Ashbury is only about 10 kilometres south west of Sydney but most Sydneysiders are unaware of its existence. It lies between Ashfield and Canterbury. Before 1925 it was known as variously as Canterbury, Canterbury Heights, Ashfield South and Ashfield Heights and Goodlet's Bush. When the local primary school was built in 1925 and called Ashbury Public School the local area also became known as Ashbury.
I have met numerous people who have lived in the suburb for over 45 years and a few who have been in their homes for 70 years. Ashbury is the sort of suburb that people move into, raise their families and then grow old slowly. As one wag I met recently said ‘People are dying to get out of Ashbury... it’s the only way they leave.’
The suburb of Ashbury strides the two local government areas of the Inner West and Canterbury Bankstown. The part of Ashbury in the Canterbury Bankstown Municipality, basically from Holden Street west to Hay Street, is regarded by Canterbury Bankstown Council as the Ashbury Heritage Conservation Area. It states categorically that in January 2013 - “…the whole suburb of Ashbury” became a Heritage Conservation Area". The objectives for declaring Ashbury a conservation area focus on its traditional Federation and inter‐war building character, even to the extent of reversing previous unsympathetic development and the reinstatement of previous decorative features and materials. Specifically mentioned are the characteristic windows and doors that contribute positively to original houses and the streetscape and that new windows and doors are compatible with the original character of the area. It is to this end that this site attempts to document the leadlight windows that currently exist and to provide a resource for people who wish to replace some of the modern windows with ones that are more appropriate to the suburb’s character or just to enjoy the beauty of what is already there.
The South Ashfield Brick and Tile Company, incorporated in 1910, once operated the South Ashfield Brickworks (later called the Ashbury Brickyard). It undoubtedly supplied the bricks and tiles used in the construction of the homes in the suburb. Paradoxically, while it was once a brick pit it is the highest point in the Canterbury area. Now Ashbury is almost entirely a residential suburb. Where there was a brick pit in Ashbury is now Peace Park at what was described in the 1880’s as Ashfield Heights.
There are quite a few dwellings in Ashbury that were built in the period from the late 1880’s till the outbreak of World War 1 and these fit into the Federation period and have a Federation or Post-Federation feel to them. These pre-World War 1 buildings are entirely within the Inner West Council area. However, most of Ashbury’s urban development occurred immediately after World War 1; from 1919 till 1929 and homes built in this period are in the Canterbury Bankstown Council.
Soldiers returning from World War I were promised a 'land fit for heroes', and schemes such as the Commonwealth War Service Homes Scheme were set up to help them rebuild their lives and establish their families and it was to new developments such as Ashbury that they returned. Many ex-servicemen chose the Canterbury district to establish their first homes because of the relatively easy access it provided to public transport. Many of the advertisements for land in Ashbury after World War 1 highlighted access to trams and the station at Canterbury. The population of Canterbury as a whole was 4000 in 1901, 37000 in 1921 and more than doubled to 79000 by 1930. By 1930 almost all of the building lots in Ashbury had been sold and built on.
Most of the dwellings constructed in Ashbury would have been built by local builders but the plans were often subject to the banks approval (The Commonwealth Bank was the bank that issued loans for houses under the War Services Homes Scheme). Another influence on the design of houses in Ashbury would have been the building covenants placed on the sale of the blocks in various subdivisions. The Queens Grove Estate (Allibone, Crimson and the east end of Travenar Streets sold in 1913) had a building covenant of £300. Almost all other subsequent subdivisions mentioned a ‘building covenant for the protection of buyers’. These building covenants were imposed to ensure the purchasers of the lots completed building their homes within a certain time-frame and followed specific building and design requirements. These covenants represented a considerable expense as annual average wages at the time were approximately £150. The influence of the bank, the covenants and the fact that most of the dwellings were built in a relatively small time frame have resulted in a remarkably consistent feel in the streetscape of Ashbury. One of the other likely influences on the feel of Ashbury is the type of brick used. This may have been a result of the bricks being made by the local brick works.
What was built in Ashbury after World War 1 made it the land of the Californian bungalow. Ashbury displays the general principles of urban development that were consistent with the times; a planned garden suburb with covenants ensuring the use of quality of building materials and construction, reasonably wide streets to accommodate the arrival of automobiles and public transport and many, but not all, having wide pathways down the side of the house to allow access for cars to the back yard and what would become the garage. To anyone walking around Ashbury it is obvious that a significant number of the houses remain largely intact, possibly with a first floor extension. It is also obvious that quite a few homes have been ‘modernised’ and have lost their original character together with their leadlight windows.
There are no units or flats in Ashbury but there are quite a few ‘semi-detached’ bungalows. In the streets close to Ashfield there are some residences that were built in the late Victorian period (1880-1900) but these are few in number. Scattered around, and usually closer to Ashfield and in Hardy Street, there are a few surviving Federation era houses (1895-1913) and there are a few houses built after the War that were built in the Federation style. In the numbered streets (First – Fifth) the average size of the blocks is around 400-500m2 but blocks to the west and southwest in streets such as Cheviot, Roslyn, Trevenar and Lasswade are much larger and approach the mythical size of the quarter acre block (about 800-1000m2).
One of the defining design features of the Californian bungalow is the columns holding up a front veranda area. One of the idiosyncrasies of the bungalows in Ashbury is that they all have slightly different columns. Rarely do two adjacent buildings have the same style columns. While the dwellings are almost exclusively Californian bungalow in design there are some quite interesting influences, particularly that of the Arts and Craft movement with some houses having arched or semi-arched mason’s entrances. Others reflect the influence of English Neo-Tudor designs with heavily leaded diamond leadlight even to the extent of having a shield/coat of arms in the centre.
Leadlight windows are a significant architectural feature of Ashbury. There are some truly stunning lead light windows in Ashbury. It is really worth the effort to walk around to admire the leadlight that can be seen from the streets. While the houses were built for working people of modest means the houses invariably contained leadlight windows and a surprisingly large number of these remain intact today. The design of these leadlights reflects the period in which the houses were built. Those built in the early 1920’s reflect the influence of Art Nouveau. As the decade went on the influence of modernism and Art Deco crept into the designs and in the mid to late 1920’s many of the leadlight windows display transitional features; a little bit of Art Nouveau and a little bit of Art Deco. In Ashbury there are some wonderful examples of late Art Nouveau and Art Deco almost adjacent to each other.
There are even some examples of the influence of the nationalism of Federation in the small windows displaying kookaburras and cockatoos. Some of these small windows provided an opportunity for the lead light artisans to create pictorial designs that contrast with the symmetrical and angular forms of most of the large lead light windows. These small windows are square or rectangular in contrast to the circular windows of the Federation period. They have a definite Art Nouveau feel about them and use a romanticised style of imagery. There are quite a few of these intact in Cheviot Street where the design of the houses and the windows clearly suggests that they were built by the same builder and that the leadlight windows were made by the same workshop/artisans. They portray rural scenes, sailing ships, lighthouses and even windmills all designed with a wonderful Art Nouveau feel about them.
It appears that only about 50% of the homes in Ashbury have retained their original leadlight windows.
I managed to find a large number of Ashbury sub-division maps through the State Library of New South Wales. One way to tentatively identify the date of construction of the residences has been to use these subdivision maps which indicate when the land was offered for sale and then make the assumption that the any house built would have been built a year or two after it was offered for sale. Accordingly the style of lead light windows can be associated with the construction of the houses.
The area around Woodlands Road and Milton Street North was also referred to as ‘Ashfield Heights’ when it was offered for sale in 1884. Allibone and Crimson Street were described as the Queens Grove Estate in Ashfield South when offered for sale in 1913 (Allibone Street has two street signs, one spelt ‘Allibone’ and the other ‘Alibone’; an artefact of it being at one stage in two council areas.) In November of 1913 a small number of blocks, also described as part of the Queens Grove Estate, were offered for sale at the end of Travenar Street (then still known as Goodlet Street) and in Holden Street between Travenar and Palace Street.
And then, right in the middle of World War 1, the 1st subdivision of the ‘Wattle Hill Estate’ in Hurlstone Park was offered for sale in 1915. These lots in First and Second Streets were ‘A few minutes from Canterbury RLY Station and Hurlstone Park Tram… Beautiful villa sites and good gardening land… City Water and Electric Light Available.’ In 1916 those lots that hadn’t sold in First and Second Streets were offered for sale with Third, Fourth and Fifth Streets together with eight blocks in Holden Street between Fourth and Fifth Streets. It is reasonable to assume that while some houses would have been erected soon after purchase the majority would not have been built until the end of World War 1 primarily because it would have been difficult to find men able to do the building work and to find materials. As a result this would have made construction in the Wattle Hill Estate almost contemporaneous with that which was to occur in the Goodlet Estate in the other side of the suburb. It is surprising just how far Hurlstone Park as a place/suburb has moved in the past 100 years.
Land on the north side of Trevenar Street (odd Nos 11-61), Milton Street (odd Nos 179-195) and what is now known as Whitfield Avenue (then New Street, odd Nos7-63) was described as ‘Ashfield Heights Estate On the Heights of Canterbury Adjoining Goodlett’s Estate’ and offered for sale in November 1920. The Hill Top Estate in Ashfield (Holden Street, Trevenar and King Streets) was auctioned in 1924.
Canterbury Estate, on which Arthur Jeffries built Canterbury House in 1850, occupied most of the land that between Georges River Road and the Cooks River (1242 Acres or 507 hectares). The house itself was built on land that is now bordered by Alison, Forbes, Goodlet and Leith Streets. John Goodlet bought Canterbury House in 1886. Trevenar Street was originally known as Goodlet Street and served as a grand entrance to the estate. After John Goodlet’s death in 1914 the surrounding land was subdivided eventually into nine estates. These were sold off in a ten year period immediately after World War 1 between 1919 and 1929. The first subdivisions were in the north of the suburb around northern end of Leopold and Goodlet Streets. The majority of the sites made up the southern side of the suburb and were sold between 1922 and 1925. Canterbury House was demolished in 1929 when the final subdivision was released.
About half the suburb of Ashbury was built on Goodlet Estate subdivisions.
The Goodlet Estate Subdivisions (1919-1928)
1919 Hay Street, Forbes Street, Leopold Street & Goodlet Street north of Alison Street
1920 Goodlet Street east side
1921 Goodlet Street west side but northern end (Not part of Ashbury now)
1922 King Street west side (between Roslyn and Melville), Ettrick Street east side (between Roslyn and Melville), and Lasswade Street (between King and Ettrick Streets)
1922 Melville Street south (between Lasswade and Ettrick Streets), Ayr Street, Lasswade Street and Kelvin Street North.
1924 Kelvin Street south side, Ettrtick Street west side (between Roslyn and Kelvin Streets), Roslyn Street (between Ayr and King Streets) and Cheviot Street (East of Malleny Street)
1925 Leith Street south side (between Hay and Lasswade Streets), Crieff Street (north of Cheviot Street), Roslyn Street (between Crieff and Leith Streets) including Nos 50, 52 & 54), Cheviot Street north side (between Malleny and Kay Street and Hay Street (from Cheviot to Roslyn Street.
1925 Hay Street (between Harmony and Cheviot Streets), Cheviot Street South (between Malleny and Hay Streets), Crief Street (from the race course to Cheviot Street) and Harmony Street.
1928 Forbes Street west side (between Leith and Alison Streets) and Goodlet Street west (between Leith and Alison Streets).
9th Subdivision No2
1929 Forbes Street east side (between Leith and Alison Streets) and Leopold Street (between Leith and Alison Streets). This was the last subdivision and Canterbury House was demolished to make way for the newer residences.
By the early 1930’s the suburb of Ashbury was built. The brick pit operated till 1965 and was purchased by NSW Government in 1978 for use as open space and officially opened as Peace Park in 1993.
It would be great to know the exact date the houses in Ashbury were built and if anyone can help please contact me.
Date of Observations and photographs taken: July 2017