By Dr Cheryl Griffin
This photograph was taken outside the shop of confectioner Thomas Nott in about 1900. He’d been in business for about 50 years by then and boasted that he made the best sweets for children in Melbourne.
They were “thoroughly wholesome, absolutely pure”, according to his advertisements. And at first glance, if you go by the crowd outside his shop in this summertime photograph, they were thoroughly welcomed by adults, as well as children.
It’s probably just as well for me that Nott’s Confectioners closed its doors in the 1920s. I would definitely have been among the crowd you see here outside the shop, probably walking alongside the girl to the left of the photo with her waist-length hair tied back in a ribbon, boater on head and almost ankle-length summer dress; the only female among a sea of men of varying ages. We were not huge consumers of lollies in our family, although I seem to recall that my threepence pocket money was largely spent on the biggest, most glamorous sweets I could buy for my money. I also recall that my first visit to the dentist was when I was about seven, so perhaps my mother should have been even stricter on the sugar intake. It’s ironic, then, that the site of Nott’s is now part of the Manchester Unity Building, a marvellous modern Gothic structure on the corner of Collins and Swanston streets and the home of my dentist, so I know that building quite well.
In the days when the photograph was taken, Nott’s next-door neighbour was Gustave Damman, a tobacconist located on the corner of Collins and Swanston streets, just across the road from the Melbourne Town Hall, which you can see in the background of this photo. It seems likely, then, that the men in the photo, some wearing boaters, some bowlers, some smoking, one leaning on his bicycle, were patrons of Damman’s rather than Nott’s. Perhaps it’s lunchtime and they have congregated there for a quick lunchtime smoke and chat before heading back to business. The young man in the boater, leaning on a cane in the centre of the photo has a drawstring bag at his feet, so it’s possible he’s a member of the legal profession and this is his robe bag. There were many legal chambers in Collins St, so perhaps the men are members of the legal fraternity enjoying a little summer sunshine.
If you follow Collins St east and up the hill beyond the Town Hall, you will reach its “top end”; the “Paris end”. With its elegant buildings and exclusive shops such as George’s Emporium, it was considered the most fashionable street in Melbourne. The closest I ever got to shopping in this part of Collins St was when I bought a pair of shoes at Hermann’s (near the Baptist Church and only a short distance from where this photo was taken) and blew several weeks’ pay but they were worth it! Across the road from the Baptist Church is the Regent Theatre with its magnificent interior. It wasn’t there when this photo was taken. The Regent, then styled a “picture palace”, arrived on the scene in 1929, just at the start of the 1930s Depression. Next door to that was City Square, but not until the late ’60s, early ’70s. It was constructed on the site of the Queen Victoria Building, diagonally opposite the site of Nott’s confectionery shop, where today you are greeted by high fences around the construction site of the CBD South Station, part of the Metro Rail Tunnel scheme.
Travel in the opposite direction, and a little further west you will find one of my favourite places in the CBD – The Block Arcade. In the early 1970s as a young adult, my friends and I headed there for an elegant morning tea at the Hopetoun Tearooms when we wanted to treat ourselves, then strolled through the arcade marvelling at its style and splendour. We’d make sure we were at the Royal Arcade as Gog and Magog struck the hour on the clock near the Bourke St end of the arcade. This was one of my favourite childhood memories. When we visited from Ballarat, where we lived in the 1950s, we always visited Gog and Magog then walked a little further east along Collins St, crossed the road and had lunch at the Wild Cherry Café. To me, as a six or seven-year-old, this was the height of sophistication! Today, I rarely find anyone else who remembers the Wild Cherry, but occasionally I stop and watch Gog and Magog and notice someone of a similar age to me standing back and quietly watching the two giant figures at work.