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James Angus Munro : Munros on Wheels
EDITOR : Most people will be familiar with the Queen Victoria Markets in Melbourne on Elizabeth Street. This story is about James Angus Munro of Edinburgh and Melbourne. The family owned a large city block adjoining the markets known as "the Munro site".
The large city block adjoining the markets, which was in the Munro family for over 100 years before being sold to the Melbourne City Council (MCC) in 2014 for the grand sum of $76 million. Known as the Munro site, this 6462sq metre lot on the corner of Queen and Therry Streets, is currently being redeveloped by the MCC into a large-scale residential and community hub alongside a renewal of the entire Queen Victoria Market Precinct. The facade of the original Mercat Cross Hotel, built on one corner of the site by the Munro family, is being incorporated into the redevelopment and will continue to be known as Munro's Corner. A newly created Munro Lane is also to be included, as a tribute to the historic legacy of the Munro family.
The story behind the Munro site
In 1890 Edinburgh-born James Angus Munro arrived in Melbourne with his new wife, Florence, and immediately established his own importing, retail and manufacturing business, Jas. A. Munro & Co. His early premises included a sawmill and factory for the manufacture of wire mattresses and bedding. In 1909, with the business quickly expanding, James purchased the current Munro site from McEwen's Hardware Co. for 19,000 pounds. This original landholding covered 2.5 acres and included a frontage along 493-503 Elizabeth St. (The Elizabeth Street corner building was sold in the 1950s and is now a McDonald's fast food store).
By 1910, taking advantage of the surge of interest in motor vehicles, James began assembling and selling the popular Clement-Bayard cars, which he imported from France. James' brother Robert lived in Paris and was a key connection in the process. Other luxury cars imported from Europe included the French MORS, the Belgian Imperia, the Italian S.C.A.T. and the British Crossley. In 1912, James exhibited cars at the Victorian Motor Exhibition in Melbourne and he was a regular exhibitor at the Royal Society Show Grounds each year, continuing even throughout the First World War when some makes of cars became impossible to procure.
In addition to the motor vehicles, James continued his bedding manufacturing business on the site. Jas. A. Munro & Co. also operated a company called Brown Springs, and later constructed a row of red brick shops along the Therry St frontage of the site, which were leased out to a variety of traders for many decades.
During the 1920s, James extended his car-trading business to Sydney, where he had a showroom on Castlereagh St. James' sons Alex and Archie Munro were heavily involved in the family business even after the death of their father in 1947. Archie's son and grandsons eventually took over the site and kept it in the family until its sale in 2014.
The Scottish connection
James Angus Munro was the son of Alexander Munro, a prominent master coach-builder at the Broughton Market in Edinburgh for many decades from about 1842 onwards. Alexander also had a cab business in connection with the Edinburgh to Glasgow railway.
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