Restorations for Greenwood House
BY ALEX TIGANI
Greenwood House is a perfect example of its era’s architectural opulence.
The mansion was built in 1889 by Singleton builders Edmund Gould and Son based on the design by famous Maitland architect John W. Pender.
Its history dates back even further with the original 1043-acre land grant of Newington made to John Rotton in 1822.
Yet it is the tireless work by the manor’s current custodians Robert and Viv Luscombe, who have called Greenwood home since 2004, which has brought the home back to its immaculate heritage condition.
Robert grew up in Toronto, Canada and, from the age of 10, counted down until the school holidays each year so that he could spend time on his uncle’s farm in outback Ontario.
When he wasn’t working on the farm, he was in the bush as a proud Queen’s scout.
He truly loved the outdoors.
In January 1970, his next step was to spread his wings and explore Australia however he only made it as far as Vancouver.
“The air ticket cost $3000 one way to Sydney back then so I was sitting at the pub where all the expats around the world gathered to drink and somebody said there was a charter flight to London for $300,” Robert reflected.
That same year Viv, a talented teacher born and raised in Newcastle and Sydney, was driving from Turkey to Greece on a trip with her colleague.
They spotted a Canadian man hitchhiking to Delphi and offered him a lift.
By chance they would reunite in France, marry in April, 1972, raise a beautiful family and move to the Upper Hunter in 1990.
“We were part of the first wave of Pitt Street farmers,” Robert laughed.
When Greenwood came on the market in March 2004 the couple was ready to embark on a new chapter after they were taken away by the home.
Though they did not forecast the next three years of drought, they were able to commence work on the interior renovations straight away.
“We loved this straight away, but we knew it would be a lot of work to do,” Viv explained.
“When we bought it, the cows were just near the olive tree and we enjoyed the views from the bedroom.”
The kitchen was installed and the 1970s wallpaper spread across the bathrooms was also replaced (they did keep a piece from each room to display in a scrapbook).
The upstairs layout was transformed from five bedrooms and one bathroom to four bedrooms and three bathrooms thanks to lengthy renovations.
The fernery was also replaced by a relaxing outdoor area.
When looking back on their first 18 years as occupants, they have hosted two weddings and two christenings at the home.
They have also witnessed their farm transform into an island during the 2007 floods, a memorable week as many kilograms of pumpkins had smashed through the farm’s fence from the Hunter River, as well as the floods of the past year.
The recent July 6 flood saw waters come within a metre of the mark recorded in 2007.
Ultimately, they have lost count of the times previous servants and relatives have corresponded with them about the home. Some had never been allowed to see the main house until they were invited back by Robert and Viv decades later.
Prior to their arrival, the land already had 182 years of documented owners.
We undusted some of their stories as well.
This year marks 200 years since the 1043-acre land grant of Newington was made to John Rotton on April 3, 1822.
It included the site of Greenwood House but not as we know it today.
Charles Farrell purchased part of Newington at a Sherriff’s Sale in 1829 and soon after sold about 325 acres to George Henry Green, a paymaster of the 57th Regiment, and his stepson George Boyle White.
One month after marrying Marie Mudie, George Boyle White commenced the original Greenwood House on July 20, 1830 which was completed on October 6, 1831.
Soon after the timber house was complete.
The farm also included a garden, vineyard and paddocks.
Greenwood, now 140 acres, was purchased by James Moore in 1861 from George Boyle White.
His brother John Moore, who was the lease holder, competed at the NAA Show and won silver medals for wine in 1870, 1871 and in 1873 a silver medal for his bull “Wombo”.
Alexander Munro purchased 40 acres from James Moore and in April 1876, 36 of these contained vineyards.
In 1888, the same year Melbourne’s iconic Exhibition Building was complete, a smaller yet equally impressive structure replaced the former timber house on the farm.
This building is what we know as Greenwood House today.
Singleton’s Edmund Gould and Son based the design on work by famous Maitland architect John W. Pender.
Its structure has proven far more superior than other mansions built at the time according to current occupant Robert Luscombe.
“From a construction point of view it is unbelievable, there is not a single crack,” Robert explained.
“Structurally, when the hailstorms came through here in the mid-2000s all the windows were smashed the insurance assessor said ‘I need to get up on the roof’ and then he said ‘in 1996 the Belltrees House lifted right up’ so he went up for an inspection.
“He said ‘I have never in my life seen a construction like this, it is not nailed or screwed, it is all timber and pegged’ so those 1880s constructors knew what they were doing.
“The other thing is that the actual structure of the house is three bricks and eternally it is two bricks.”
By 1889 the home had become iconic for James Moore, a former Singleton mayor, due to its high ceilings, eight fireplaces, arched windows and Hunter River frontage.
The Australian red cedar joinery throughout the house has been a talking point for more than a century and the 13ft ceiling stands above the ground floor.
Need we mention the enormous cellar?
Stables were built in 1890 by George William Hill and James would cherish the property until his death in 1904.
It was then inherited by his only surviving daughter Laura Ticehurst and her husband Robert who died in 1908.
Though their daughter Robina Ward returned from England to assist they sold Greenwood in 1919 and Laura passed away shortly after.
Greenwood was then purchased by solicitor Arthur Batson Shaw who moved in with his wife Winifred and daughters Una and Winifred.
Young Winifred moved to England during the Second World War, Arthur Shaw died in 1948 and Winifred died in 1949 therefore daughter Una was left with the responsibility of maintaining the property.
A well-known identity in Singleton, she won prizes statewide and locally by breeding and showing game fowl.
It is believed that the eccentric Ms Shaw kept many animals living in the house until her passing in 1970, making her the longest resident in Greenwood’s history.
The home was then purchased by Ronald Stacey to add to his pastoral interests.
Restorations began in 1971 and completed in 1985, all meticulously restored to original design.
His son Brian and Stacey carried out some of the hardest renovations, restoring the woodwork left with scratch marks from previous residents.
Add on the further two decades of work from Robert and Viv Luscombe and you are left with a magnificent late Victorian boom style country mansion immaculately restored.
Therefore if the walls of Greenwood could speak, what would they say after 200 years?
“They would be saying thank God the Luscombes showed up,” Viv concluded.
“It has had some very interesting residents by far but we have painstakingly renovated this house back to the period it was built.”
BY ALEX TIGANI