Howey Place started life as a laneway to Coles Book Arcade but has had a glass roof for over 100 years now. So many curious incidents here over the years…

My experience in the arcade

Some might say that Howey Place isn’t really an arcade. But it has got a roof over it, it is pedestrianised from 10am to 4pm every day, and it has a fascinating history, so it qualifies for my definition of arcade as far as Vintage Victoria is concerned.

Howey Place doesn’t have the glossy tourist brochure look of its near neighbours Block Arcade or Royal Arcade, and some of the lanes that run off Howey Place have a distinctly dingy feel to them, but it does have its own direction sign on Collins Street, and it’s the kind of place you walk past by chance and think: “Ooh, what an intriguing little shopping street that is”.

There are only a dozen or so businesses operating out of Howey Place these days, but it does lead TO places, so you’d think they’d get fairly good footfall for those on their way to or from Dymocks in Collins Street, the newly renovated Capitol Theatre (soon to be reviewed by Vintage Victoria) or the hotel which fronts onto Collins Lane (itself the subject of a massive reconstruction project at the moment).

I’m sure the glass ceiling and the lighting has been replaced several times since it was installed over 100 years ago, but that is by far what makes Howey Place such an intriguing and attractive walkway, and it certainly has a very vintage look even in 2019.

Howey Place

The decorative iron grille that marks the entrance to Howey Place, off Little Collins Street, is also a feature worth looking up to see.

Howey Place and the Presgrave Building

And it looks delightful next to the Presgrave Building, which has that Moderne look, with simple lines and the odd hint of art deco in the curves round its edges. The Presgrave Building itself has some great stories to tell, and is directly linked to Howey Place since Presgrave was one of the middle names of the Howey who owned the land here once upon a time.

Across the other side of the ‘arcade’, opposite the Presgrave Building is a two storey stone house, which has also been standing for quite some time, and I was delighted to see in one of the upstairs windows that this is where the billiards room was, since that was one of the businesses I read about in my Trove search for stories about Howey Place.

Wittner Shoes is certainly a vintage brand, though their shopfront is very shiny and bright these days, and I don’t think they were among the original residents of the old Howey Place.

A jewellery shop is still present, though under a different name from the ones that were here decades ago, and some of the arty-looking clothes boutiques fit the style of quirky arcade shops all over the world, but are relatively recent arrivals in Howey Place, I think.

The Doll and Bear Hospital apparently dates from 1941, though it used to be in the Block Arcade till rents there moved it out in 2018, so even its presence in Howey Place is relatively recent.

And Princes Pies is another relative newcomer, though I couldn’t help wondering if that was where the original Princes Café used to be, where Madam LaVante would give you free palm readings in the 1920s?

Of the more mundane shops like hairdressing salons and pharmacies, or indeed the original Coles Book Arcade, which was the original tenant in Howey Place and the reason the roof was installed in the first place, there is now no trace. It’s a bit of a shame they haven’t erected some sort of display to note that this used to be called Cole’s Walk and to show a photo maybe of the Coles Book Arcade.

But this is an area undergoing constant change. The Causeway Hotel seems to be being completely rebuilt, and there are more hoardings all along the dark laneway that runs along the gloomy laneway that runs from Howey Place towards the Capitol Theatre.

The Capitol Theatre has at least now re-opened, and there is a super-modern arcade/mall now running off Howey Place towards the Theatre – that arcade is not vintage enough for Vintage Victoria, but at least it does bring hope of new life to this area; and right at the end of Howey Place there is of course Dymocks, in its superb old building and atrium – worth a look in its own right.

Howey Place officially bends round to the left when you hit Dymocks. This is where all the hoardings are, so it’s very hard to know what we might end up with here, but the end of this laneway leads you to another intriguing section of Howey Place: The Welcome to Nowhere sign must date from a time when this section did lead…nowhere, I guess?

And then you enter direct into the Manchester Unity Arcade (also due for Vintage Victoria review in a few weeks’ time), with its own superb 1920s/30s features – and a rather good coffee shop, which I highly recommend if you are anywhere near Howey Place (see Coffee below).

By the way, the dingy laneway called Presgrave Lane has its own cult following, with apparently a tiny cocktail bar down here and some interesting street art on the walls. So you may get the occasional arty tour group or photographer down here taking snaps, though it was quiet the morning I dropped by, except for a homeless guy just waking up and starting his day.

Overall, Howey Place feels like a place you walk through rather than to, and it also feels like it is missing something of an identity of its own, in spite of the numerous street signs showing that you are indeed in or near ‘Howey Place’.

It helped for me to read up on the history and find those anecdotal stories about the place before making a return trip this week to review it.

Those stories meant I looked for the offices where workers would chuck litter onto the glass and break it regularly (were they in the Presgrave Building?); I tried to find the leadlight windows where some child burglars had entered shops in the 1920s, but the frontages all look very modern now, except for a token number or two…

And I wanted to get a feel for the overall vibe around Howey Place. Was there any sense of foreboding or bad spirits here, as I had begun to wonder, with all those minor incidents that happened around Howey Place, from the moment the land was bought by poor Mr Howey himself? Well, I didn’t feel anything, but I am intrigued by what might have been on this ground before the white settlers came in the 1800s…Anyone know?


Access from Collins Street via Dymocks or the Manchester Unity Arcade, or enter from Little Collins Street and pass under that ironwork grille above your head.

This roadway is closed to traffic through the day every day.

No toilets in this arcade.

History and stories about Howey Place

Howey Place is named after the English guy who bought the land here back in the 1830s. He never saw it, though, as he died on his passage out to Australia from the UK: the first of many mysterious deaths and accidents that have befallen people connected with this place. Read on to hear of more…

It was known as Cole’s Walk for quite a few years since it led to and from the Coles Book Arcade – my thanks to one of the readers here for correcting me in thinking that this Cole was from the same family at the Coles, who ended up running the big supermarket chain we know today (completely different family, in fact).

A fascinating article in The Herald in 1954 explains that the glass roof was put over Howey Place at the end of the 19th century to give rain protection for residents of houses that backed onto the shops in Swanston and Collins streets. Apparently, the glass panes of that roof were repeatedly smashed when office workers above the walkway would carelessly throw things out of their office windows. The Howey family themselves still owned the structure in the 1950s and they decided to fund the repairs and restoration of the glass roof, as the ironwork structure itself was still sound.

Some of the shops in Howey Place were flooded in 1924 when taps were left on after work had begun during shop opening hours and the water switched off, only for workmen to finish at night and switch the mains back on when they left, causing several premises to be cascading with water. This included Mr Glassel’s hairdressers, which three years later was to suffer another accident…

The 1927 fire in Glassel’s hairdressers at 7 Howey Place saw the chief fire officer abandon his daughter’s wedding to attend the blaze, keeping his dress suit on under his fireman’s uniform – he must have been hot that night!

In 1928 there was a robbery of diamonds from Stella Palfrey jeweller’s; a brick was thrown through the window; a man was arrested 4 weeks later in Adelaide. Palfrey’s was the target again when two men ran off with a tray of diamonds in 1939.

There were further robberies from the pharmacy (twice in ten days in 1939) and from Chez Nous clothes boutique. In one of the thefts from the chemist’s, the thieves broke a lead light over the front door and police suspected a child was involved as the window would have been too small for a grown man: toothpaste and toothbrushes were among the items stolen, so I wonder who had the cleanest teeth at school on the Monday after that incident. Or was it that toothpaste in those days would occasionally be laced with substances like cocaine, so the burglar was hoping for a lift, maybe?

In 1929, Madame LaVante would come to your table at Prince’s in Howey Place to read your fortune in your tea cups. There was no charge apparently…Prince’s café and ballroom offered afternoon tea for 1/3. My kind of place, and I do wonder if Prince’s Pies today has any link back to that café, though it looks a bit small to have a ballroom…

Howey Place was not all jewellery, furs and high end labels. A billiard room in the street ended up in trouble in 1938 for installing a ‘fruit’ machine and ‘racehorse’ machine, which were early examples of pokies, or as the police called them in court: “contrivances for gambling”. Look up at the first floor window overlooking Little Collins Street and see the ‘Billiards’ sign still there today.

A baby was left by its Mum in a fruit box on some steps leading into Howey Place one night in March 1954. I wonder what happened to the baby they named ‘Gustav’ – he’d be 65 now…

A young escaped prisoner from Castlemaine was cornered by police in 1951 when he was spotted near Howey Place – he was foiled by the dead end nature of the walkway.

And then we have the litany of little accidents that happened in Howey Place: A 16-year old carpenter’s mate got himself impaled on an iron grille fence after he was locked in at the end of the working day and tried to climb over the iron gates…A piece of timber landed on a man’s head and killed him in 1924.In 1906 a builder fell from scaffolding in Howey Place to his death.

A 68 year old woman from Perth died in 1937 after a steel window shutter fell on her foot in Howey Place. A woman window shopping in 1949 was pushed through a plate glass window into a shop by a delivery truck reversing without seeing her! In 1947, a woman walking through the arcade was hit on the head by an iron bar, but nobody knows where it came from – maybe one of those pesky office workers referred to in the 1954 article who carelessly chucked things out of their office windows…

This number of freak accidents starts me wondering if Howey Place was built on sacred Aboriginal land and the spirits are not happy at these modern-day arrivals here? Is that possibly how the original Mr Howey came to a grim end on the voyage over?

People connected with Howey Place

Reginald D Francis was an intriguing character – he ran a pharmacy in Howey Place and seemed to be constantly in the news. In later years, his chemist’s shop was robbed repeatedly. This was the one robbed twice in ten days, with a child stealing toothpaste.

But he also appeared in court several times, at one point for selling medicines without prescriptions, and earlier in his life for a couple of cases of reckless driving. I wonder what sort of character Mr Francis was – a bit of a rogue or just an unfortunate man who didn’t have the best of luck behind the wheel and in business? Of course ‘pharmacy’ would have been a lot less regulated in those days, so sometimes pharmacists effectively became drug dealers as well as healers.

I’d love to delve more into the archives and find out more about Reg Francis!

Other links and writings on Howey Place

I didn’t find many links to other articles on Howey PLace, but I did like this eMelbourne post which looked back at the various names given to the street/arcade on maps of Melbourne published in the past, especially in its earlier years.

What are your stories and memories of Howey Place?

Was there a shop you used to love which is no longer there? Or is your favourite haunt still going strong and you have a good story to tell about why you like it so much?

Has anybody got other incidents to add to my list which ended with Trove’s database in the 1950s?

And of course I’d love to know anything there is to know about this land before the white settlers arrived. Did it have those bad spirits attached to it…?

Coffee near the arcade?

Switchboard Cafe might be my favourite coffee shop in Melbourne. The coffee is top quality (and the cakes rather nice) but best of all is the vintage atmosphere, as it is housed in the old switchboard space for the Manchester Unity Arcade building, which we will be reviewing in a couple of weeks. Amazing how many seats they can get in such a small space without it feeling cramped. I hope it gets a mention on our tour of the building; it must surely have stories of its own to tell…Only a couple of steps away from Howey Place.


18 thoughts on “Howey Place, Melbourne

  1. My husband’s great grandmother Mary Anne Lum, nee Vincent, an English woman who married his chinese great grandfather, commonly known as James or Suey Lum, in Wentworth in 1885. Mary Anne became a successful business woman after she separated from her husband, importing chinese goods including silk which she sold in her emporium in Mildura. By 1922 she had moved to Melbourne and advertised her business selling ‘exclusive chinese silks’ from ‘Swatow House, Howie Place, Collins St’. The business had moved to Swanston Street by 1924

    1. How fascinating, Janice. Thanks for sharing that. Really interesting that your husband knows so much about his great grandparents.

  2. Hi i discovered that mr e.w. coles from kent who opened the book arcade, is different to mr george coles owner of the coles supermarket chain.thanking you, so much to learn about melbourne.

    1. Thank you, Mary, for correcting me on that. I have amended my post to put that right. Yes, so much to learn about Melbourne. But also so many stories to tell…

  3. CONFUSING COLES-S!: E.W. Cole (book Arcade) store, and G.J. Coles (variety later supermarkets) store, were at same address, at 299 Bourke Street. Cole’s Book Arcade was there until mid 1920s; GJ Coles’ variety store opening 1930 in new building built by GJ.
    GJ Coles had purchased the building that Cole’s Book Arcade was in, & demolished it and built what the famous Coles Store. (GJ Coles expanded into 301 Collins St, with the 299-301 building now David Jones Menswear Store & basement Food Hall).
    E.W. Cole’s Book Arcade building that was from Little Collins to Collins St which opened 1906 next to Howey Place traded until 1929 but was doing poorly in its last years, it being in hands of descendant relatives after EW died in 2018 (and as 1929 there was the looming depression).

    It seems that Cole’s Book Arcade Bourke St had closed a few years earlier, as the building at 299 Bourke St was bought by GJ Coles for a much bigger variety store in 1928; to move from its store that was in Deva House from 1924-29 a little further west at 327-329 Bourke (Building still there).

    So it seems with both Cole’s Book Arcade & GJ Coles Variety Store on Bourke St for 5 years, and in same block for even more years, people likely had them as confused as much then, as many do now!

    Footnotes: David Jones Menswear/Foodhall Store address is 295-307 Bourke Street, so GJ Coles expanded further at some stage. (seems to be discrepancy, Cole’s Book Arcade is always stated as being at 299 Bourke St but may have been at 301 (referencing photos & the address of building that was to its right).

    It was EW Cole that got the roof over Howey Place built which was then a through lane to Collins St
    (unverified story is that it was so people could/would walk along Howey Place not getting wet and so alongside and hopefully into his Book Store. Before the roof everyone would walk under shelter, along Swanston St). There’s a story the roof over Howey Place was installed without permits. It is now heritage listed.

    Both GJ Coles Variety Store buildings were by same designer/architect Harry Norris who designed a number of buildings in CBD, & elsewhere.
    One story is the roof over Howey Place was installed without permits. It is now heritage listed.
    Cole’s Book Arcade signage was still there on Little Collins St façade until about a decade ago.

  4. Hello, I have a very old knitting book from possibly the ‘30’s with an advertisement about “Miss Knott Home Dressmaking 6 Floor, Howey Court 234 Collins Street Melbourne (opp. “Age” office).” I can send you a photo of the advertisement if you pass on your email address should this be of interest to you. Thank you.

  5. Hello. Fascinating stories. I was given an antique manicure set in a box from Merle’s , corner of Howey Place and Little Collins St, , the house of a thousand gifts and sole distributor of Opha Pearls. My aunts gave it to me in 1975, on the occasion of my debut! I wonder what happened to that shop?

  6. Does anyone know anything about a hairdressers, called “Hairdressing and permanent waving salon pty ltd.” My family are trying to track down any information about the manager, last name Thomson. We have a letter, which has the salons address as 20 Collins street, but it also has a branch salon address as Capitol House Howey Court.
    Any information would be appreciated,

  7. Fascinating! The main feature, the comments and the observations, and the light thrown on events and episodes more than a hundred years old! And all because I am trying to zero in on the location of the Winter Wonderland scheduled this weekend!

  8. The Howey family name is well known to me and thousands of others through the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch railway in Kent, England built by Captain John Edwards Presgrave Howey in the 1920’s and still running today. There is also the Captain Howey hotel opposite the station in New Romney. Google RHDR. I visited Melbourne this week and went to Howey place, kind of a pilgrimage if you like.

  9. I have fond memories of my father working in “Howey Court”. I remember access as being from Collins Street into an arcade ( I’m guessing, Howey Place) and lift to, I’m not sure which floor. I remember glass tiles that let light in to the offices. The business was owned by Robert Schlicter agents for quality austrian embroideries, samples of which my father would take to various businesses in Flinders Lane. Happy memories of my three year old self, “working” sweeping the floor for a shilling! Morning tea in glass cups and saucers and “typing” on the high stool…

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