History Matters: Grand designs of New England

Langford, Walcha: Completed in 1904 and designed by Maitland architect J W Scobie for grazier William Fletcher, the 22 room Langford with its five story tower is an assertion of prosperity and success.
Langford, Walcha: Completed in 1904 and designed by Maitland architect J W Scobie for grazier William Fletcher, the 22 room Langford with its five story tower is an assertion of prosperity and success.

The new homestead construction across the north that began in the 1880s accelerated into the 1890s and the early part of the 20th century.

This was also a period of substantial building activity within the towns. Many of the buildings now so prized by local communities date from this period.

The 1880s saw the construction of Stonehenge near Glen Innes (1887), St Aubins at Scone (18817-90), Saumarez (1888 stage one) and Booloominbah (1899) at Armidale.

Homesteads constructed during the 1890s include Moonby House near Tamworth, Clerness, Torryburn and Abington near Bundarra. In the 1900s construction included Langford at Walcha, Inverell’s Blair Athol, Gostwck near Uralla, Belltrees at Scone, Waterloo, Palmerston at Armidale and King’s Plains Castle near Glen Innes.

There were many more, including more modest if still substantial constructions such as The Croft (c1886-90) near Armidale.

We are now firmly in the age of the architect. In building Booloominbah, the grandest of the new homes, Frederick White chose Sydney-based John Horbury Hunt as his architect. 

In building Saumarez, his nephew Frederick chose Maitland’s John Wiltshire Pender. J W Pender was also chosen by the Hunter Valley Whites to design Belltrees.

Arguably the most prominent northern architect in the colonial era, J W Pender was born in Scotland in 1833 and trained as an architect at the Royal Academy in Inverness.

In 1863 he established his architectural practice at Maitland, building a big practice whose clients extended as far north as Armidale.

Pender was not the only influential Maitland architect.

Another was the prize winning architect J W Scobie who was commissioned by William Fletcher to design a mansion suitable for his growing wealth and success.

Completed in 1904, Langford is a rather spectacular grand two story building constructed of locally produced red brick, featuring 22 rooms and a five story central tower that overlooks the circular entrance driveway and extensive surrounding gardens.

The majority of the bigger homesteads were built of brick, although Stonehenge south of Glen Innes is a rare example of concrete construction.

The architectural styles adopted generally reflected prevailing fashions across the three decades that marked the height of the building period.

I will look at those changing styles next week and also introduce you to the changing patterns of urban architecture.

Jim Belshaw’s email is ndarala@optusnet.com.au