Jean Farncomb Recollections

Transcribed from the original cassette, with the addition of some interpolated commentary where it was thought desirable to clarify reference to names of people and places which might riot otherwise be understood by some readers.

The narrator’s parents were both members of families prominent in nineteenth century Strathfield. Her grandfather was Randolph Nott, whose home was one of the large houses of the ‘mansion period’.  It stood in what is now the main business area, right in what we now know as Strathfield Square. It was resumed by the Railway Commissioners in 1903 and demolished to allow for the westward lengthening of the platforms and the provision of additional platforms (Nos 6, 7 and B) during the 1920s. Mr Nott was a founder and promoter of the once famous Strathfield Recreation Club, the venue of international tennis and numerous social activities.

Her mother was a daughter of Edward Lloyd Jones, a younger brother of Sir Phillip Sydney Jones of ‘Llandilo’, who came to live here in 1878 and became the  most eminent and illustrious of the many famous citizens who made their homes here.

Mrs Farncomb begins her spoken narrative by saying that she was born at ‘Cliveden’ on The Boulevarde and that the family moved to their new home, ‘Bickley’, on the corner of Albyn and Kingsland Roads Strathfield when she was about one year old.

It was a large two-story house of an architectural style then corning into fashion.  It was of ‘exposed’ brick superseding a late Victorian style with stuccoed surfaces. It was designed by George Sydney Jones, a son of Sir Phillip. He had worked in the office of the noted architect, Horbury Hunt, while the latter was in Australia, and had considerable success as an architect: several of his buildings can still be seen in Strathfield, as can a large hospital in Melbourne.  Influences of Horbury Hunt were evident in Bickley. Its skyline showed heavily ornamented red-brick chimneys and a circular spired tower. It was demolished in 1956 and two houses built on the Albyn Road frontage and three more face about 300 feet of Kingsland Road.

Asked about the houses in the immediate vicinity and still standing, Mrs Farncomb spoke of a single-storey house, now at 11 Albyn Road, which was the home of a Mrs Robb.  Next to it was a two-story house of unusual outward appearance, now known as ‘Valetta’. It was a source of interest to the children because it had in it back garden a stone wall end they could see the water going down into the darkness below through a narrow opening in the stonework. The well, with some modern additions above, is still intact today. She also remembers that at ‘Steep Hurst’, on the opposite corner of Kingsland Road there were children of the Friend family, descendants of Walter Friend, whose home had been ‘Cintra’ which had occupied a large part of the land to the south of the railway between Burwood and Croydon. They subsequently went to live at Burradoo in the Southern Highlands.

Mrs Farncomb’s grandmother built ‘Bickley’ in 1894 when she became a widow on the death of Edward Lloyd Jones who died in a railway accident at Redfern. She later lived at ‘Wavertree’ on the corner of Albyn Road and The Boulevarde. There are several allusions to the house ‘Halsbury’, still standing in Albyn Road, once next door to ‘Bickley’, and in a sense a companion house to it in that it was of the same age and style and designed by the same architect though on a smaller scale. It was occupied far a time by an American family who had children of similar age to the Nott children. The pine tree of ‘Bickley’ is still a proud but very isolated survivor. Other childhood reminiscences enliven the narrative, as when Iittle Miss Nott fell into the fountain at ‘Holyrood’ during a children’s party there. She recalls that at the time she was wearing a beautiful new hat with daisies on it. It was never the same again.  The party seems to have been during the occupancy of ‘Holyrood’ by the Richard Meares family in the interim between the departure of the Hoskins’ and the coming of the Adams’ when apparently a number of graziers took the house for short periods. As we know, the Meares later owned ‘Brunyarra’ at the corner of Carrington Avenue and The Boulevarde, the house we now know as Santa Maria del Monte.

The Nott children also had many visits of cousins and other children of their own families. There are references to happy play-days in the gardens of ‘Llandilo’ which were both beautiful and extensive. They once occupied 14 acres. We hear of a Spring Fete held there annually and of an occasion when the Fete featured a parade of children carrying decorated parasols after much preparation by the mothers. As children of their father and grandfathers, they were encouraged to play tennis and ride ponies: ‘Bickley’ had both a tennis-court and stables for horses which included loose-boxes for ponies, besides accommodation for carriages, a harness room, a feed-loft and cow-bail. They were expected to help with the gardens, apparently with rather less success.

Asked about fruit trees, because orchards were a notable feature of many of the old mansions, Mrs Farncomb recalled a number of varieties but remembered hest an Isabella grape vine from which wine was made. The vintage was thought by the adults to be acceptable. The bottles used to be lowered through a trap door in the billiard room to mature in a cellar below.

The narrator went to school at Meriden shortly after it had been moved to Redmyre Road, though not in the buildings we see now on the same site, but recalls that her elder sister had when the school was in one of the four Victorian cottages which were then at between Santa Sabina and Russell Street. Only the two outer ones of the group remain. After the intermediate, as we used to to call it at the time, she moved to Frensham at Mittagong.  

Of her school companions at Meriden she specially mentions Sylvia Pearce, daughter of Captain A.W. Pearce, mercantile marine, who came to Australia as the representative of the Port of London Authority, of he seems to have been inordinately proud.  Another school friend was Jean Elliott, whose family formed the important pharmaceutical company, Elliott Bros. Their large home was ‘The Grange’, ‘across the line’ in Everton Road. Another friend was Sylvia Lance who became a famous tennis player. The Lances lived for a while in ‘Steephurst’. Their father was reputed to be a nephew of Cecil Rhodes, the founder of Rhodesia and the Rhodes scholarship.

A few references occur in the interview to the acquisition in the 1870s of the Llandilo lands jointly by Phillip Sydney Jones and Thomas James Thompson who were in fact brothers-in-law. Mrs Farncomb is firm in her knowledge that when Thompson built his house there and called it ‘Malvern’ it was a different house in a different position from a house of that name still standing in the area, very noticeably in fact among the vary modern houses beside it in Malvern Crescent. Syd Malcolm had already been convinced by documentary research that the original ‘Malvern’ had long ago been demolished. [this matter and that of the later resubdivisions of the ‘Llandilo’ lands have been minutely recorded in our newsletter oh’ October 1002 and it is pleasant to have first hand confirmation now.
The history of the various Jones families makes a very interesting segment of the interview.  We learn that Sir Phillip Sydney Jones had five daughters, Maud, who became Mrs Ralph Thompson, Lucy, the eldest who remained unmarried and Ruby, afterwards who married her cousin Edward Lloyd Jones after his first wife died. His three sons were George, the architect already mentioned, Phillip who followed his father into the medical profession and Osric, who went on the land Queensland. 

Remembering that the present recollections are partly those of a childhood, it is not surprising to find that one of them is a humorous one. Mrs Farncomb recalls a tall, spare man of great personal dignity, clad in grey frock coat, withdrawing an immaculate white handkerchief from an inside pocket and vigorously blowing his nose before reading the lesson. With the more mature observation of a few years later, she remembers the tributes to him when he died in 1918.

Probably because the questions addressed to her tended to lead more to this side of her family, there is a little less detail about her father’s side. However, a most interesting segment emerged relating to the Keep family who were related to the Notts by marriage and this opened up a vista of our local history which had hitherto been almost unknown to us.

Two brothers, Leonard and Walter Keep who were principals of a wholesale hardware and engineering supply company, Keep McPherson, which had been in existence for several generations at the beginning of the present century and is still well known as McPhersons Ltd. Walter Keep’s youngest daughter, Margaret, was Mrs Farncomb’s contemporary. They lived in a large house called ‘Knutsfield’ in Woodside Avenue close to Burwood Road. It is still there though now as a block of flats.  

Leonard Keep owned the very large house in Chalmers Road, facing down Albyn Road, that in the area once known as Bushy Hill. It is almost invisible in its setting of tall old trees and a high white fence and known as the ‘White House’. 

It is interesting that the original home in Australia of the grandfather or father of the Keep brothers named his house ‘Broughton Hall’ and it is still so named since it became part of Rozelle Psychiatric Centre.  Likewise, the family’s original warehouse at the corner of King and Clarerence Streets was also sonamed.  It has lately been converted into what Mrs Farncomb rightly called ‘very prestigious city apartments’ after massive renovation and modernization.  Towards the end of the nineteenth century the brothers built in Burwood the mansion known now as ‘Woodstock’, but then also called ‘Broughton’, as a home for their sisters, two of whom were unmarried and the third the widow of a Judge,.  Another sister was married to Ernest Nott. 

A number of Strathfield ladies, including Mrs Farncomb’s mother, Mrs Sly and Mrs Lindeman, who both lived in Jersey Road, Mrs Toohey of ‘Torrington’ played croquet regularly with the three ‘Broughton’ ladies on the lawn there.  Subsequently the house has serviced as a barracks for the Australian women’s army Service, as a reception for migrant families and, as now, as a highly valued community centre. 

Finally, the interview perhaps shows most clearly how much social change can occur in the life of a single generation.  It is especially enlightening in its glimpse of Strathfield families and their social life in the first decades of our century.  There was a degree of interdependence and independence among families, who depended on their own resources for entertainment and social. life.  Strathfield was almost a rural place.  Men went to their business and their profession in the city by train and were driven to and from the station in horse drawn carriages and hansom cabs.  The latter were still ‘for hire’ at Strathfield Station into the 1920s.  Mrs Farncomb referred, as a comment on the social life of the time, to the once well-known Sunday evening suppers at ‘Glen Luna’, the home of George Sly from 1889 to 1925.  The word ‘soiree’ for these evenings almost brings us back to the novels of Charles Dickens.  It carries us back vividly to the difference in home entertainment before the flood of electronic material, either with or without regret.  It brings to life our picture of a wedding group, puffed sleeves and enormous hats included, on the lawn of ‘Holyrood’ or along the aisles of the Strathfield Recreation Club.  A daughter, Miss Hazel Sly, is said to have had a very beautiful voice and her singing was greatly admired.  Apart from musical evening at home, attendances at theatre and opera in the city were frequent.

Strathfield society was a conservative society, there were parties and magnificent gardens in which to hold them. It was as though the century which chronologically ended in 1900 survived almost unchanged until the cataclysm of 1914, even, in many aspects to even until the heavy hand of economic change fell in 1930.

The discussion on which those notes are based ended with the suggestion that a shrub or other form of planting might be made in Strathfield Square to mark the place where ‘Silwood’ once stood. An aunt of the Nott family, Margot Bedells, now a very elderly lady living in England, is especially interested in the proposal. A plaque commemorating the family and the house.  A brass plaque has now been made and will be installed when projected alterations to the layout of the Square are completed. Besides marking an historic spot, it will focus for us Arthur Ross Nott’s remark that when he bought his first ticket in the new station he did so right in what had formerly been his own bedroom.

About this article

An interview with Mrs Jean Farncomb on 3 October 1983. Transcribed by Reg Kennedy — after a tape prepared by Syd Malcolm.

First printed in SDHS Newsletter vol.7 no.9 May 1985

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