Melbourne: Dressed in Lace

The City

*guest blog from my mom, Sue*

One of the things that has really impressed me is the amount of lacework that I have seen in Melbourne.  I don’t mean the beautiful fabric and fashion of Melbourne.  I mean the cast iron ornate features that one sees on the outside of many of Melbourne’s older buildings.

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Everywhere I go, I see lacework.  Much of it is just decoration that hangs down from eaves and roofs.  But there is much that is functional, like fences, railings, balustrades and balcony panels that stop you from falling as well as delight the eye and aesthetic.

Hidden Melbourne says that after the state of Victoria’s gold rush in the 1850s, there was a building boom and many wealthy builders built in the highly decorated Victorian style.  Also, at the same time, Victoria developed its own foundries that could make cast iron without importing it, presumably bringing the price down and availability up.

Some of the lacework is very ornate.  Some are more modest designs.  Some are beautifully cared for; others are not as well kept up and show signs of rust and decay.  The most common paint color seems to be white, but the lacework is painted many different colors, just as wooden or vinyl house trim comes in many different colors.

There are still a number of companies in Melbourne that supply or restore cast iron lacework.  For example, Chatterton Lacework is a family business that began in 1946.  They advertise over 200 kinds of heritage lacework with names like Angelina, Australian Rose, Goldenvine, and Snowflake.  All of the designs are beautiful.

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The website for the Museum of Victoria says that by the 1880s almost every new balcony and veranda was draped in an “iron petticoat.”  It claims Melbourne has more decorative cast iron than any other city in the world.

While I don’t know if that claim is true, I do know that lacework is everywhere in Melbourne, in many designs and painted many colors.

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I will always think of all the beautiful lacework when I think of Melbourne.

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