STEP BACK IN TIME - Dalwood House
Dalwood Estate may be home to Australia’s oldest surviving vineyard and the site of the country’s first commercial Shiraz plantings. But 189-year-old grapevines aren’t the only legacy left behind on the picturesque property by English pastoralist and vigneron George Wyndham.
Sitting on the top of a slight rise amid the vineyard is Wyndham’s historic family home, Dalwood House, which is now owned by The National Trust of Australia (NSW). Wyndham and his wife Margaret had purchased 2080 acres (842 hectares) near Branxton in January 1828 and renamed the area Dalwood after one of his father’s farms in England. They swiftly settled on the property accompanied by several servants and a collection of sheep, pigs, horses and hounds, as well as New South Wales’ first herd of purebred Hereford cattle.
Construction of their expansive single-storey stone house was thought to have begun in that year or the following. No known architect has been recorded for the Greek Revival style building. However, its similarity to his family home in the English county of Wiltshire suggests that Wyndham himself was responsible for the design. The house consisted of a long central block facing south, with a wing each end and two rear wings projecting northwards to form a courtyard.
A pair of monolithic Doric stone columns dominate the recessed porch of the eastern wing, while the central pavilion, facing the Hunter River, opens through symmetrically positioned paired French doors onto a beautiful diamond pattern flagstone verandah, which has a shingle roof supported by fine timber columns.
Dressed local stone, quarried at nearby Black Creek, was used for the exterior walls, Doric columns of the porch and internal mantelpieces of Dalwood House, while the bricks for the internal walls of the house, farm buildings and lining the wells were fired on site.
The red cedar used for the fine joinery was cut from trees on Edward Cory’s “Gostwyck” property on the nearby Paterson River and brought by dray to Dalwood in 1830. Red cedar was also used to make the wine casks at Dalwood.
Aside from building his home, Wyndham also set about planting what would become a world-renowned vineyard around this time, producing his first vintage in 1835. Dalwood House was added to the State Heritage Register in 1999, in part due to its status as the home of one of the most important pioneering families in the Hunter Valley.
According to Dalwood Restoration Association secretary Don Seton Wilkinson, the home features several significant architectural elements, including its innovative roof structure and the style of its façade, which also influenced its heritage listing.
“It was recently discovered that Dalwood House is actually the very first building built in Australia in the Greek Revival style,” Don said.
“The Dalwood House floorplan is very similar to the late Elizabethan or early Jacobean period house in Wyndham, which he grew up at Dinton, Wiltshire, while the Greek portico is based on a plan by Sir Jeffry Wyatville for George Wyndham’s father’s new house at Dinton Park.
“Dalwood House also has the oldest known flat roof in Australia and the oldest known indoor water closet in the Hunter Valley.”
The Dalwood Restoration Association was formed in 1983 to help preserve and restore the iconic building, which by that time had fallen into a state of disrepair. With the assistance of the staff of The National Trust, the Association engaged architectural, engineering and construction consultants to prepare a comprehensive plan for the complete restoration of Dalwood House.
The plan indicated that restoration of the existing building would cost about $2 million. Don said around $1 million had been spent on the home’s “rescue from ruin” so far, including the most recent conservation works, which saw $300,000 put towards stabilising the foundations and correcting water damage. But the Association still has a long way to go to reach their goals for the historic home.
“The next goal is to raise another $300,000 to obtain a matching State Government grant, to restore the recessed roof and parapet above the side portico with the Doric columns, which is a major architectural feature of the house,” Don said.
“The long term goal is to house records of the 1000 or more people who lived and worked at Dalwood between 1824 and the present, as well as details of the Indigenous people who lived there previously.”
Dalwood House can be viewed on weekends when the surrounding Dalwood Estate winery and vineyard is open to the public.
This month is the perfect time to visit the house and the estate, with a special lunch to be held on Saturday, September 7 celebrating the 189th anniversary of the planting of the first vines at Dalwood. Around 200 guests are already booked to attend, with tickets selling fast.