There is now no doubt at all that this is the oldest house in Strathfield. To begin at the beginning, here is a small extract from a paper read to the Royal Australian Historical Society in 1923 and published in the Society’s – Journal later that year (Vol. 8, page 358).
’There was no Strathfield station for some years after 1869. The writer’s father petitioned the Government for a road, a continuation of the Homebush Road on the Redmire estate to Homebush station, and the road was granted. Our first neighbours were Mr. William Wakeford, railway contractor; Mr. C. J. Muddle, Deputy Registrar – General; Mr. Donald Vernon, Secretary for Railways; Mr. John Vernon, afterwards Auditor – General; and Mr. Walter Renny, Mayor of Sydney’.
The paper was by Mr. C. A. Henderson whose father was one of the first to move to the Redmire Estate in, or shortly after, 1867. The Henderson’s established the Seven Oaks Dairy facing Homebush Road near Redmyre Road and Mr. Henderson’s paper was based on what had been told to him by his father and on his own childhood recollections. He was very informative and factual on many matters of Strathfield history, especially from his personal knowledge of the descendants of Thomas Rose, whose grant of 1793 ran along the other side of Redmyre Road so that the families were neighbours. The Henderson’s’ property was part of the Redmire Estate subdivision of 1867 but the Rose Grant was just across the border.
Another reference to early occupiers of the Redmire was read to the R.A.H.S. on this same subject and also published in the Journal (Vol. 22 page 317). It was by a Mr. Campbell and although it relates to a wider area and is accompanied by explicit maps, does not add to the specific matter of ‘Fairholm’ and its owner and occupier, Charles John Muddle, because it confirms what is already known as at a time when there were 41 residences on the Redmire, including some which we know to have been built in 1899, much later than ‘Fairholm’.
The problem of identifying the present ‘Fairholm’ as a mid-Victorian house from the outside is that in the meantime the original house has been surrounded by brickwork of the 1920s on all sides by verandahs, additional rooms and so on. The original house can not be seen from the outside. The chimneys are certainly of the right style for a Victorian house. So is the high pitch of the roof, which is, however now covered with a kind of red tiles which could just possibly be original but probably are not. From what has recently become known that anyone with half an eye for the ages of building materials and practices could have identified its true age by a mere glance at the interior. I for one have never been inside ‘Fairholm’.
We need no longer depend only on this kind of general knowledge or what can be seen of the exterior appearance of ‘Fairholm’. A present-day descendant of the Muddle family has given me copies of a sheaf of documents tracing the family’s history right back to the early eighteenth century when they were yeomen of Lindfield, Sussex. Charles John Muddle, the first owner and occupier of ‘Fairholm’ came from there to Port Jackson as a child of four with his parents and his younger sister in the vessel “Woodbridge” on 15th September 1836. He began his working life as a clerk in the Customs Agency of George Thornton, who later became Mayor of Sydney. An obelisk in Hyde Park, visible as you approach the Park along Bathurst Street, commemorates Thornton, who seems to have remained a friend and patron of Charles Muddle for many later years. He later entered the civil service as a clerk in the office of the Colonial’ Secretary and three years later transferred to the Registrar—General’s Department where he remained until his retirement. He was Senior Clerk in that department at the time of the introduction of the Real Property Act in 1862 and the adoption of Torrens Title into the land transactions. The Muddle Family papers include a highly laudatory obituary published at the time of his death in 1903, at ‘Fairholm’, Strathfield.
He married on 30 March 1854 at Scots Church, Sydney, Agnes Elizabeth Waller and it is at this point that links with early Strathfield families begin to appear in the family records. The second wife of Thomas Beaumont was also a Waller and although some years ago Syd Malcolm gave an account of Beaumont’s house in the l3oulevarde close to the site of the present Railway Station, we now have lots of material to make up an article about this very prominent and wealthy citizen of Strathfield should that be desired. The subsequent Muddle children born during the time the family lived at ‘Fairholm’ all have ‘Waller’ or ‘Beaumont’ as part of their given names, e.g., John Waller Muddle and William Beaumont Muddle. There were altogether ten children in the ‘Fairholm’ household. One, John Wailer Muddle married Agnes Wakeford and another, Agnes Muddle married Edward Wakeford; these and other family nuptials were all celebrated at St. Thomas’, Enfield. The Wakeford home, “Cotswold” adjoined ‘Fairholm’.
There are masses of fascinating information in these researches including a highly laudatory obituary of Charles John Muddle, late Registrar General of New South Wales. This item is a little beyond the space limitations of a small monthly bulletin but should certainly be published in a later issue.
Still more recently (March 1988) there has been produced by a Sydney firm of architects and planners a most comprehensive and detailed study of ‘Fairholm’ as regards structure and future of the ‘Fairholm’. It is a highly professional and exhaustive work comprising some 100 pages of research, plans and photographs. It has been my pleasure and privilege to read it through the courtesy and goodwill of Strathfield Council officers.
It was undertaken apparently as an enquiry into the economic and environmental prospects of (a) erecting on two disused tennis courts and other vacant space at the eastern (rear) side of the ‘Fairholm’ land a retirement “village” and (b) to restore the Old house itself by removing the later additions (of 1890 and 1925) and returning it to its former appearance and dimensions so as to be able to have a new role as administrative offices and a reception area and medical centre of the “village”.
The separation of the project into two separate entities is entirely my own and solely for ease of discussion. They are in essence as matters stand at present, one and inseparable. It seems as though the (a) part is unlikely to proceed in its present form and apart from questions of economic profitability it would be out of scale with nearby buildings and in other respects unsuitable environmentally. The findings of the consultants regarding the (b) part of the project are most exciting and promote the strong feeling that, in whatever economic context they should most definitely be adapted into some more acceptable project, acceptable in the fullest sense to a developer, the municipal authorities and bodies such as the National Trust and the Heritage Council.
Such a detailed analysis of every room and interior space, and such an equally sympathetic and reasoned assessment of all the exterior features (including all the mature trees and other plantings) should be a continuing basis for any future decision about ‘Fairholm’. There is no longer any doubt whatever that it is ‘the oldest surviving residence in Strathfield’. Nothing less than its absolute preservation and restoration ought to be contemplated.
About this article
First printed in Strathfield District Historical Society Newsletter, Vol. 10 No.10 June 1988, Author: Reg Kennedy, © 1988 Strathfield District Historical Society