North Park Mansion is built upon ‘the highest point in Essendon’. The land was purchased in 1887 by Mr Alexander McCracken for the sum of 5000 pounds. Architects Oakden, Addison and Kemp designed the house for Mr McCracken, and Mr D Sinclair built the rather grand home, described as being in the Queen Anne revival style.
Alexander McCracken was described as ‘a brewer and a sportsman’. He had joined the family brewery firm ‘McCrackens’ as a junior partner in 1884.
The crash of the 1890s all but destroyed the company. It did however keep trading, avoiding liquidation. In May 1907 McCrackens and five other brewing firms became a merged company – known as Carlton and United Breweries. Alexander McCracken was made a director.
McCracken was the genial spokesman for the brewing industry from early in his career in 1891 through until his demise in 1915. The irony? He died from cirrhosis of the liver.
During his lifetime he was President of the Essendon Football Club and then the first President of the Victorian Football League. He raced horses with some success and indulged in a myriad of other activities in his region of Essendon – all manner of sports, debating and a keen interest in poultry, pigeons and canaries.
In 1915, his widow sold off the remaining North Park Estate lands – only the Mansion and six acres remained. The Mansion was first sold to Mr Harvey Patterson, a BHP executive. In turn Mr Patterson onsold it to its current owners – the Columban Order – a Catholic Church Missionary Order.
The house is built utilising Red Northcote Bricks, Sandstone from Waurn Ponds (near Geelong), Basalt from Malmsbury and roofing tiles imported from Marseilles in France.
As previously mentioned this rather elaborate home was constructed in a Queen Anne Revival Style – red bricks for the walls and timbering with rough cast in the gables, orange terracotta tiles, ornamental barge boards, decorative finials and chimneys and ornate glazing.
It was in fact a riot of architectural styles, a combination of Scottish Baronial, French, Victorian and Tudor. Or perhaps ‘Tudor with modifications’. By all accounts it was truly the home of a big spending, articulate brewer – Alexander McCracken. A spacious ballroom, since converted to be a chapel, was added in the early 20th Century. The Columban Order added a new wing in 1966 and an office building replaced the original stables in 1968. The Coach House is substantially retained. And stranger than fiction – from 1923 onwards, it has been a virtual monastery. The building was added to the Victorian Heritage Register in 1997 – for both the building and its ‘gardenesque style’.
The former North Park is architecturally important in demonstrating a high degree of creative achievement, being a pioneering example of the Queen Anne Revival domestic architecture in Australia. This style became the dominant expression in Australian domestic architecture in the decades immediately before and after 1900. The house is architecturally important for its use of imported Marseilles terracotta roof tiles in possibly their first application in Australia. Made by the French company, Guichard Carvin de Cie, St Andr, these unique tiles feature the firm’s signature bee imprint. The interior is architecturally important for its rich decoration including multi-coloured pressed metal ceilings, plaster friezes, timber panelling, encaustic tiling and elaborate stained and coloured glass. Other important extant detail includes ornate door knobs and push plates, and gas light hardware. Three ornately carved chairs in the entrance hall dating from the McCracken ownership are important for their continued association with the house.
The grounds of North Park are of aesthetic importance as an outstanding example of the gardenesque style and for the unusual three curved terraces, wide drive, garden path remains, and the evergreen trees and large conifers which contribute to the picturesque profile of the overall composition. The circular fish pond (disused) with its central figurine fountain and random rubble base is of unusual design and an important garden element now uncommon in Victoria. The location of this structure opposite the ballroom bay window is an important design feature. The cast iron gates, fence and hand gate supported by dressed bluestone are of an outstanding design, with particularly large spears and large scale iron members. The coach house and gardener’s shed are important contributions to the interpretation of a late nineteenth century large house and garden.
The second Mansion for review is ‘Earlsbrae Hall’ – an incredibly grand building now known as the Private Girls School – Lowther Hall.
The building was originally constructed in 1890 for the brewer Mr Collier McCracken – of the McCracken brewing family. He was Alexander McCracken’s uncle.
The actual building was commissioned by Architects Lawson and Grey. It was monumental in scale and a ‘classical revival’ building. Builder WK Noble took two years to build it. It consisted of 27 rooms on two levels with a promenade roof. It was originally surrounded by 3 acres of grounds.
The property was purchased in 1911 by the entrepreneur Mr Edward William Cole, a most flamboyant character. As an ‘out of town’ residence, Cole moved there with his family and a colony of his favourite monkeys. He added a vast aviary and set up a 75ft long floral rainbow in his front garden.
Cole was the owner of the famous Coles Book Arcade in Bourke St Melbourne. When he died in 1918, Earlsbrae was sold to the Anglican Church. The church redeveloped it as a Girls Grammar School.
“The main former residence retains its pedimented front and 16 giant order corinthian columns, the dwarf walls, the opdium overlooking the steps to the verandah and the steps themselves are of importance within the area of land as defined on the plan” Victorian Heritage Database
Remarkable old buildings saved by the Churches in the early part of the 19th Century. Next week we review two more grand mansions in the same area – Clydebank, now Ava Maria College, and St Columbans Girls School, formerly home of a very well heeled pastoralist names Gillespie.