Upclose: House with a history

THE house named Claremont has been a quiet beauty in the town of Tenterfield for more than 130 years.

The restored home, built for a former Tenterfield mayor and government minister, was an unlikely match for a couple whose new Brisbane home had won the  Housing Industry Association house of the year within its price bracket.

It was, however, here that Warwick and Jan Frith found their tree change more than three years ago.

“We’d been down here with friends fishing and been here for Food and Wine Festivals,” Mrs Frith said.

“We stayed here at times on our way to Sydney, and we always liked the feel of the place.”

Ironically, some time before they made the move, the Friths were here for the Food and Wine Festival and walked around town with some friends who were also visiting. As they walked past, one of the friends pointed at Claremont and said she would move to Tenterfield if she could buy that house.

The Friths later decided they wanted to make the move from their award-winning Thorneside home in Brisbane, but had a list of criteria for their new location.

“It had to be close to good doctors and a hospital, another thing was it had to have a classic car club – we have a 1957 FE Holden that was Jan’s father’s first and only car and it has been in the family ever since,” Mr Frith said.

“We wanted a nice golf course and four seasons.”

They considered Iluka before heading to Tenterfield to spend a weekend looking at land and houses.

“We decided we would try and buy an established place in town if we could,” Mr Frith said. “We thought it would be handy to walk about the place.”

They selected four properties that were suitable but, when it came time to get serious, only Claremont was still available.

Mrs Frith vividly remembers her first visit to the house which stands opposite St Joseph’s Primary School.

“I couldn’t believe what a beautiful old home it was,” she said. “It has been beautifully renovated.”

It was the conservatory room off the kitchen that was the clincher for the Friths. The couple spend most of their time there in the natural light that streams through in both the morning and the afternoon.

The conservatory – or family room – is a modern addition to a home with a long and colourful history.

The house was originally built in 1875 by Charles Alfred Lee, who ran the Maryland Store and was one of Tenterfield’s first aldermen and then mayor in 1875.

He was president of the hospital board, School of Arts chairman and chairman of the Tenterfield Railway League. Charles Alfred Lee followed Sir Henry Parkes as the Member for Tenterfield in 1884 and continued to represent Tenterfield for more than 35 years. In that time, he was the NSW Minister for Justice and the Minister for Works.

He died at Claremont in 1926 in possession of a cheque from his own account that was reported to have been on the bushranger Thunderbolt when he was shot, and was stained with Thunderbolt’s blood.

Claremont has been home to many people since.

One resident who has gone, but left a memory that makes the Friths smile is George Cooter, who was a typesetter at The Tenterfield Star and described to the Friths as “a real gentleman”.

When asked if any of the former residents who have passed on might linger in the halls of the old home, it is George that Mr and Mrs Frith mention.

“There are funny little things that happen,” Mrs Frith said. “The boys’ beds are always mucked up like someone has been sitting there and there has been a missing cushion that we have never found.”

While Mr Frith said the home is in great condition for its age, it is cold and maintenance is a daily challenge. 

The two are keen gardeners and Mr Frith said he has dug every inch of the 8094 square metres of land on which the house sits.

“We started at one end and worked all the way through,” he said.

The couple said they continue to love Claremont and it will be their home for as long as their health allows. 

Warwick and Jan Frith at the historic home they fell in love with, Claremont.

Warwick and Jan Frith at the historic home they fell in love with, Claremont.