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Lydham Hall
Lydham Hall-1, Rockdale, Sydney.png
Location 18 Lydham Avenue, Rockdale, Bayside Council, New South Wales, Australia
Built 1860
Owner Bayside Council
Official name: Lydham Hall; Lydham; Lydham Hill
Type State heritage (built)
Designated 2 April 1999
Reference no. 477
Type House
Category Residential buildings (private)
Builders Sven Bengtson (Swedish stonemason)

Lydham Hall is a heritage-listed former residence and now museum at 18 Lydham Avenue, Rockdale, Bayside Council, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. It was built in 1860 by Swedish stonemason Sven Bengtson. It is also known as Lydham and Lydham Hill. The property is owned by Bayside Council. It was added to the New South Wales State Heritage Register on 2 April 1999.


The parcel of land on which Lydham Hall stands was originally part of 1200 acres granted to James Chandler in 1822. The estate, named Bexley after Chandler's birthplace in England, was mortgaged and eventually sold after unsuccessful attempts at farming.

In 1859 wealthy master butcher, Joseph Davis bought 67 of the original 1200 acres and used the land for resting and fattening his cattle before slaughter. Around 1860 Davis engaged Swedish stonemason, Sven Bengston to construct a house on part of the estate that had sweeping views of Botany Bay. The site chosen was one of the highest points between the Cooks River and Georges River.

Davis was born in the village of Brede in Sussex in 1827 and came to New South Wales in 1847 and set up business in Newtown, first as a publican and then as a butcher. On 28 October 1850 he married 17 years old Ellen Turner at Scots Church, Sydney.

His butchering business flourished and Davis was buying, fattening and slaughtering his own stock. Davis was also a prominent man in the district and a generous benefactor to St George's Church, Hurstville and Christ Church, Bexley.

The rural character of the area remained largely unchanged until the coming of the Illawarra railway line in 1884. The land boom which followed in the wake of the railway influenced Davis to subdivide all but 8 acres surrounding his home. The streets formed because of the subdivision were named after Davis's sons, Frederick and Herbert and his eldest grandson, Clarence.

Shortly after Davis' death in 1889, Mrs Davis sold Lydham Hall to Frederick Gibbins who lived nearby at Dappeto (now known as Macquarie Lodge) and was a successful oyster merchant and trawling magnate.

Gibbins leased out Lydham Hall to various well-to-do tenants from 1890 to 1907, one of which was H. E. Hoggan, Manager of the Australian Gas Light Company.

In 1907 David George Stead moved into Lydham Hall after his marriage to his second wife Ada. Ada was a daughter of Frederick Gibbins, who made Lydham Hall available to the couple rent-free.

David Stead was a world renowned naturalist. Born on 6 March 1877 he left school at the age of 12 and began working as an apprentice to a rubber stamp maker. His scientific career began with a zoology course at Sydney Technical College. At the age of 21 he joined the Linnean Society of New South Wales and by 1900 he had written several short articles that were published by the Society. Stead's special field was in marine life and this was recognised in when he was offered employment in 1902 as a scientific assistant under the Director of Fisheries for the Commonwealth. Stead was also an outspoken conservationist and in 1909 he cofounded the Wildlife Preservation Society of Australia.

David Stead had previously been married to Ellen Butter and on 17 July 1902 had a daughter, Christina Stead. Tragically Ellen's life was cut short on 9 December 1904 when she died from a peforated appendix.

Christina Stead was one of Australia's greatest and most esteemed writers. She was born on 17 July 1902 in a cottage in Kimpton Street, Rockdale (now known as Banksia). She spent ten of her most impressionable years at Lydham Hall and it is claimed that she used experiences of this time as the background for possibly her most important work, "The Man Who Loved Children". Although Christina did not begin her schooling until she was seven years old she was regarded as an excellent student during her years at Bexley Public School. After a year at Kogarah Intermediate, she transferred to St George Girls High School when it opened in 1916. A great storyteller, she would entertain her brothers and sisters with tales and poems. Many of Christina's novels were based on this period of her life.

Christina also moved into Lydham Hall with her father and his second wife Ada. During their time at Lydham Hall the Stead family grew rapidly with Ada giving birth to six children. The security of life for the Stead family at Lydham Hall very much depended on the benevolence of Ada's father, Frederick Gibbins.

However, in 1917 Frederick Gibbins died and the exposure to his financial indebtedness was a severe disruption to the Stead family. Following the forced sale of Lydham Hall the Stead family moved to Watsons Bay

Lydham Hall was purchased by the former Rockdale Council in 1960 and is managed by the St. George Historical Society. It houses many items on loan from the National Trust of Australia (NSW). The collection includes 19th century furniture and an extensive array of willow patterned china.

Storms in January 2015 led to rain damage and the closure of Lydham Hall for repair works. The house was reopened to the public in February 2016 after repairs.


The design is a good example of the transition from the simple Georgian colonial style of architecture to the more ornate pattern of the mid-Victorian era. It was basically four large rooms, each 14x20' with a 10' wide centrally placed hall. A narrow staircase at the southern side of the hall reaches two upper rooms, each 18' 6" square lit by near dormer windows. Full length French windows face north, east and south to take advantage of the cool sea breezes whilst those facing west are conventionally smaller to keep the hot westerlies at bay. Two storeys with attic. Constructed from stone quarried locally and stands on the highest point of land between the Cooks and Georges Rivers.

A 9' verandah once extended around all four sides of the house and its iron roof is unsupported except for bearers in each corner and open work cast iron columns at 10' intervals. The red and stone colour scheme is original. The hip roof of the house is covered with blue slates and there are a series of small decorated brackets beneath the narrow eaves. The two wide chimneys are of unusual design and each has a drip skirt placed above the flashing.

The kitchen, stables and servants quarters were originally detached and stood to the south-east of the house. The kitchen was demolished in 1958 when the last of the land was subdivided.

Modifications and dates

  • 1822: Original Bexley land grant (1200 acres)
  • 1859: Subdivision and acquisition of 67 acres by Davis.
  • 1860: Construction of Lydham (house). A 9' verandah once extended around all four sides of the house. The original kitchen, stables and servants quarters were detached and stood to the south-east of the house.
  • 1884: Subdivision of all but 18 acres of the estate.
  • 1889: Second subdivision creating Stanley, Oswald and Joseph Streets.
  • 1890-1917: Tenanted out.
  • 1919: The detached kitchen was demolished and attached to the main house for convenience.
  • 1958: The kitchen and rest of outbuildings demolished and the last of the land was subdivided.
  • 1970: Sold to Rockdale Council.

Heritage listing

Lydham Hall is a free stone family home built in 1860 of materials quarried locally by Swedish stonemason, Sven Bengston for wealthy master butcher Joseph Davis. It is one of the few substantial domestic buildings erected in Sydney during the period of the gold rushes and represents an excellent example of the transition from the simple Georgian style of architecture to the more elaborate Victorian style.

It stands on the highest point of land between the Cook's and Georges River where it commands extensive views over Botany Bay. The house is an outstanding instance of an early pioneer home, faithfully restored.

At one time it was the residence of David Stead, internationally known fisheries expert and naturalist who gave the suburb of Banksia its name and the childhood home of the distinguished Australian authoress Christina Stead.

Lydham Hall was listed on the New South Wales State Heritage Register on 2 April 1999.

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