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Newman Wine Vaults Registered Heritage Structure

Newman Wine Vaults
Front entrance of Newman Wine Vaults circa 2004
Inside Newman Wine Vaults circa 2004

Statement of Significance

Formal Recognition Type

Registered Heritage Structure

Description of Historic Place

Constructed of brick and stone, the Newman Wine Vaults are located at 436 Water Street, St. John’s, NL. They consist of two stone barrel vaults and an outer protective warehouse with a shed roof. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.

Heritage Value

The Newman Wine Vaults was designated a Registered Heritage Structure by the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador in 1997 because of its historical, aesthetic and cultural value.

The Newman Wine Vaults have historical value as they are among the oldest structures remaining in St. John’s and one of few vaults remaining in the province. They are of further historical significance because of their association with Newman and Company, an English mercantile firm which operated in Newfoundland from the mid 1500s to the early 1900s. While the bulk of their business ventures in Newfoundland concentrated on the salt fishery, Newman and Company also were involved in the wine trade. They used the vaults in St. John’s from the early 1800s until possibly as late as 1914 to age port wine transported from Oporto, Portugal.

The Newman Wine Vaults have aesthetic value as their design and construction technique are rare in the province. The barrel vault design, with walls supporting a semicircular roof, is intended to allow a fairly wide span for the storage of goods. The roof design provides strength and durability while its below ground construction results in a constant, cool temperature, perfect conditions for the process of aging wine. The warehouse portion built above of and in front of the vaults, is a later addition but is aesthetically valuable as a rare example of the use of hydro-stone in St. John’s.

The Newman Wine Vaults have cultural value because of their place in the traditional lore of the province. An explanation of how Newman and Company began aging port in Newfoundland suggests that it resulted due to accident rather than design. According to tradition, in the fall of 1679 a Newman ship headed to London from Portugal was driven off course by pirates and foul weather. Finding his ship in the mid-Atlantic at the mercy of raging seas, the captain decided to seek shelter in St. John’s. Ship, crew and cargo remained there over the winter. Upon returning to London the next year, the flavour of the port seemed to have been enhanced, and thus began the practice of aging Newman’s Port in Newfoundland. As with any piece of folklore, several versions of this story are known throughout the province. In later years, the Vaults were used by the Board of Liquor Control for storage. This use continued until 1967.

Source: Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador property file “St. John's - Newman Wine Vaults - FPT 1632”

Character Defining Elements

Those architectural features pertaining to the construction, design, and traditional use of the vaults, including:
-original form, scale and massing of vaults;
-exterior and interior stone and brick walls on vaults;
-size, style and position of vents at vault ends;
-stone and earthen floor in vaults;
-dimension, location and orientation of vaults;

Those architectural features pertaining to the age, construction and function of the outer warehouse, including:
-form, scale and massing of warehouse;
-number of storeys;
-flat shed roof;
-use of hydro-stone;
-window size, style, trim and placement;
-size, style, trim and placement of double exterior loading doors;
-placement of stone buttresses inside the warehouse;
-placement, size, massing, associated hardware and materials of the interior sliding loading door;
-chalk markings made by workers on interior walls; and,
-dimension, location and orientation of warehouse.

Location and History

Community St. John's
Municipality City of St. John's
Civic Address 436 Water Street
Construction (circa) 1800 - 1845
Newman and Company
Style Commercial Vernacular
Building Plan Rectangular Long Façade
Website Link