Melbourne’s Franklin Street and a railway signal box

There are plenty of thoroughfares called Franklin Street in Melbourne, but the most notable one is located along the top end of the Melbourne CBD, connecting the Queen Victoria Market in the west to Old Melbourne Gaol in the east. Meanwhile outside Southern Cross Station is an abandoned railway signal box, with the name ‘Franklin Street’ on the side. So how are the two linked?

Signal box at Franklin Street

As you can see, Franklin Street goes nowhere near a railway line.

While the signal box bearing that name is wedged between the Dudley Street and La Trobe Street bridges.

But I found the answer in this 1855 map of Melbourne.

Map of Melbourne, 1855
Map of Melbourne, 1855, via Wikimedia Commons

Franklin Street continues through what is now the Flagstaff Gardens, terminating at Adderley Street as ‘Franklin Street West’.

This 1895 plan by the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works also features ‘Franklin Street’ adjoining Adderley Street.

But jump forward to the 1920 Morgans street directory, and we find Batman Street – the same as today.

So when did the name change? From Melbourne newspaper The Age on 16 December 1907:

The question of changing the name of the western end of Franklin Street to Batman Street, which will be considered by the City Council to-day, draws attention to the deplorable oversight by which the memory of John Batman, the founder of Melbourne, has been allowed to lapse into oblivion. It is late in the day to name a street after Batman, though better late than never, even if the street is only half a street.

But it may well be asked if the memory of Batman cannot be best incorporated into the beatification of Melbourne scheme by the erection of a statue to him? John Batman founded Melbourne, and he made no fortune by it, but it is fitting that the people of Melbourne should know of him and of the manner of man he was. With his fine, stalwart, broad shouldered figure, and strong, determined face. Batman in his picturesque habit as he lived would be an admirable subject for a statue!

And the day after, 17 December 1907.

The idea mooted in “The Age” of yesterday that some better plan of perpetuating the memory of John Batman, founder of Melbourne, than of naming half a street after him should be thought out was warmly supported at yesterday’s meeting of the City Council.

In calling on the tenth order of the day, that the portion of Franklin Street west of King Street be changed to Batman Street, the Lord Mayor, Cr. Weedon, referred to what he termed the excellent suggestion in “The Age” that John Batman, the pioneer of Melbourne, was a worthy and an artistic subject for a statue.

The idea had already occurred to himself, and now that there was a tendency to erect statuary in suitable places, it was beyond question that there was no name in the history of Melbourne better deserving of prominent public recognition than that of Batman, and no better means of doing honour to his memory than by the erection of his statue. At a recent meeting of the Geographical Society, he had brought the mutter forward, and had suggested that the A.N.A. Society should take the work in hand and carry it through, for Batman was a native of whom natives I might feel proud.

Cr. Aikman said this was a matter that should not be allowed to drop. It was certainly a reflection upon the city that
Batman should be forgotten. He hoped that a statue of the courageous pioneer might be incorporated in the scheme for the beautification of Melbourne, and erected in some suitable position overlooking the river and the city.

Cr. D. V. Hennessy said the City Council should take this matter in hand, and not leave it to the A.N.A. It was true that Batman was an Australian native, but it was as the founder of Melbourne that his memory should be perpetuated, and thus the obligation rested upon the municipality. He would like to see Batman’s statue standing in a prominent place in the municipal gardens near the Yarra.

Crs. Gardiner and Marks also supported the idea of erecting a statue, and Cr. Gardiner put forward a further suggestion that the name of Flagstaff Gardens should be changed to Batman Reserve. This, however, did not appeal to councillors, who voiced objections to interfering with the spot where the flag was first unfurled.

The order of the day was carried, and the west end of Franklin Street is now Batman Street.

So my question is answered: the signal box was opened at the west end of Franklin Street, but the thoroughfare being renamed ‘Batman Street’ in 1907 to remember John Batman, founder of Melbourne.

History of the signal box

A history of the signal box at Franklin Street can be found on page 170 of ‘Docklands Heritage Study: A Report to the Docklands Task Force‘, completed by Andrew C Ward and Associates, in conjunction with Dr Peter Milner, Gary Vines and Ron Greenaway in 1991.

Description

The Franklin Street box controls passenger train movements at the junction of the suburban and country lines from the Up side of North Melbourne station to the points of interface with Spencer Street No. 1 box and No. 2 box. It is a two level brick signal box with concrete slab floor and walkway, steel approach steps and pipe railings and terracotta tiled hipped roof.

Condition: Good
Integrity: Good (architectural), Poor (technical)
Original Owner: Victorian Railways Department
Chief Engineer of Way and Works: E.H. Ballard
Chief Architect: Builder: J. TN. Fawcett

History

The Franklin Street and Viaduct Junction (demolished) signal boxes formed part of the rearrangement of the passenger suburban lines through the Melbourne Yard from the Spencer Street viaduct to Kensington. These works were associated with the construction of the Spencer Street suburban platforms opened in August 1924, and the interlocking frames were electro-mechanically operated in a manner similar to earlier installations at South Yarra and Camberwell.

The original box, close to the present building was opened on 6.9.1884 and replaced by the present installation on 17.8.1924. The box was closed in March, 1984 and replaced with a control panel which has been remote controlled by Metrol since 18.10.1986.

Significance

Although the original electro-mechanical apparatus has been removed, the Franklin Street box has controlled train movements since 1924 and forms a part of the suburban lines reconstruction plan at the Melbourne Passenger Yard of that date. It forms a unit with suburban platforms 11-14 and is typical of the Department’s work of the period, comparing with Camberwell (1924), Footscray ‘A’ (1930), Caulfield (1933), North Melbourne (1928) and Dandenong (1929).

The interior of 1924 signal box can be seen in this photo from the collection of the Public Records Office Of Victoria.


VPRS 12800/P5, item S 1179

Here the electro-mechanical interlocking frame used to direct trains takes centre stage.


VPRS 12800/P5, item S 0077

While this 1968 photo from West Tower shows the signal box among an array of railway tracks.


VPRS 12800/P5, item S 1007

In 1986 the signal box closed, but the remote control panel that replaced it was still in place as late as 2012.

The building itself remains in place today.

Footnote

This history of the W.G. Goetz & Sons engineering works also mentions Batman Street.

After operating at 140 and later 260 Queen Street, the Goetz engineering works moved to 399-401 Franklin Street West (later Batman Street), West Melbourne.

The move from 260 Queen Street to Franklin Street West occurred sometime between 1892 and 1895. Franklin Street West was renamed Batman Street in 1909, and the Goetz property was later renumbered as 115 Batman Street.

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4 Responses to “Melbourne’s Franklin Street and a railway signal box”

  1. Moonfriend says:

    Meanwhile, Batman Park in Northcote is now called Gumbri Park thanks to Batman’s unsavoury actions during the Black Wars.

  2. Bobman says:

    There was that other signal box if anyone recalls close to Flinders Street station and the old Sandridge railway bridge. It was destroyed by fire some time in the late 90s or early 00s from memory.

    Can’t recall what it was called. Good article.

  3. Bramley says:

    He eventually got his statue, erected by council at 447 Collins https://wongm.com/tag/447-collins-street/ . With the building now demolished, I wonder what happened to it, and if it will be restored (or will it be shipped off to a park for unsavoury statues?).

    Batman Avenue was named Yarra Bank Rd in that 1920 street directory.

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