House "Richmond Villa" Including Interior | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


House "Richmond Villa" Including Interior

Item details

Name of item: House "Richmond Villa" Including Interior
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Residential buildings (private)
Category: Villa
Location: Lat: -33.8628403586155 Long: 151.202865181539
Primary address: 116-122 Kent Street, Millers Point, NSW 2000
Local govt. area: Sydney
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
116-122 Kent StreetMillers PointSydney  Primary Address

Statement of significance:

Of architectural significance as one of the primary examples of the Australian domestic Gothic Revival. A successful example of careful dismantling and re-erection and of adaptive re-use. Part of an important streetscape of early residential buildings.

Richmond Villa is of state historical and aesthetic signficance as a fine example of a Gothic Revival Cottage designed by the Colonial Architect Mortimer Lewis. The Villa represents the spread of architectural ideas through the colonies via pattern books and is a rare example of a Colonial Architect designing for himself. The Villa demonstrates one of the earliest transitions between the Georgian style (basis of plan) and the neogothic style (basis of elevations). The Villa represents the changes to conservation philosophy since the introduction of the Burra Charter and provides evidence of the need to expand Parliament House in the late 19th century. The Villa is a successful and rare example of careful dismantling, re-erection and adaptive re-use of a state significant building.
Date significance updated: 05 Jan 06
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: Mortimer Lewis
Construction years: 1849-1851
Physical description: Richmond Villa is constructed on top of a rock shelf above the level of Kent Street. This rock shelf was likely a result of early stone quarrying that took place in this vicinity c1810 - 1830s. This work would eventually form a regular alignment to Kent Street. The present wall is a combination of vertically cut outcrops of sandstone with large block sparrow picked smooth faced ashlar stone masonry reaching heights of approximately 3m. There is a set of wide trachyte steps in a passage cut through the sandstone outcrop, which is augmented with ashlar sandstone, indicating that this wall was upgraded during the works carried out by Walsh on the wharfs and surrounds. An iron palisade gate secures the base of the steps under a segmental stone arch.
The original buildings on this site, part of the group of buildings owned by James Glover, dated from the 1820s. Some of these were demolished and redeveloped in the 1880s, and it appears most of these structures were then demolished during the plague resumption works in 1900, with only the adjacent Glover Cottages surviving. The site chosen for the reconstruction of Richmond Villa was reportedly vacant from 1880.
Richmond Villa was designed as a Colonial Georgian villa and was most likely an amalgam of designs from Loudon’s Pattern Book (1833), however Lewis also experimented with the new romantic gothic style and introduced an elevational features such as a decorative verandah, eaves fascia and barge board from Ziegler’s The Royal Lodges (1839). In so doing Lewis presages the impending romantic movement in architecture.
The villa itself is a two storey building with underground basement. Constructed from thick sandstone walls the ground floor features a half round projecting bow window in the drawing room but instead of an encircling verandah Lewis ran a straight verandah across its face. The bow features five sets of curved French doors with transomlights and internal shutters. The second principle room features a rectangular bay window with gothic inspired window openings. The verandah is paved with stone flagging. Generally the windows throughout the rest of the building are simple rectangular openings with a stone lintel and timber multi pane double hung windows. The upper level windows on the front face are broken into four by a large transom and mullion, and each panel appears to be a 4 pane awning or casement. There is one blind window, which appears to have been open in 1978.
The building originally fronted a garden facing east towards the Domain with its main entrance from the west in Domain Terrace. After reconstruction the building now faces west towards Kent Street. The ground floor consisted of the drawing room and another principle room, with a rear stair and small space off the entry hall. The upper floor has been described as “less successful” consisting of two large rooms at either end with much smaller rooms set of a central corridor running along the length of the building. Above the entry hall the space has been further divided. The divisions of this space may have derived from its later use as a parliamentary space. The basement space reflects the planning of the ground floor with further subdivision and is accessed by what would originally have been the back steps.

The building was originally described as having a timber shingle roof that was replaced with a corrugated iron roof in 1890. An 1892 plan shows the details of an entrance porch to the rear entrance that was demolished by 1920, this was reconstructed in 1978. Alterations were made in 1912 including new windows to the ground floor on the north and south walls (now the reverse). The bathrooms were remodelled 1934-36. In 1945 an external access was cut for the cellar, and in the 1950s the upper level was converted into sleeping quarters for ten, and the ground floor dining room was subdivided into three rooms with the original door moved.

The dismantling and reconstruction of Richmond Villa in 1975-1978 involved a very considerable intervention in the fabric. During this process many of the details needed to be reconstructed. The glazing bars had been removed in the 1970s and had to be reconstructed. The fretwork was reinstated based on surviving detail, and the roof was reconstructed as a timber shingle roof. The guttering detail appears to have related to the metal roof more than the shingle roof, and the original configuration is not known.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Date condition updated:31 Oct 08
Modifications and dates: 1849-1851
1912-1930 Alterations
1975-1972-Taken apart and re-erected at Kent St location.
Further information: Heritage Inventory sheets are often not comprehensive, and should be regarded as a general guide only. Inventory sheets are based on information available, and often do not include the social history of sites and buildings. Inventory sheets are constantly updated by the City as further information becomes available. An inventory sheet with little information may simply indicate that there has been no building work done to the item recently: it does not mean that items are not significant. Further research is always recommended as part of preparation of development proposals for heritage items, and is necessary in preparation of Heritage Impact Assessments and Conservation Management Plans, so that the significance of heritage items can be fully assessed prior to submitting development applications.
Current use: Offices
Former use: Residential


Historical notes: The "Eora people" was the name given to the coastal Aborigines around Sydney. Central Sydney is therefore often referred to as "Eora Country". Within the City of Sydney local government area, the traditional owners are the Cadigal and Wangal bands of the Eora. There is no written record of the name of the language spoken and currently there are debates as whether the coastal peoples spoke a separate language "Eora" or whether this was actually a dialect of the Dharug language. Remnant bushland in places like Blackwattle Bay retain elements of traditional plant, bird and animal life, including fish and rock oysters.

With the invasion of the Sydney region, the Cadigal and Wangal people were decimated but there are descendants still living in Sydney today. All cities include many immigrants in their population. Aboriginal people from across the state have been attracted to suburbs such as Pyrmont, Balmain, Rozelle, Glebe and Redfern since the 1930s. Changes in government legislation in the 1960s provided freedom of movement enabling more Aboriginal people to choose to live in Sydney.

(Information sourced from Anita Heiss, "Aboriginal People and Place", Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City )

In March 1814 Governor Macquarie made a grant of land in Macquarie Street to Lieutenant-Colonel Maurice O’Connell, the Commanding Officer of the 73rd Regiment and Lieutenant-Governor of the Colony of NSW. Whether this grant had been intended as the site for a residence for the officer commanding the NSW garrison is not known. The location was unusual for a residence as it was situated between the General Hospital (under construction) and the Light Horse Barracks. O’Connell’s was the first of only four grants made to private individuals in an area, the rest of which was devoted to government purposes. In June 1823 O’Connell sold his allotment to John Wylde, the deputy Judge advocate for 200 pounds suggesting that Wylde bought an empty block. Wylde also acquired the grant on the Macquarie Street frontage immediately to the south of the Light Horse Barracks, solving the problem of access to the site. In 1831 both allotments were sold to William Charles Wentworth for 960 pounds, the price reflecting that there was a building on the Macquarie Street frontage. Wentworth proceeded to subdivide the land into fifteen allotments and put them up for sale in May 1835. The subdivision also included an access road from Macquarie Street which turned to run parallel with the Domain frontage. This road was later called Domain Terrace. The owner who consolidated the block on which Richmond Villa was built was the Solicitor George John Rogers, a partner of William Carr (who purchased the land).

From 1851 until 1893 the house, designed by Mortimer Lewis, fronting the Domain was a family residence, first for resident owners and then for twenty years from the mid 1870s under lease. Originallyt owned and developed by Lewis, he became insolvent during the works in 1849. He continued to oversee the structure on behald of the new owner. In March 1851 the Villa, which had been lately erected, was sold by George Rogers to Samuel Peek for 2,200 pounds. Peek, grocer, importer, city councillor and radical resided in the house for only two years. In 1853 he sold the property to Josiah Lavers for 5,000 pounds, an increase in value of over 200%. Lavers owned and resided in the house for ten years and in December 1863 the house was sold for 4,350 pounds to James Williams, widower with four children, who lived at Richmond Villa until his death in 1872. The property was then managed by Williams trustees and leased in 1876 for a period of five years to George Neville Griffiths. Griffiths, a founder of the firm Griffiths & Weaver, stock and station agents, was a member of the Legislative Assembly for East Sydney from 1882 to 1885 and so resided close to the house. Despite its resumption in 1879, Richmond Villa remained as the Griffith’s residence, held on short term lease until 1893.

From 1893 until 1975 Richmond Villa was used as an annexe of Parliament House. From September 1893 until October 1906 one of the ground floor rooms of the house was used as the Parliament libraries book storage while the rest of the house was used as the Librarian’s quarters. Although the new Parliamentary Library called Jubilee Library was opened in 1906, Richmond Villa continued to be used for storage of part of the library until 1910. From 1912 until the 1930s alterations were undertaken to the house. Plans for alterations in 1912 show the two large rooms on the ground floor as Speaker’s Room and Dining Room and the upstairs arrangements as largely residential but with one of the bedrooms for use as a drawing room. New windows were inserted in the north and south walls on the ground floor, the back stairs removed, electric light installed and the main rooms redecorated. The 1918 plans however appear to contradict the removal of the back stairs. By 1932 the Country Party was using the two large ground floor rooms as offices and by 1935 the Party acquired the upstairs rooms as offices with accommodation for typists and a room for the leader of the Country Party. By 1950 the offices on the upper floor were converted into sleeping premises for ten politicians with office, kitchen and bathroom facilities. While the back of the house was much altered by an agglomeration of buildings and a covered way, the garden in the front of the house was maintained into the 1950s until it was later removed and used for a parking space.

In 1975 when it was found impossible to retain Richmond Villa within the proposed development for additions to Parliament House, it was decided to move the building to a new location. Its new site was on the east side of Kent Street, where the Villa was carefully taken apart at the end of 1975 and re-erected in 1976-1977. It was reopened in 1978 as the headquarters of the Society of Australian Genealogists to whom the building was leased by the government for 50 years.

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. Residential-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Richmond Villa is associated with the expansion of Parliament House in the late twentieth century. The villa is of historical significance as an example of a careful dismantling, re-erection and adaptive re-use of a heritage listed state significant building.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The Villa is an example of the design work of Mortimer Lewis, Colonial Architect, and is a rare surviving example of a Colonial Architect designing for himself.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The Villa is a fine example of a picturesque Gothic Revival style house intended to front the domain. It was one of a number of picturesque buildings constructed within and around the Domain. The Villa demonstrates one of the earliest transitions between the Georgian style (basis of plan) and the neogothic style (basis of elevations). Its relocation to Kent Street ensured its retention and makes for a significant aesthetic contribution to the streetscape particulary due to its elevated position well above the roadway with a rock cut to the street edge.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The Villa is associated with the development of the Domain as a public park, with a line of buildings fronting it rather than as a walled private demesne.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The Villa demonstrates past approaches to design and detailing and provides an example of Mortimer Lewis using Gothic Revival motifs although he generally preferred neoclassical, as the overall symmetry of the design shows.
SHR Criteria f)
The Villa is a rare surviving example, albeit no longer in its original configuration of cottage ornee, based on architectural pattern books.
SHR Criteria g)
The design of Richmond Villa, drawn from patterns books indicate how architectural ideas were spread throughout the colonies prior to architecture periodicals.
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:

The building should be retained and conserved. A Heritage Assessment and Heritage Impact Statement, or a Conservation Management Plan, should be prepared for the building prior to any major works being undertaken. There shall be no vertical additions to the building and no alterations to the façade of the building other than to reinstate original features. The principal room layout and planning configuration as well as significant internal original features including ceilings, cornices, joinery, flooring and fireplaces should be retained and conserved. Any additions and alterations should be confined to the rear in areas of less significance, should not be visibly prominent and shall be in accordance with the relevant planning controls.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental PlanSydney LEP 2012I92314 Dec 12   
Heritage study     

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenAnita Heiss Aboriginal People and Place, Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City
WrittenOtto Cserhalmi & Partners Architects P/L2000Conservation Plan Richmond Villa & Glover Cottages

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

(Click on thumbnail for full size image and image details)

Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Local Government
Database number: 2423502

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