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Peter Leggett Reynolds (1931–2019)

by Max Solling

Peter [Reynolds] left Canterbury Boys High at the end of 1946 having gained the Intermediate Certificate. His first job was as a shop boy at Rickett & Thorpe's furniture factory at Banksia at £1.8.0 per week. Three months later he was appointed a junior mes­senger in the Department of Building  Materials. A further three months later, at 15 years and 9 months, he began a five-year apprenticeship as a carpenter and joiner with the Public Works Department at £1.15.0 per week.

Mandatory study at Belmore Technical College resulted in the award of the Lower Trades Certif­icate in Carpentry and Joinery in 1950 and the High­er Trades Certificate in 1952. After two years further study at Sydney Technical College, he received a Clerk of Works and Building Foreman's Certificate at the end of 1954.

From 1952, work for Public Works as a journeyman carpenter led to promotion to leading hand on new public schools at Rydalmere, Telopea and North Ryde.

1958 was a big year for Peter. He married Shirley Young at Earlwood on 31 January, and was promoted to estimator in the School Maintenance Section. Shirley and Peter had four children — Margaret Jane (b. 1961), David John (b. 1964, d. 1965), Kathryn Anne (b. 1966) and Rebecca May (b. 1970, Balmain). The couple separated in 1976.

In 1959 he was appointed a clerk of works in the Government Architect's Branch. Studying part-time, Peter completed the Qualifying and Matriculation Certificate at Belmore Technical College. He then enrolled in the architecture degree course at the Faculty of Architecture at UNSW in 1961 (eight years part-time), and con­tinued to work full-time with Public Works. From 1963, he was taken into the Government Archi­tect's Office as an architectural assistant on clerk of works pay.

In 1968 he was awarded a cadetship and took one year's leave without pay to complete the honours final year and to compile a thesis on the life and work of John Horbury Hunt, architect (1838-1904). In 1969 he graduated as a Bach­elor of Architecture (Honours II, Division I) and was awarded a three-year Commonwealth PhD scholarship. This full-time study necessitated unpaid leave for three years.

In 1972, after 25 years, he resigned from Pub­lic Works to take up a lectureship in the School of Architecture at UNSW and in 1974 was awarded a PhD for his thesis, the Evolution of the Govern­ment Architect's Branch of the NSW Department of Public Works 1788-1911. In 1973 an Alumni Award for Achivement became his. He contin­ued to lecture in architecture and building conser­vation at UNSW until his retirement in 1991.

Peter's mother was aghast when he moved his family from Campsie to Balmain in 1969. They had gone to a slum, she said. At the beginning of 1970, he began his fascination with Balmain 's history and built environment.

In 1982 Peter embarked on a Herculean task of examining the changing structure of land own­ership in Balmain, tracing a plethora of land trans­actions.  This research continues to be published in the LHJ. The nature of this exploration reveals a passion for detail which is invaluable for other people doing research at different levels.

Since 1991 Peter has been doing the same sort of investigative work on the suburb of Leich­hardt. His significant research into the Excelsior Land Investment & Building Co provides a fas­cinating insight into estate development in 19th century Leichhardt.

Peter readily shares the fruits of research and his skills with others, indicative of his independent na­ture and generous spirit. 

Local history has the strength of being popular both as an activity and a literary form, and people are continually asking themselves questions about where they live, and how their elders fared. It gives the inveterate rambler, with a stout pair of boots, a much more immediate sense of the past. By any standard, the tasks Peter has set him­self are daunting, but with an infectious enthusi­asm for studies at the local level, like the stock horse in The Man from Snowy River, he sniffs the battle with delight.

An historian is a detective; she or he has to search and gather sufficient evidence to piece to­gether an accurate picture of the past. She or he is also a judge, weighing up the available evi­dence and examining the witnesses.

Peter has been greatly assisted in his local his­tory endeavours since 1988 by his daughter, Re­becca, continuing the Reynolds' tradition of hard, dedicated voluntary work. Rebecca's contributions embrace proof reading, filing and research asso­ciated with the LHJ as well as being treasurer.

Her published index to the LHJ is an invaluable tool for researchers. Supervised by Peter, it is just one example of his extraordinary dedication to lo­cal history projects for 30 years.

The following is a precis of Peter's career, to­gether with the books and articles published.

Professions and Positions Held
Former chartered architect. Currently archi­tectural historian & heritage consultant.

Councillor, Royal Australian Historical Society, 1993 to present.

Master, Horbury Hunt Club Inc since 1989.

Hon Editor & main contributor, Leichhardt Historical LHJ, 1978 to present.

President, Balmain Association, 1981-83.

Member: National Trust of Australia (NSW), and Society of Australian Genealogists.

University of New South Wales
School of Architecture: BArch (1969), PhD (1974). Part-time Tutor, 1969-71. Lec­turer, 1972-76. Senior Lecturer, 1962-84. Graduate School of the Built Environment: Senior Lecturer, 1984-91. Director, Architec­tural History Research Unit, 1984-91

Reports to the Heritage Council of NSW
Excelsior Subdivision, Land & Building Develop­ment, Leichhardt South: 1881-90 (1992).

AW Young's Subdivision, Land & Building Development, Balmain: 1847-1980 (1992).

Reports to State Projects, Public Works Dept
Goulbum Court House (1992).

Kirkbride Block, Rozelle Hospital, Former Callan Park Hospital for the Insane, (1993).

Legislative Architecture in NSW: 1788-1974, A Study of Buildings Completed or Proposed (1975).

Half a Thousand Acres: Balmain, A History of the Land Grant (1976), with Paul Flottmann.

Identifying Australian Architecture, A Pictorial Guide to Styles & Terms from 1788 to the Present (1989), with R Apperly & R Irving.

Leichhardt: On the Margins of the City (1997), with M Solling.

Balmain in Time (1971), with R Irving.

Rozelle Public School, A Centenary Celebration, 1878-1978 (1978).

Balmain Historical Monograph Series
On the Pigeon Ground, Ba/main Public School 1860-1965, No. 1 (1995).

John Booth of Balmain, Booths in Bermondsey, Kincumber, Ba/main & on the Manning 1800-1946, No. 2 (1997).

On Balmain Hill, 150 Years of the Catholic Church in Balmain, No. 3 (l 998).

John Balmain, Schoolteacher & Goldseeker in Bal­main, California & Goondiwindi, No. 4 (2000). 

Australian Dictionary of Biography
"John Burcham Clamp (1869-1931), Architect'', Vol 8, p 1(1981). 

"Varney Parkes (1859-1935), Architect & Politician", Vol 11, p 141-142 (with L. Raine, 1988).

"Sir John Sulman (1849-1934), Architect", Vol 12, pp 137-138 (with R. Apperly, 1990).

"Walter Liberty Vernon (1846-1914), Architect & Soldier", Vol 12, pp 320-322 (1990).

"Hugh Venables Vernon (1877-1935), Architect", Vol 12, p 322 (1990).

"Sydney Edward Cambrian Ancher (1904-1979), Architect", Vol 13, pp 41-42 (with R. Apperly, 1993).

"Arthur Norman Baldwinson (1908- 1969), Architect'', Vol 13, pp 98-99 (with R. Apperly, 1993).

"Charles Bruce Dellit (1898-1942), Architect", Vol 13, pp 613-613 (with R. Apperly, 1 3).

"Joseph Charles Fawell (1891-1970), Architect", Vol 14, p. 206 (with P. Martin, 1996).

''Cobden Parkes (1892-1978), Ar­chitect Public Servant & Sol­dier'', Vol 15, pp 569-570 (2000).

"Emil Lawrence Sodersten (1899-1961), Architect", Vol 16 (in press).

Macmillan Dictionary of Art
"John Horbury Hunt (1838- 1904), Architect" (1996).

Leichhardt Historical Journal
"Lot 48 Darling Street, Bal­main", No. I (1971).

"The Balmain Watch House", No. 3 (1972).

"Remains of the Second Bal­main Presbyterian Church", No. 4 (1973).

"John Cavill: a Cornish Stone­mason", No. 5 (1978).

"Up the Tigers: the First 70 Years of the Balmain Foot­ball Club", No. 7 (1978).

"John Ward: Blue Bird Hunter of Balmain", No. 8 (1979).

"Robert Blake: Soldier, Sheriff & Spec Builder", No. 8 (1979).

"Goat & Cockatoo, Two Isles off Balmain", No. 9 ( 1980).

"John Fraser Gray & Waterview House, Balmain", No. 10 (1981). 

"From Peacock Pt to Darling St Wharf', No. 11 (1982).

"From Darling St Wharf to Sim­mons Pt", No. 12 (1983).

"From Nicholson St to Chapman's Slipway", No. 13 (1984).

"From Johnston St to Cameron's Cove", No. 14 (1985).

"From Cameron's Cove to Adol­phus St", No. 15 (1987).

"From Adolphus St to Gladstone Pk-Part l", No. 17 (1993).

"The Excelsior Subdivision - Part l", No. 17 (1993).

"From Adolphus St to Gladstone Park-Part 2", No.18 (1994).

"The Excelsior Subdivision - Part 2", No. 18 (1994).

"From Adolphus St to Gladstone Park-Part 3",No.19(1995).

"The Excelsior Subdivision - Part 3", No. 19 (1995).

"From Adolphus St to Gladstone Park - Part 4", No. 20 (1996).

"The Excelsior Subdivision - Part 4", No. 20 (1996).

"From Adolphus St to Gladstone Park- Part 5", No. 25 (1997).

"The Excelsior Subdivision - Part 4", No. 21 (1997).

Mort's Dock, Balmain Places I (1985).

The Coal Mine under the Harbour, Balmain Places 2 (1986). 

Gladstone Park, the Pigeon Ground, Balmain Places 3 (1986).

Walk Maps

Old Balmain, Balmain Walks I (1981).

Birchgrove & Balmain North, Balmain Walks 2 (1987).

(Ed) Proceedings of the Archi­tectural Historians Confer­ence, 1985, Society of Archi­tectural Historians, Australia & New Zealand (1986).

John Horbury Hunt: 1838-1904, Notes on his life & work (1988).

Leichhardt West, Notes on the land grants & subdivisions (1988), with Anthony Cusick.

Original Publication

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Citation details

Max Solling, 'Reynolds, Peter Leggett (1931–2019)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 22 April 2024.

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