York St and York Lane Forest Lodge commemorate identical twins Charles and James York who owned land on Pyrmont Bridge Rd bounded by Ross St and Hereford St, north of today’s Forest Lodge School. Four of their Picturesque Gothic mansions (two sets of 12-roomed twin buildings built as investment properties in the 1870s) still stand: Strathmore on the Bridge Rd/Ross St corner and neighbouring Hilston, Morocco and Killara. On the site of the original homestead Enfield Villa, on two acres and dating from c.1843 until its demolition c.1928, is the Bridge Gardens apartment complex. By the time of the twins’ deaths in 1880 their Forest Lodge property included Sunnyside and York Terrace (179-81 Bridge Rd) plus Waratah on Hereford St. They had made their money as wholesale butchers at a time when there were few in Sydney, and they had family links to the main market at Emu Plains where sheep and cattle were disposed of daily.

Strathmore and its converted stables, 1962 (City of Sydney Archives)

The York twins were native-born sons of Charles York who, like his older brother Henry, was by 1831 farming at Emu Plains with assigned convict labour (after transportation ceased in 1841 he signed a petition to import coolies). With other locals Charles organised the replacement of the Nepean River punt with a toll bridge connecting Emu Plains and Penrith.

Born at sea on the William Pitt in 1806, Charles York snr married Maria Chalker on 21 August 1826 at St Luke’s Liverpool. Maria had been born at Prospect on 20 November 1811. The couple had eight children: William baptised 8 June 1827, James and Charles jnr born 17 December 1829, Harriet born 1832 (married John T Ryan 1851, died at Penrith 1860), Elizabeth born 1834 (married Maurice Ryan of South Creek 1852, died at Kensington 1907), Maria Matilda born 1836 (married George Dempsey at Penrith 1855, died 1881 at Penrith), Henry born 1839 (became mayor of Singleton where he died on 9 September 1917) and Thomas (1841-83). ‘An old and respected colonist’, Charles snr died on 18 February 1861 and his widow in 1884, at Enfield Villa Emu Plains.

Mrs Emma York and Mr Charles York of York House, before 1880 (image: Sutherland Shire Library)

Three York siblings married Ryan siblings and there were marital links with the Evans family, all prominent Hawkesbury settlers. Twins James and Charles York both married twice (the first in the same year, the second to sisters) and died in the same year. What happened to each of their first wives is a bit of a mystery. The three oldest York sons, all in the meat trade, were reputed to be finely built and good-looking. Like many 19th century families, several generations were given the same first names, making sorting out the players difficult.

Eldest son, William, ran cattle and sheep on 10,000 acres at Penrith where he built York Lodge and was often away buying stock on the Liverpool Plains and elsewhere in NSW. At Penrith he fattened up stock and droved them to his brother Charles, a wholesale carcass butcher with whom he operated York Brothers wool scouring works at Waterloo.

In 1849 William married 20-year-old Eliza Ryan by whom he had six children: Matilda Jane ‘Tilly’ (1850 -1939), Robina Australia (1852- 1940), William Alfred (1858-1915), Amy Louisa (1861-70), Alfred Ernest (1863- 1935) and Reginald Sydney (1867-1948). In 1870 his wife Eliza died and a year later William married 25-year-old Irish-born Grace Kirkpatrick Craig. In 1873 while on a trip to Tasmania, William was locked up in a Hobart Asylum, and on his return to Sydney was committed to Gladesville. Meanwhile his wife went on a shopping spree (she spent £400 at David Jones) for which brother-in-law Charles was issued a court order to pay. William died in the Gladesville Asylum on 15 June 1877 and two months later his widow abandoned York Lodge and her stepchildren. Twins James and Charles both died in 1880, presumably leaving the other executor James Thomas York to look after William’s affairs. The youngest sons were educated at The King’s School. Grace Kirkpatrick York died in Queensland in 1934.

Hillston, 227 Bridge Rd, as it is today. Along with Killara, Morocco and Strathmore, Hillston is listed by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage. The group is described as ‘a good and locally rare example of an imposing group of Victorian Picturesque Gothic style villas, which apart from No 229 have had Edwardian alterations and additions. The group is prominently located on Bridge Road and makes an important contribution to the streetscape. The villas built for Charles York c 1875, date from the key period of development for Glebe as a direct result of subdivision of the grand estates.’ (image: V. Simpson-Young)

Charles jnr was a Chippendale carcass butcher when he bought part of Glebe’s Hereford Estate, some time after 1858. The land included a house built by retailer David Jones which Charles named Enfield Villa. With his twin and John Walsh he established the Glebe Island abattoir York and Walsh, slaughtering 200 bullocks a week. With no chilling house, the animals were killed at night and sold early the next morning to butchers who loaded the meat onto their drays. Walsh, who claimed 13 years’ abattoir experience in Connecticut USA, said that his Australian partner Charles knew ‘little’ about the business. The firm also exported tallow and was reputed to be the biggest fellmonger in Sydney. Among Charles’ associates were brothers John Thomas and James Neale who owned the first two slaughterhouses outside the city, on a creek flowing into Blackwattle Bay. Offal from their works turned pristine waters into a putrid swamp.

Charles was frequently fined for pasturing sheep on Moore Park and Cleveland Paddock, for late removal of his abattoir’s offal, and for carting uncovered meat through the streets, but was discharged after driving over a little boy in Market St. In 1858 one of his employees died after being crushed between his dray and a house when his horse, not trained for city traffic, bolted.

A keen cricketer, Charles also bred racehorses with James and the twins frequented Randwick racecourse. A ‘crack shot’ and a ‘knight of the trigger’, Charles was Treasurer of the Metropolitan Pigeon Club and kept pointer gun dogs.

On 17 September 1849 Charles married Anne Donald by special licence at St Andrews Scots, a Presbyterian ceremony. Their daughter Harriet Elizabeth, born in 1851, died aged 39 at a York house in Hereford St. (In 1872 Harriet married Edwin ‘Ted’ Evans, an off spinner who, with Glebe’s Fred Spofforth, was a member of the 1886 national Australian cricket team.) The fate of second daughter Anna Maria (born on 5 June 1853 and baptised at Christ Church St Laurence) is unknown. In 1854 Charles York was ordered to pay his wife maintenance of £2 a week, marginally increased two years later despite his protest that she was an habitual drunkard. In 1855 Anne York was fined for assaulting her servant during a drinking session, and it seems likely that a vagrant by that name, who was constantly in trouble with the law and who died in Sussex St in May 1863, was Charles’ wife.

In the same year Charles married Emma Blackman, the mother of their son Thomas James (born in 1857) and daughter Emily Mary Maria (who died aged two of scarlet fever in 1864). The couple lived at Cleveland St Redfern and intermittently at Enfield Villa. In 1874 Charles auctioned his Glebe possessions and erected a large house at Kogarah, trespassing on land to forage for stones to build an oat house. He spent most of his retirement at Port Hacking but died at 4 Hereford St Glebe on 29 October 1880, predeceased by his twin. His widow died in 1881. Produce merchant Robert Marklove then rented Enfield Villa where he built big poultry yards for his imported prize-winning game fowls and bantams. In 1883 Marklove auctioned his possessions (including a Ransome’s exhibition lawnmower and engravings by Gustave Doré) and moved out, making way for Charles and Emma’s son Thomas James, his wife Elizabeth née Bland and their growing family who shifted from Waratah in Hereford St.

Thomas James inherited the York Estate and debt. The grounds were subdivided into 45 allotments and in 1885 ‘the Cheapest land in the Market … owner determined to sell’ was put up for auction. Nevertheless, Thomas still had trouble paying his tailor’s bills and in 1893 he was declared bankrupt, an event complicated by his divorce the next year and a court order that his children be educated and maintained through mortgaging the York houses. Enfield Villa was rented out and Elizabeth and the children moved into Sunnyside. In 1897 the properties were saved from being sold off but by 1909 Elizabeth and her youngest sons Bertie Edgar and Henry Herbert were in such heavy debt that the next year Enfield Villa was put up for public auction together with York Terrace, Strathmore, Hilston, Morocco, Killara, Sunnyside and Waratah. By 1913 Elizabeth was living at 36 Hereford St with Bertie a clerk, and Henry a manager. The brothers established Henry H York & Co wool scourers, and Henry was later managing director of Lustre Hosiery.

The York Estate 1885 subdivision, ‘the Cheapest land in the Market’ (Mitchell Library)

Thomas James York died at Stanmore on 28 September 1930 and was interred in the C of E section at Rookwood. Their children had 73-year-old Elizabeth buried in the same grave after her death at North Sydney on 14 May 1935. Bertie died in 1954; Henry in 1966; oldest brother Charles Thomas in 1955; and their sister Emily Ethel May Hassall in 1963.

Charles York’s twin James’ first marriage was to Eliza Thomson in 1849. In 1856 he married Eliza Blackman, a younger sister of Emma Blackman who became his twin’s second wife. With the second Eliza he lived at Glebe’s Enfield Villa where Edith Lillian May died aged 12 months on 3 June 1865, followed by 17-month-old Hector Herbert of ‘congestion of the brain’ on 2 July 1867. Their other children were Lynda A (died 1868), Hilton Arthur (1868-1941), Osmond Harold (1871-1902), Inez Violet (1876-1946) and Mileta Arline who was born and died at Glebe in 1878.

Enfield Villa was put up for rent in 1878. At the time of his death on 26 June 1880 James was living on Crown St Surry Hills. After a funeral at St David’s Church he was buried in Balmain Cemetery. His widow married Alfred Percy Saunders in 1883 and 10 years later she and her children Osmond, Inez and Hilton were involved in a court dispute with the trustees of James’ will.

In 1900 Inez married architect Ernest Essington Hassall; in the same year her cousin Emily Ethel May married his brother Charles Jonathan Hassall at St Barnabas, Broadway.

The twins’ younger brother Thomas was also in the butchering business.

He operated the White Chapel Meat Market on Botany Rd Redfern. Once the proud owner of a carriage pulled by four goats, he died insolvent on 3 September 1883, survived by his widow Annie and several young children.

The York investment houses were originally tenanted by individual families but by the 1920s were operating as boarding houses (Hilston as early as 1909). Company director Thomas Littlejohn rented Strathmore 1876-86. In 1913 it was bought by abattoir owner Patrick Joseph Shalvey, one of a family of butchers. Shalvey, who had shops in Leichhardt and on Broadway, was in 1920 called before the Necessary Commodities Commission enquiring into meat prices. Asked if his product was inferior to that of high-class butchers, Shalvey stated that his meat was good enough for the Prince of Wales (then visiting Australia) if he happened to drop by. By the age of 80 Shalvey had a string of convictions for overcharging for everything from rump steak to dripping and mutton, the magistrate commenting that he obviously believed that crime did pay.

In 1929 the stables at Strathmore‘s rear were converted to McEnnally & Gordon’s lacquer finishing works. In 1981 the restored mansion became Ronald McDonald House accommodating Camperdown Children’s Hospital patients and their relatives. It was a hostel for HIV sufferers and their carers before being sold by the Dept of Health in 2013 after which its interior and the rear building were converted to flats.

Hilston, Morocco and Killara were bought in 1913 by architect Finlay Elgin Munro (a patron of the Glebe Workingmen’s Institute and Glebe Mayor in 1919) who lived in Hilston (which he renamed Ardnaho) while making substantial changes to the other two. During the 1920s-30, as Clarence House, they offered accommodation for students and business girls, and until recently operated as boarding houses. They are currently on the market. Hilston has been a private home for many years.

Sources: Australian Royalty website; Bell’s Life 9.2.1856; NSW cemeteries indexes; NSW electoral rolls; NSW Government Gazette 26.3.1838, 4.5.1839, 29.11.1839; NSW Office of Environment & Heritage website; NSW registry of births, deaths, marriages; Old Chum newspaper clippings; private information; Ryan, James T Reminiscences of Australia; Sands Directories; Sydney Morning Herald various issues including14.2.1885, 7.4.1885; Trove website.