Sydney’s QVB turns 120 – share your story to win

Since moving to Sydney 20-odd years ago I’ve come to love the elegant Queen Victoria Building, which occupies and entire city block. But like many of the shoppers and commuters that pass through her colonnaded walkways and underground passageways, I’ve taken her beauty for granted – not fully appreciating her heritage, history and architectural significance. All that changed when I took a history tour of the building, but more on that later.

QVB’s steel frame and barrel vaulted glass ceilings were regarded as innovative at the time.

Did you realise this old girl turned 120 in July 2018? Celebrations continue until mid-August with a Memory Lock installation inspired by the ‘love padlocks’ of the Pont des Arts footbridge in Paris. Designed by James Dive the 5m tall ironwork ‘keyhole’ installation is located under the QVB’s central dome.

Keyhole-shaped ‘Memory Lock’ installation at QVB

If you’ve had a memorable moment at the QVB you’re invited to share it by by writing it on a tag connected to a padlock and attaching it to the ‘keyhole’. Everyone who takes part goes in a draw to win a high tea for six at The Tea Room in QVB. See details here.

Memory padlocks at QVB

I visited the installation last week and was amazed at the number of padlocks already attached to the installation, which includes a 4.8m replica of the keepsake key gifted to the mayoress of Sydney, Francis Harris, at the building’s opening in 1898. Unfortunately, the whereabouts of the original keepsake key is unknown.

Memory padlocks on ironwork keyhole at QVB.

The QVB has an amazing story, so it’s worth taking the history tour that is offered every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 11.30am. For $15 the 45-minute tour is jam-packed with facts and anecdotes. Did you realise the QVB was built on the site of Sydney’s original livestock and produce markets? The markets were initially relocated in the basement of QVB and accessed via a lift that was big enough for a horse and cart.

Central dome at QVB in Sydney

Built in an economic recession the QVB design was considered by some as an outrageous extravagance. Once opened, it was lauded for its innovative construction, yet by 1959 was proposed for demolition in favour of a civic square and car park. Thankfully, the building was classified by the National Trust in 1974 and restoration was undertaken by Malaysian company Ipoh Garden who was granted a 99-year lease. For more history you can read my recent story in The Weekend Australian here.

Queen Victoria Building

Praised at its opening for innovative features like steel frame and barrel vaulted glass ceilings it is now regarded as an outstanding example of Victorian-Federation architecture. Many original features remain, such as stained glass windows, balustrades and tiles, which are highlighted during the history tour.

Some original tiles remain and have been replicated elsewhere.

Named Queen Victoria Markets Building when opened in 1898, the statue of Queen Victoria at the Druitt Street entrance didn’t materialise until 1986. Originally located outside Leinster House, the seat of Irish Parliament in Dublin, it was removed after Irish independence and languished in storage until it was tracked down during the QVB’s 1986 restoration, upon which it was gifted by Ireland to the City of Sydney and unveiled on 20th December 1987.

Queen Victoria Statue outside the QVB originally sat outside Irish Parliament in Dublin until 1948.

I’ve always adored the tiny black wrought-iron staircase on the top level that spirals towards what looks like a Hobbit-sized door near the roof. So I was thrilled to learn it is original and leads to the void between the inner stained glass dome and outer copper dome.

Spiral staircase in the QVB.

While restoration has preserved the sophistication and elegance of the original building, sympathetic concessions to practicality have added modern architectural features that are equally eye-catching, like the reflective escalators.

I love the clean lines and symmetry of the modern escalators.

Once construction for the new tram line is completed it will be possible to admire QVB’s George Street facade once again and the tram itself should offer a wonderful view of the building as it glides by.

York St entrance of QVB, Sydney

So next time you visit the QVB take a few moments to admire the patterned floor tiles, the intricate stained-glass windows and the allegorical statues above the George and Kent Street entrances.  Make an effort to immortalise your memory of QVB by adding it to the lock installation before 19th August 2018 and you could be sipping high tea ensconced in her lavish interiors.


Disclaimer: I undertook the QVB history tour at my own expense.

About Briar's Travel Beat

Briar Jensen is a Sydney-based freelance travel writer. In her blog, Briar's Travel Beat, she shares her travel experiences to inform, entertain and inspire.
This entry was posted in Attractions, Australia, New South Wales, Sydney, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Sydney’s QVB turns 120 – share your story to win

  1. Mollie Lenthall says:

    Having chosen Christmas gifts at the QVB to take overseas this year I’m looking for images to show where I bought them. Are any of yours avaiable as greeting or postcards?


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