Toll House, Fairfield

1-3 Abbott Street, Fairfield

In its last days, the old cottage was little more than a dilapidated collection of rooms surrounded by weeds and rubbish. Yet, despite its derelict condition, the proposal to demolish the house was met with strong opposition by those who had no wish to see what was considered to be the oldest house in the City of Northcote become a victim of  the times.

Known as the Old Toll House, this weatherboard cottage has had a varied and rather mysterious past. Local legend has it that this was once one of the tollhouses which stood on Heidelberg road. During the earliest part of Melbourne's history, revenue was raised for the construction and maintenance of roads through the collection of tolls from the road users. The Heidelberg road tollhouse was just one of many built in the developing city during this period.

The original Heidelberg tollhouse is said to have been constructed around 1847. In 1853 a new building is supposed to have been erected, though details about this building are vague. It is certain that around 1886 Mrs. Helen Boadle bought the house. Once again local legend says this structure may have been moved to 1-3 Abbott Street when Heidelberg road was widened in 1887, but no one is really sure.

In 1890 Charles Abbott, a speculator, bought a block of land in Fairfield, which included 1-3 Abbott Street. Earlier the land had been owned by a number of  different people, though there is no certainty that a house was ever built there.

Although the earliest section of the Abbott Street house is said to date from the 1850s, at the time of purchase the land is listed in the Northcote rate books as being vacant. The land was subsequently sold in 1902 to H.H. James, and once again the rate books of the time list the site as vacant. Later that same year the still ‘vacant’ land was sold again to William Harding. However for the year 1910, Harding is listed in the local directories as residing in Abbott Street on the left hand side from Fullham Road near Darebin Creek. Newspapers from 1917 were later found on the walls of the older section of the cottage and in 1920 additions to the structure were made by Harding. Apparently the house remained in his possession until the 1930s when it was leased by George Salmon. Later Eric Bates was the occupant during the 1940s and 1950s.

During the last few years of its existence, this house of memories stood alone and derelict. Owned by the Ministry of Housing, it was a constant target for vandals and the land was used as a dumping ground for rubbish. In the early 1980s the house was identified as significant in the City of Northcote Urban Conservation Study. Despite the study concluding that it may have been the oldest house in Northcote, it was not included in the Historic Buildings Register due to the uncertainty over its origins. In 1989 local residents began to voice their concerns about the building's run-down state and the possibility of the site being a fire hazard. Apparently there was some talk of the Ministry of Planning buying the property, but nothing ever came of it. Despite efforts by the local community and the council to preserve it, the Old Toll House was demolished by the Ministry of Housing in 1991.

Butler, Graeme (1982). City of Northcote urban conservation study. Alphington: City Of Northcote.

City of Northcote: Planning & Development Department (1991). 1-3 Abbott Street, Fairfield 'Toll house' : record of  historical data : reports, plans and photographs. Northcote: Author.

Lemon, Andrew (1983). The Northcote Side of the River. North Melbourne: Hargreen.

Northcote Historical & Conservation Society. (1988). Northcote: Glimpses of Our Past. Northcote, Vic: Author.