A Peep at Peapes

To emerge from the tunnel that leads out of Wynyard Station onto George Street is to enter a sonic mess of construction noise. There are bursts of deep, jarring reverberations and the sounds of metal against concrete, as the demolition of the buildings above the station continues.

As the buildings – the Menzies Hotel, and the 1960s office block Thakral House – have been demolished, the walls of the adjacent buildings have come to light for the first time in 50 years. As Thakral House came down, sunrays appeared at the top of the side wall of the building on the north side, Beneficial House. Then a creature, a dog with a bushy tail, inside a red shield. And then, underneath it, the word PEAPES. At first the hoardings were too high to see much of the sign from street level, but as the demolition continued, the full breadth of the Peapes sign was revealed.

Peapes was a men’s clothing and tailoring department store, which operated out of Beneficial House from when the building was erected in 1923, until the close of the business in February 1971. Its advertising emphasised the “lofty and spacious departments, where a leisurely peace reigns”. The showrooms were fitted out in polished maple, with Doric columns supporting the ceiling and a circular light well at the centre. It was an elegant place, in-keeping with the quality of Peapes’ goods, which were stressed to be of the highest degree.

Photo from Flickr: Steve Terrill (cropped)

Peapes’ slogan was “for men AND their sons” (the AND was in upper case, to stress the importance of intergeneration consistency in men’s style) and it was the place to shop if you needed any kind of gentleman’s outfit, from necessities to luxuries: jackets, shirts, hats, shoes, “an unusually smart shirt with tie”, “a distinctive overcoat”, “superior flannel trousers”. Clothes could be bought off the rack or made to measure. Peapes sales representatives also travelled to country towns across Australia to conduct fittings, booking out rooms in hotels, advertising in local papers, for men to come and have their measurements taken for suits.

The store had two tradmarks. The first was the Warrigal – a dingo, Warrigal being the Dharug word for dingo – the one pictured at the top of the wall sign. The second was diarist Samuel Pepys, an ancestor of one the firm’s founders, George Peapes. On the third floor of the department store was the Pepys Room, a common room of sorts, “a room of restful atmosphere…for reading, writing, smoking, or keeping appointments”. The bewigged Samuel Pepys also appeared on the labels of their garments.

Peapes had been operating on George Street since 1866. In 1912, the wealthy businessman W.J. Miles became one of the directors. These days his name may not be a familiar one, but his daughter, Bea, was one of mid-twentieth century Sydney’s most well known characters. Her distinctive figure, in long coat and tennis hat, was a common sight in the city and suburbs, seen climbing in and out of the taxis for which she never paid the fare, or quoting Shakespeare on demand for a fee of sixpence.

The royal blue of the Peapes sign is a bright window into a past Sydney. Thousands of people walk past it daily, and for those who look up and notice it, the texture of the changing city is revealed, its layers and traces. Soon the demolition will be complete. A new building will be constructed, covering over the Peapes name, the sunburst, and the Warrigal dog. But, for this brief moment, it is back in the light.

 With thanks to David Lever for Peapes memories and investigations. 

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15 Comments on “A Peep at Peapes”

  1. Natalie Singh says:

    Hi Vanessa

    I love your blog posts and wonder if I can share this article in a Facebook page I belong to which is Old Sydney?

    thanks Natalie

  2. Hi Natalie,
    Thanks for your interesting and informative blog. I am going to bookmark it and read my way through all your articles. I’ve no doubt that many others will visit, thanks to Vanessa’s post on Facebook (as I did). Cheers, Ruth

  3. Anna says:

    Hi Vanessa,
    This is great! I’ve being doing a bit of Peapes research since seeing this in the newspaper yesterday. A colleague of mine brought your book in today and we all fawned over it – had to get a copy straight away – I live near the Bondi Telstra tower so that really hit home!
    Anna

  4. […] A Peep at Peapes → […]

  5. pellethepoet says:

    Hi Vanessa,

    The State Library of New South Wales posted today on Instagram about the Peapes sign, and have commissioned photographs of it for their collection.

    http://www.instagram.com/p/BZnPdwPgL7w/?hl=en&taken-by=state...

    Ben

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Thanks Ben, it’s great to know it’s being recorded and also I’d like a look at those advertising scrap books! I was there at the sign yesterday with the ABC for the Off the Page program, too, so there’s lots of Peapes attention happening!

  6. sallykj says:

    Hi Vanessa. From memory, it was a ritual for private school boys to go to Peapes for their school uniforms. I’m fairly sure my brother was outfitted there for Sydney Garmmar.

  7. Will says:

    It was a pleasant surprise to see this as I emerged from the bowels of the CityRail network today. Such ghostly diversions are, sadly, more common in the southern capital than here in the Emerald City. The juxtaposition with the steel monoliths of Sydney’s financial district is very stark indeed.

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      It’s such a great moment when it comes into view after emerging from the station – I’m happy it’s had such an extended showing. Yes, they are more plentiful in Melbourne, I was there last weekend and kept coming across them, without even particularly looking for them.

      • Will says:

        In addition to Melbourne’s penchant for preservation, I wonder if its more favourable climate plays a role, too. Intense sunshine and rainfall are the mortal enemies of the ghost sign (Melbourne’s rain is usually a gentle drizzle). Does Brisbane have many ghost signs? I didn’t notice many whilst I was up there earlier in the year.

        (Digression: the AML&F wool store in Brisbane is beautifully preserved. You probably know that the AML&F wool store at Ultimo burned down in 1992; that building used to creep me out as a little kid. Might be an idea for a future post?)

  8. Dianne Drew says:

    Sadly the inside of the Peapes building has been trashed since its sale in 1971. The building was designed by Hardy-Wilson who used beautiful Australian timber for the interior. Not sure if any of the interior can or will be restored. The Peapes store was previously located on the other side of George Street.


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