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Clancys Fish Pub

The building housing Clancys used to be the domestic science annex of the Princess May School, next door in Cantonment Street. Before it was renovated as a hotel, it was for some time in disrepair. In 2015 it underwent another renovation.

Clancy's Fish Pub and Surrounds
Joe Fisher

The buildings in the Princess May Reserve are a product of the convict period of WA development, the gold boom period and World War 1.
The principal components of the Reserve were built in stages with the main phases of construction taking place between 1854 and 1914 .The first plan that deals with the whole area indicates a stone wall surrounding the entire site, the three existing buildings, drying grounds for the household management centre, shelter sheds, a teachers house, a picket fence separating the boys’ and girls’ schools and, in an obvious attempt to provide a safe environment, a rifle range of all things. It appears to further enhance the inviting atmosphere of the area; most of the surfaces appeared to be gravel, with softening elements of asphalt laid down along the pathways. By the fifties some trees had appeared to eventually provide some aesthetic comfort to the inhabitants.
The surviving buildings are what used to be known as the
1) Fremantle Boys School, which now houses the Film and Television Institute. It was built in 1854 and was the first building to be established and is possibly one of only a handful of buildings of this age in Australia that has been in almost continuous use since it was built . It is constructed mainly of stone and has what are known in the trade I believe as Victorian Tudor architectural motifs.
2) The Princess May Girls School. The Princess May School was built in 1901, and is a two story building with a belvedere in the Federation Free Classical style. It now houses the Fremantle Education Centre, appropriately enough.
3) Clancy’s Fish Pub. This is the old Household Management Centre, which again has certain symmetry with its current use as a place where food and beverages are dispensed in a sort of friendly ‘householdy’ sort of manner.
In the sixties another educational facility was built in the shape of John Curtin School, and the buildings were left vacant and fell into disrepair. In 1970 the FBS was described as ‘deserted and ravaged by vandals’ – a circumstance which is repeated at present with the current state of the old Elders Wool store just over the road. This has been empty since we have been here. The outstanding memory I have of this building apart from its gradual decay is a piece of graffiti that simply states ‘smash the cistern’, obviously penned by a frustrated yet not particularly ambitious anarchist.
The Fremantle Council under pressure from concerned citizens sought a commitment from the state government to find new uses for the buildings and to conserve the area. This was achieved with the birth of the then Perth Institute of Film and Television, which is now FTI, the Fremantle Education Centre to our left and most importantly of all, the creation of what was to be the first tavern license as distinct from a hotel license which was issued to what was first called Clancy’s Tavern. Given that my name is Fisher it was then renamed, with startling originality, Clancy’s Fish Pub.
For some strange reason I find myself 21 years later giving a talk on a history which I certainly until very recently knew little about. I am heavily indebted to a Conservation Plan report by the architects Considine and Griffiths for any historical knowledge that you may receive tonight.
So, a little bit of history. Way back in 1833, only a few years after WA was settled, schools assisted by the government of the day were opened in Perth and Fremantle to ‘all denominations of Christians ‘. By 1850 , there were rumblings of discontent due to the lack of suitability of the rooms for education purposes, as indicated by the master of the Colonial school in Fremantle who not only had to teach 78 children by himself in fairly average conditions, but the possibility of a further 22 pensioner guards’ children highlighted the inadequacy of the facilities. The upshot of this was that in 1852 the legislative council voted that the princely sum of 600 pounds be allocated to the new school.
Drawings were prepared and signed by a James Austin, and the plans were probably influenced by William Sanford who was also responsible for the Perth Boys School. Sanford apparently had a passion for Victorian Tudor and Victorian Gothic architecture which also apparently has its roots in 16th century fortified houses of Scotland and England, fortified structures being, I assume, thought to be suitable for housing small children. Thus the Fremantle Boys’ School is an example of Victorian Tudor Architecture.
The school was finally built in 1854 and was the first building to be established in the park and is possibly one of only a handful of buildings of this age in Australia that has been in almost continuous use since it was built.
Additions, alterations and modifications were made to the school on a regular basis in response to the increasing population. At one stage in the 1870s the Governor of the day expressed his concern, in what is a theme that seems to be familiar to us today when he wrote that ‘some Protestant parents were sending their children to the private Roman Catholic schools in Fremantle because of a lack of space’. Again in a depressingly familiar tone, in the 1890s a government report found that out of 73 schools 44 were found to be in poor repair, and in order to change this considerable sums of money would need to be spent.
By 1900 the school housed 200 kids and new latrine blocks, shelters and Head Teacher’s accommodation were all constructed; these have since been demolished. All through the early part of the 20th century the population growth exerted inexorable pressure on the space and eventually the school had to house students in other buildings in Fremantle. In 1954 the foundation stone of John Curtin School was laid. The school was partially opened in 1956 and boys from the Fremantle Boys’ School were transferred there. The FBS was officially closed in 1955, but was used throughout 1956 and was still in use when girls from the Princess May school transferred there. After this the Boys’ School and the Girls’ Schools were referred to as annexes for John Curtin School.

Establishment of the Fremantle Girls School

The teaching of girls in Fremantle dates back to at least 1854, but the first school was not built until 1877. The ceremony of laying the first stone was attended by a large crowd, and the building still stands today opposite the Fremantle Markets. As seems to be a recurrent theme, it was only twenty years later, in 1897, that a new school was again considered necessary. In a letter from the secretary of education it was suggested that there was ample room for an entirely new girls’ school to be built on the site occupied by the Fremantle boys school. The contract for the school was let for the outlandish sum £6,543/18/4. Plans were drawn up, but due to a delay caused by some problems with the pesky quarry workers no progress was made before 1900.
Finally building got underway and it was intended that the Fremantle Girls School should be opened in July 1901 by the Duchess of Cornwall and York (who would later become Queen Mary). The speed of construction seems fairly impressive today, but shock and horror – the building wasn’t completed until the following month. The building took 14 months. Due to travel commitments the Princess wasn’t available to open it but was asked to bestow a name on it, so in a fit of commendable modesty, she proceeded to name it after herself: The Princess May Girls and Infants School. The building was subsequently opened by the Governor, and he praised the architects, builders, and even presumably the recalcitrant quarry workers for having designed and built such a handsome building. I think it is still a handsome building and it will be magnificent if and when the restoration works are completed.
Although the school was originally started as a primary school there was almost immediate pressure on for some secondary education to be included. Athough there doesn’t appear to be any record of numbers of students, Fremantle’s rapidly rising population started to put pressure on the teachers and classrooms by as early as 1911. In 1914 there were 14 teachers, including two household management teachers, a teacher of book keeping, and a swimming teacher. Subjects included English, Maths, Geography, Music, Drawing and the unappealing sounding Drill.
Although overcrowding was a problem, there were no major physical alterations made to the main building. By 1928, all primary school classes were relocated to the South Terrace Primary School, and years seven to nine became the sole focus for the school. By 1946 it was formally reclassified as a high school.
By the 1950s the building was becoming overcrowded again, and unions and parents were pressuring the government to come up with alternatives. In 1957 , John Curtin High School opened and the Princess May school became an annexe of JCHS .Thus ended the very fine tradition of being ‘A Princess May Girl’.
The school was used for education purposes well into the 1960s, and in 1970 a proposal was developed to use the building as a Community Education Centre. In 1975 a certain Mr Kim Beazley, now of course ambassador to the United States, opened the newly renovated building. Until then little in the way of any adaptive work had taken place at the building but in the following years, to create more space, a series of mezzanines were inserted and new toilet blocks created. Although these were intrusive, fortunately it appears they did not interfere too much with the original layout and now in 2009, plans are in place to remove these structures and bring the layout of the building back fairly close to the original plans that were drawn up some 105 years ago – a rather pleasing result.

Household Management Centre

And now for the most Important building in the park, the Fremantle Household Management Centre which of course is now Clancy’s Fish Pub.
Historically this building was constructed due to a change of curriculum and name in the Education Department when the subject of Domestic Economy was changed to Household Management, one of those bureaucratic changes which seemed necessary at the time and was believed to ‘convey to the minds of the parents of the girls attending the centres a better impression of the nature of the instruction given‘.
This proved to be the catalyst for the construction of the necessary accommodation for the growing number of Household Management students in Fremantle. In the interests of economy it was decided to build new premises on the Cantonment Street side of the existing school block. Tenders were called in mid-1911 and the ridiculously extravagant quote of 1507 pounds was accepted. Construction commenced and in late February 1912, a mere seven months later, the building was completed.
It consisted of two distinct areas - the cookery and laundry centre and the housewifery rooms. A cloakroom and a storeroom separated the two areas. On the original plans it looks like the rooms were accessed through one corridor which ran from the front of the building on the park side. I believe you can still see the line of this on the ceiling in the restaurant. Where the stage now stands there were 15 wash troughs and the kitchen which was in the area in front of the bar included fixed benches and cooking apparatus. There is a certain pleasing symmetry in that we still have plenty of fixed cooking apparatus, only in a different part of the building. In what is now the restaurant section of the pub were the housewifery rooms which have had all traces removed apart from some stone flooring where there were probably some sinks.
As seems to be a depressingly familiar story within four years expansion of the Household Management Centre, now confusingly called the Domestic Economy Centre was proposed and the back walls in the housewifery section were removed to create one large room. This was achieved for the exorbitant sum of 277 pounds.
In 1938, the teachers at the centre complained about the intense heat in summer and inadequate ventilation. As a result the Department of Works undertook to move the back wall of the housewifery section back eight to ten feet, a move that was supposed to improve overall circulation to the building. However this modification did not produce the required effect. An approach was made by the RAAF to use the building during World War II but this did not go ahead. As with the other buildings on the site, it continued to be used as an annexe when the John Curtin Senior High School was built.

Clancys Tavern

Finally to the delight of pub goers in Fremantle as part of the OVERALL redevelopment of the park the Household Management Centre was converted into a tavern, the first such license in WA as distinct from a hotel license. And Clancys Tavern was born.
In the course of this development further walls were knocked out and others inserted, so that very little remained of the earliest plans for the building . Before the tavern was created the building consisted of the main room where the bar is, the cloak room near Cantonment street, and the maids’ kitchen at the park end. The other room was essentially two rooms with various equipment and a double sided fireplace; you can still see the fire hearth in the floor today. The wall dividing the room went across the middle of the room.
When the tavern was created a kitchen was inserted. A wall was built to enclose the kitchen, and toilets were added where the maids’ kitchen stood . A central coolroom was put in where the old cloakroom was, and two bars were wrapped around this central coolroom. A small snug bar with plenty of wood sat next to the double sided fireplace recreated an English pub feel. The removal of this snug bar with the most recent renovation still rankles with some customers who remind me of our folly regularly. It is rumoured that on several occasions the actual bar was used as a dance floor at the end of certain evenings as the strains of ‘New York New York’ belted out over the primitive PA sytem in operation in those days. I can neither confirm nor deny such antics ever took place.
In those days the entrances were from the park side into both rooms. By all accounts the business was a very successful venture, with crowds of people flocking to the tavern. It won a Golden Spoon, the precursor to the Golden Plate. The two final major developments of the pub were undertaken under the ownership of the Fisher family, when in 1988 two doors allowed access on the Cantonment street side and landscaping outside gave the pub a Cantonment Street frontage for the first time in its history.
Finally in 1996 the inside of the building was opened up with the coolroom being moved outside, the central bar was created (with it of course the removal of the snug) and the landscaping out the back was more oriented to the park. Clancys Fish Pub was formally born.
We have been here now for 21 years and in that time we have seen these three remaining buildings, so brilliantly saved from possible demolition in the early 1970s continue to be used to benefit the Fremantle community. What is apparent to the stakeholders in the park is the lack of a coordinating body that will take responsibility for the future direction of the park. All the buildings require much money to be spent on them to get the actual structures into sound shape, with many issues such as rising damp, deterioration of the limestone and leaking roofs needing immediate attention. Funding for these ventures is available and has been available in the past, but seems to be applied in an ad hoc manner which is not conducive to the best use of these funds. What is more apparent is that once these funds have been applied, there is no plan for regular maintenance and upkeep of the buildings and surrounding walls. As I have mentioned before , the FBS is one of just a few buildings in Australia from the 1850s that has been in nearly continuous use, and for this history to be kept for the future it is vital that the park be in the hands of an authority that will take responsibility for its future direction. Use the funding to get the buildings up to a modern standard that will fulfill current standards such as heating, air conditioning, electrical, OHS and disability access issues as well as the fixing of inherent structural problems, and then have a plan to use any income derived from the buildings on a recurrent maintenance and upgrades into the future.The current shuffling of responsibility for the park between the various state departments who have a say must be sorted out quickly, and then whoever has control must take responsibility and allow for a solid accountable plan to be developed that will take the park well into the 21st century.
In my time as a publican I have seen many changes culturally and historically in the way food and beverages have been dispensed in pubs in WA . When I first started in 1980 the pub was a pretty basic affair. We served Swan Lager in either ponies, Shetlands, butchers glasses or middies. The food on offer was a pie or sausage roll from the warmer, with or without tomato sauce, and the wine, red and white, was from a flagon that was kept in the fridge. Coke bottles were delivered in wooden crates, and the beer dispenser system had only just changed from a contraption like a bike pump to gas. Spearing the kegs was a daily highlight with many accidents only narrowly being avoided as the empty kegs were despeared. That great Australian institution, the shout, was the central plank on which pub behaviour and custom was formed. Woe betide you if you were not aware of the arcane rules involved in the shout. It was egalitarian to the extreme, every body would drink the same beer out of the same size glass. If you wanted to leave the shout or round for a convenience stop you had to make sure you were back in time for the next buy. To enter the shout you had to buy your way in. If there were six people drinking you bought yourself one and the other six as well. If you wanted to leave early you had to buy the last round to leave the group. If you drank your drink too fast you would be looked on with disfavour, and if you drank too slowly you were given the word to hurry up.
As a barman you had to remember whose glass was whose, whose buy it was, and when to start the next round. Black looks and a shake of the head greeted any grave error such as being too slow or too fast, or getting the change wrong. It was also a sign of the times that pubs were very territorial; if you walked into a strange bar the conversation would stop and you would be given a good once over before things returned to normal.
It was a microcosm of Fremantle at large. One of my favourite characters was Bluey Hammond, who was a wharfie and had been drinking at this pub for many, many years. We happened to be talking about the merits of Fremantle versus Perth when Bluey pronounced that he was not particularly enamoured with Perth, or words to that effect. I asked him when he had last been to Perth. He gave this some thought and said , ‘Arrgh, it must have been back in 1962.’ That was before the Narrows Bridge was built.
Since those times we have seen the disappearance of, amongst other things, the live band culture in pubs, the ladies’ bar, smoking, pie warmers, drip trays with running water, skimpies have all but disappeared, as has the 6 o’clock swill and other such refinements. We have seen however the rise of good pub food, a vast array of wine, families in pubs, and of course a great range of beers, which I find a particularly important innovation. As publicans our responsibilities are far greater than they ever have been; we only wish that the individual was encouraged to be as responsible as we have to be.

Joe Fisher, from the Newsletter of the Fremantle History Society, Spring 4, 2010, 1, 2, 3, 2011.

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