHS relied on meetings in private homes and later the foyer of the Essendon Town Hall and later still the Essendon Civic Centre. EHS considered several potential sites for the historical collection and headquarters including the Moonee Ponds Incinerator.

In 1972 plans were being drawn up for a new court house and Ron Lambert, the EHS President wrote to the Public Works Department (PWD), enquiring if it could be acquired for the purpose of the Society’s headquarters and an historical museum. He was informed, however, that a new police complex was to be built and that the old court house would be demolished. This remained the position for many years and all hope had almost vanished.

Over many years, the Society was supported by local politicians, Essendon City Council and the National Trust with appeals reaching the Premier to overturn the demolition order. In May 1979, Victoria Police dropped their claim and in February 1981, under an agreement between the Council and PWD, the Society gained occupancy of the “Old Moonee Ponds Court House”.

EHS Moves to the Court House

Left: Mayor, Cr Colin Clark, addresses the crowd at the Grand Opening on 25 October 1981.

The Government allowed the Essendon City Council to lease the building from the Government at a peppercorn rate of $1 per annum. In 1980 the Council then appointed EHS as the Court House Committee of Management which has continued to this day. The EHS took up occupancy of the Moonee Ponds Court House on 25 October 1981. This not only gave the Society a headquarters but saved a precious building.

Disastrous Fire

Fire severely damaged the old Moonee Ponds Court House Museum on the morning of Monday, 27th June 2016. The cause was a faulty light transformer.  Fortunately, the contents of the locked rooms around the main court chamber were not damaged and most of the EHS collection, as well as all the computers and scanners, were safe.

However, the slate roof and the mediaeval-style timber ceiling and windows in the main chamber were lost along with the period woodwork courtroom fittings and several irreplaceable items which were part of the EHS collection.

At the time of the fire, it immediately became apparent that many people in the local and wider community loved the building and were devastated by the fire incident. They expressed their feelings and support for EHS in many ways and provided the strength and impetus for the Society to tackle the daunting task of restoration.

Restoration

Thanks to Community support and a Living Heritage Grant of the Victorian Government, restoration work commenced in 2017 and the Museum was re-opened on 21 November 2019 by Member for Essendon Danny Pearson MP, a strong supporter of the restoration project.

Danny Pearson MP officially opened the restored Court House on 21 November 2019.

The Origins of the Courthouse

Compiled by EHS Member, Peter Bromley

The former Essendon Court House is significant to the Moonee Valley and Victorian communities as both a building of historical interest and as a place of social significance through its role as a court where justice was administered in the district from 1890 to mid-1970s.

The former Essendon Court House, 668-770 Mount Alexander Road, Moonee Ponds, in the City of Moonee Valley, is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register, (VHR H1051). It is also recorded on the Moonee Valley City Council Heritage Overlay (H084).

The Building

The former Essendon Court House was designed by the prominent Public Works Department architect, Samuel Edward Bindley, and constructed in 1890.

It is historically significant as an early Government building as it demonstrates the beginnings of the area of Moonee Ponds being developed as the civic and community centre of the north-western suburbs of Melbourne.

Architecturally significant, it is a surviving example of Bindley’s work. The design is a notable example of public buildings of the late nineteenth century in Victoria.

As a combination, the polychrome brick, stone and polished timber finishes are an outstanding use of particular materials, following the tenets of the various Medieval Revival styles in contemporary Britain.

Of particular interest is the entrance arcading of stilted segmental arches and squat Corinthian style columns and the main gable treatment with the enriched cornice broken by the gable which is flanked with Tudoresque turrets.

The interior was also important for its decorative elements derived from Tudor architecture, which includes the large courtroom fireplace and the fine ceiling with its timber brackets and bosses imitating pendant vaulting. The decorative treatment is of particular interest being linked to the work of William Burgess in England and his contemporaries and to France in the work of Viollet-le-Duc.

The former Essendon Court House is an extraordinary example of an architectural style in its use of uncommon and successfully adapted stylistic elements from medieval sources, in contrast to the earlier classical stylistic dominance.

It is a representative example of the architect, Samuel Edward Bindley’s work, who is credited as initiating some of the most innovative designs in the collectively notable public works output of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

The Architect

The architect, Samuel Edward Bindley, was born in Birmingham, England, in 1842. He was employed as an architect in the Education Department in 1873. In 1884, the State was divided into four regions and Samuel Edward Bindley was placed in charge of government building design for the North-Western District of Victoria.

In the period 1885 to 1899 Bindley oversaw the design and construction of post offices in Minyip, Nhill, Carisbrook, Wycheproof, Bacchus Marsh and Gordon; police stations in Beaufort, Newstead, Mildura and Murtoa and court houses in Melton and Essendon. He also designed schools.

In the same period, Bindley designed larger buildings, such as the Bourke Street Police Station (1888) and the post offices at Parkville (1889), Camberwell (1889) and Footscray (1895). The Crown Law Offices (1890) in Lonsdale Street Melbourne and the old Public Record Office (1899) in Queen Street Melbourne are also examples of his work.

Bindley retired in 1907 and died in 1924. The worth and importance of his work is recognised with many of his buildings, at least fourteen, now listed in the Victorian State Heritage Register and on the heritage overlays of municipal planning schemes across the State.

Sources:

  • Victorian Heritage Register
  • History of the Public Works Department of Victoria
  • Bindley Retirement – The Age, 15 October 1907
  • Bindley Retires from PWD – The Age 5, December 1907
  • Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages
  • Public Records Office of Victoria – Wills and Probate