With market gardening in the near suburbs and foothills maturing, and produce distribution points in growing metropolitan Adelaide becoming more important, there was a need for more market space. The building of the exchange in 1904 came when the population of the city was nearing its zenith, and services and utilities were stretched to capacity.
The exchange is also important for its scale, which reflected its management’s confidence in Adelaide’s future. This was newfound sense of independence was fostered by Australian Federation.
The exchange expresses this confidence in the robust use of ornament, including the symbolic cornucopia, and the bold impression of rhythmic massing created by arched entrances, picked out by cantilevered gabled canopies. An inscription in a section of the Grenfell Street frontage expresses the moral virtue to which the exchange aspired: “The Earth is the Lord’s and the fulness [sic] thereof” (Psalm 24:1). The exchange was part of that period of optimistic, if conservative, growth in Adelaide between the end of the 1890s depression and World War I.
Before the exchange appeared there were several markets around Adelaide. Colonel Light set aside a site for a market in his plan for Adelaide at the western end of Franklin Street. However this was not used as it was too far from the city’s early commercial areas. A cattle market was created opposite the old Newmarket Hotel off North Terrace in about 1847. Another, designed by G.S. Kingston for the South Australian Company in 1840, sold “garden produce” and other goods at the corner of Rundle Street and Gawler Place.
Several stockyards and livestock markets were scattered about, most of them close to the main trading areas such as Hindley and Rundle streets, and Kermode Street, North Adelaide. From 1841 through the 1850s, the area set aside for a Town Hall in King William Street was also used as a market.
Richard Vaughan established the original East End Market and the Corporation formed the Central Market in 1869. He roofed the East End Market in 1866 and had it enlarged in 1869.
By the 1890s there was great competition for stalls due to the growth of the gardening trade. An overflow of traders was spilling onto the streets. In about 1900, William Charlick of Charlick Brothers (a large fruit, potato and grocery business) decided to “remedy the evils” by purchasing land near the old market, between Rundle and Grenfell streets, to build an extension. Negotiations with the East End Market Company failed, so Charlick decided “to establish a new, up-to-date market, submitting his plans to competent men and to the Adelaide Corporation, who promised their support”.
The Adelaide Fruit and Produce Exchange Act was passed on October 30, 1903. It granted powers to erect the market and allowed the Adelaide City Council to take it over after some years, paying out the owners.
A company was quickly formed and a memorial stone laid by the governor on April 24, 1904. On May 2, 1904, the market was opened for trade.
There were three more extension soon after 1904 – Vardon Avenue, a section to the west of the Grenfell Street side; the facade at 273-275 Rundle Street; and the less elaborate Union Street frontage.
At the time, the Cyclopedia of South Australia reported in glowing terms on the size of the new market – nearly four acres, with £52,300 spent. There was room for “390 stands for s-vehicles and teams, 20 large packing stores, 16 shops, 11 small stores, 10 side stores, refreshment room, and shoeing-forge”. It was described as the best in Australia, “lofty, well ventilated, side roads, no obstacles, automatically drained, and kept wonderfully clean. The market has fully answered its purpose, the producers being loud in their praises of the accommodation provided.”
Architect Henry J. Cowell created a complex that thoroughly catered for market activities at the turn of the century. Its scale of development exemplified what could be achieved by private initiative. It has been hardly altered, with the detailing to arches, gablets and even ground-floor shopfronts still original. Few complexes of this size and originality survive in capital cities.
In 1987, proposals for relocation of the market in late 1988 caused controversy over the future use of the premises. A scheme of development was proposed in mid-1988 which will retain the street frontages of the buildings but saw the covered market area behind and the market offices towards the centre of the site demolished.
The resultant redevelopment of the East Market site is now widely regarded as a successful example of adaptive reuse of a heritage site.