A chance discussion with Edwina Doe at the start of the COVID-19 lock-down in March 2020 left me with the question ‘where was the house – Forest Lodge?’
The NSW Office of Environment & Heritage in its discussion of the Hereford & Forest Lodge Heritage Conservation Area states (incorrectly, as it turns out), ‘The approximate site today would be 208 and 210 Bridge Rd.’1 I searched for any documents on Forest Lodge and found an interesting plan showing Hereford House and Forest Lodge on the State Library website. A more detailed plan of Forest Lodge was provided by Lyn Collingwood; at the Dictionary of Sydney. Max Solling and Helen Randerson had written about the history of Forest Lodge; the Leichhardt Historical Journal (No.23, p.27) has a detailed discussion on Forest Lodge written by Michael Foster and Max Solling; there is also a Water Board map that shows buildings in the vicinity dated about 18892; and of course the Villas book published by the Glebe Society in its 50th Year has a photo and story on the dwelling.
This is the plan from Lyn Collingwood, showing that Forest Lodge was near the intersection of Ross St and Pyrmont Bridge Rd (now Bridge Rd).
From these sources we learn that architect John Verge designed Forest Lodge for Ambrose Foss in 1836, on part of the 31 acres, 2 roods and 15 perches (about 12.8-hectares) granted to him by Sir George Gipps on 8 March 1840. Over time the land was subdivided until we see Forest Lodge sitting within the just over one acre lot ‘C’ shown above. By August 1865 stationer William Downing was the owner of the house and land.3
William Downing (1836-1874)
The youngest of six children, William was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on 30 June 1836. Aged 22 he arrived Sydney on the immigrant ship Admiral Lyons on 30 December 1858 seeking a new life.
In less than seven years he was in a position to secure the house and land, with a sizeable mortgage, for himself and brother, Robert, who had a growing family. Robert, two years his senior, had married Jane Callam Farquharson in Edinburgh in July 1857. They sailed to Sydney where their first child, Jane, was born in 1858. Next came William in 1862, Robert in 1864, Anne in 1868 and Maggie in 1870 – the last two being born at Forest Lodge.
Of the adult Downings, there were four sisters older than Robert and William, the youngest being Jane who had married John Liddle Sheriff in Edinburgh in September 1855. The newly-weds sailed to Sydney soon afterwards arriving 23 February 1856 on the barque Anne Maclean.
These three gentlemen; Robert Downing, William Downing and John Sheriff, set themselves up, separately, as booksellers in Sydney. Business problems led John Sherriff into insolvency in 1867 and again in 1872 and he died in May 1881 aged 51.
Robert died much earlier, in December 1870, at the age of 36 leaving a widow with five youngsters. His funeral left from Forest Lodge.
William never married and following the death of Robert, when the house was sold in February 1871, he moved to 35 Westmoreland St, Glebe, with widowed Jane and the children. Three years later William died at this house. He was 38 years old and on 5 October 1874 he was buried in what is now Pioneer’s Park at Leichhardt, then known as the Balmain Cemetery.
Jane and her family later moved to live in the Stanmore Terrace in Gottenham St, Glebe, where she died in 1881 aged 46.
The healthiest of the Downing children was Jane, wife of John Sherriff, who lived to the age of 83.
William Munro (1813-1881)
Architect William Munro purchased the Forest Lodge property from William Downing in February 1871.4 Scottish born 26 year old carpenter William Munro sailed from Greenoch, Scotland along with his 58 year old widowed mother and five siblings on the ship James Moran, arriving with over 200 bounty immigrants at Sydney on Monday 11 February 1839.
His and his brother’s skills were sorely needed in the new colony, with William, Alexander and James all became builders. Freda MacDonnell, in her book The Glebe: Portraits and Places (pps. 53-55), describes William’s extensive construction career, starting out as a builder then becoming an architect. His commissions included Anglican and Catholic churches in Sydney and country NSW, residential buildings and significant warehouses.
Maybe William was too busy to think about marriage earlier because he was 40 when on 10 July 1852 at St Lawrence Church, George St, he wed Caroline Marsh, the daughter of builder John Marsh. They had three children – Alexandrina Elizabeth Caroline (1853-1926), Elizabeth (1856-1934) and William John (1861-1908). Elizabeth and William were both born in Glebe so identifying Alexandrina’s birthplace helps track where the family lived before 1856.
Alexandrina’s birth certificate seems not to be listed in the NSW Birth Register however her baptism is recorded in the register for St Luke’s Parish, Liverpool – born on 25 May 1853 and baptised on 13 July the same year. In the same record it states the family was living at Parramatta and William was a builder. Later he had an office at 64 Pitt St, Sydney, where he called himself an architect. Sands Directories show him living in Glebe Rd, Glebe, in 1865 and in Derwent St, Glebe, in 1870.
Moving to Forest Lodge came at time when his career as an architect was winding down and no doubt a time when he wanted to enjoy family life in comfort. This came to an unexpected end on 6 November 1880 when Caroline died at home, aged about 50. Interestingly in the funeral notice (below) their house was named as Forest House and not Forest Lodge.
William died four months later, on 7 March 1881, aged 68, both being buried at Rookwood Cemetery. When probate on William’s estate was determined it was valued at £25,000, a significant amount in 1881.
William John Munro (1861-1908)
William John Munro had attended Sydney University where he gained a BA in 1880. After the death of both parents he travelled to Scotland for medical studies where he graduated M.B. Ch.M. at Edinburgh University in 1884. No doubt his inheritance, which included ‘Forest House’, helped fund these studies and travel.5
Returning to Sydney in July 1885 and living at ‘Forest House’ William established a large family medical practice. Then on 20 March 1889 he married Flora Charity McLean at Rylstone, NSW.
Flora was from a pioneering family that had arrived in 1837 from Scotland before becoming graziers in the Mudgee region. William and Flora only had one child – a son, William Ross McLean Munro – born on 15 February 1891 at Glebe.
William (snr) became sick so, mainly for health reasons, in 1896 the family voyaged to Europe where he spent three years studying dermatology in London, Paris, Vienna and Berlin. Returning to Australia he practiced as a skin specialist in Macquarie St, being appointed to the honorary staff of Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, a position he held at the time of his death in July 1908. He was only 46 and is buried at the family plot in Rookwood Cemetery. At probate William’s estate was valued at £13,160.
The death of William was obviously a shock to his family and friends, and it was at a time when the larger parcels of land in Glebe were being subdivided for residential use. Under William’s will the land was transferred to Flora, who was given a life interest, and to his son, William who, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, was by then an architect.
Flora soon moved to Ashfield where she lived with her sister Kathleen in a house Flora jointly owned with her brother Norman. She died on 14 July 1947 aged 84 and, like her husband, was buried at Rookwood Cemetery.
William Ross Mclean Munro (1891-1960)
In 1912, at the age of 21 William became the sole owner, while Flora’s interests were protected by legal caveats. Forest House was demolished to make way for the Munro Terrace on Bridge Rd.
Some of the retail lots fronting Ross St had been developed by 1911 as can be seen in the 1911 map of Glebe;6 however ownership was still with the Munro family.
We know the Munro Terrace was constructed by 1913 as evidenced by an advertisement (below) which appeared in page 25 of the Sydney Morning Herald of Saturday 7 June 1913.
It seems William was attracted to the London lifestyle and beyond. The passenger list for the departing ship St Paul, at Southampton, England, destination New York on 6 September 1913 included student William McLean Ross-Munro. He had changed his name too.The land however was not subdivided until 1957 but was in September 1912 mortgaged to Sir William Charles Cooper of London, a baron.7 In October 1915 this mortgage was transferred to Tom Raine and Percy Arundel Rabitt, both of Sydney, estate agents.
Soon after the outbreak of WW1, William turned up at Cairo on 29 March 1916 to enlist with the Motor Transport Service in the Australian Army. He stated he was an architect with next of kin being his mother in Sydney – Mrs W J Munro, c/o Commercial Banking Co of Sydney. William’s particulars were height 5ft 9in; weight 132 lbs; dark complexion; blue eyes and brown hair.
This, his second attempt to enlist, was successful, lasting until January 1917 in Cairo. He was then sent to England and formally discharged on 26 March 1917. He may have married in England in 1918 but certainly he was married to Adela Lidia at the time of the UK’s 1939 Register.8 In 1922 he is listed as a student at Pennsylvania University and on 10 May 1929 he arrived at New York on the ship New Amsterdam when he called himself a banker.
A further mortgage was taken out on the one acre site in March 1935 (to the Natural Mutual Life Association of Australia) then discharged in April 1939. The 1915 mortgage continued until April 1949 when the site was subdivided into two parts. Lot A, the retail lots fronting Ross St, was retained by William now a member of the London Stock Exchange. Lot B, purchased by W Nevill & Co, included the Munro Terrace houses and the vacant land behind them.9
It was August 1957 when the terrace houses started to be sold separately. William had sold the Ross St lots in 1956-57, a few years before he died in England on 28 August 1960 aged 69, his estate being valued at £3,796 in the UK.
It is clear that over time the dwelling Forest Lodge becomes known as Forest House. The location of Forest Lodge/Forest House can be approximated by superimposing the one acre lot over the existing arrangement of lots at the corner of Ross St and Bridge St using the base map from the NSW Land Registry Services website (https://maps.six.nsw.gov.au/). This has been done – see following map – with the outline of Forest Lodge/Forest House shown as a dashed line.
You can see that the house was under Nos 224, 226 & 228 Bridge Rd and possibly a little under Nos 222 and 230. Edwina’s house is No 224.
Forest Lodge was never near Nos 208 or 210 Bridge Rd, which are outside the one acre lot.
Acknowledgements: In preparing this article I have sought advice and guidance from others including Max Solling, Lyn Collingwood, Edwina Doe, Robert Hannan, Jude Paul and Virginia Simpson-Young, all of which is gratefully acknowledged.
2. See https://primo-slnsw.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=SLNSW_ALMA2193462470002626&context=L&vid=SLNSW&search_scope=BJM&tab=default_tab&lang=en_US;
3. Certificate of Title 17-229;
4. Certificate of Title: 17- 229;
5. Education and travel details from Obituary [Daily Telegraph; Sat 1 Aug 1908, p14];
6. City of Sydney; Historical Atlas; 1911 Map of Glebe;
7. Certificates of Titles: 116-155 & 6260-90;
8. On 29 September 1939, just after the declaration of WW2, the UK undertook a census of England and Wales which amongst other things was used to produce ration cards. This was named the 1939 Register;
9. Base map from https://maps.six.nsw.gov.au/ . Lots A & B from Certificates of Title 6260-90 & 6260-69.