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Erskineville’s History

The suburb was originally called Macdonaldtown in 1872, after an earlier subdivision in 1846 in the south of Erskineville owned by Stephen Macdonald. The streets around the early Macdonaldtown subdivision are named after relations of the Macdonald family - Amy, Flora, Eve, Coulson and Rochford. Knight Street is named for Henry Knight, one of the earliest brickmakers in the district and the first mayor of Macdonaldtown. Devine Street is named for the first grant holder, Nicholas Devine, the first principal superintendent of convicts. He called his property Burren Farm, after his county in Ireland.

Erskineville is named after Erskine Villa, the home of Wesleyan minister, Reverend George Erskine, built in 1830. After changing owners a few times, the property was eventually left to the Church of England and became the rectory for the Holy Trinity Church at Macdonaldtown. In 1893 Macdonaldtown was renamed as the Borough of Erskineville.

In the late nineteenth century, the inhabitants were originally market gardeners, though brick making and tanning also became dominant industries. The Victorian cottages and small rows of Victorian terraces that dominate the built form of the suburb were the homes of the workers in these industries, which explains their smallness: a four-metre wide terrace is large by Erskineville standards.

In the early twentieth century, manufacturing in the area diversified, and Erskineville became a resolutely working class inner city suburb, with a proud history of resistance, and a less proud history of street violence. After World War 2 Greek and Macedonian  found it an affordable place to settle, near the city.

From the 1970s, Erskineville underwent gentrification with new residents attracted to the village atmosphere, the excellent public transport links (three railway stations on two different lines within walking distance) and the proximity to Newtown. The gay and lesbian community was part of the first wave of gentrification and are still a component of the community. As the terrace houses were renovated, the narrow streets were cobbled and speed-bumped and an urban forest of plantings grew in the streets and pocket parks.
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