Historic Earlsferry House Bed & Breakfast
and Self-Contained 2 bedroom Cottage
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EARLSFERRY HOUSE - The Story

This Property is Heritage Listed - information from the Australian Heritage Database

HISTORY

Earlsferry, formerly known as Briarsleigh, was built for John Tregerthen Short in 1902. The site chosen for the house is part of the area known as Swan Location R, at what was originally known as West Guildford. (West Guildford is now part of the suburb of Bassendean). Swan Location R was purchased from the Colonial Administration in May 1830 by James and Jane Dodds. By 1897, Swan Location R had been subdivided into six plots by the intrusion of the railway line, Swan Road and Perth Street (now known as Guildford Road).


Drawing of Earlsferry House by Steve Jackson
Fine Art Prints available for purchase at Earlsferry House

From 1897, Mary Thomson (nee Dodds) commenced selling the divided land. This was presumably in response to the rising value of land in Perth in the wake of the gold rush. Nurstead Avenue (now the address of the property) was named after Jane Dodds' home in England, Nursted Court. John Tregerthen Short purchased a plot of land south of the railway line on 13 November 1902. The plot was bounded to the south by Guildford Road, to the east by the Swan River and to the west by Swan Road which now forms part of Nurstead Avenue. There is no evidence to suggest that the site was developed prior to its sale in 1902 to Short, although it is possible that the land was cleared and used for grazing and some cultivation during the colonial period. At the time he purchased the property, Short was Chief Traffic Manager of the WA Government Railways (WAGR) and married with four children. His choice of location was a pertinent one in anticipation of the relocation of the Eastern Railway headquarters to Midland in 1904 and in an area favoured by a number of leading citizens who built large houses with a river frontage in Guildford.

Short commissioned a two storey red brick house, set back from the roads and railway and facing the river. The architect and builder of the house are unknown, however Carter has suggested the house may have been built by Henry Duval who built Cyril Jackson's adjacent house. Early photographs show a fashionable, well designed house with decorated verandahs and sophisticated details and finishes. The house was surrounded by a substantial rose garden and complemented with orchard, stables, outhouses and tennis court. Short called it Briarsleigh.

Short combined his WAGR career with active participation in civic affairs. He was elected Chairman of the West Guildford Road Board in 1903 (the meetings being held in his newly built house) and was a Justice of the Peace for WA. By 1906-07 he had been appointed Commissioner of Railways, a position he held until his retirement in 1919 during which time the WAGR made a surplus of nearly one million pounds under his management.

In July 1923, Briarsleigh was bought by Sir Edward Horne Wittenoom. Wittenoom was sixty-nine years of age and nearing the end of a distinguished career, having been Acting Premier of WA in 1897 and WA's Agent General in London. Sir Edward (he was knighted by Queen Victoria) held office on the board of many large companies and was influential in the State. He did not live in the house all the time and it seems likely that the house was let out for residential purposes from the late 1920s.

Following Wittenoom's death in 1936, control of the estate passed to the West Australian Trustee Executor and Agency Company Ltd, which managed the property until 1941. Three years later, in November 1944, the property was sold to Mrs Mildred Foster, who lived there with her husband (the manager of a dried fruit plant) and her daughter until 1946. It was during this period that the property was renamed Earlsferry.

On 4 April 1946, the property was purchased by Karl Edgar Drake-Brockman. In addition to his achievements as a Rhodes Scholar, Oxford law graduate, solicitor and judge, Drake-Brockman was an accomplished gardener who cultivated the gardens at Earlsferry including a '...sufficiently well developed (and reticulated) rose garden to sell the produce to a Perth Florist'. The Drake-Brockman ownership was the last occupancy in which the house remained in its original style, complete with orchard, tennis court and Edwardian colour scheme. In April 1950, an application by Drake-Brockman to the State Licensing Court to turn Earlsferry into a hotel was rejected and the property was sold to the Crown shortly thereafter.

Under the ownership of the Crown, Earlsferry was converted to a home for mentally handicapped girls. At this time, Earlsferry underwent a number of changes that altered its original residential function. The conversion involved alterations to the building, including the addition of a laundry on the north-west side, removal of the outhouses and the construction of a cottage for the Matron in the area formerly occupied by the orchard. Security wire mesh fences were erected, a large tree and rose beds removed and the main driveway, off Nurstead Avenue, bituminised and kerbs installed.

In September 1988, ownership of Earlsferry passed to the Authority for Intellectually Handicapped Persons. In April 1989, the roof and upper floor of the building were gutted by fire. The damage, estimated at $1.25 million, was repaired (but not restored to its original state) and the property was sold by tender on 12 June 1990. A condition of sale was the granting of a restrictive covenant to the National Trust (WA). The covenant was placed on the title deeds to ensure that future work did not endanger the heritage value of the site. Subsequently, a proposal to subdivide the block was approved subject to a conservation plan being prepared and on condition that the subdivision does not detract from the heritage values of the site.

In April 2009, Martin Jaine and Jane Bowen purchased Earlsferry House. They started a restoration program, beginning with the commissioning of a new Conservation Plan. The Conservation Plan was created by Carrick & Wills Architects.

Following the completion of the Conservation Plan in May 2010, Martin and Jane had the guidelines they needed to manage the conservation and renovation of this important historic site. To date, they have carried out a number of renovations, including tuck pointing to external brickwork and the reinstating of wooden verandahs at ground floor level.

During 2010, Earlsferry House has been re-opened to the public as a Bed & Breakfast.


DESCRIPTION OF THE BUILDING

Earlsferry is a two storey brick, iron and timber house in the Federation Queen Anne style. It is sited between the railway, the road and the river on a roughly triangular piece of land to the west of the main settlement of Guildford with views over the river landscape and beyond to the Guildford townscape. The site is atypical of the usual long rectangular blocks with narrow river frontages found in the Guildford area. The elevated site with its exposure to a major roadway (Guildford Road) and the railway line, ensures that the house and associated plantings of Washingtonia palms are a dominant townscape feature. Since 1902 the place has been reduced in size from 1.3ha to 0.961ha, predominantly through the resumption of land for road widening and public open space on the Swan River foreshore. The four palms and the group of mature trees now located in the road reserve appear to be the remnants of the development of the site by Short during the period 1902-23. Despite the reduction in the size of the land, the relationship between house, land and river remains substantially intact.

In 1946, Drake-Brockman increased the size of the rose gardens and added a utility area on the north-west side, comprising a drying area, windmill and tank stand, as well as a substantial orchard, of which numerous mature fruit trees and a number of almond trees remain. Earlsferry is built with tuck pointed Flemish bond brickwork, decorative wooden verandahs and a turreted corner facing the river frontage. The roof originally had rough cast gables with decorative iron finials at the roof line. Wide verandahs surrounded three sides of the house. Maids' quarters were provided at the rear of the building. Inside Earlsferry, the grandness and high level of architectural detailing in the rooms of the house clearly illustrate Short's concern with implementing the most fashionable design in his home.

The high quality and comparatively modern design of the house suggests it was designed by an architect, or at least that pattern books or similar design guides were used. The Art Nouveau stained glass (an early example in WA of this style) and the staircase with its closed heavily reeded stringer and reeding on the newel post, was the latest in design. So too was the tessellated tile work at the front door, for in many houses Victorian style encaustic tiles were still being laid as late as 1915.

The billiard room is particularly noteworthy with its fine ornately carved exposed ceiling members and its even quality of light offered from the lantern mounted on the ridge line of the roof. An Italianate influence can be seen in some elements such as the columns and arches framing the balcony on the upper floor with cast iron columns supporting rather squat capitals of the composite order. Earlsferry remained substantially intact until the 1950s, when it was converted for institutional purposes. Most alterations were not in the main public areas but to the rear of the house in the vicinity of the kitchen or maids quarters. In the 1950s, a matron's cottage was constructed in the orchard. Externally, changes were to the west elevation with the addition of extra toilet facilities on the ground floor. An extension at the ground floor level for staff accommodation produced an awkward roof line which did not carry through the existing proportions of the doors and windows. A later extension to the first floor was more sympathetic, but had the effect of making the balcony appear truncated and altered the appearance of the building. Comparison of the elevations today, with early photographs, reveals changes to the detailing, including the removal of the Federation Queen Anne balustrade and replacement of much of the glass with perspex.

In 1989 Earlsferry was badly damaged by fire; the roof and upper storey of the building was gutted, five bedrooms and an office were destroyed. The ground floor was damaged by smoke and water but the main reception rooms remained substantially intact. The damage was repaired but no restoration work was carried out. Original roofing in the billiard room was retained. The roof in other areas was replaced in a form similar to the original but the original fine cast iron finials and ornately carved half timber with rough cast gables were replaced with more basic details. After the fire Earlsferry also suffered from vandalism occasioned by its being vacant. Thieves stole balustrades from the main staircase, a window from the upper floor bathroom, fire place surrounds and front door glass. Since 1990, the damaged areas are in the process of being conserved in accordance with Palassis Architects. While some of the original fabric is lost forever, insertion of other material is being matched as closely as possible to that of the original.

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