City of Fremantle

Place Number



51 Rule St North Fremanltle

Location Details

Local Government




Construction Date

Constructed from 1905

Demolition Year


Statutory Heritage Listings

Type Status Date Documents
Heritage List YES 08 Mar 2007

Heritage Council Decisions and Deliberations

Type Status Date Documents
(no listings)

Other Heritage Listings and Surveys

Type Status Date Grading/Management
Municipal Inventory Adopted 18 Sep 2000 Level 2

Parent Place or Precinct

22385 North Fremantle Precinct

Statement of Significance

The former Burford's Soap Factory, 51 Rule Street, has aesthetic value for its contribution to the streetscape and the surrounding area and its strong landmark qualities. The place is a example of the Federation Warehouse style of architecture. It has historic significance as being a reminder of the heavy industrial nature of the Rocky Bay area of North Fremantle. It is one of the few industrial buildings that remain and is an example of the adaptive reuse of such buildings for contemporary urban residences.

Physical Description

The former Burford's Soap Factory, 51 Rule Street is a three storey brick and iron former factory building now converted to residential apartments. Walls are face red brick with projecting rendered brick quoins and reveals. The front facade of the building is divided into bays by low relief brick piers capped with stucco capitals. The floor levels of the building are accentuated by stucco moulded string courses along the street facade. The large timber sash windows are surrounded by projecting rendered brick reveals. The windows to the central bay over the front entrace have been altered from the original warehouse loading doors to each floor. Much of the upper floor and the roof had to be reconstructed after being severely damaged in a storm in 1981. The roof form, complete with Dutch gables, has remained the same with the addition of roof windows. As part of the conversion to residential units lightweight steel balconies have been constructed on the north and southern elevations. The limestone building to the rear has been converted into four two storey units. A mezzanine level has been introduced.


Originally named Bay Road, Rule Street first appears on an 1873 survey diagram. The change of name was officially gazetted on 14 February 1969, although Bay Road was referred to as Rule Street or Rule Road as early as 1962. The street was named after Charles Rule, who was a North Fremantle councillor from 1948 to 1960 and a Fremantle councillor in 1961/62 and again from 1968 to 1973. Charles Rule was an active member of the North Fremantle community who service on the Fremantle Advisory Committee, was president of the Friendlies Societies Pharmacies for 21 years and was secretary of the North Fremantle Bowling Club. Rule Street is typified by workers cottages, where workers from Burfords Soap Factory, labourers and lumpers lived. In 1980 a $2 million restoration project converted the old soap factory into residential apartments, following the lead of “The Regency” at 47 Rule Street, where four up-market river-front units had been built two years earlier. Between 1905 and 1946, W.H. Burford and Sons Ltd operated a candle and soap making factory on Bay Road (now Rule Street), North Fremantle. Burford had established his first candle factories in South Australia, his first plant commencing operations in 1940, before expanding into Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia. By 1894, the company had premises in Victoria Park (Western Australia) and had diversified into soap manufacture. By 1905, the company in Western Australia had decided that it needed to be closer the port, where delivery of the imported raw materials (including salt, sulphuric acid, nut oils, perfumes and colours) would be easier. Two other factors may have influenced the choice of site at Rocky Bay - proximity to lime used in the production of caustic soda and access to the quarry railway line for the delivery of coal for furnaces and timber for packing crates. Access to shipping and rail networks also allowed for the distribution of finished products to domestic and overseas markets (principally Singapore and Colombo). Burfords made toilet soap, domestic soap and cleaning agents under the brand names of Signal Soap, Prize No. 1, Snow White, Naptha and Borax. Other products included soda crystals, fire kindlers, glycerin and candles. The company quickly gained a reputation for making quality products and regularly undertook research to keep in touch with the latest techniques and technology. According to a contemporary newspaper article, the North Fremantle factory was exemplary in design, with well organised factory floors, spacious offices and large storage areas. The site was dominated by a large brick three-storey building (where the majority of the works were carried out), built by Robert and Arthur Bunnings, with timber requirements coming from the Canning bush. The main factory building was divided into two areas - the candle and soap making departments. In 1907, the candle department had about 30 machines in full work to keep up with demand. The company's Exhibition candles (which had won a gold medal when exhibited in Antwerp in 1894) were favoured in the gold fields, as they did not bend, even in the hottest sun. Burfords also manufactured other varieties of candles for bedroom, patio, church and carriage us, supplying a very large household trade in Perth and other areas. The soap department was dominated by huge soap pans and frames and Burfords was one of the main consumers of low grade animal fats, trimmings and bone grease from the nearby Government abattoirs, using the resultant creamy tallow to make its soaps. Coconut oil, cotton seed, African palm, soya bean, olive and castor oils were used in some of the more refined soaps. Soap making days were well noted by local residents, as the smell of boiling tallow permeated the whole town and the effluent pumped into Rocky Bay gave rise to the nickname 'Soapy Bay'. Burfords supplied most of Western Australia's domestic requirements for washing soda for many years. This was made in a separate building, where caustic soda use in soap making was also produced. Fire kindlers and boxes were made in other buildings. In 1914, W.H. Burford and Sons Ltd became part of the Lever-Kitchen-Burford group, with Lever controlling ten factories in Australia, including the North Fremantle site although it continued to trade under the name of Burfords until it closed in 1946. A 1939 diagram shows Burfords Soap Factory as a large complex of predominantly brick and corrugated iron buildings, extended from Thompson Road through to Bay Road (Rule Street). The factory buildings were unused until 1959, when a table margarine manufacturer joined the Unilever group and produced Western Australia's first margarine from the large factory building. However, the operation did not last long. Between 1976 and 1979, Hood Sails used the main factory building as a sail loft. This place was included in the 'North Fremantle Heritage Study' (1994) as a place contributing to the development and heritage of North Fremantle. It was also included in the list of heritage places in the City of Fremantle identified by the Fremantle Society (1979/80) - PURPLE -of architectural and historic significance in its own right. In March 1981, the site was purchased by a syndicate of business associates, operating under the name of Lavender Bay. The syndicate set about converting the old brick factory building to residential apartments under the name of the Old Soap Factory Estate. The total development (including new buildings) cost $2million and comprised 36 homes, tennis courts and several swimming pools. The old soap factory building was converted to four adjacent five-level luxury apartments, with river and ocean views, while a smaller limestone building on the site was converted to four double-storey units.


Medium degree of integrity (original intent partially readable, current use compatible, high long term sustainability, some later unreversable alterations). Medium degree of authenticity with some loss of original fabric. (These statements based on street survey only).


Condition assessed as good (assessed from streetscape survey only).

Place Type

Individual Building or Group


Epoch General Specific
Present Use RESIDENTIAL Flats\Apartment Block

Architectural Styles

Federation Warehouse

Construction Materials

Type General Specific
Wall BRICK Common Brick
Wall STONE Limestone
Roof METAL Corrugated Iron
Wall RENDER Smooth

Historic Themes

General Specific
OCCUPATIONS Technology & technological change
OCCUPATIONS Manufacturing & processing

Creation Date

20 Jul 2011

Publish place record online (inHerit):


Last Update

22 Mar 2019


This information is provided voluntarily as a public service. The information provided is made available in good faith and is derived from sources believed to be reliable and accurate. However, the information is provided solely on the basis that readers will be responsible for making their own assessment of the matters discussed herein and are advised to verify all relevant representations, statements and information.