From the 1860s increasing volumes of wool passed through Sydney by rail from the interior to Darling Harbour. Throughout the 1880s, no fewer than twenty wool stores were built on the peninsula. At their maximum extent their floor space was over 100 acres (40 hectares), a third of the area of the peninsula. They became obsolete only in the 1970s when wool storage moved to Liverpool.
The first buildings were simple sheds, but their design had to improve to cope with the mass, weight and flammability of the wool.
The standard bale size was 4 feet by 2 feet 6 inches by 2 feet 6 inches (approximately 1.2 by .76 by .76 metres). The floor to ceiling height was governed by the standard stack of four bales. The width of a grid module was determined by adding two bale lengths, one column width and a work aisle. Ideally windows were positioned in the facade to admit light down the aisles.
By 1900 they were really “wool palaces”. The construction of the Mort Wool Store in 1864 marked an aesthetic watershed. The leading architect Edmund Blacket used Venetian Gothik to draw a parallel between Thomas Sutcliffe Mort and the Venetian merchants of the Renaissance.
The peak of wool store construction was the Barker Wool Store, designed by Edmund Blacket’s son, Arthur, and completed by 1894. Its style was based on the Chicago School slogan, “Form Follows Function”. Equally awesome was the Goldsbrough building: designed to dominate the Darling Harbour foreshore. “It was to be not only a credit to the city, but a monument to the commercial enterprise of the proprietors.”
Several wool stores have been converted into apartments (such as John Bridge Woolstore, now Dalgety Square). More burned down because lanolin in wool is highly inflammable: Goldsbrough Mort No 1 Store (1935), New Zealand Loan and Mercantile twice (1947 and the 1980s), AMLF destroyed in 1992 (on the site of Bullecourt Place and the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre), and Country Producers’ Store on Bulwara Road in 1978 (now Burlington Gardens apartments).