Santa Sabina College Strathfield is a Catholic Girls school. Santa Sabina is known for its fine and historic buildings. One of the most famous is ‘Holyrood’, the facade of a former City Bank, which was built in Pitt Street Sydney in 1873 but moved stone-by-stone to Strathfield to form the facade of a then residential property.
Described on completion as ‘This building which we may be pardoned for referring to as one of the architectural gems of Sydney, was designed and erected by Messrs. Mansfield Bros. The front which is composed of a rich coloured sandstone, is Italian in style, perhaps the term Italian-Gothic would more accurately describe it. A considerable ornament to the streets of Sydney’.
At the same time as the Bank was being constructed, an imaginative engineer, Charles Hoskins, was saving up to build a little cottage in Bendigo. The Bank building had created great interest because of the precautions against fire incorporated into the design of the building – all the main parts of the buildings were inter-connected by doors for quick escape from a fire, and a fire-hose connected to the water main in Pitt Street was a striking innovation in the days before universal fire regulations. The edifice was divided into two, a building within a building, with walls averaging six feet through, iron doors, ceilings of arched stone and not a particle of wood used in any part of the construction.
However the fire that broke out in the early hours of the 2nd. October 1890 consumed the whole block bounded by Moore, Pitt and Castlereagh Sts. and Hosking Place, and in the subsequent city improvement plans the razed ruins cleared the way for the creation of the modern Martin Place.
This most disastrous conflagration in the history of Sydney started in a Pitt Street printery and burned all day and into the following day, attended by seventeen professional and voluntary fire brigades. It attracted so many spectators that police, troopers and special constables were on duty. The damage was estimated at ‘three quarters of a million Sterling’ and the intensity of the fire can be gauged by the fact that even the City Bank did not escape destruction – water causing considerable damage.
The standing stone work or facade of the Bank attracted the attention of Charles Hoskins and he decided to ‘purchase it and remove it stone by stone to his building site on The Boulevarde where it was re-assembled to form the front part of his residence, so grand that the home was named ‘Illyria’ after the home of so many great Roman emperors.
A more conventional Italianate building completed the residence. As the land faces the same aspect as the Pitt Street block on which the Bank stood the pattern of light and shade is as the Mansfield Bros. envisioned it. Added to that effect, Charles Hoskins complemented it with a beautifully landscaped area including a circular drive and very beautiful trees.
For sixteen years the Hoskins family lived happily at ‘Illyria’, Charles engrossed by his infatuation with motor cars. He purchased a two-cylinder horizontal engined Ford in 1904, the second Ford to be imported into Australia. This was followed with a succession of fine classic cars including a 1908 Clement-Talbot. It is understood that the garage suite at the rear of the house, accessible from Jersey Road, was built during Hoskins time for his vehicles, which would make it one of the earliest garages in Sydney.
As the steel industry grew the family moved in 1908 to the Lithgow area to be closer to their interests.
In 1911 William J. Adams bought ‘the City Bank house’ as it was locally known and his family lived there for twenty-five years, renaming it ‘Holyrood’ because the family felt it resembled Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh.
Other alterations were to the interior where rooms now became Art Nouveau in style. Leadlight windows, white tiling in Kitchen and Bathrooms with elaborate friezes and a billiard room with lantern—roof were introduced. Additions included a conservatory, new service rooms and new front gates with Holyrood included in the design of the metal work and large seafaring lanterns atop the pillars.
When the Adams family left Holyrood in 1936 the residence was offered to the Dominican Sisters who had established Santa Sabina College in 1893 on a six hectare site next door. It was an opportunity to provide dormitory accommodation for senior students and so it has continued through the years as suitable for music and art teaching and as a Deaf Education Centre.
It has also proved very complementary to the imposing Dutch Renaissance styled, rose brick buildings with terracotta mouldings, erected by the College. An imported terracotta panel in the tower shows St. Dominic as a dog bearing in its mouth a lighted torch.