Know your Perth History: Jacob’s Ladder

Wednesday, February 17, 2016 4:23 pm
Reading Time: 3 minutes

By Mike Atkinson

Jacob’s Ladder fans are in mourning this week – after it was announced their beloved 242 step staircase will close on Monday for an indefinite period.

The City of Perth said the reason for the closure is for surveying purposes that may involve testing of its concrete steps and metal infrastructure.

What is the history behind our beloved ladder? And who is Jacob? We take a look in this weeks Know your Perth History.

  • As early as 1905 people living near the top of Mount Street began to campaign for a connecting link between Cliff Street, at the top of Mount Eliza and Mount’s Bay Road at the foot. Their original proposal was for a road, which would have been known as Tryphena Terrace.
  • Instead of a road, it was decided it would be much cheaper to build a staircase. As a result, what we now call ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ was built in 1909.

Jacobs-Ladder-Small

It’s a long way up! A runner starts her ascent of the famous landmark.

  • It was designed by City Engineer, Henry Haynes and the tender was let to the West Perth firm of Joseph Huck and Son for a price of £171/1s/0d.
  • In an article on Western Australia for the Daily News in 1910, the Rev’d R.L. Gwynne wrote:

Up on a height, some 800ft.above, is the ”King’s Park,’ on the finest site in the Empire. Here, after a big climb up ‘Jacob’s Ladder,’ with its 300 or 400 steps, can be seen to perfection the new Perth.

  • A photograph in the Western Mail in 1913 shows the original steps as being a straight ascent up the hill. The steps were clearly popular as a newspaper report of a visit to Perth by school children from Bridgetown in 1913 shows:

On Sunday, the children spent a pleasant afternoon in King’s Park and amused themselves by climbing the 230 steps known as Jacob’s Ladder.

  • There were clearly dangers involved in climbing up and down the step however, as this report from the Daily News in May 1915 shows:

BOY FALLS FROM ‘JACOB’S LADDER’

 A favourite place for play is ‘Jacob’s Ladder,’ the steep stairway connecting Bellview Terrace with Mount’s Bay Road, but that it is a source of some danger was demonstrated this afternoon.

 A number of boys were descending the ladder at a run, when one of their number, Robert Gordison, ages 8, living at 17 Lane Street, missed his footing and fell to the bottom. His leg was broken, and he was taken to the Children’s Hospital for attention.

Podcast: Richard Offen from Heritage Perth with Christine on Drive

  • In 1961 the Perth City Council decided the stairway was no longer safe and closed it. This move met with public opposition and consideration, albeit briefly, was given to building a light railway up the hill.

Jacobs ladder

A view of Jacobs Ladder from the top. Source: WA Today

  • I guess it was as soon as the Council saw the cost of this option, it was abandoned and instead a new concrete staircase was constructed for £7500.
  • People often ask how the staircase got its name. According to local legend, in the early years of development around the periphery of King’s Park, the houses perched on the top of Cliff Street were considered to be the grandest in Perth, because they offered magnificent views of the river and city.
  • This inspired a local real estate agent, Cyril Dent, to place a sign near the base of the newly constructed staircase announcing, “This way to Jacob’s Ladder.”
  • The reference alludes to the similarly named ladder mentioned in the Bible as being the stairway from Earth to Heaven.

The temporary closure of Jacob’s Ladder has even touched the hearts of Brekky Duo Kirste and Morro – who composed a song honouring the fitness fanatic’s paradise.

Brekky’s Kirste and Morro sing about Jacobs Ladder

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