The Queen Victoria Building occupies an entire block between 429 and 481 George Street and contains over 180 of Sydney’s finest fashion boutiques, jewellery shops and homewares, accompanied by delightful cafés and restaurants. The grand building, rich in history and architecturally splendid in the American Romanesque style, was built on the site of municipal markets and has four storeys. It was designed by the Scottish architect, George McRae (1858-1923). Work began in 1893, the building envisaged as on the scale of a cathedral, and the building was complete by 1898.
Its dominant feature is the central dome with an interior glass dome and a copper-sheathered exterior, topped by a domed cupola. During the Christmas period, the space beneath is occupied by a giant Christmas tree. While still under construction, the Council decided to call it ‘The Queen Victoria Market Buildings’ in honour of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897.
The building was opened on 21 July 1898 with a grand ball for over 1,000 guests in the Town Hall next door. It was variously a market, housed a library, a wine store, and various offices and has been adapted over the years, most notably in 1917 and 1935, to incorporate office space and shops. It was beautifully restored between 1984 and 1986, and quickly became Sydney’s most popular and prestigious shopping centre, described by Jan Morris as ‘one of the most sumptuous shopping centres on earth’. It has domelets and roof pavilions, stained glass windows, and an original 19th-century staircase sits alongside the dome. A statue of Queen Victoria is outside the building, while inside can be seen replicas of the British crown jewels in glass cases.
A hugely popular feature is ‘The Royal Clark’, a castellated hanging clock which has a moving tableaux of six scenes of British Kings and Queens that emerge each hour, heralded by trumpeters, playing Jeremiah Clarkes’ trumpet voluntary – The King of Denmark. The scenes are King Canute stopping the waves, King Harold falling at the Battle of Hastings, King John signing Magna Carta, the polygamous King Henry VIII with his six wives, and it ends with the slow and dramatic beheading of King Charles I.
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