Monday, October 18, 2010

Darlinghurst: Heritage Items: Stoneleigh

- Register of the National Estate, NSW Heritage Act
Oh, to live in Stoneleigh,
If only it could be.
Ms Violet Tingle of Stoneleigh,
Sounds so right to me.
I so badly want to live in this mansion at 1A Darley Street, but it hasn't been on the market since 1990 - when it sold for $3.18 million. I wonder how much I would have to pay for the keys 20-years later? It's my dream Darlinghurst pad and I haven't even been inside. I can only imagine what it's like . . . the marble floors, high ceilings and the parties I would host. And how I would have a room each, dedicated to day dresses, evening gowns, high-heeled shoes and feathered head-pieces. And a library, of course. And maybe even a room purely for flower arrangement, with a sink, custom shelves to hold vases and a large bench stocked with scissors and ribbons. And it would be really useful to have a writing room, flooded in sunshine with a desk next to the largest window. I'd also definitely have a little cocktail lounge with big comfortable chairs, an old record player and a well-stocked bar.

But this two-storey Victorian Regency home, with its beautiful colonnades and fine hedge, is not only grand, glamorous and unattainable, it has an interesting history too.
Stoneleigh was built for distinguished solicitor William Barker in 1860 - the same year Abraham Lincoln was elected US President, Anton Chekhov was born and Charles Dickins published the first instalment of Great Expectations.
Mr Barker, a church-going colonist, was born in Ireland in 1815 and came to Australia in 1830, at the wee-age of 15. By the time he was 38, Mr Barker was important enough to be granted 28 parcels of land in Darlinghurst and the surrounding area. Seven years later he built Stoneleigh, on the highest point in the hood.
Mr Barker once ran as the candidate for the seat of East Sydney and lost, not surprisingly in retrospect, to Sir Henry Parkes, the Father of Federation who went on to serve five terms as NSW Premier (and who also had his own mansion, Kenilworth, designed by John Young in distinctive Gothic style on Johnston Street, Annandale, in Sydney's inner west - it sold for a measly $3.35 million in 2007).
Mr Barker was a partner in the firm, Norton, Son and Barker, and was once offered a District Court Judgeship, but declined the position because he preferred private practice. He died suddenly at his home in Bondi in 1879, aged just 64.
I am not certain of when Mr Barker vacated Stoneleigh for Bondi but from 1870, ten years after it was built, the grand home belonged to Richard Jones, founder of the Maitland Mercury newspaper (still published by Fairfax) and a former chairman of the Commonwealth Bank. Jones died inside Stoneleigh on August 25, 1892. Apparently on that day, each year, his ghost appears in the kitchen asking for a cup of tea.
I made that bit up, but it's highly possible.
In 1895 the home moved into the hands of another banking big-wig, Sir J. Russell French, general manager of the Bank of NSW, and he stayed at Stoneleigh for ten years.
From 1907 the building operated as a boarding house and was owned by Henry Tongue. I could find no further details about this boarding house period or the curious Mr Tongue, but in 1912 Stoneleigh was snapped up by the Marist Brothers High School, which occupied the neighbouring building, now known as Alexandra Flats.
When the Marist Brothers sold up in '68, I can only assume that Stoneleigh - which for a brief spell went under the decidedly less romantic name, Greencourt - was resumed as a private residence.
I'm not sure who is living there today - there is often a black Porsche in the driveway - but two rather obscure businesses have their address at Stoneleigh.
The first is called Stoneleigh Gallery and judging by their website, they are a wholesaler of deluxe silk flowers. At one time they were listed with NSW Tourism and appear to have invited travellers in to the property to peruse the gardens and its artfully placed urns - drats that I missed this!
The other business is called Liberon Waxes, which is the name of a cult bees' wax polish for wooden furnishing. Just listen to this guff from a wax website:

''Liberon Beeswax Polish brings back that memory of a time when the pace of life was less hectic and when drying and wood-denaturing aerosol waxes had yet to be invented.''

I guess Stoneleigh evokes the same memories . . . I often sit around, idly day-dreaming about the less hectic pace of life I would have at Stoneleigh, and how I would definitely employ a cleaner, because there was no way I was looking after that big old mansion on my own.


mwillis17 said...

Hi Ms Tingle,
Hit your blog when seeking more info about William Barker, Solicitor, builder of Stoneleigh.

Congratulations on your extensive Darlo blog. A most impressive & fascinating tour of a suburb at the heart of Sydney's history. In fact, I could hardly stop (virtually) exploring.

Quirky, amusing (e.g. 311 bus route :), informative, even exhaustive [like me, you're clearly a fan of Trove!]

PS: my first Sydney share-residence was in Barcom Ave, 4 doors down from Darlo PS, so Darlo will always have a place in my heart - even though I don't live there anymore.

Sir Marshall Stacks said...

Twitter 31-3-14 Phillip Adams: "Surprised to revisit Stoneleigh, my 1820's Darlinghurst house, in the last ep of Rake. used as home of the villain."

Tracy Blackburn said...

I can shed some light on the house. It was in the possession of Edward Brooking CORNISH from about 1860 until his death - and the death of his wife Margaret - in late 1866. The house was listed for sale as part of their estate in December 1866 with the auction 15th January 1867. Edward Brooking CORNISH died 27 October 1866 and his wife Margaret died 21 November 1866. Both died at Stoneliegh house from Gulf Fever - contracted on a trip to Burketown.