Curzon Hall - Federation free style mansion | NSW Environment & Heritage

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Curzon Hall - Federation free style mansion

Item details

Name of item: Curzon Hall - Federation free style mansion
Other name/s: St Josephs Vincentian Seminary (former - 1922-1982)
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Residential buildings (private)
Category: Mansion
Primary address: 53-71 Agincourt Road, Marsfield, NSW 2122
Parish: Hunters Hill
County: Cumberland
Local govt. area: Ryde
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
53-71 Agincourt RoadMarsfieldRydeHunters HillCumberlandPrimary Address
Balaclava RoadMarsfieldRyde  Alternate Address

Statement of significance:

Curzon Hall completed 1899, is of historical significance as one of the last built of the grand gentlemens' villas of the Ryde district, and as the residence of entrepreneur Harry Smith and his family from 1899-1921.During its period as a residence, it was a well-known social venue. Curzon Hall is also of historical siginficance for its operation as a Catholic seminary from 1922-1982, and as a well-known wedding reception/function centre since 1983. Curzon Hall has historical association with entrepreneur Harry Smith and his family (1897-1921), and with the Catholic Order of the Vincentian Fathers, who operated a Seminary on the property 1922-1982. Curzon Hall is of aesthetic significance as a grand, eclectic example of a Federation Free Classical style residence set within large grounds, on a prominent corner site at the junction of Agincourt and Balaclava Roads, Marsfield. The house is also of historical and aesthetic significance for its design by architect David Thomas Morrow.
Date significance updated: 06 Nov 12
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: David Thomas Morrow, Architect
Construction years: 1897-1899
Physical description: Curzon Hall is a large sandstone mansion in an eclectic Federation Free style,, constructed from 1897 and completed in 1899. The building is on a north-east to south-west axis facing south-west. It is constructed of rusticated stonework with dressed stone trim, coursing and quoining. The façade is 2 storeys and symmetrical, with Victorian Italianate style colonnades with semi-circular arches on both levels, returning around both sides, below a sandstone parapet which matches the balustrading to both levels. The classical style parapet and balustrades feature sandstone posts with sandstone balusters. A central three-storey tower rises over the main door behind the port corchere facing Agincourt Road. The tower has a Roman bath window and above triple Gothic lancets surmounted by triple small circular windows with foiled tracery. Flanking the steps on the west side are pilasters with classical niches and diminutive pediments. The hipped roof line with gabled attic dormer windows is visible, along with tall sandstone chimneys, beyond the parapet. The roof is hipped at the rear. The roof is clad in slate with terracotta ridge capping.

To the east and north-east of the house are extensive modern additions, which are single storey to the Balaclava Road frontage. Vehicle access is available from both Balaclava Road and Agincourt Road, however the main access is from Agincourt Road to the west. The set-out of the grounds has changed radically since 1943 (evident from NSW Lands Dept 1943 aerial photo). partly due to subdivision, however changes Include the location of paths and driveways, lawn areas and planting beds. Original mature trees remain in the north-east corner of the property,
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Date condition updated:10 Jan 12
Modifications and dates: 1931: Separate ballroom converted to students quarters for Catholic seminary
1935: Chapel constructed reusing stone from demolition of stables in 1934.
Post-1943: subdivision of the site to form Vincentia Street to the south and reduce size of the garden.
1983: extensively refurbished for use as a wedding reception/function centre; changes to garden.
1990s: ballroom demolished as part of a site subdivision which resulted in construction of an adjacent medium density residential development.
2005: acquisition of site by Navarra Venue Collection, who continued operation of the site as a function centre
2011: large modern extension to east and north-east of the original house. This extension is single storey where it fronts Balaclava Road.
Current use: Function Centre (since 1983)
Former use: Dwelling (1898-1921), Catholic Seminary (1922-1982)


Historical notes: AREA HISTORY
Aboriginal people inhabited the Sydney basin for thousands of years prior to the arrival of Europeans. The northern coastal area of Sydney was home to the Guringai people, western Sydney was home to the Dharug clans, and southern Sydney was inhabited by the Dharawal clans. The Guringai lived primarily along the foreshores of the harbour, and fished and hunted in the waters and hinterlands of the area. All clans harvested food from their surrounding bush. Self-sufficient and harmonious, they had no need to travel far from their lands, since the resources around them were so abundant, and trade with other tribal groups was well established. The British arrival in 1788 had a dramatic impact on all of the Sydney clans. Food resources were quickly diminished by the invaders, who had little understanding of the local environment. As a result, the Aboriginal people throughout the Sydney Basin were soon close to starvation. The Sydney clans fought back against the invaders, but the introduction of diseases from Europe and Asia, most notably smallpox, destroyed over half the population. The clearing of land for settlements and farms displaced local tribes and reduced the availability of natural food resources, leaving Aboriginal people reliant on white food and clothing. The French surgeon and pharmacist Rene Primavere Lesson, who visited Sydney in 1824, wrote: "the tribes today are reduced to fragments scattered all around Port Jackson, on the land where their ancestors lived and which they do not wish to leave". (Information taken from City of Ryde Aboriginal Site Management Report, Aboriginal Heritage Office, 2011)

The suburb known today as Marsfield was formed from the Field of Mars Common, an area of 5050 acres (2044 hectares) declared in 1804 by Governor King as one of six ‘commons’ in the Colony, to be used for the grazing of livestock by local residents. The Common followed the path of the Lane Cove River and consisted mainly of heavily timbered bush. By the 1840s the area was notorious as the haunt of unsavory society, home to a range of activities such as gambling, sly grog selling and a range of antisocial activities. Following many years of community agitation and debate including a Parliamentary Select Committee, by 1874 the Common was formally resumed to allow sale and settlement by small farmers. The money raised was to be used to fund the crossings of the Parramatta River at Gladesville and Iron Cove, both of which were being demanded by the residents of the Ryde area.

A regular grid pattern of streets was laid out and the land subdivided into small farms of between 0.4 and 1.6ha, with areas reserved for open space and special purposes. The street names chosen continued the martial tradition of the "Field of Mars" and referenced famous battles and British victories. The land itself was released for sale in stages, with the first being in the east Ryde area in 1885. A considerable proportion of purchasers bought multiple lots, paving the way for later re-subdivision.

The residents of Marsfield were numerous and settled enough to demand self-government, and the "Municipality of Marsfield" seceded from the Ryde Municipality in 1894. The new LGA included Marsfield and part of Eastwood, and a council chamber and Hall was built on Abuklea Road by 1911. Development was slow, small livestock farms such as poultry and market gardens, each with a modest dwelling, were eventually established throughout the district. Many of these poultry farms were established in the years following the First World War as part of the Soldier Settlement Scheme. Unlike in many other areas where the Scheme was established, it appears to have thrived in the North Ryde and Marsfield area, with claims being made in 1946 that poultry stock averaged 150,000 p.a., with over 1,000,000 day old chicks being produced annually (quoted in Levy, p77). Other agricultural activities included market gardening and the production of a wide range of produce for the Sydney Markets, including fruit, vegetables, flowers, small livestock, milk and eggs. Aerial photos taken in 1943 support this observation, showing small holdings scattered throughout the area, each with a modest cottage. The area remained rural in character though, with no evidence of a commercial hub other than the shopping areas near Eastwood Station.

The area is also characterised by a general lack of larger or more substantial houses or homesteads, a reflection of the circumstances of the establishment of the area. A notable exception to this is Curzon Hall, an imposing sandstone mansion built on Argincourt Road between 1897 and 1900. The builder of Curzon Hall, Harry Curzon Smith, was a successful businessman and entrepreneur who also established a Pleasure Ground known as ‘Curzon Park’ on the banks of the Lane Cove River. In 1922 Curzon Hall was purchased by the Vincentian Fathers who used it as a seminary for six decades.

Subdivision plans for the area from the first decades of the twentieth century demonstrate how the sitting of the Town Hall and School of Arts in Agincourt Road influenced the subsequent subdivisions and development of the area. Beedham Hill Estate (1910, 1914 and 1917) consisted of lots between Abuklea and Agincourt Road. Other subdivisions included Taylor’s Orchard Estate in 1915, Vimiera Estate in 1918 and Curzon Estate in 1919. Much of the North Ryde/Marsfield area was within the green belt established under the County of Cumberland Planning Scheme. The scheme was intended to prevent urban sprawl, and prevented the erection of dwellings on subdivided lots smaller than two hectares. A secondary purpose of the zoning was to provide for future sites for large institutions such as universities.

By the late 1950s, the original boundaries of the green belt were being revised and in December 1959, 688 hectares in the Marsfield-North Ryde green belt were released for rezoning. The area became a battle ground between local landowners, Ryde Council and the State Planning Authority. The council had plans for large-scale industrial activity as well as residential development. The state government sought to delay the decision on zoning, wanting to retain the existing semi-rural character. A final release of green belt land at North Ryde came in September 1969 following the State Planning Authority’s decision to build a major shopping centre (Macquarie Shopping Centre) in the area followed by Macquarie University.

Curzon Hall is a grand mansion built by businessman Harry Curzon Smith from 1897 (completed in 1899). Smith's family owned the property from c1892 to 1921. Harry Smith came to Sydney with his parents in 1879/1880 from Canada. His parents were Hugh Thomas Smith, born c1833 on the Isle of Man, who trained as a plumber and gasfitter, and Rebecca Pitt. The family migrated to Toronto, Canada c1858 and Hugh Smith entered into a partnership with a Thomas Millichamp and became involved in inventing and manufacturing. Harry was born in October 1861. However the family (excepting two daughters who had married in Canada) decided to migrate again and came to Sydney in 1879/1880.

Hugh Smith set up business at 43 Sussex Street and later 494 Kent Street, Sydney. He patented a kerosene safety lamp in 1889 suitable for public transport ( called the Smith Harvey patent), and supplied portable spraying units for orchards and portable generating plants for country homes.

Kenneth D Nicholls, who researched the history of the Smith family, suggests that Hugh's son Harry acted as a travelling commercial salesman for his father's products. Certainly his obituary stated that at his death in 1913 he had been a member of the Commercial Travellers' Association for 22 years. Nicholls suggests that in his travels he would have seen the opportunities to be made in refreshments for railway travellers. Harry Smith began acquiring leases of Railway Refreshment Rooms from the NSW Department of Railways and by 1894 was operating sixteen such centres, including those at Sydney Terminal, all of those north of Singleton, and those on the Narrabri line, Harry Smith also acquired a lease of Jenolan Caves House in 1898 (and was still lessee at his death), and ran a horse-bus service from Gladesville to Curzon Park on the Lane Cove River, North Ryde, where he had a picnic ground.

Nicholls says that Harry Smith purchased 170 acres of land at Marsfield between 1892 and 1898 and that Curzon Hall was built in this period. The architect was Mr, D.T. Morrow of St. George's Hall, Newtown. The stone was quarried from a site in the present Macquarie University grounds near Talavera Road, about a mile from Curzon Hall.

Photographs in the possession of Ryde Historical Society showing the construction are dated 1897 (although a brass plaque on the house is dated 1898). A search of the local newspaper shows that Curzon Hall was still incomplete at 3 December 1898 and was presumably completed sometime in 1899 although, at that time, Harry Smith was already regarded as a prominent resident of Marsfield so was perhaps residing in part of the house or elsewhere in the area.

The house was named Curzon Hall after the family of Smith's wife, Isabella Curzon Webb, whom he married in 1884. She is said to have been related to Baron Curzon of Keddleston, who had a distinguished public career and was appointed Viceroy of India in 1898. The family later took on the noble name, calling themselves Curzon-Smith.

The Curzon Hall buildings when complete included the main house with 20 rooms, large collonaded verandahs and balconies, huge entrance hall and spacious cellars, and a stables and separate ballroom, surrounded by formal gardens. An article reporting on the progress of Curzon Hall in November 1898 stated:"There are over thirty men engaged about the place. The main structure at the rear is pretty well complete and the masons are now engaged on the front part of the building. The whole of the work is carried out under the personal supervision of Mr Smith, who has hit upon some excellent ideas in ventilation and drainage. The vast storage spaces under the buildings should be invaluable. Mr Smith, whose fertile brain is always working out improvements, has an idea of putting down a large swimming basin on the property".

In 1898 the local newspaper commented: "Marsfield is indeed fortunate in having such an enterprising resident as Mr Harvey (sic) Smith who is always doing something in a quiet way to push the district ahead". Smith urged the construction of a bridge across the Lane Cove River to allow easier travel between Marsfield and Pymble. He entertained Government Ministers at Curzon Hall in an attempt to draw their attention to the needs of the area. He founded the Marsfield School of Arts and was President of the local Progress Association.

The house is reported to have been a centre of social life in the district and the construction of a separate ballroom on such a grand scale suggests this was Smith's intention. The house was even mooted as a potential Governor's residence in 1900. Harry Smith had begun constructing a tourist resort called Hampton Court around 1909 (which was never finished and later demolished).

After Smith's death in 1913, his wife Isabella Curzon Smith carried on the business which he had established for some years.

On 26 October 1921 Curzon Hall was purchased by the Order of the Vincentian Fathers at a price of 8,000 pounds. The Order of the Vincentian Fathers has its origins in the work of St Vincent de Paul (1581-1660). In 1833 a group of priests formed an order which they named the Vincentians. From 1838 this group affiliated with the Congregation of the Mission in France. In the nineteenth century the Catholic Church in Australia looked to the Irish Vincentians to lend their experience to the training of young priests in Catholic seminaries. The Vincentians wished to establish a House of Studies exclusively for postulants. Around 1919 they began looking for a suitable site and it was at this time that they inspected and later purchased Curzon Hall. Father Paul Cullen was in charge of preparing the main house for its opening as a training centre in 1922. A number of minor repairs were carried out at this time. St Joseph's Seminary, as it was now known, was officially opened by Archbishop Kelly on 15 April 1922.

The Vincentians later made a number of alterations to Curzon Hall. The stables were demolished (c1934) and the stone was used to build the chapel on the southern end of the main house. The Ballroom building was significantly altered in 1931 to provide classrooms and accommodation for the postulants (the ballroom was demolished in the 1990s to make room for a medium density residential development). Curzon Hall was also altered to accommodate a scholasticate. The ground floor contained class rooms and library, and the upper floors provided twenty-two attractive rooms with abundance of light and air. Under the supervision of Fr. Nicholas Rossiter, the building was completed in 1931, at a total cost of 4,747 pounds.

The site was later subdivided, forming Vincentia Street to the south and reducing the size of the Curzon Hall garden.

In 1983 Curzon Hall was acquired by a private business, refurbished and extensively renovated, and opened as a major function centre.

In 2005 the site was acquired by the Navarra Venue Collection, which also operates Le Montage Lilyfield and Conca D'Oro Riverwood.

In 2011 major modern additions were made to the east and north-east of the main Curzon Hall building, leaving the Agincourt Road view of the building intact.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Accommodation-Activities associated with the provision of accommodation, and particular types of accommodation – does not include architectural styles – use the theme of Creative Endeavour for such activities. Gentleman's villas-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Land tenure-Activities and processes for identifying forms of ownership and occupancy of land and water, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Naming places (toponymy)-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Towns, suburbs and villages-Activities associated with creating, planning and managing urban functions, landscapes and lifestyles in towns, suburbs and villages Nineteenth Century Development-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Towns, suburbs and villages-Activities associated with creating, planning and managing urban functions, landscapes and lifestyles in towns, suburbs and villages Suburban Development-
6. Educating-Educating Education-Activities associated with teaching and learning by children and adults, formally and informally. (none)-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Architectural styles and periods - Federation-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Leisure-Activities associated with recreation and relaxation (none)-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Religion-Activities associated with particular systems of faith and worship provision of religious education-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with prominent local persons-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Curzon Hall built 1897-1899, is of historical significance as one of the last built of the grand gentlemen's villas of the Ryde district, as the residence of entrepreneur Harry Smith and his family from 1899-1921.During its period as a residence, it was a well-known social venue. Curzon Hall is also of historical siginficance for its operation as a Catholic seminary from 1922-1982, and as a well-known wedding reception/function centre since 1983.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
Curzon Hall has historical association with entrepreneur Harry Smith and his family (1898-1921), and with the Catholic Order of the Vincentian Fathers, who operated a Seminary on the property 1922-1982.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
Curzon Hall is of aesthetic significance as a grand, eclectic Federation Free Classical style residence set within large grounds, on a prominent corner site at the junction of Agincourt and Balaclava Roads, Marsfield. The house was designed by architect David Thomas Morrow, who was also the designer of the state-heritage listed Babworth House, Darling Point, as well as numerous commercial buildings in Sydney.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
Curzon Hall has social significance for its operation as a well-known wedding reception/function centre since 1983.
SHR Criteria g)
A representative grand example of the Federation Free Classical style.
Integrity/Intactness: Largely intact.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Recommended management:

DOCUMENTATION: A Heritage Impact Statement is required by Council to accompany any Development Application for non-minor work. Please consult Council staff about your proposal and the level of documentation that will be required as early as possible in the process. Note that Council has adopted planning provisions to assist in the making of minor changes that will not have any impact on the significance of properties without the need to prepare a formal application or Heritage Impact Statement. In this case Council must be consulted in writing to confirm the nature of the works. APPROACHES TO MANAGING THE HERITAGE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PROPERTY: (Note: the detailed requirements for each property will be determined on a case-by-case basis. The following advice provides general principles that should be respected by all development.) Further subdivision of the land is discouraged. The overall form of the building should be retained and conserved and new uses should be restricted to those that are historically consistent and/or able to be accommodated within the existing fabric with minimal physical impact. All significant exterior fabric should be retained and conserved. The setting of the property should be protected from the impacts of development and significant plantings, walls, paths and other landscape elements should be retained in a manner that will not threaten the viability of significant gardens, landscapes or views. The external surfaces and materials of significant facades (generally, but not limited to, those visible from the street or a public place) should be retained, and painted surfaces painted in appropriate colours. Sandstone and face brickwork should not be painted or coated. Significant door and window openings should not be enlarged or enclosed. OPPORTUNITIES FOR CHANGE: All development should respect the principle of ‘do as much as necessary but as little as possible’. In most instances, new work should not attempt to replicate historic forms. A ‘contemporary neutral’ design that sits quietly on the site, and enhances the quality of the item, will be a more sympathetic outcome than a ‘fake’ historic building. Respecting the scale and overall forms, proportions and rhythms of the historic fabric is critical. As a general principle, all major alterations and additions should NOT: - result in demolition of significant fabric - result in excessive site cover; - be visually prominent or overwhelm the existing buildings. - intrude into any views of the property from the public domain; and should be: - located behind the historic building/s on the site; - visually subservient and have minimal impact on heritage significance including that of views over the property. Single storey extensions will generally be preferred over two-storey forms unless there is a sound heritage reason to do otherwise. Attic rooms must be accommodated in the original roof form. Solid fences or high walls on street boundaries and structures - including car parking structures - forward of the front building line are strongly discouraged.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental PlanRyde LEP 20101   
Local Environmental PlanRyde Draft LEP 2011I1   
Local Environmental PlanRyde LEP 2014I102 Sep 14   
Local Environmental Plan - LapsedLEP No 10510117 Jan 03 14344
Heritage study 101   

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
Ryde Heritage Study1988101Jonathan Falk Planning Consutants P/L Assoc with Rodney Jensen and Assoc P/L  No
Review of 1988 Ryde Heritage Study.2002 Hill Thalis Architecture and Urban Projects.  Yes
Ryde SHI Review Stage 12012 Paul Davies Pty Ltd  Yes

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenAngela Phippen2008Marsfield suburb history, Dictionary of Sydney online
WrittenHistory page - Curzon Hall website2012 
WrittenPat Smyth (Ed. Kevin Shaw)2002Curzon Hall entry in "Historic Ryde: A guide to some significant heritage sites in the City of Ryde
WrittenSydney Morning Herald, 23 June 19131913Obituary "Death of Mr. Harry Smith"

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Local Government
Database number: 2340001

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