Early morning with the fog horns sounding on Sydney Harbour; Vaucluse House mysterious in the mist. Entering the grounds like walking into a Somerset Maugham novella. The architecture is British but the warmth of the sandstone and the depth of the verandah tell of warmer climes.
Bought in 1827 by the explorer and politician William Wentworth and his wife Sarah, Vaucluse House was developed over the next five decades and used to cover most of the present suburb. Now it’s run by the Historic Houses Trust – one of Sydney’s few remaining 19th century mansions still surrounded by its original gardens.
I think they were romantics William and Sarah. Maybe they read Byron and Shelley round the fireside. The garden has rills and tree ferns and hidden corners. The approach to the house from the car park is over a little bridge, then through a ‘Pleasure Garden’ with towering exotic flowering plants and shrubs. Palms frame the house. There’s a time in spring when purple wisteria envelopes the verandah.
Going into the house it’s the servants quarters that are now the most desirable spaces. They seem strangely luxurious; the huge copper pans shining, the fire going during the day, a large table hit by shafts of sunlight. The scale and the spareness appeal. In the busyness of today, time spent in such a kitchen would be a pleasure – a thought no doubt surprising to a scullery maid of the Wentworths.
Some recent additions to the House are a large and impressive vegetable garden, with a possum proof cactus fence, and some chickens, ducks and goats. It’s relaxing just to wander about…
It seems a rarity now- a beautiful space devoid of commerce. Instead of wanting something from you it actually gives you something; ideas for the garden, inspiration for the kitchen. And a little quietude.