The many owners of Selwood House
Selwood House is a mid-Victorian building (c1889) thought to be the oldest house in Hazelbrook. During its hundred and twenty five year history Selwood House has enjoyed a varied history of ownership.
Set near the top of the hill on the southern side of the railway Selwood is an important element in the Hazelbrook townscape. The building is of high local significance as a surviving and substantially intact Victorian house in the heart of the town.
Originally purchased as undeveloped land by wine merchant, Thomas Thompson in January 1889, Selwood was built sometime between 1889 and 1892. Selwood House was originally constructed using sandstone, with rough hewn timber roof construction fixed together with copper nails and clad with corrugated iron. All joinery was produced from western red cedar and the high internal ceilings are decorative pressed metal specially imported from England. The blacksmith's shop and stabling were probably also constructed by Thompson. (Hazelbrook Heritage, p52)
The house subsequently became a doctor’s residence and surgery. Whilst the doctor was frequently seen on his horse and buggy riding all over the Blue Mountains attending to his patients, he was also known at times to nurse the more infirm of his patients back to health in Selwood House itself.
After the doctor’s tenure, Selwood House was owned by Mrs Prudence Denham from around 1901 until the mid-1940s. Subsequent owners included a schoolteacher who started a children’s school at nearby ‘Addington House’, and a retired sea captain called Captain Fredericksen who operated an orphanage from Selwood for a time. Having enjoyed many sea adventures around the world, the Captain had brought back exotic varieties of trees and shrubs and planted them in the grounds of Selwood House.
From 1961 to 1982 Selwood House was occupied by Mary O’Leary and her five children. These years of residency were famed for the jams, home-baked breads and biscuits that Mary produced from the abundance of fruit trees (apple, pear, lemon and plum) that filled the garden at the rear of the house, all prepared and cooked on the fuel stove (still in existence to this day) in the former kitchen at the heart of the house.
Mary O’Leary is also to be remembered for her tireless efforts, sustained over several years, to ‘save’ Selwood House from demolition when additional car parking space in the area was required. She is largely responsible for the building escaping demolition during that time.
Selwood House subsequently enjoyed a period of time as an antique gallery and private residence after John and Mary Perry bought the property in the early 1980s. The building was later restored by acclaimed Blue Mountains artists Jim and Robyn Collier, who converted it into an art gallery where they established an excellent reputation for selling high quality arts and crafts.
Selwood House continued to be utilised as an art gallery and residence after Joan and Kelvin Stevenson bought the property in the late 1980s. In 1997, David and Anna Thomson bought Selwood House, and established the Selwood Science and Puzzles Museum. The brainchild of former electrical engineer David Thomson, the Science and Puzzles museum was packed with experimental displays, holograms, puzzles and science kits, and quickly became an iconic establishment in the Blue Mountains.
At the end of 2013, Dr Lawrence Baker and his wife, Jess bought Selwood House and converted it into a modern, fully equipped veterinary hospital. While Lawrence and Jess say they feel excited to be the new and latest owners of Selwood House, they also acknowledge the truth of what was once said regarding the rich history of ownership of Selwood House:
“It seems that no-one ever really owns ‘Selwood’, and that in fact the residents just belong to it, acting as caretakers for a brief span in time.”
Dark days at Hazelbrook House
The larger, grander neighbour of Selwood House, Hazelbrook House was built some ten years before Selwood in 1879.
In 1879 Edward Higgs from Penrith received a land grant of 50 acres in the mid-mountains for his services to the Crown. He had dutifully served a period of 5 years in Australia’s first volunteer defence force, established soon after 1854 when the threat of war between Britain and Russian loomed on distant shores and left those manning the young Australian colonies feeling vulnerable. Shortly after receiving the grant, Mr Higgs built ‘Hazelbrook House’ with the help of his 3 sons and only daughter, naming the quaint cottage after their beloved home in England.
But tragedy soon struck the Higgs family. Edward’s daughter, having helped to build Hazelbrook House, became a Governess for the children of a family in nearby Lawson. Travelling to their home daily by bushtrack, she was unlucky enough to have to pass the home of a local man who was euphemistically described as having ‘an unsavoury reputation’. After a series of unsolicited ‘advances’ upon Miss Higgs, it appears that she was eventually ‘violently assaulted’ on the final occasion of her journeying home from her place of work. Given that she was left in a state of extreme distress from which she never quite recovered, one can only imagine what the nature of that ‘assault’ must have been. When the local man was found murdered three months later, suspicion fell on Miss Higgs’ three brothers. With no evidence to prove that they were the perpetrators, the case remained unsolved.
Such words as 'remote' and 'isolated' come to mind when one thinks of Woodford and Hazelbrook in the 1890’s. The story Hazel Denham tells of her birth in Hazelbrook on 4 April 1892 underlines this.
Hazel Denham's parents had purchased `Selwood', opposite the station entrance today on the southern side, as a holiday house the year before.
There had been a prolonged period of violent storms which had delayed additions to the cottage by some seven weeks, requiring Hazel's heavily pregnant mother to stay on in Hazelbrook rather than return to Sydney.
Hazel wrote, 'My father arrived from Sydney about 7.15 pm on "The Fish" and found my mother in a surprising and embarrassing condition.' John Watt, the next-door owner of the one and only store, owned a horse and cart for delivering his goods. He gladly offered to ride in it to Lawson to bring old Dr Moore down, but when Watt arrived in Lawson, he found the doctor had pneumonia. He then stabled his horse for the night and left a message at Lawson station to be taken by the next goods train to Dr Sparkes in Katoomba and, after a one and a half hours' delay, the message was transported to the station master in Katoomba, who delivered it to the doctor.
After a heavy day's work, the doctor arrived by light engine at Hazelbrook just before midnight: 'Wasn't Father glad to see him!' Hazel said. 'I turned up in the early hours, not so long after the doctor's arrival, safe and sound, sudden and unexpected, was wrapped in cotton wool and placed in a boot box on a broad cedar mantelpiece over a wood fire burning underneath. The storm raged on until dawn.
The doctor was given hospitality until 6.00 am when he left by the paper train for Katoomba. I thrived and, as soon as Mother could travel, we returned to Sydney.' Hazel's name acts as a commemoration of that event in a village she came to love. (Hazelbrook & Woodford p35)
Mary Campbell et al: Hazelbrook Heritage, A Social History of Hazelbrook and Woodford 1989
H009 : Selwood House and Grounds | NSW Environment & Heritage http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/heritageapp/ViewHeritageItemDetails.aspx?ID=1170548
Ken Goodlet: Hazelbrook & Woodford A story of two Blue Mountain Towns 2006