Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Parramatta History: Harrisford House



The building was originally a two-storey house one room deep. Exactly when it was built is unclear, but it seems to have been 1820s. Parramatta was a government town, and all land was leased until grants were made in the 1850s. The lease of the land, which runs down to the river, was acquired by the Methodist clergyman, the Reverend William Walker (1800-55), in 1829, by which time the house was certainly there.


In January 1832, Mr. Walker leased the house for the establishment of The King's School, and during July and August of that year the school-room was built on. Soon afterwards the stair hall was added and a second storey built over the school-room, at which time it seems the drawing room (i.e. the room to the right of the front door) and the room above were widened to correspond with the side wall of the school-room. The wall construction to the right of the front door is different from the rest of the facade and it should be noted that the pier between the windows is wider than that on the left.

Harrisford House, George Street, Parramatta, view of front
and left exterior of the two-storey brick building, ca. 1960s – 1980s
(City of Parramatta)
There must have been a detached kitchen, but traces of that have not been discovered. However, for some years, it would seem the building was 'L' shaped with a stone flagged yard in the remaining space, i.e. the area behind the stair hall.

After The King's School left the house at the end of 1835, it was used by other schools. In 1841 the Reverend William Woolls (1814-93), who had been master at The King's School, opened a school there, and later Mrs. Griffiths (wife of the colonial artist William Griffiths, who was an early drawing master at The King's School), ran the Linden House girls' school at Harrisford. This school occupied various premises in the town and finished up in a house in Macquarie Street which has since been removed to the Lancer Barracks.' On October 2nd, 1854, William Walker obtained the freehold of the property and the following August sold it. As had Walker, successive owners then continued to lease out the property.

THE KING'S SCHOOL, PARRAMATTA   THE KING'S SCHOOL WAS ESTABLISHED IN THIS BUILDING ON 13TH FEBRUARY 1832 AND REMAINED HERE UNDER THE DIRECTION OF THE REV. ROBERT FORREST UNTIL THE END OF 1835. THE EARLIEST PARTS OF THE HOUSE DATE FROM 1823.  IN 1836 THE BUILDING HOUSED MR. BRADLEY'S PARRAMATTA ACADEMY AND DURING THE 1840'S THE REV. DR. WILLIAM WOOLLS' SCHOOL. IN 1890 IT WAS RENOVATED FOR JOHN HARRIS ESQ. AND NAMED HARRISFORD.  THE KING'S SCHOOL OLD BOYS' UNION PURCHASED HARRISFORD IN 1980 RESTORING AND REOPENING IT ON 13TH FEBRUARY 1982 TO MARK THE SESQUICENTENARY OF THE SCHOOL AND AS A CONTRIBUTION TO THE LIFE OF PARRAMATTA AND THE NATIONAL ESTATE.Probably during the 1850s, the two-storeyed kitchen section was built and the back passage formed over the flagged yard. In June 1890, the property was acquired by John Harris (1805-91) of Shane's Park, nephew of Dr John Harris after whom Harris Park is named. He named the building Harrisford and converted it into a residence for members of his family. At this time a two-storeyed cast-iron verandah was added at the front, the windows were resashed and the house got its present front door and staircase. A verandah was built at the back and the service wing added; the school-room became the dining room and the back passage became an internal corridor. Areas such as ceilings and chimneypieces were also changed.

The house was occupied by the Harris family until 1957 when the property was sold. It was first converted to a peanut butter factory, and later to a garage and stationery warehouse. When the conversion was made, most of the fittings were sold off, walls were removed, the front verandahs torn off, and the whole front altered to accommodate picture windows and a 1950's porch. The school-room had its back wall knocked out and eventually became a motor workshop.

Entrance Hall:

This room may have once contained the staircase. This could account for the rear archway being off centre and the drawing-room door being shorter than the one into the library. The ceiling is early plasterwork and was covered by a pressed metal ceiling prior to the restoration. The front door dates from 1890, but otherwise, the room is as it would have been when The King's School occupied the building.

Library:

This room is as it would have been when the Rev. Robert Forrest occupied the house and is one of the most interesting 1820s rooms to be found anywhere in Australia. The chimney wall with its apsidal headed bookcases and arches is particularly noteworthy. The blue is the original colouring. The original stone chimney-piece, discovered under the back verandah during restoration, has been restored. The floral hearth tiles date to 1890.

Drawing Room:

This room with the one above would seem to have been widened at the time the school-room was added, or certainly soon after. The appears to have been cut in later (c.1850) in what was a blind recess in the external wall (like the one in the west wall of the library). It is the only window in the house that seems to have escaped the 1890 resashing. The marble chimneypiece is one of those put in in 1890.

Stair Hall:

This seems to have been formed c. 1832 or 1833 to provide a stair to the room built on top of the schoolroom. The original back door of the 1820's house was where the arch is. Except for the staircase itself, and the Wunderlich ceiling, the room is as it would have been when The King's School occupied the house. The Victorian blocked wallpaper has been reproduced from sections found behind the cedar hat and coat board and the board for the early wall telephone.

Back Passage:

This room is as it would have been after the addition of the kitchen c. 1850-60. Before this, there were steps down from the stair and school-room doors to a stone-flagged yard. The colours are as the room was originally painted. In 1890 the floor was raised, an arch formed to the stair hall, and the walls and ceiling plastered to make an inside corridor.

School-room:

This room was added to the original house by the builders James Byrnes and Robert Gooch, during four weeks in July and August 1832. In 1890, when it became a dining room, the walls and ceiling were replastered and skirting boards, architraves and a red marble chimneypiece were fitted. At the same time, the back verandah was built and the French doors put in. After 1957, the back wall was taken out and it became a motor workshop. Except for the French doors, this room is as it would have been when occupied by the School. The walls are limewashed as they were originally.

The writer wishes to thank Mrs Marilyn Power of Storey & Gough Lawyers who was kind enough to permit access. 

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