Leura c1891 - One of Sydney's grandest estates

Leura, 24 Victoria Road, BELLEVUE HILL NSW 2023

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Bellevue Hill trophy home Leura sets suburb record at $30 million

Nov 10, 2015 Lucy Macken Domain Prestige Reporter
The Bellevue Hill trophy residence Leura sold on Monday afternoon 10-Nov-2015 for more than $30 million, setting a suburb record in the process.
  • The sale by businessman Ken Allen and his wife, Christine, to an Australian buyer came the day before it was scheduled to go to auction, and for in excess of its original $30 million guide.
  • Built in the 1890s for Tom Knox, managing director of the Dalgety stock and station agency, in the Federation Queen Anne style and set on a vast 4260 square metres, the mansion includes eight bedrooms, eight bathrooms, a ballroom, tennis court and a swimming pool.
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LEURA - 24 Victoria Rd, Bellevue Hill. Built in 1891 for Mr Tom Knox, brother of Edward William Knox, adjoining 'Rona' and probably by the same architect.
  • Of Federation Queen Anne style, the house was gutted by fire in January, 1909 and the wooden shingle roof replaced by terracotta shingles.
  • In 1956, the house was purchased by Cranbrook School serving as 'Street House' for boarders named after the then President of the School Council, Sir Kenneth Street
  • Leura has since returned to the private sector. The site was once an Aboriginal camp alongside a natural spring.[1]
  • Sales listing

Leura, the trophy home Bellevue Hill spring 2015 offering

Businessman Ken Allen and wife Christina have listed one of Sydney's finest estates, the 1891 Bellevue Hill mansion, Leura.
  • It comes with initially cautious $30 million plus advisory.
  • Some 29 years since last sold, the tightly held home has just had the six owners through its 125 years.
  • Its listing is perfectly timed as leading eastern suburbs agents are complaining there's simply not enough prestige property to satisfy the latent spring market demand.
Set on 4,260 square metres Leura is a trophy home "unparalleled in grace, style and historic significance".
Situated on a 4260 square metres Leura has a lot to offer. Photo supplied
Situated on a 4260 square metres Leura has a lot to offer. Photo supplied
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Even in Sydney $30 million seems a lot for a property
but just the views at Leura are worth at least that!
The view from 'Leura' located in Bellevue Hill.
The view from 'Leura' located in Bellevue Hill.
It was built on the Bellevue Hill ridge line for the Knox family, of the then burgeoning Colonial Sugar Refinery empire.
  • The middle aged Tom Knox had Leura, and his older brother, Edward had nearby Rona, probably both designed by the same architect, Walter Vernon Liberty.
  • Tom Knox, who had married into the Victorian pastoralist Ritchie family, was the managing director of Dalegty, the stock and station agency.
  • Those pioneering Knox brothers chose the hillside panorama long before Sydney Harbour’s famous icons, partly because of the unsanitary conditions down on the water’s edge.
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“It is a monument to the Federation Queen Anne style of architecture from the era,” Ray White Double Bay listing agent Michael Finger says.
August 11, 2015 5:26pmThe Sunday Telegraph
With eight bedrooms and plenty of space there is all the room a growing family could need.
With eight bedrooms and plenty of space there is all the room a growing family could need.
Finger's Ray White colleague Di Wilson says the property was purchased in the mid-1950s by Cranbrook School for boarders.
  • With privacy at the very end of a circular driveway off Victoria Road, the eight bedroom home combines traditional opulence and modern design. There's a tennis court and resort swimming pool...and private level lawns overlooked by wide north facing verandahs.
  • It last traded through Michael Finger in 1986 for a then very impressive $7.3 million when sold by the top end home restorer Bill Shipton, who'd engaged building designer, Roderick Learoyd, trained at the Oxford School of Architecture, to assist in its renaissance.
  • The 1986 sale to the New Zealand businessman heralded the brief mid-1980s trend of Kiwi entrepreneurs crossing the Tasman to try their luck in Sydney, all with trophy home acquisition to boot. They included the Goodman Fielder Wattie chairman, Pat Goodman who secured another Shipton home, the 1917 Double Bay mansion, Verona.
  • Most departed after the 1987 stockmarket crash, with Sydney not ever seeing the likes of Sir Frank Renouf, John Spencer, Rod Petricevic and Colin Reynolds again.

Leura

Other name/s: Street House (Cranbrook School)
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  • Heritage Registered in NSW
  • Over 4260 square meters of established grounds, resort style sanctuary (Ray White Double Bay, 2015).
  • Retains its splendid setting and panoramic views of Sydney harbour; the curved drive passes below in front of the house (Boyd, unpub., 2010, 226).
  • Site of an old Aboriginal camp and has a natural spring (NTA, 1978).
A Substantial Marine Villa but in 1890, probably the last collaboration between (Walter Liberty) Vernon and (Howard) Joseland. Two storey brick house retains its splendid setting and panoramic views of Sydney harbour.
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  • The characteristic Shavian planning is evident in the arrangement of the principal rooms, which overlook the harbour, around the substantial stair hall.
  • The small gable that marks the entrance and the main stair hall are Gothic Revival in character, employing restrained Gothic style tracery to the large window that lights the stairhall and to the front door.
  • The stairhall has been altered; the ceiling and the upper rooms were unfortunately destroyed in a fire in 1909. A new roofline, with an additional gable was built.
  • The generous two-storey vernadah employs cast iron columns, providing the necessary strength for the added height (Boyd, unpub., 2010, 226-9).
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Prestige Family Estate, Unrivalled And Unforgettable

Undeniably one of Sydney's grandest estates, Leura c1891 is a landmark residence unparalleled in grace, style and historic significance. The majestic home is embraced by 4,260sqm of established grounds and is a monument to the Federation Queen Anne style of architecture from the era.
Set against a breathtaking panorama over Sydney Harbour's famous icons, the home has been intuitively crafted to create a resort-style sanctuary with a magical sense of privacy and seclusion at the very end of an exclusive circular driveway.
  • 8 bedrooms, 8 bathrooms, 6 car garage
  • Grand interiors with elegant details
  • Tennis court and resort swimming pool
  • Private level lawns and wide verandahs
  • Gracious formal and informal areas
  • Original ballroom with soaring ceilings
  • North facing with superb harbour views[2]

History

Bellevue Hill:

The name given to the suburb was taken from that given to the look-out area which later became Bellevue Park - named 'Belle Vue' by Governor Macquarie as an alternative to the colloquial 'Vinegar Hill' which Macquarie considered vulgar (Woollahra Council, local history fast-facts, Bellevue Hill, accessed 7/8/2015).
  • The area was accessed by the Old South Head Road from 1811 and the New South Head Road from the 1830s. Victoria Road was formed by the Surveyor General, Sir Thomas Mitchell's survey of 1844 (Broomham, Bellevue Hill thematic history, in Woollahra Library, 2015, 1).

Point Piper Estate:

  • The subject properties were originally part of the extensive Point Piper Estate, land accumulated by Captain John Pipe since 1816, later conveyed to the emancipist traders Cooper and Levey in 1826 following Piper experiencing financial difficulties. The estate, by then comprising 1130 acres, became the property exclusively of Daniel Cooper in 1847. After 1850 Cooper began offering some sections of his estate for sale and others as 99 year leases (ibid, 2015, 1).
  • Edwin Tooth took up a lease of over 40 acres in Bellevue Hill in December 1854 (Broomham, R., 'Coopers of Woollahra', 2000, 14). Following Edwin's death, his brother Robert Tooth built the mansion Cranbrook on the southern side of New South Head Road in 1859-60. Cranbrook was eventually sold to the founders of Cranbrook School in 1917 (ibid, 2015, 1).
  • In c1880 Edward Knox and his brother-in-law William GIlchrist sub-leased an area of Edwin's land in Bellevue Hill, and by the turn of the century had purchased the freehold from the Cooper family. Edward built the house 'Rona' on his part of the land in 1883. Edward Knox and William Gilchrist made available a portion of land adjacent to Rona for Edward's brtoehr Thomas Forster Knox (ibid, 2015, 1).
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Leura's Garden:

Over 4260 square meters of established grounds, resort style sanctuary (Ray White Double Bay, 2015).
  • Retains its splendid setting and panoramic views of Sydney harbour; the curved drive passes below in front of the house (Boyd, unpub., 2010, 226).
  • Site of an old Aboriginal camp and has a natural spring (NTA, 1978).
  • Trees include a Hill's fig on the house's western side (Ficus microcarpa 'Hillii')(Stuart Read, pers.comm., 19/8/2015).
  • Commanding position to harbour - important in visual catchment from New South Head Road as evidenced by photograph E33 (Hughes Trueman et al, 1984).
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Mansion:

Federation Queen Anne style mansion (1891) adjoining 'Rona' and probably by the same architect (WMC, 2015).
  • Early Queen Anne style, leading to Federation style.
  • Leadlight doors and window at rear.
  • Timber panelling. Grand stair.
  • Prominent siting to Sydney Harbour. Site of an old Aboriginal camp and has a natural spring.
  • Knox family connection.
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A number of the original decorative details survive, such as the wave motif to the dado rail, the blue and white transfer tiles and the fern and sunburst detail to the grate in the dining room.
  • The decorative motifs used are similar to the interior schemes designed by French-Australian artist Lucien Henry. Details such as panelled timber ceilings and soffits and the incised Japanese-style curves in the solid brackets to the first floro are details that appear in Vernon's later domestic designs, the former in his own house at Wendover and in the postal chamber of the Newtown Post Office and the latter in the staff residence in the grounds of Callan Park.
  • Further evidence that the house is largely Vernon's work is a surviving (unpublished) tender analysis held by Woollahra Council. Completed by 'Mr. Vernon', the list included prices from two of the builders engaged to build a number of the residences in the Neutral Bay Estate.
  • It is likely that detailed supervision of the construction of Leura was undertaken by Joseland; the houe was not completed until 1891, by which time Vernon had been appointed Government Architect.
  • Of Vernon's surviving work prior to this appointment, it is this design that marks the watershed between the London-influenced Queen Anne Revival and Shavian English Domestic Revival and the more restrained local variant of the style: the Federation style.
  • It was the domestic-scale public buildings designed by Vernon and the Government Architect's Branch in the 1890s that helped to spread the Federation style across the state, however he had already been using a similar architectural vocabulary before his appointment to the position (ibid, 2010, 229).
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Physical condition and/or Archaeological potential: Very good (17/5/1984: Tanner & Associates; Jack & Ashton, 1984). Date condition updated: 27 Aug 15

Modifications and dates:

  • 1909: gutted by fire in January that year, the wooden shingle roof was replaced by terracotta shingles.
    • The billiard room on the house's south-west is a later addition (ibid, 228).
  • 1956 purchased by Cranbrook School to serve as 'Street House' for boarders.
  • 1956 Fowell, Mansfield & Macluran (for Cranbrook School) alterations and additions (approved 17.12.1956)
  • 1959 Fowell, Mansfield & Macluran (for Cranbrook School) toilet added (approved 12.1.1959)
  • 1965 Denis Rourke architect/builder (for Cranbrook School) - fire stair added (approved 23.12.1965).
  • c.1985 R.Learoyd architect/builder (for B.Levy) - alterations and additions (approval date not recorded);
  • CPA consultants (for B.Levy) (pool and tennis court (approved 8.4.1986).
  • c.1985 W.J.Shipton - mechanical vent, heating (approved 25.5.1986).
  • c1987 Rodera P/L (for K. Allen) alterations and additions (approved 30.6.1989)
  • c.1990 K.Allen - fencing (approved 11.4.1991)(ibid, 2015, 5).
It has since returned to the private sector (WMC, 2015).

Garden Notes

Helen Rutledge in her book 'My Granfather's House' (Doubleday, 1986) remembered the fire which 'completely gutted' the house. She notes that it had originally been roofed with oak shingles, but after the fire was re-roofed with brown Marseilles tiles (ibid, 2015, 2).

Helen Rutledge gives a detailed account of the gardens and outlook at Leura in her book. She describes it as 'extremely beautiful'.
  • G.Nesta Griffiths ('Some houses and people of New South Wales, 155) also noted that Leura was 'so well-known for its beautiful garden'.
  • The house having been built on an outcrop of rock above the quarry 'forward of Rona' afforded a 'spectacular view'.
  • 'Mrs Knox capitalised on her unyielding terrain and made a brilliant and unusual rock garden. WIth its winding paths and exotic planting, it was a more famous garden than that of Rona, but most memorable were the massed rock lilies (in fact orchids, Dendrobium speciosissimum: Stuart Read, pers.comm., 4/9/2015).

Unlike Rona, no lawns were attempted, except for a tennis court away from the house on a more or less level corner.
  • The long S-shaped rdrive was handsomely planted and curved round a tropical jungle of palms, bananas, ginger and bird of paradise flower (Strelitzia sp.) which was watered by the spring that once was piped across the road to water the Cranbrook horse paddock.
  • Giant bamboos were grown between the two houses (Rona and Leura) and enhanced the view without blocking it...
  • Neighbourly gates were set at different levels for the use of the two families (Rutledge, 53-54).
  • When discussing the fire, Rutledge also refers to the rose bushes that grew 'beside the house' (ibid, 62). [3]

Ownership records:


The house Leura was built in 1891 for Thomas Forster (Tom) Knox, adjoining Rona (ibid, 2015, 1).

  • The tender for construction of the house dated 3/4/1890 is reprinted in 'Cranbrook - the first fifty years 1918-1968' by A.C.Child, Cranbrook School, 1968, 159.
  • It has been suggested in the Classification sheet of the National Trust of Australia (NSW), 1978 and the Woollahra Heritage Study 1984 that the architect for the house was 'probably the same architect' as Rona, namely G.A.Morell. However a note on the tender reads 'Addendum to contract by Mr. Vernon' - which suggusts that the architect was in fact Walter Liberty Vernon (ibid, 2015, 2; Boyd, 2012).
  • The house was completd in the following year, 1891, for Thomas Knox (ibid, 2015, 2).
  • What became Leura was Lot 5 of the 1883 subdivision (ibid, 2015, 4).


The date of construction predates the requirement of the 1906 Local Government Act (which came into force in 1909) that a building apploication including plans/drawings be lodged with the relevant Council. Thus no plans of the original building are held by Woollahra Municipal Council (ibid, 2015, 2).

  • Thomas Knox and his family lived at Leura from 1891 until 1956 when Miss Helen Knox died and the house was sold (ibid, 2015, 2).
  • In 1956, the house (Lot 5 - 24 Victoria Rd.) was purchased at auction by Cranbrook School, after the death of Miss Helen Knox in February 1956 (ibid, 2015, 4). It served as 'Street House' for 60 boarder boys, named after the then President of the School Council, Sir Kenneth Street.

Following the School Council's adoption of a proposal for development of the school by the architects Fowell, Mansfield, Jarvis and Maclauran in the early 1970s, Street House was sold c.1979.
  • After being sold by the school the property reverted to its original name, Leura. It appears to have been transferred to M. (& B.) Levy in c.1979. It was sold again in c.1985 and reported in 'The Eastern Herald' that the new owners (who appear to be W.J.Shipton) had embarked on a substantial program of renovation' (16.1.1986, p.15, in ibid, 2015, 4).
  • In 1987 the owner was Mrs C. Allen (NTA, 1978, subsequent annotation on form). Woollahra Council development application records note a K.Allen in that year and in 1990 (ibid, 2015, 5).


  1. ^ http://www.woollahra.nsw.gov.au/library/local_history/local_history_fast_facts/l
  2. ^ http://www.domain.com.au/for-sale/24-victoria-road-bellevue-hill-nsw-2023-2012176280
  3. ^ http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/heritageapp/ViewHeritageItemDetails.aspx?ID=5045209