||Battle Bridge is located on Parramatta Road in the Municipality of Ashfield, and crosses Hawthorne Canal (earlier named Battle Creek and Long Cove Creek). It is a sandstone arch bridge constructed in c1873, with additions made in c1937 to facilitate road widening.
In November 1788, Governor Phillip established a settlement west of Sydney on the Parramatta River, which was first known as Rose Hill. The lines of this new settlement were laid out two years later, and it was renamed Parramatta. Initially the river was the main form of transport to Parramatta: the Rose Hill Packet ferried people and goods up the Parramatta River from 1789. The first overland connection between Parramatta and Sydney was a three metre wide track carved through the bushland by convict labour in the years between 1789 and 1791.
By 1794, this bush track had been widened and cleared to make it more suitable for carriages. This track, which was named Parramatta Road, lay to the south of the Parramatta River and was required to cross the many tributaries and creeks that flowed from it. Francois Peron wrote in 1802 that the road between Sydney Town and Parramatta 'is almost every where wide enough for three carriages to pass abreast, and bridges have been thrown over such parts of it, as are interrupted by the waters: so that the traveller meets with no obstacle on his journey.' By 1822, it was reported that Parramatta Road was 15 miles long with 37 bridges along its length. It is likely that one of these timber bridges would have crossed Battle Creek (also known as Long Cove Creek) (Peron cited in DMR, 1976, pp 9, 21; Coupe, 1988, pp 30-32; Perumal Murphy, 1989, p 5).
The suburb of Ashfield (to the west of Battle Bridge) was distinct from other areas to the west of Sydney, which developed due to their proximity to the Parramatta River. Instead, Ashfield grew around two major roads: Parramatta Road and a road that led south to Liverpool (Liverpool Road). One of the earliest settlers to the Ashfield district was Reverend Richard Johnson, who was granted 100 acres on Petersham Hill in 1793, where he established a farm known as Canterbury Vale. The following year, John Townson and Henry Cable also received grants in the district. Kable received 30 acres to the south of the Parramatta Road, and eventually became the owner of almost 200 acres of land in the Ashfield district, much of it in the vicinity of Battle Bridge (Coupe, 1988, pp 21-25; Harper and Peek, 1988, p.19; Kennedy, 1982, pp 11-12). In 1803, Sydney merchant Robert Campbell purchased Canterbury Vale and renamed it the Ashfield Estate. The Campbell family bought up additional grants in the district until they sold all their land holdings to emancipist merchant John Laurie in 1815. Two years later, Joseph Underwood purchased the Ashfield Park Estate. Underwood extended his holdings to over 600 acres in the Ashfield district by acquiring adjacent land grants.
By the 1820s, the convergence of Parramatta and Liverpool Roads, each carrying an increasing volume of traffic, set the scene for Ashfield to develop into an area attractive to settlers seeking a rural environment within easy reach of Sydney. Following Joseph Underwood's death in 1833, his second wife Elizabeth took over management of the Ashfield Park Estate. The emergence of Ashfield as a village has been dated from the subdivision of part of Underwood's estate in 1838 (Kennedy, 1988, pp.11-12; Coupe, 1988, pp 28-29, 34).
On 26 September 1855, a railway link between Sydney and Parramatta (at the Dog Trap Road, around a mile from the centre of Parramatta) was officially opened; it was the first section of the NSW railway network to be completed. The railway line passed through Ashfield and further subdivisions and settlement led to the beginnings of a network of streets in the suburb at this time. Elizabeth Underwood died in 1858, and the following year the remaining 200 hectares of the Ashfield Park Estate was subdivided into more than 300 allotments and put up for auction. By the 1860s, Ashfield was an area of market gardens, small farms and thickly forested areas, and subdivision of the suburb intensified into the 1870s (Coupe, 1988, pp 34, 46, 53, 56; Harper and Peek, 1988, pp 81-83).
By 1865, Parramatta Road considered to be one of three main roads leading from Sydney (the other main roads led to the north and south). At this time, the road as it passed through Taverners Hill (in the vicinity of Battle Bridge) was described as 'notoriously bad, needed ballasting and metalling' while the route from Ashfield to Parramatta was described as being in 'good order - metalled' (DMR, 1976, p 47). The sandstone arch known as Battle Bridge was constructed in c1873 and probably replaced an earlier timber bridge across Battle Creek (or Long Cove Creek) at the bottom of Taverners Hill.
Masonry arch bridges such as this were expensive to build because they were labour intensive and required skilled masons to construct them. As such, they were only built on heavily used thoroughfares such as Parramatta Road they were durable, although costly. The waterway the bridge crosses was known as either Battle Creek or Long Cove Creek during the nineteenth century. An undated parish map of the Ashfield/Petersham district shows that this creek ran on a north-south axis, emptying into Long Cove (now named Iron Cove). It is thought that this waterway was named Battle Creek because it was the site of a riot by convicts building the first timber bridge at this location, or because 'a nearby clearing was the venue for early prize fighters' (Sheppherd, 1948, p 17).
Between 1894 and 1897, Battle Creek (or Long Cove Creek) was lined with concrete to form a stormwater channel by the Department of Public Works, and was subsequently named Hawthorne Canal in honour of John Stuart Hawthorne, a councillor in Leichhardt Council and the Legislative Assembly member for Leichhardt (1894-1904). Battle Bridge straddles the Hawthorne Canal at the intersection of four suburbs: Leichhardt to the north-east, Lewisham to the south-east, Haberfield to the north-west and Summer Hill to the south-west. The Hawthorne Canal was one of nine purpose-built stormwater channels built in Sydney during the 1890s. It is reported that the canal 'lies below ground level' in the region of the bridge. This may refer to the process of providing a uniform grade for the floor of the canal, and may mean that the bridge footings needed to be founded lower than would otherwise have been required (see reference to SHI listing for the Hawthorne Canal Stormwater Channel, Item 4570001).
The construction of the railway to Parramatta in the 1850s meant that Parramatta Road was neglected until the prevalence of motor transport in the 1920s and 1930s. From this time, Parramatta Road was regularly upgraded and improved. In 1921, for example, Parramatta Road was 'regraded and reformed throughout', with particular attention paid to the section between Ashfield and Parramatta (DMR, 1976, p 68).
Changes have been made to Battle Bridge to allow for road widening and improvements. In August 1937, it was reported that the Department of Main Roads (DMR) had accepted a tender for the 'reconstruction in cement concrete of bridge over Long Cove' (Hawthorne Canal) at a cost of 4,743 pounds 18 shillings and 4 pence (DMR, Main Roads, August 1937, Vol 8, No 8, p 169). While the sandstone arch of the bridge remained in-situ, the road was widened with cement concrete with steel girder supports on either side. The sandstone pediments were moved to new positions on either side of Parramatta Road. The section of Parramatta Road between Battle Bridge and Rogers Street was reconstructed with cement concrete in the early 1950s, although it is unlikely that the bridge was widened as part of these works (DMR, Main Roads, December 1950, Vol XVI, No 2, pp 63-65.).
In February 2001, the steel beam additions to the original stone arch bridge were assessed for Roads and Maritime Services (replacing Roads and Traffic Authority). In this assessment, the steel beam structure was said to measure 11 metres, and 'was built for the widening on both sides of the original stone arch known as the Battle Bridge. It includes 3.65 metre and 3.5 metre footways, and is an untidy collection of purely functional steel beams with a concrete slab topping.' These steel beam additions to the original stone arch were deemed to have no heritage value (Cardno MBK, 2001, pp 41-42).
At the time of inspection in June 2004, the sandstone arch was in sound physical condition, as was the steel girder widening at either side of the original structure.