Vaucluse Bay – An Informal Pleasure Resort

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Vaucluse Bay. Section less fully developed than most other bays. Native brush and trees shown. used by some visitors as less formal resort area.

With the holidays drawing to a close, many Sydneysiders look to spend Australia Day and the final weekend of the school holidays closer to home. Sydney has a varied range of beautiful parks and wonderful beaches, many of which have a long history as ‘pleasure resorts’, both formal and informal. The evocative image above, taken by an unknown photographer in circa 1936, shows Vaucluse Bay, a ‘less formal resort area’, according to the photographers description.

According to the description by the unknown photographer, Vaucluse Bay is a ‘section less developed than other bays’, one of the reasons why it apparently became a popular, informal resort for many Sydneysiders. Yet the reason why Vaucluse Bay is so undeveloped in comparison to other bays is in itself a fascinating glimpse into history, for Vaucluse Bay was once part of the grounds of Vaucluse House.

Vaucluse House began life as a more simple stone cottage built in 1805 by an eccentric Irish knight, Sir Henry Browne Hayes. It was he who named the property Vaucluse after a village bear Avignon in Southern France. In 1827 though, the cottage and property were purchased by the famous explorer William Wentworth. Soon, he began the process of improving the property, first building a range of outbuildings, including a rather grand Gothic revival style stable, which still stands today. He also began to extend on the cottage, adding bedrooms, a dining room and drawing room. By the 1830s, he had even completed a boathouse on the bay itself. The Wentworths were also committed to creating beautiful grounds for the increasingly grandiose (though never quite completed) house. Wentworth died in 1872, and was interred in a mausoleum built on the Vaucluse estate.

The house, and Vaucluse Bay itself, continued to be private land until 1911 when extensive public pressure caused the state government to resume over 20 acres of harbour front land. By 1912, the Vaucluse Park Trust was granting public access to the bottom level of the house and in 1915 regular visiting hours were established. Soon, Vaucluse Bay and the grand house it once belonged to were a popular, if relatively undeveloped, tourist resort for Sydneysiders. In 1980 the entire property was acquired by the Historic Houses Trust.

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Photographer Of Mystery – Photographs Of History

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Wool train along side R.R. Power Station on Hay St. Australian Mercantile L. and F. Co. Ltd. Wool storage beyond power plant.

A new year is well and truly underway, and with it, comes all sorts of resolutions. Mine – to digitise over 1200 negatives before the year is out! The above and below images are just two of the early images to be shared by the blog – two of hundreds of beautiful images taken by an unknown photographer. The photos all date from circa 1936, and provide a powerful and unseen glimpse into Australia’s history.

Some of the images in the collection highlight home life, examining types of houses, and their captions even making mention of whether the homes were of the ‘better class’, ‘old style’, ‘modern apartments’ or ‘homes of the poor’. Other photos, like the one above, turn the photographers lens on the working past of Australia – industry, transport, agriculture, and the buildings which once hid a bustle of activity, from wool scouring to generating power.

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Terraces of old houses in the Glebe. Girls playing. Campbell St.

The saddest aspect of this – the photographer of these amazing images, so beautifully framed, intricately catalogue, described and carefully preserved, is completely unknown. The only glimpse we have of him (so far) comes from a negative – the one above, where his shadow appears. In the printed photo which accompanies the negative (and nearly every negative has one), it was edited out, but I love the original, complete with the ghost of the photographer.

As I begin the digitising process though, another clue surfaces. I notice a handwritten note on the back of one or two images – ‘fig . . .’

I wonder – has anybody seen these images in some publication? If you ever recognise one of the photos on the blog (and I will be posting many, many more over the coming months) from some publication or other, or even a public collection – please contact me. I would love to put a name to this mysterious photographer.

 

Clifton Gardens Part 2

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This week, with the holidays here and the weather being warm and humid, many Sydneysiders will be heading for the beach. Even more popular will be those beaches with other attractions – playgrounds, cafes, fairs and so on. Once, one of the most popular beaches of all, and one which had it all so to speak, was Clifton Gardens.

As we discovered last week, Clifton Gardens had, since the 1870s, provided entertainments like music and dancing. Yet swimming was not an allowable attraction, despite the beautiful beach and surrounding area on which the pleasure ground was situated. The first swimming allowed at Clifton Gardens was in the late 1880s, but would have been vastly different to what we are used to today! Thompson, the proprietor of the hotel and pleasure grounds, imported an English bathing machine in 1888. The machine could be taken into the water, and then lowered a shark proof enclosure into the water. The swimmer themselves would not be easily visible at any time, in line with the then decency laws. In the same year, Thompson also opened a skating rink at the pleasure ground, providing yet more attractions and again increasing the popularity of the area.

In 1900, Thompson died and the entire estate, including the hotel, pleasure grounds and all of the attractions, were purchased by Sydney Ferries in 1906. By this time, decency laws were relaxing, and the ferries built a large, circular swimming enclosure, noted at the time to be the finest in the state. Swimming at Clifton Gardens had truly arrived, and although the enclosure is long gone, remains a popular diversion for visitors to the area.

Clifton Gardens

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This week, with the weather rapidly warming up and many Sydneysiders heading for the beach, it seemed the perfect time to share this beautiful image of Clifton Gardens. Today, many Sydneysiders head out of the city in search of the seaside, but once, pleasure resorts such as the one pictured above were all the rage, and much closer to the heart of Sydney than many might expect!

In 1828, the first grant at Chowder Bay was given to Thomas Graham, the assistant to the Government Botanist, Mr Fraser. Graham recognised that the land at Chowder Bay was quite fertile, and soon established a four-acre orchard. By 1832 though, Graham was broke, and the property was sold – 15 acres of it to Captain Edmund Cliffe. Many believe, and it certainly seems reasonable to assume, that Cliffe was the one who called the property Cliffeton, a name which appears to have stuck well beyond his death in 1837. The property continued to be improved upon and altered, but the biggest change came in 1853 when CF Hemmington opened a pleasure ground. Hemmington already operated a pleasure ground called Fairy Bower in Manly, and he named his new pleasure ground at Cliffeton (as it was then known) Fairyland. Being right on the harbour, there was plenty of water access and people could visit by steamer. It wasn’t until the 1870s and the construction of the Clifton Hotel that the area became truly popular though.

The Clifton Hotel was built in 1871 by Duncan Butters and just a year later, Butters was also granted a publicans license making the Clifton Hotel one of the first two licensed hotels in the entirety of Mosman. Unsurprisingly, the establishment of a licensed hotel increased the popularity of the pleasure ground exponentially! Then, in 1879, David Thompson purchased the Clifton Gardens Estate and enlarged the hotel. He also added a wharf and dance hall which further appealed to Sydneysiders visiting the area. In fact, so popular was the music and dancing, and so rowdy did it become, that in 1882 Thompson’s license was amended – he was no longer allowed music and dancing at Clifton Gardens at all! By 1885 he had managed to regain a full license though and reopened the hotel as a massive, 40 room hotel. The dancing pavilion was also upgraded and reopened and was advertised as the largest and best of its kind not just in Sydney, but in the Australian colonies!

Yet swimming was not yet an attraction at Clifton Gardens. Come back next week to find out what happened next!