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The Tannery, Fremantle (1854) 

For almost a century, a rare limestone building from our colonial past remained buried under an old tannery site until it was restored and adapted into two modern family homes.

But like the building itself, its original purpose remains buried in the past with some conjecture that it may have been built as a barracks.

The physical evidence suggests that it was built around 1854 and was the home of the Superintendent of the Convict Establishment Henry Maxwell Lefroy.

Over the years, the building was incorporated into a warehouse before the site was developed into a tannery by WA Tannery and Fellmongers Ltd in 1921. The tannery, for which the site is named, closed in 1995.

In 2000, dwellings were built around the ruin, leaving it stranded, buried under tangles of steel, asbestos and factory rubble. Ironically, the building’s abuse during its life as a factory was its key to survival. The structure of the tannery protected it from weather and disintegration.

As the building was unearthed, the challenge was to preserve original fabric while transforming it into two comfortable dwellings.

Existing walls, contaminated with salt, nitrates, phosphates, were repaired and, in some areas, treated with lime mortar to draw away the remaining moisture and salt. External wall finishes were retained where possible, with repairs matching the original finish. Original stone buttress were reinstated, fireplaces were reconstructed, and remnant joinery was retained in situ. Even remnants of the tannery machinery were retained.

Particular care was taken with the building’s flat limestone and lime putty roof, one of the few surviving examples of its kind. Iron sheeting, which had protected the original limestone roof, had rusted away and was replaced with new sheeting.

Glass and steel were chosen for the new structure because their transparent and reflective qualities contrasted nicely with the half metre thick solid walls and buttresses.

The fully recycled building now incorporates the old world feel of large open spaces, limestone walls, timber beams and wooden floors with contemporary design.

Importantly, its conservation ensures that this early piece of our colonial past continues to be an integral part of our community.

Read more about The Tannery by downloading the Register Entry and Assessment Documentation.
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