Monday, 29 April 2013

Is there a Spirit in the house?

It's time for this blog to tackle some really serious issues - is there, or is there not, a spirit in the house?  Or Hanworth House to be more specific?
Well, I have pondered this since the day I first walked through its grand doors 5 months ago.  First there were stories from past tenants.  These stories were divulged over the weekly Friday at 4 drinks. Perhaps the stories were a little enhanced after the second drink, but regardless, they were divulged!
Tenant D of HH told of how a hand passed down her side the first night she slept in a bed at HH.  Tenants M and C of HH told my favourite story.  When I first arrived at HH, there were call buttons in each room (a throw back to its time as a hospice).  Tenants M & C of HH told how these went off at night if noone else was in the house - a different room each time.  But, the biggest revelation about the call button story was made by our Sensational Sparky HH.
He assures us that no electricity was connecting those call buttons to the main electrical switch! So just what did make those call buttons go off when everyone was out of the house?
OK, enough. This is just not like me. I am not really a very spiritual person.  So I thought, apart from the delight in the story telling of these tales, I was not convinced... However, as time went on, I must admit that I have been swayed.
It started the day we moved in. Maybe it was the house, maybe it was the hallowed halls.
How brilliant was this shot of the hallowed halls, captured by Josh Bakkum recently?
Anyway, I had one clearly articulated plan for the house and, almost immediately after moving in, I realised it was all wrong. HH was just perfect the way it was. The story it told of the Heath family, the hospice it became, the aged it cared for within its walls in its later years  - when I called Builder HH and Architect HH to the house on Day 2 and announced that I had changed my mind and it had to be preserved as it was -  as well as the anticipated sighs (well I do maintain my perogrative as a woman to change my mind!), the boys really could not react as they wanted to. Because, at that exact moment of my announcement, one of the hallway doors, which was closed, simply opened.
Ok, maybe it was the wind but my bet is that the HH spirits (good spirits as they are) had spoken.
Then there was the tale of our neighbour's dog Leon who ventured onto the premises one day in December.  He just disappeared. There were tears, the whole neighbourhood was summoned to find him.  Leon, they say, is a stupid dog and, even if he was scared, he would not move. Great I thought!  There are a thousand places he could hide under HH and I would have to live out the rest of my days with the burden of being responsible for the loss of the most beloved family member.
After a very very traumatic time (which seemed like 24 hours to me), Leon was finally found - enjoying a sausage no less at a BBQ down the street!  However I did have illusions that it could have been like a Picnic at Hanging Rock saga, poor Leon  never to be seen again and his mysterious plight the subject of tales passed from generation to generation for years to come.
Thankfully it was not - Here is a shot of the happy reunion (Leon front and centre!)
But there was one place in HH where the story of the spirits was well and truly alive and kicking.  HH has many cupboards :
There was one for blankets (I guess these days we might call it the linen cupboard) but back in the old days it was the Blankets cupboard.
This my favourite
How many hairdressing supplies must HH have had to warrant an entire cupboard of devotion?
But these were not my problem. No, my problem was a much deeper and more serious one - this was it!
Contained within were two very old and very sinister looking wheel chairs. I think they were twins. They used to spook me.  They had been untouched for years and gradually, as we inhabited HH for a longer time, each time I garnered the courage to open the door just a little, the wheelchairs would move towards me.  "It's the breeze way" Builder HH would proclaim as I dared to share my tale.
Ok, he was probably right. But I am telling you, when the film crew who are doing the documentary filmed this cupboard, I am not joking, the front wheelchair came all the way out and the crew just ended up screaming and wondering if I had put the wheelchair up to it.
I certainly had not! The was the renegade chair...  I give you exhibit A.
So, in the true spirit of asserting our presence in the house, I telephoned my good friend the High Priest of HH (he is a real priest - despite the fact that he turned up at Husband HH's Mad Men themed birthday of note last year in the full regalia of Father Gill from the series - we had to reassure our friends he actually WAS a priest!). So High Priest of HH fast tracked a special trip to Brisbane to de-spirit and bless the house.
This was not simple affair. First we had to secure a candle - tick !
Then secure a bowl to hold the holy water to bless every room ( well aware of the fact there were in excess of 25 rooms, I chose a big bowl!) - tick!

Then finally we needed an icon - Mamma HH loved St Anthony (we can talk about that another day) but, as I felt rather inappropriate bringing a male saint into the home of HH, I found amongst the drawers when I was cleaning out a dresser,  a rather old, but loved, icon. I did not know who she was.

However, of course the High Priest of HH did know.  She turned out to be St Rita.  And, whether a coincidence of not, St Rita of Cascia was an Italian Augustinian nun (Mamma HH was also Italian) - St Rita was a widow (after havied married at an early age and proving to be a model mother who made efforts to convert her husband from his abusive behaviour).  She was canonised on May 24, 1900 (when Hanworth was 36 years old, and at a time when HH was moving from being a private home to a hospice for elderly impoverished women).

Was it coincidence (or fate) which brought this icon to us?  St Rita is known to be the patroness for abused wives and mourning women - I wonder how many of them were cared for in the confines of Hanworth House?

So the green velvet finding of St Rita became our icon - green being the colour of our Green Lady and all.  And a date was agreed 30 January 2013 to invite a small gathering to the de-spiriting and blessing at our Grand Green Lady.

Invites were dispatched.... Food was prepared (by Miss HH no less)


and  guests assembled for what was to become a moving and very reverent acknowledgement of the pain and suffering of so many (as embodied in the wheelchairs) and a hope that the house may become a happy home to many in the future.

High Priest to HH extracted the wheelchairs from the cupboards in true theatrical fashion - and then we proceeded to the dining room to toast the De-spiriting, to toast friends and toast high hopes for HH's future!

But before you ask - of course there was champagne - fabulous fabulous magnums of Pol Roger vintage 2002 - House of Pol being a personal favourite of mine.


We ate and drank whilst the High Priest of HH recounted many humorous anecdotes of times past and amused the assembled masses to no end!

After the event 4 significant events occurred:

Number 1 - Husband HH summoned up the courage to finally rid HH of those wheelchairs

Number 2 - The despiriting event was such an occasion the gorgeous Faux Fuschia wrote about it on her blog (thanks FF hope you don't mind if I stole a couple of shots from you!) - Read the Faux Fuschia blog post here

Number 3 - I rang the High Priest of HH after the fire to ask why even his despiriting expertise failed to protect our beloved Hanworth from further misadventure. His answer deserves an entire blog post of its own!

This was the dining room where the blessing was held post the fire.
and Number 4 - in breaking news - clearly seizing the opportunity to occupy the prime residential space vacated by the departing wheelchair tenants, who should move into the salubrious wheelchair cupboards - you guessed it... our friends the possums!

And here they enjoyed a cosy, stress-free existence even through all the jack hammering and renovations, throughout the fire  - and they were still there today when I last checked. PA HH has named the room in their honour! They did save the dining room after all as I have told you before! So I will let them stay as a symbol of my gratitude for a little longer!

So, after hearing all of this, do you think there are spirits in the House of Hanworth? You be the judge! I'd love to hear your thoughts...

x HH

Thursday, 25 April 2013

How to catch a thief!

Happy Anzac Day to Heart Hanworth House followers.  As HH residents must have paid their respects on ANZAC day for years in the past,  the post today starts with a gesture of regard and thanks for all those who fought for Australia and all that they stand for. We are forever in your debt.

So let me share some ultra exciting news.  Remember on the night before the fire I was super excited about how fantastic the dining and ballrooms were shaping up? And remember how I was so excited that I even went to the trouble of polishing the "never been polished" black marble fireplace? And putting my parents furniture into the rooms? And calling husband HH to come and see the rooms? And took photos? And delighted in how clever I was with the choice of colour for the contentious raspberry wall?

Here's a visual of the rooms from that night... sans furniture...

and after dining furniture was moved in ...

Well look closely at this next photo

Apart from the spectacular roses - did you notice the silver teapot in the background, strategically placed on the fireplace mantle?

What I haven't already told you is that I was so obsessed with making the room look loved that I sorted through some of my mother's plates and crockery, and coffee/tea sets to add to the room.  I stumbled on the exquisite silver teapot and decided to give it pride of place in the dining room on the mantle to make HH look more like a home than a house.

My beautiful mum loved to go to the Tender Centre and, from time to time, pick up things. Sometimes I used to wonder why she bought what she did. We used to laugh a lot about it. That reminds me, I have never posted a photo her - here she is.

I love this photo of her. It was taken in 2004 - she was just as elegant in person as she looks in this photo. She was pretty magnificent at everything she set her hand to but dressmaking and painting were two of her particular gifts and passions. He made her outfit in this photo (as she made so many of mine over the years). Her name is Romana.  And I could never have wished for a more perfect mother. I will post lots of stories about her in the future as she is incredibly important not only to HH but to so many, and especially to me.  From now on she will be known on this blog as Mamma HH. She would love that!

Anyway, as I said, sometimes we would wonder why she would get so excited about showing us her latest purchase and I well remember the day she purchased this teapot. She thought it was so beautiful.  It sits on a small base which you can light and it magically keeps the water and tea hot. So clever.  I also now love it, probably more than I ever have.

After the fire I sorted through the rubble left on the dining room floor.

And buried right under the Nilfisk vacuum cleaner look what I found...

Hooray - It was the base of the silver teapot. I was convinced the arsonist had also by now become a thief as my guess was that he had stolen the teapot.  He also stole some other things - nothing fabulous - just some wine and some silly things from the office. However, the stolen teapot incensed me!

The police told me that arsonists generally like to do a few things - light a fire (obviously), but also steal something from the scene (my teapot!) and then return to the scene to watch the fire as an innocent bystander (well I added the bit about "as an innocent bystander") but I know they do like to return. Some of my neighbours saw him do so.

So, whilst I am no investigative journalist, I felt that the teapot must be somewhere.  I searched everywhere at HH (to no avail), I combed the street and the surrounding land, went through the bins... I was only half convinced it was lost. I must have held some hope it would be found as I kept the base (and even got it polished!)

Anyway behold what happened yesterday...

My newly introduced neighbour HH had heard I was looking for a teapot. He was the owner of the house in which the said arsonist lived (Arsonist HH lives there no more - he is now in the salubrious confines of a prison cell). Neighbour HH sought me out and returned the teapot to its rightful house and owner.  He joins Baker HH as deserving of a HH Blog's Award for Community Service.

I was so so happy - it was a wonderful gesture on his part - and made for a wonderful day on mine.

The teapot looks even more magnificent now and has been reunited with its life partner - see!

I hope they two of them will be eternally happy together and they seem destined to spend their living days together on the mantlepiece of the HH dining room.

This reunion deserved applause and a drink in its honour.  Of course, you can always rely on me for that.... so on the Anzac day afternoon beneath the 100 year old pines, husband HH, Miss HH and I popped open this bottle of magnificence circa 1998

and, according to she who must be obeyed about everything champagne (the most fabulous Bernadette - Champagne Consultant HH), should be complemented with citrus (so we obeyed!)...

and as the sun set magnificently on HH on Anzac Day 2013

we celebrated the Anzacs, the teapot reunion,  and how we caught the thief!
Hope your Anzac holiday was wonderful too 

x HH 

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Hanworth The History - The Heaths Part 1

I thought that, after all our great lady has gone through, we needed to take a look back. Who was she when she was built in 1864 ? What made her so great?

I had 2 wonderful visitors last week - 2 local residents who are passionate about the history of the East Brisbane area- we will call them The Gregorys but affectionately we will call them Historians HH - they are so famous they have written a book  - see! 

I felt a bit guilty as they had asked to meet with me quite some time ago, but with everything going on, I had just not got around to it. Then the fire - then guilt set in even more - so I invited them over. I was so sorry I had not invited them previously to see the grand lady that HH was becoming. But they were so gracious and full of information. How wonderful it is that there are people in the community who just thirst to know? They were infectious - now I want to know more too!

So I have delved into the HH archives  Did you know that East Brisbane was was once called Mowbraytown? The Historians HH want it to become Mowbraytown again - who knows!

OK.. moving on ... construction started on Hanworth House in 1864 (point of note, that makes HH 150 years old in 2014 so mark the date in your diaries now!)

This entitles it to status as one of Brisbane's oldest homes.  Just for kicks, I did some research on what else was happening in the world in 1864. For a start, it was a leap year! Just saying!  There were lots of wars. Abraham Lincoln was re-elected American President and The American Red Cross was founded.

But most importantly (at least for the purposes of this blog), building commenced on Hanworth House in Lytton Road, East Brisbane. The architect was James Cowlishaw. Cowlishaw was from Sydney (but we won't hold this against him!) and moved to Brisbane in 1860. Two of his notable designs were the Commercial Bank of Sydney in Queen Street Brisbane and the Brisbane Boys Grammar School.

The Great Hall, Brisbane Boys Grammar School,
[designed by James Cowlishaw, architect, built 1871-1881]
Hume Collection, Univeristy of Queensland

And of course our beloved Hanworth House, the hero (or rather the heroine of this blog).  Cowlishaw apparently designed only a few private residences.

This photo was taken in 1930 but I can't believe that HH looked much  different then to how it did in the 1860s. It still has the original cast iron columns, and many of its original red bricks, hipped roof, original shutters and hinges (thank goodness these were off site at the time of the fire), some of the original fireplaces (well the fire destroyed the most beautiful white one, but we still have its sister). The house was described as an elegant symmetry of  Georgian influence.

Architect HH and I are fascinated by the asymmetry of the cast iron columns on the front verandah. We think Cowlishaw was just a little bit quirky and in an era when proportion was everything, we love that he chose to live just a little bit on the edge!

He was asked to design a house for Lieutenant George Poynter Heath RN (1830-1921) who was the first Portmaster of Brisbane. Heath purchase the land the year before from Robert Simpson for the pricely sum of £241! Here's a visual of old George himself.

George's hometown was Hanworth in Norfolk (England) - hence why he chose the name Hanworth for his Australian home. The English are so good with their names - imagine a house called Mt Gravatt or Rocklea - just does not have the same ring as Hanworth or Brighton or Chelsea does it?

Wilkipedia (so it must be true!) states that Hanworth has an entry in the Domesday Book of 1085 by the name Hagan(a)worda. It says that there were "two mills, 8 beehives, 5 cobs and 24 cattle". Obviously a very happening place!

How ironic is it that Hanworth Hall (family home of the Doughty family from 15th to 18th century) was rebuilt after an fire gutted it in 1686?  Maybe a little piece of history repeating itself 327 years later?  Here's a picture of Hanworth Hall I imagine about the time George was growing up in Norfolk.

This is it now - pretty inspiring! How very Pride and Prejudice it is!

In 1860 when the Heaths were leaving for Australia, Hanworth was a "thriving community of about 230 people".  Its rector was listed as Rev Charles Heath, George's father. George was born on 19 June 1830 to Charles and his wife Mary Anne Poynter. George was also the grandson of the headmaster of Eton. Educated at Cheltenham College, George joined the navy as a 15 year old cadet in 1845. As a lieutenant and, after serving on the H.M.S. Rattlesnake, he applied to become the marine surveyor in the brand new colony of Queensland and moved to Brisbane in 1860.

Of course he had to take a wife there! So on 23 February 1860, before setting sail to Australia, he married Elizabeth Jane Innes. They arrived in Brisbane in late August 1860 (some honeymoon that boat trip must have been!) and George immediately took up the post with the Department of the Surveyor-General.  Following this it was decided that a Portmaster be appointed to take overall charge of the Harbour Masters Department and it was little wonder that, in 1862, our George became the first portmaster of Queensland (a post he held for nearly 30 years).

We Queenslanders kept him quite busy in that job as he oversaw the construction of 13 new ports (including Townsville and Cairns), and 33 lighthouses (including this one at Cleveland) as well as marking the navigation of the Great Barrier Reef.

Cleveland Lighthouse

George served as Chairman of the Marine Board of Queensland from 1869 (when he retired from the Royal Navy as a Commander) until his retirement in 1890.  He was also active in Anglican work.

OK, enough about George - let's get back to the story of the early days of Hanworth.  Work on Hanworth started on 16 July 1864. Handmade bricks were used to build the house (those same bricks stood in staunch defiance of the 2013 fire which ravaged much of it). Apparently bricks were used because milled timber was not readily available.

During this time the Heaths lived at nearby Eskgrove (on Laidlaw Parade today). They were busy as they had a total of 9 children (6 girls and 3 boys including twin boys). We know they were back into the new home at Hanworth when the twins were born in 1865.  Hanworth was to become their family home for nearly 25 years.

The house plan is a simple single storeyed U shape surrounded by verandahs. There was a drawing room (I call it the HH ballroom and that is what it will always be known as in this blog) and adjoining dining room with bay windows.  I give you the pre-fire 2013 visual again of the ballroom (note the magnificence of the white 1860s marble fireplace)

Of course the kitchen, scullery (and servants quarters naturally!) were continued in the adjoining short wing.

And left of the main entrance hall there were bedrooms. And this wing terminated in a narrow staircase which led up to two attic  rooms with views of the Brisbane River. Rumour has it that George used to sit by the dormer windows in the attic (one of my favourite spots in the whole house) and use his telescope to watch out for the boats going up the Humbug Reach of the Brisbane River. 

Remember, HH was then on 7.5 acres and fronted the main road to Lytton and had a substantial frontage to Norman Creek with other boundaries at Mowbray Terrace, Heidelberg Street and Oaklands Parade  (Churchie boys you have Heath to thank for your land too I presume!)

This is the view of the attic today (pre-fire).

I was going to write on about the "lavish gay" entertaining at HH but I think that warrants a post all of its own so the story about the Heaths at Hanworth will be continued.

For now I will leave you with some fabulous shots of the HH attic, destroyed by fire but, like so many of my friends are promising, it will "rise like a phoenix from the ashes" .  Let's hope so.  Like George Poynter Heath, it is also my favourite corner of the HH world.

the narrow staircase leading down from the attic

and after the fire devastation

But from this sad sad photo to a hope-filled image of what it may become - this is the loveliest of all views from HH - at sunset overlooking the rest of the house and the city from the attic - probably the same spot that Heath used to watch for boats and watch his children play in the courtyard.

Bye for now

x HH