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.
Statement of Significance
Formal Recognition Type
Registered Heritage Structure
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 were built for Newman and Company, an English mercantile firm based in Dartmouth, Devon. The Newmans were particularly influential in the development of the fishery on Newfoundland’s south coast. Several generations of this family business operated in Newfoundland from the mid-seventeenth to the early twentieth century. The bulk of their business in Newfoundland lay in the export of salt fish from outport fisheries. Much of this fish was exported to Portugal, where it was traded for port wine. Port was originally stored in the Newman premises in Harbour Breton and St. John’s before the construction of the Newman Wine Vaults. The exact date of construction is unknown, although the Newmans had properties in St. John’s as early as 1701.
The Vaults were most likely built in the early 1800s, although archaeological evidence found on site dates it as early as the 1780s. Newman and Company used the vaults in St. John’s from the early 1800s until possibly as late as 1914. After the company left the building, the Vaults were let as warehouses and shops to various merchants. In 1937, the Vaults were taken over by the Board of Liquor Control and used for storage. This use continued until 1957, after which the structure fell into disuse until its restoration as a Provincial Historic Site in the 1990s.
The most distinctive feature of the Newman Wine Vaults is the barrel vaulted ceiling. The curved shape (combined with the original earthen floor, which was lower than the present-day floor) helped create a deep space with a cool constant temperature ideal for aging wine. Unfortunately, barrel vaults can be prone to structural failure over time. This structure became unsound some time in the late nineteenth century, as the downward pressure of the vaulted ceiling caused the exterior wall to bulge. Heavy pine timber braces and stone arches were built into the Newman Wine Vault at this time for stabilization. Stone buttresses were also added to the exterior of the vaults for further support. The small office in the upper vault, with its Gothic revival wooden door, was probably added post-1880. During this period, there was likely a connecting door between the vaults and the adjacent Newman Building, built in the 1840s. The shed-roofed warehouse built above the vaults was originally built of wood, and was rebuilt at least twice due to fire. The current warehouse section dates back to approximately 1902 and is a rare example of the use of hydro-stone in St. John’s.
Multiple explanations are given for the Newmans’ tradition of aging port in Newfoundland. All suggest that this tradition came about by accident, rather than by design. The most plausible explanation says that Newman and Company, having sold their salt fish in Portugal, would store the received payment of port wine on their Newfoundland premises. When the Newmans realized that the flavour of the wine seemed to improve during trans-Atlantic transport and local storage, it became an established practice to age their port wine in Newfoundland. However, a popular legend gives a more dramatic explanation. According to this legend, a Newman ship bound for London from Portugal in the fall of 1679 was driven off course by a privateer. Finding his ship in the mid-Atlantic at the mercy of raging seas, the captain sought shelter in St. John’s and overwintered there. Upon his arrival in London the following year, it was found that the ship’s cargo of port had been enhanced by its stay in St. John’s. This began a practice of aging Newman port in Newfoundland, a practice which would last over 200 years.
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:
-exterior and interior walls of brick and stone;
-supporting pine timbers;
-brick arches in front vault;
-small office in front wall, featuring wooden divider and Gothic Revival wooden door;
-size, style and position of vents at vault ends;
-stone and earthen floor in vaults;
-stone foundation of granite and beach stone;
-original form, scale and massing of vaults, and;
-location and orientation of vaults.
Those architectural features pertaining to the age, construction and function of the outer warehouse, including:
-number of storeys;
-flat shed roof;
-use of hydro-stone on exterior;
-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;
-dimension, location and orientation of warehouse;
-proximity to neighbouring Newman Building, and;
-proximity of warehouse to historic harbourfront.
Location and History
City of St. John's
436 Water Street
1780 - 1902
Newman and Company
Rectangular Long Façade