The red brick façade of the former Adelaide Fruit & Produce Exchange might evoke a bustling market atmosphere, but for many years the East End was a gritty, loud and dangerous place to live and work. Where now exists apartments, cafes and hip bars once stood Peacock & Son’s tannery and W.H. Burford & Son’s soap factory, two Victorian industries united by the particularly pungent nature of their processes and by-products.
It could also be an explosive mix, with the soap factory burning to the ground in 1885. A minor sensation, the blaze unleashed “a perfect sea of fire” as flaming tallow and resin spilled out across the street, resembling a “pillar of fire by night” that could be seen towards Port Adelaide.
It hardly sounds like a pleasant place to live and raise a family, and yet many workers occupied dwellings right in the heart of these combustible industrial areas, including a string of houses (“the Rookery”) initially built by Peacock in the 1850s that were partially excavated during the area’s 1990s redevelopment. Archaeologists unearthed domestic household items and even musical instruments, glimpses of a vibrant life amongst the tannery runoff.
But it wasn’t always a particularly pleasant one, and as Adelaide modernised they were one of many buildings to be singled out as part of a rising number of dilapidated dwellings – dubbed the “back slums of Adelaide” by one 1889 newspaper report – targeted by authorities. One of Peacock’s buildings was criticized for being “old and damp” with “back rooms nearly two feet below the badly drained back yards”, and a verandah that “appeared to be very unsafe, and looked as though it would fall upon passers-by in the first high wind”.
The only evidence of the nine connected cottages that once stood here is the few buildings' remaining footings just beyond this plaque. In 1899, the rookery was demolished. Eventually Peacock's tannery was also demolished to make way for the Adelaide Fruit and Produce Exchange.http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article36319361