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Great granddaughters celebrate history

Marion and Margaret in front of a black and white portrait of their great grandfather.

Monday 10 February 2020

Nearly 160 years ago Council surveyor William Downe sat at his desk and designed the Castlemaine Market Building, a structure considered now to be of national significance.

William’s desk is part of a historical display at the Market Building and his great granddaughters Marion Downe and Margaret Benady, recently gathered to celebrate his impressive contribution to the Castlemaine streetscape.

“We are so pleased to see the desk with a photograph of our great grandfather on display,” said Castlemaine-based Marion Downe.

“It’s particularly special to visit the building with my sister, who is visiting from London. It means a lot to us that our great grandfather designed this wonderful building and we’re thrilled to have him recognised in this way,” she said.

Built in 1862, the Market Building was admired by other towns, and copies of the plans were requested by Sandhurst (Bendigo), Ararat and Beechworth councils.

The Market Building in Mostyn Street originally housed 22 market stalls that sold fresh produce, poultry and even hosted live animal auctions. It is now home to the Castlemaine Visitor Information Centre.

“The Market Building is such an iconic and grand building and we are so pleased to have William’s desk on display to recognise his role in the history of the building,” said Aileen Walsh, Team Leader Visitor Services, Mount Alexander Shire Council.

“The desk is a lovely piece of history. Marion has also very generously donated a portrait of her great grandfather so we can see the man behind the building’s design.”

William grew up in England and his father had a London office in the vicinity of Covent Garden Market.

“You can see stylistic similarities with Inigo Jones’ Covent Garden design. At present the interior colour scheme is very similar too!” said Ms Walsh.

After-hours the markets were boarded up and the central part of the building was used for public functions such as balls, flower shows, church bazaars, band recitals, lectures and even a reception for a visit from Queen Victoria’s second son, Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh.

The building was originally one of three markets, with the two buildings on either side removed around 1920. The remaining building fell into disrepair last century but through the efforts of the local community and the National Trust, the building was saved, fully restored and reopened in 1974.

“We have around 120,000 visitors come through the doors every year and we’re often asked the history of the building. People can’t work out what it was and guess everything from a railway shed to stables,” said Ms Walsh.

“It’s such an important building and is open every day. We urge everyone to pop in and reacquaint yourself with the significance of the building and its role in our town’s history.

“Drop in and take a look at William’s desk – you may be surprised at how small it is. The desk, like the building, is a real testament to how things have changed over the years,” she said.

Image: Marion Downe and Margaret Benady with the portrait of their great grandfather William Downe, who designed the Market Building at Castlemaine.

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