This site is dedicated to the life and work of Edwin Hubert Henderson, architect (1885-1939). Henderson was Chief Architect of the Commonwealth of Australia from 1929-1939.
Henderson’s work on Commonwealth Banks is nowhere more prominent than in New South Wales. During the 1930s, his work was profiled by Building magazine, with high praise indeed.
The Grafton Commonwealth Bank, in Prince Street, was featured on the front cover of Building on 12 June 1936. This issue featured a series of photos of Commonwealth Bank branches designed by Henderson’s division.
The Grafton Branch building was opened in 1935. Located on the corner of Prince and Fitzroy Streets, it is in the heart of Grafton’s commercial district.
The Daily Examiner published a sketch of the new Bank on 27 February 1935
On 30 November, the Examiner described the Bank as “a modern, attractive design”. It stated that:
“the Department of the Interior was responsible for the architecture and the contractor was Mr A.H.T.Brown of Sydney. The plaster work was carried out by Mr J.E. Ellis.”
The interior of the building was praised:
“the banking chamber is well ventilated by 12 large window, 12 fanlights and 4 highlights. Except in the front of the counter the flooring throughout is local red mahogany and the door and other woodwork Queensland maple”.
The second floor of the building contained the manager’s residence.
The New South Wales Heritage Register remarks that the Bank is:
An architecturally significant two storey Art Deco style building built in 1935. It compliments the Saraton and Country Energy buildings built at approximately the same time in Prince Street. It is historically significant showing the growth of the Commonwealth banking services in Grafton after the Great Depression and the building of the Grafton bridge.
The Register describes the building as follows:
Two storey rendered bank building of Interwar free classical style. It has many decorative elements typical of this period with stylised mouldings and a very strong entry across the corner of the building. Vertical elements emphasised. Timber framed windows appear to be original and are a feature of the building. Because of its bulk and form it makes an important contribution to this intersection, in particular, and Prince Street in general.
You may wonder what is “interwar free classical” and how it differs from art deco, given both styles are referenced in the heritage classification. Interwar Free Classical is, in essence, a use of classical styles that is less concerned with adherence to the traditional classical orders. Apperley et at sum it up when describing the City Hall in Richmond in Victoria:
Traditionally educated architectural scholars, after an initial indignant reaction to the building’s ‘crude’ and ‘outrageous’ flouting of classical precedents, must have shaken their heads in disbelief. But it should be noted that the building’s designers courageously invented a new ‘order’ for their giant portico and they endeavoured to weave Art Deco decorative themes into a basically classical composition” (p158).
Thus we see in the direction Henderson laid down for Commonwealth Banks during the 1930s a maintenance of classical forms (to emphasise permanence, stability and tradition) and yet the adoption of modern styles in a complementary and pleasing way. As the 1930s wear on, his banks become more and more contemporary in styling. The leadership that this would have taken from the Chief Architect cannot be underestimated for it is he who would have had to justify to the Bank’s Governors and to Ministers the style that is used.
Apperly, Irving and Reynolds. A Pictorial Guide to Identifying Australian Architecture. 1989. Harper Collins. Sydney.
NSW Heritage Register entry for Commonwealth Bank Grafton