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Malvern Hill

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Malvern Hill

Malvern Hill estate is a residential estate of mainly Federation and early Interwar houses, with a defined shopping street called The Strand. It was developed from 1909 in Croydon, approximately 10 kilometres from Sydney, and is bounded by Edwin Street, Thomas Street and Walter Street on the east; the railway line, Paisley Road, Reed Street and the rear of properties in Murray Street on the north; the rear of properties on Tahlee Street and David Street on the west; and Liverpool Road on the south.

Since 1986 the Malvern Hill estate has been protected as a conservation area under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, 1979. The residential and retail precincts of the estate represent an almost intact example of the town planning and architectural trends of the early twentieth century.

The Strand shopping strip, which was developed between 1913 and 1920, was a dominant feature of the new 'model suburb' of Malvern Hill and contributes greatly to the federation character of the area. It was designed to provide a broad and elegant transition between the railway station at Croydon and the salubrious residential streets of Malvern Hill.

Original owners and early grant holders

The area now occupied by Malvern Hill originally belonged to the Darug-speaking Wangal clan, whose land stretched along the southern shore of the Parramatta River, from Darling Harbour to Parramatta and south to the Cooks River.

Apart from a 15-acre (six-hectare) grant to Sarah Nelson (which had been made in 1794) most of Malvern Hill is part of a 1000-acre (405-hectare) grant made in November 1808 by Lieutenant-Governor Joseph Foveaux to William Faithful, a retired private soldier from the New South Wales Corps. The grant was made after William Bligh was deposed, and it was confirmed by Governor Macquarie in 1810. Faithful's land was south of Thomas Rowley's 750-acre (303-hectare) Burwood estate and extended from Rowley's property in the north to Cooks River in the south. [1]

In 1813 a road connecting Sydney to the new town of Liverpool, on the Georges River, was first mooted. Construction commenced in 1814 and it was completed by May 1816, when tolls were being levied on the new road. [2] In 1816 Faithful exchanged the 200 acres (81 hectares) on the northern side of the road with Alexander Riley, who in 1812 had been wrongfully allowed to purchase the Burwood estate after Rowley's death. This exchanged land included most of what is now Malvern Hill. The remaining 800 acres (324 hectares) was re-granted to Simeon Lord, a rich convict emancipist, who named it Brighton Farm. [3]

Subdivision and development

In the early 1830s, Alexander Riley and Joseph Underwood, the owners of the two large adjacent estates of Burwood and Ashfield Park, died and the subdivision of the area began. A protracted legal wrangle over the sale of the Burwood estate was eventually settled in favour of Rowley's descendents. [4]

On 22 November 1834, the Sydney Morning Herald advertised the sale of the first subdivision of Burwood estate, with 23 allotments to be sold under the hammer. [5]

When the Sydney to Parramatta railway was opened in 1855 with stations at Ashfield and Burwood, the area was made readily accessible, and many Sydney businessmen established homes in the Ashfield/Burwood area. When the station between Ashfield and Burwood was opened, as Five Dock, on February 4, 1875 (the name was changed to Croydon in 1876), the area around the station also attracted many well-to-do buyers and quickly developed into a fashionable Victorian railway suburb.

In 1860 EH Woodhouse had bought 14 acres (5.6 hectares) of the Ashfield Park estate between Edwin Street, Liverpool Road and the railway line. Towards the end of that decade he had bought the adjoining properties, including Sarah Nelson's land, giving him 37 acres (15 hectares) with extensive frontages to Liverpool Road and the railway line. In 1873 Samuel Dickinson bought this entire estate and changed the name of the house Schuldham Hall to The Hall.

In 1863, George Murray had purchased a large estate nearby which also had a frontage to Liverpool Road. The sale advertisement indicates that this land had already been partially developed.

The Lea, Ashfield. Highly improved suburban homestead, comprising cottage residence, orchards and grounds containing 11 acres, with extensive frontage to Liverpool Road, close to the residence of Woodhouse Esq, and within easy walking distance of the railway station. A well finished comfortable cottage/residence brick on stone foundations, slate roof, verandah, hall and six rooms … the site is part cleared, a few trees being left to create a park-like appearance. The Lea is a delightfully situated property in an elevated healthy position. [6]

In the late 1880s Murray left The Lea when he retired and moved to Manly. Throughout the 1880s and 1890s subdivision in other parts of Croydon continued, including the Highbury and Chatsworth estates (either side of Malvern Hill) in 1881, the Orchard estates around Young Street and the Hordern estate in the mid 1880s. [7] These subdivisions proceeded in the haphazard manner common in Victorian times; streets were irregularly formed and narrow, building blocks were small and a lack of forward planning meant that each new subdivision developed in a vacuum, with little relation or regard to its neighbouring areas. For example, residents of Devonshire Street had to walk up to Liverpool Road and then down Edwin Street to reach the station without crossing private property.

By 1909, the estates of Murray, Dickinson and Friend formed a large gap in the map of Croydon. With a hospital, railway station, major road, gas, water and sewerage immediately adjacent, the area was ripe for subdivision. With the deaths of Samuel Dickinson in 1904 and Thomas Murray in 1909, The Lea and The Hall were sold to the Intercolonial Investment Land and Building Company, which subdivided the land to form the new model suburb of Malvern Hill.

Development and growth of Malvern Hill

Before 1906 there was no regulation of subdivision or urban development in Sydney. From the turn of the century however, there had been a growing interest in the town planning movements developing overseas, where countries such as England, Scotland, Canada and the United States appeared to be reaping the benefits of town planning legislation.

Nineteenth-century development, particularly the terrace house, was soon seen to symbolise everything that was unhealthy. One town planner speaking on the need for change said,

such areas (inner-city suburbs) are a continual menace to the health of the city and within which epidemics of various kinds are liable to occur at frequent intervals. Life in them is detrimental to the proper physical and mental development of children …

Early town planners spent much of their time propounding the idea of the garden suburb which was to 'represent ideal conditions for home life'. [8] The garden suburb, it was believed, 'would be the greatest advance in sanitary progress during modern times', and its spacious, gracious green and orderly characteristics would result in 'less venereal disease, greater home ownership and fewer strikes'. [9]

In 1906 a new Local Government Act was passed in NSW, which provided local governments with the power to lay down strict conditions about standards for both planning and building in all new developments.

The Malvern Hill estate was the first large area in Burwood to be opened up under the terms of the new Act, and it represents the successful implementation of the Act by Burwood Municipal Council. In the Mayor's Report of 1909, the Malvern Hill development was announced in proud terms,

A very important extension of settlement on what is known as the Malvern Hill Estate has taken place during the past year, this portion of our municipality is likely to become a first class residential area, and a good example of the benefits conferred on councils under the Local Government Act with regard to new roads and subdivisions of land as compared with the go-as-you please style obtaining under the old Municipalities Act and from which this and other areas are suffering and will suffer for many years to come. [10]

Strict regulations were placed upon the Intercolonial Investment Land and Building Company, for Burwood council wanted this area to be a salubrious residential suburb free from the threat of commercial activity springing up among the houses and in direct contrast to the pattern of development that had occurred earlier. Council approved the final plan of the new suburb in March 1909, subject to the conditions that the streets be at least 66 feet (20 metres) wide and metalled and that the company pay for all drainage work. [11]

A covenant was placed on the subdivision requiring all buildings to be of brick or stone or both, roofed with slate or terracotta tile, and with a minimum value of £400 or £500. No semi-detached or terrace houses were allowed, and commercial activity was restricted to The Strand. [12] Streets were planted with Canary Island date palms (Phoenix canariensis). Eventually over 200 palms lined Malvern Hill's streets. A combination of fungal infections and removal for traffic improvements means that only six of these palms now survive, all in Lea Street.

The name Malvern Hill does not seem to have any local significance, other than the fact that the area does rise gently from the railway up to the Liverpool Road ridge. The name was probably an allusion either to the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire, UK or to Malvern Hill, Virginia, USA, the site of an early battle in the Civil War.

Street names honour early owners, including Samuel Dickinson and George Murray, officials such as Baron Frederic Chelmsford, Governor of New South Wales 1909–1913, and early houses, such as The Lea and Tahlee.

The blocks sold well at auction, with prices ranging from £2 to £5 per foot of frontage, with the higher priced blocks mainly in The Crescent, and Malvern and Dickinson avenues. In several cases houses were built over more than one block. [13] Thus, prices for blocks started at about £80, in David, Murray and Tahlee streets to over £500 for some of the choice lots in Malvern and Dickinson avenues and The Crescent.


The houses of Malvern Hill reflect the stylistic changes that were occurring in Sydney's domestic architecture between 1900 and 1920. The economy was recovering from the gloom of the 1890s and the slow process of uniting the colonies was finally completed with Federation in January 1901. The new outlook was strongly represented in contemporary architecture. When building resumed after the depression, styles of building began to change.

The fashion was now for a free expression of building materials, hence the popularity of exposed brickwork for exterior walls and the absence of the elaborate cast iron decoration of the last decade. The embryonic town planning movement had a far-reaching effect on the look of early twentieth century urban development. The call for clean healthy living led to the abandonment of terrace houses in favour of single-storeyed villas or bungalows. Houses built on the Malvern Hill estate reflected these trends and were generally single-storey although a small number of larger two-storey dwellings were built, mostly in Malvern and Dickinson Avenues.

By 1912 the increasing influence of American architecture was felt with the introduction of the Californian Bungalow style. This style, with its low-pitched roofs and simple bold forms, reflected the rising costs and reduction of manpower resulting from World War I. Ceilings were much lower and of a simpler design. Chimneys were squat, and timber detailing was minimised. The size of houses diminished rapidly as domestic help was no longer affordable.

A large number of Malvern Hill buildings were architect-designed and remain notable. The Malvern Hill Uniting Church (formerly Methodist), on the corner of Murray Street and Malvern Avenue, is an attractive example of Alfred Newman's architecture, in a red brick Federation Gothic style.

15 Malvern Avenue was designed by architects Kent, Budden & Greenwell for C Von De Heyde in 1912, making it one of the earliest Californian Bungalows built in Sydney. It was occupied for about 25 years by Sir Bertram Stevens, who lived there while he was Premier of NSW (1932–1939). The garden has remnants of a layout designed by Jocelyn Brown, c1940. Bertram Stevens also briefly resided at Hillcrest, 26 Malvern Avenue.

24 Malvern Avenue is an attractive early Californian bungalow style house, designed by architects Peddle & Thorpe in 1919. Features include the low slung roof, dark brickwork, massive chimney stack and solid squat brick verandah supports.

Many of the more modest houses were 'spec built', with the Intercolonial Investment Land and Building Company building about a quarter of the houses in the estate. [14] By 1917 Malvern Hill was described as 'the choicest part' of Croydon, with land fetching up to £10 per foot. A house in The Crescent (now 2 Dickinson Avenue), valued at more than £4,700, was described as

one of the finest houses in Croydon, the interior fittings being elaborate and costly, [containing] about 8 rooms, including billiard room, large area of land, beautifully laid out, having motor garage etc.

The cheapest houses in Malvern Hill were valued at around £800. [15]

Heritage and conservation

The future of this entire area is now protected. The heritage value of the area was first recognised by the National Trust of Australia (NSW) on 27 April 1981 when it was classified as an Urban Conservation area with a separate listing for the Croydon Post Office and its adjoining house. [16] Although the National Trust does not have legal powers to enforce conservation, its classification of the area paved the way for action.

In August 1982 in response to the result of a questionnaire of residents and owners in the classified area, Burwood Municipal Council resolved to prepare a Draft Local Environmental Plan (LEP), which was finally gazetted on 21 February 1986, when Malvern Hill incorporating The Strand, was legally protected.

Malvern Hill never became a suburb in its own right. With just over 200 houses, split between Ashfield and Burwood Council areas, it was simply part of Croydon. However, with its own church, post office, shopping precinct and distinctive high-quality housing, Malvern Hill has remained a 'choice part' of Croydon.


[1] Eric Dunlop, Harvest of the years, Council of the Municipality of Burwood, Burwood NSW, 1974, p 16

[2] Colonial Secretary's papers, 18 May 1816, Scale of tolls to be paid on new road from Sydney and Parramatta to Liverpool, State Records NSW, Reel 6045; 4/1735 pp 25–8

[3] Eric Dunlop, Harvest of the years, Council of the Municipality of Burwood, Burwood NSW, 1974, p 16

[4] Doe dem. Harris v. Riley, Supreme Court of New South Wales, 12 October 1832, available online at http://www.law.mq.edu.au/scnsw/Cases1831-32/html/doe_dem_harris_v_riley__1832.htm viewed 19 January 2009

[5] Sydney Morning Herald, 22 November 1834, p 4

[6] Sydney Morning Herald, 1863, exact date unknown

[7] Subdivision plans 811.1834, State Library of NSW, Mitchell Library

[8] JC Morrel, 'Town Planning: Report to the Minister of Public Works', 1915, p 81

[9] Robert Freestone, 'The Great Lever of Social Reform: The Garden Suburb 1900–1930' in Max Kelly (ed) Sydney: City of Suburbs, University of New South Wales Press, Kensington NSW, 1987, p 53

[10] Burwood Council Mayoral Report, 1909, Burwood Library Local Studies Collection.

[11] Burwood Council Minutes, 22 March 1909

[12] Richardson & Wrench Contracts Book No 53, State Library of NSW, Mitchell Library manuscripts 1894

[13] Annotated subdivision plans, 811.1834, State Library of NSW, Mitchell Library.

[14] Burwood Council, building registers

[15] MA Harris (ed), Where to live: ABC guide to Sydney and suburbs, Marchant & Co., Sydney, 1917, p 90

[16] The National Trust of Australia (NSW), 'Malvern Hill Urban Conservation Area', classification listing information sheet