In September 1880 the Guildford Lodge estate on the corner of Leichhardt St and Glebe Point Rd was put up for auction. William Mitchell bought the villa Guildford Lodge for £890 and paid another £866.17.6 for four lots giving him uninterrupted frontage to the main road. The stone house (comprising seven rooms, kitchen, pantry and front verandah with a coach-house and stables at its rear) has been demolished and the site is today covered by the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research at 431 Glebe Point Rd.

Guildford Lodge sketched in 1853 by English visitor J.W. Hardwick (Image: Mitchell Library/State Library of NSW)

William Henry Douglas Mitchell was born in England, the eldest son of Edinburgh solicitor George Douglas Mitchell and Elizabeth Ann Mitchell (who died at Ballarat on 28 August 1891). His youngest brother, Alfred Douglas Mitchell, became an Anglican clergyman in Victoria and Queenstown NZ where he married in 1896.

William in 1872 was a director of a copper mine, and he and his mother were shareholders in the NSW Distillery Company, declared insolvent in 1873. After serving an apprenticeship to a firm of druggists, William was registered as a chemist in October 1876. In 1889 he urged the formation in Glebe of a branch of the National Protection Association, claiming that the rich voted for free trade so they would not have to pay duty on their imports. At a meeting in 1900 to form the Glebe Sanitation Committee, he drew attention to the state of the government wharf on Blackwattle Bay and the ‘ scandal’ of the suburb’s 100 cesspits which were emptied only once every three years. Mitchell also served as a magistrate, and from 1905 to 1910 he was a Glebe alderman.

On 12 November 1874 Mitchell married Alicia Theresa Gannon (1842-1904) at St Michael’s Anglican Church Surry Hills. Alicia was the eldest daughter of Michael Gannon, an Irish convict turned builder and Cook’s River innkeeper who prospered as a real estate speculator. At least two of Alicia’s brothers became solicitors.

Mary Mitchell was born and died in 1875. Theresa Mary Mitchell was born on 21 October 1879 at Tempe (where Gannon family members lived. ‘Tess’ married Roderick Maclean in 1926 and died at Burwood in 1948.) Born at Guildford Lodge were Eveline Edith (‘Eve’ born 28 March 1881, died unmarried 1959), Ernest Albert (born 2 December 1882, died at Chatswood 1956), Lucy (born 24 April 1884, died at Burwood 1963) and William (born 30 October 1886). In 1897 William Henry Douglas transferred ownership of the three houses 425-9 Glebe Point Rd to his daughters. Lucy owned 429 Glebe Point Rd until her death when it was transferred to Alan Leonard Mitchell Jobberns. Lucy’s sisters Theresa and Eveline owned adjacent houses numbers 425 and 427 until 1960 when they were bought by Margaret Mosler, a widow of Elizabeth Bay.

Alicia Mitchell died on 3 February 1904 and was buried in the C of E section at Rookwood. Her widower remained at Guildford Lodge with his adult children until ca 1910 before moving to 12-acre The Grove in Cabramatta. In 1911 he married Matilda Meares who had been a near neighbour at Glebe’s Cliff Lodge but who was now principal of Riviere College, a girls’ boarding school at Hughenden Queen St Woollahra. An early female student at Sydney University, Matilda graduated BA 1889 and MA 1892, and after her marriage adopted the surname Meares-Mitchell. At a 1917 meeting of the Women’s Thrift Campaign she stressed that children were brought into the world not to play but to work, and that the modern girl seemed to think that she was ‘born for something higher than mere housework’  but there was a war on and all needed to do their duty. After her husband’s death she moved to Doonbah on the waterfront at Hunters Hill where she held garden parties and moonlight fetes for the Riviere Old Girls Union. Often featured on the social pages, she was also a founding member of the Shakespeare Society. Matilda Meares-Mitchell died at Hunters Hill on 20 March 1946. Executors of her will were her niece Rosalie Lydia Considine and her solicitor William Heath Moffitt.

Like his father, Ernest Albert Mitchell became a scientist, in 1903 gaining first class honours in practical chemistry at Sydney University’s Faculty of Medicine. In 1908 he married Florence Amy Williams at St Matthias’ Paddington; the bridesmaid was his sister Lucy. Ernest Mitchell went on to managerial positions with Stearns & Co., Pharmaceutical Preparations, and the Eastman’s Pharmaceutical Company. He and his stepmother were executors of his father’s will and it was through his contacts that the Glebe property was changed from residential to industrial use. A long-term resident of Chatswood, Ernest died on 2 April 1956.

Lucy Mitchell’s marriage on 8 November 1912 was followed by a reception at Riviere College’s Hughenden. However, her husband, lawyer Leonard Jobberns, was declared bankrupt in 1925 and the couple divorced in 1938.

After moving to Cabramatta the family patriarch William Henry Douglas Mitchell was an active Anglican Church worker and sat on Cabra-Vale Council until his death at The Grove on 31 August 1924. He was buried at Rookwood with his first wife.

Guildford Lodge 1842-1925
Guildford Lodge was built by soap manufacturer Richard Wilkinson Robinson who bought the land from George Miller in 1842. Robinson’s ex business partner George Wilkinson died in the villa on 25 April 1848 shortly after Robinson had sailed on a trip to England. Robinson was back in the colony by January 1852 but absent from the house when a robber climbed through a window and stole three silver watches but missed gold which he had sent his wife from the diggings.

In winter 1853 Guildford Lodge was visited by Englishman John William Hardwick who was astonished at the number of stone buildings being erected in Sydney despite the high cost of labour and materials brought about by the gold rush. After travelling via Brickfield Hill and along the ‘lane’ which led from Parramatta Rd through a luxuriant district to the beach at Blackwattle Cove, Hardwick arrived at Robinson’s house set amongst abundant trees and dense foliage. The cottage was in ‘verandah style’; the dining room was hung with prints of coloured heads against black backgrounds in the French style. Robinson was quiet and polite with ‘a bald pate’; his ‘stout, merry, chatty’ wife Margaret – a most agreeable woman – painted. Robinson’s business advice to Hardwick was to start modest with a store in an up-and-coming country town.

By 1855 Guildford Lodge was owned by chemist and druggist Charles Marcian Penny who had land and houses on both sides of the main road. In 1844 Penny defended his action in selling arsenic to a woman who used it to suicide. He also opposed the 1852 Poisonous Drugs Bill prohibiting the selling of opium, in great demand by the ‘Chinese lower classes’ (another opponent of the Bill was Glebe’s Ambrose Foss). C M Penny’s medical dispensary on George St West sold all manner of products: lemon syrup, bird seed, inks, dental putty to wedge between decayed teeth and scales marketed to gold diggers. Charles Marcian Penny died aged 51 at Guildford Lodge on 9 August 1857 and was buried at St Stephen’s Newtown after which his son Charles William Penny moved to Sydney from Geelong, made repairs and leased the house.

There were a number of tenants at Guildford in the period 1858–71 including Mrs T Stewart, Mr Harrison, Dutch-born professional photographer John T Gorus, civil engineer John Musson and Mr W Martin. The site was handy to a regular bus service and, later, the tram terminus.

Charles William Penny, born 15 December 1831, married Maria Martin in 1857 in Victoria; their daughter Cecilia Harriet Ann was born the same year; their son Charles William was born on 12 June 1858 in NSW and died in 1917. Charles William snr also acknowledged paternity of a daughter born on 24 July 1859 to Mary Ann Buckter and paid her maintenance. A ‘knight of the pestle and mortar’ like his father, Charles William Penny took over the business of chemist William Townley Pinhey in Parramatta St (Pinhey also owned a lot of land at Glebe Point.) Penny died aged 29, his address Derwent St Glebe, on 29 October 1860, was buried with his father at St Stephen’s, and his furniture and goods auctioned together with Newfoundland and kangaroo dogs. Executor of his will was Thomas Soutter Harwood who took court action over the ownership of two of Penny’s horses. Penny’s widow Maria in 1863 married publican William Slough.

By 1880 Charles William jnr was 21 and the Leichhardt St properties Llangollen (a 24-room mansion on the waterfront) and Guildford Lodge were put up for auction – Llangollen was passed in. His sister Cecilia, who married Charles Robert Small in 1876, died aged 24 on 12 March 1881 at Surry Hills, leaving a widower and three young children.

Frederick Stearns & Co. and Sterling Pharmaceuticals
After the departure of the Mitchell family Guildford Lodge was rented out. From ca 1915-20 it was the home of Abraham Myers (‘late of NZ‘). His wife Dora died there aged 58 on 21 June 1919. In 1921 labourer Undrall Wallace Pearsall and his wife Marian moved in, followed by plumber Sydney Alexander Graham and his wife Betsy Bertha.

In April 1925, as part of William H D Mitchell’s deceased estate, Guildford Lodge and its adjoining lots were put up for auction as a site suitable for development. It was bought by Frederick Stearns & Co., its purchase no doubt facilitated by William’s son Ernest who was then working for the international pharmaceutical manufacturer in America. (Sterling Pharmaceuticals had in 1910 established an Australian division of Stearns & Co., makers of Nyal products including toothpaste, sarsaparilla, American worm wafers, face cream and laxatives.)

After Stearns and other businesses on Broadway defeated Glebe Council’s bid to declare the municipality residential, Guildford Lodge was demolished and replaced by a £50,000 factory. In 1927 Stearns & Co. and the Nyal Company transferred operations from Harris St Pyrmont to Glebe. Nyal publicised its business by offering free samples of its products. In 1944, the year Governor Wakefield visited the Glebe factory, the US parent of Frederick Stearns & Co. was bought out by the Sterling Drug Co. and the local operation also changed hands, 431 Glebe Point Rd becoming the head office of Sterling Pharmaceuticals. A long-term managing director was Noel F Leggatt who was also chairman of Proprietary Agencies, at the same address, which went into voluntary liquidation in 1957.

In 1942, during the Second World War, an air raid shelter was excavated on the site under the supervision of architect David Whyte King. Five years later King drew up plans for a major expansion of the laboratories to provide 75,000 sq-ft of floor space. Incorporated in the new four-storey building, built by Robert Wall and Sons and opened in 1951, was a tram shelter, since 1958 used by bus passengers. The original design also included two flagpoles on top of the parapet above the main entry. (David Whyte King’s original drawings are held by the City of Sydney Archives.)

A blurred photograph – but a rare image – of the Glebe Point Rd tram at its terminus in front of Sterling Pharmaceuticals. (Image: City of Sydney Archives)

Max Factor Cosmetics, Traveland and the Woolcock Institute
In 1960 Sterling moved to new laboratories at Ermington and the Max Factor cosmetics factory relocated from Palmer St East Sydney to the Glebe building. Max Factor spent £50,000 on fresh offices and amenities under the direction of Douglas Snelling, a furniture designer and architect who worked with Harry Seidler. Snelling’s features included a 60-seater staff dining room and a VIP powder room with a 20-foot make-up table. After Max Factor vacated in 1985, number 431 was used for secure storage and office space, and to house tenants including Traveland, local architect and Glebe Society founding member Peru Perumal, and the sales department of Foxtel who kept their vans at the building’s rear after an unsuccessful attempt to leave them parked at the bus stop at the front. Over the years, with changes of ownership and use, the building’s original windows were replaced, sun louvres installed, the main entry modified and a swimming pool and recreational terrace added to the roof area.

In 2008, after outgrowing its first home at RPA Hospital, the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research relocated to Glebe. The Institute totally remodelled the interior for purpose-built laboratories and removed the swimming pool.

Sources: Brasch, Donald T American Investment in Australian Industry 1966; Australian Dictionary of Biography: Michael Gannon; Bell’s Life 13.8.1859; City of Sydney website: Sydney’s Aldermen; Construction 6 June 1951; Freeman’s Journal 1.1.1852; Hardwick, John William letters 1852-6 Mitchell Library ML MSS 448; NSW cemetery records; NSW electoral rolls; NSW Government Gazette 22.7.1840, 8.1.1848, 28.4.1848, 30.3.1951; NSW online births, deaths, marriages registry; NSW State Records; Sands Directories; Sydney Morning Herald 7.4.1855, 20.2.1858, 18.9.1880, 4 April 1925, 10.5.1960, 6.12.1960, 8.12.1960; Sydney Sun 31.3.1946; Trove website; Victorian online registry of births, deaths, marriages.