Hampton Buildings, the gateway to Wray

The Hampton Buildings, built in 1896, are the iconic entry point to the Wray Avenue precinct at the unusual “fiveways” intersection, a point where five roadways radiate out in a star pattern: Wray Avenue, Little Howard Street, Howard Street and South Terrace to the north and south.

The Hampton Buildings are wedged between Little Howard Street and Wray Avenue, which I have already noted was originally called Hampton Street.

The name Hampton came from John Stephen Hampton, Governor of Western Australia from 1862-1868. His appointment was controversial following his service as Comptroller General in the colony of Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania). He was accused variously of inhumanity and corruption and summonsed to court. When he refused his summons he was charged with contempt. On grounds of ill health he was granted leave and returned to England.

A Court of Appeals in England later found in Hampton’s favour, acquitting him of the charges, clearing the way for him to be appointed as Governor of Western Australia.

His tenure in Western Australia was marked by much harsher penalties for criminals but also a balancing of the state’s finances which were then in much debt. His characteristics in this regard seem to foreshadow the ideology of our state Liberal Party.

He was also criticised for corrupt practices, including appointing his son George to the significant position of Comptroller-General despite him having no experience for the position. He also built and took up residence on Rottnest Island.

He died in 1869, a year after his position as Governor ended. The transportation of convicts to Western Australia ended soon after.

John Stephen Hampton is a stark contrast to the buildings that bear his name. Now they host a funky café in a decidedly left area of town. The nearest polling booth, Fremantle Primary School, was where the Greens (WA) recorded their highest votes at recent elections. During the recent council elections, a giant poster of Greens member and eventual winner in the Mayoral race Brad Pettit loomed over the buildings like an image of Chairman Mao in Tiananmen Square. It is a vibrant little corner of the kind that I imagine the former Governor would have detested.

The Hampton Buidlings are distinguished by their unusual wedge shape and they remain one of the oldest buildings on the street and I have been able to discover the following details.

The first occupants of the Hampton Buildings were: William H Bawden, a draper; William Knuckey, a bootmaker; and Ah Cheong, a storekeeper.

By 1904, the street had changed its name to Alexander Road, seven years after the buildings were established. The occupants at this time were: William Knuckey, having moved his bootmaking business one closer to South Terrace; William Sowden, a butcher; and Kow Kee, a greengrocer.

By 1923, the street had changed its name again, this time to Wray Avenue, and the occupants were: Jas S McA Walker, a stationer; Elias A Jones, a bootmaker; and On Chan, a grocer.

In recent years it has been occupied by Spoonz café. I’ve always had the impression that it has struggled to attract a large, loyal customer base but never really known why. Perhaps it was their coffee, which I always found weak. Recently it has changed hand and become Wild Poppy. With funky, vibrant décor, good coffee and cheery staff, it looks to be getting a lot of appeal and will hopefully be around for a while.

Regardless of what happens, they’re just another chapter in the Hampton Building story.