Lyndhurst is one of only two great houses in Glebe to survive from the first period of European settlement. A few similar houses can still be seen on other estates occupied by the colonial gentry, such as Elizabeth Bay House. At this time they were regarded as being in the country, and had extensive grounds, gardens, orchards and farms.
This large Georgian villa is a listed item under the NSW Heritage Act. The story ofLyndhurst so closely parallels that of Glebe itself it deserves to be outlined at some length.
Dr James Bowman, Inspector of Hospitals and the husband of John and Elizabeth Macarthur’s second daughter, Mary, commissioned the most fashionable Sydney architect, John Verge, to build a ‘marine villa’ on his 98-acre Glebe estate in 1833. The process of building is the best documented of any in Sydney. However, after only a few years and the birth of his third child Bowman was ruined by the crash of 1842 and forced to sell.
The Anglican archdeacon of NSW, now first and only Bishop of Australia, William Grant Broughton (1788-1853), desperate to train more clergy for his expanding parishes, bought Lyndhurst to become St James College, the first theological seminary in Australia. However, the Bishop was too High Church for his flock, and after the defection of two priests to Rome, St James was forced to close.
The first Roman Catholic Archbishop of Australia, John Bede Polding (1794-1877), saw the ideal opportunity for his own strange vision for the Great South Land, and bought the villa as a monastery for himself and his own band of fellow English Benedictine monks. St Mary’s College flourished as a matriculation college for the newly-founded University of Sydney under the learned tutelage of the English Benedictines. Alas, finally Polding and his successor, Roger Vaughan, were forced to accept the inappropriateness of a monastic and English future for their overwhelmingly Irish flock.
The sale of Lyndhurst in 1877 provided sufficient funds to establish St Ignatius, Riverview and St Patrick’s, Manly. The grand old villa, now shorn of its parklike grounds, crowded on all sides by terraces, with its rear entrance to the street, with only a solitary schoolroom surviving of all its outbuildings (on the corner of Lyndhurst Street and Darling Lane), passed through a long series of increasingly careless hands, and its glory departed. Its final indignity was to be slated for demolition to build an expressway.
Enter the Glebe Society, the campaign against inner urban expressways and the Save Lyndhurst Committee. Jack Mundey and the Builders Labourers Federation slapped a Green Ban on the battered, but structurally sound, mansion, and with the election of a new State Labor Government in 1976 the expressways were abandoned. Reportedly the first question asked by Premier Neville Wran was, ‘What do you want done with Lyndhurst?’
Clive Lucas led the restoration team from 1979, and by 1986 Lyndhurst became the headquarters of the newly-formed Historic Houses Trust. For years thereafter the Glebe Society held its meetings in the dining room. When Historic Houses moved to the Mint in 2004 Lyndhurst once again became a private home, though the owner has generously allowed the Glebe Society to hold functions there from time to time.
Lyndhurst has its back to the street. To see its impressive facade, designed to look across Blackwattle Bay to Sydney Town, walk around to Darghan Lane and peer through gaps in the hedge.