The Thumpston family’s treasured wares take centrestage in their Blue Mountains home in NSW.
SEASONED COLLECTORS MEG and Neil Thumpston have a knack for unearthing hidden treasures, and they certainly struck gold when they stumbled across this historic property in 2015. The Sydney couple had been scouting for a new base in the NSW Blue Mountains when the homestead near Lithgow came up for sale. “We hadn’t thought of coming out this far, we didn’t even know the area,” recalls Meg, “but the house just looked fantastic. We couldn’t resist it.” The huge 18-room house in Clarence didn’t just have good bones and a charming English garden, it also came with a vibrant history. It originally started life as two connected mirror-image timber cottages, built in 1879 by entrepreneurial brothers Richard and William Richards, who also grew crops, raised cattle, operated a sawmill and excavated clay for the local pottery works. Back then, Clarence was a thriving railway town and the savvy brothers spied the opportunity to open a hotel, adding a brick extension in 1905. “Guests would travel 1.5 miles from the station by dray and would spend days enjoying bush walks, picnics and tennis,” says Meg. “It was never licensed but we have found lots of old, big bottles, which could have contained wine or beer.” The property remained a guesthouse for many years, a tradition the owners who sold it to the Thumpstons upheld by operating it as a bed and breakfast. These days, however, the home’s unique charm is reserved solely for the Thumpstons and their family and friends. After living in the bustling Sydney suburb of Paddington for 30 years, moving here fulfilled a long-held dream for both Meg, 69, and Neil, 70, who met in London in the early 1970s. “We have always wanted to live in the country,” says Meg. “Neil was born and grew up in England and remembers the seasonal changes there, and I was born in Kyogle near the Queensland border and later lived in Nowra on the NSW South Coast. My days were mainly spent outside playing in the creek that ran through my parents’ garden, so the country’s always been there in my blood.” The transition back to country life has been an easy one for Meg, a former personal assistant, and Neil, who works occasionally as a film editor — his credits include Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) and The Year My Voice Broke (1987). The house only needed minor work — the couple painted it inside and out, joined two ensuite bathrooms, replaced floorboards where necessary and made cosmetic changes to the kitchen by swapping out a Formica-topped bench for a converted antique table and installing a new oven and tiles. Meg and Neil then filled the home with furniture and treasures lovingly collected over years of travelling, both around Australia and overseas. “None of our pieces are worth a lot but they hold memories of our travels and the talent of friends and family,” Meg says. Regular trips to see relatives in England — and side trips to Paris — have afforded the Thumpstons plenty of treasurehunting opportunities. “I’ll collect anything,” says Meg with a laugh. Her love of French crockery, lead figures, antique paintings and crystal glassware is evident in every room, >
“We hadn’t thought of coming out this far — we didn’t even know the area — but the house just looked fantastic. We couldn’t resist it.”
while some of Neil’s finds include an ornate mirror in the living room and Art Deco pendant lights in the enclosed verandah. It’s a hobby they’ve also passed onto their son, Toby, 32, who uses one of the many sheds on the property to build bicycles, both vintage and new. Beautiful fabrics are another temptation for Meg, who creates intricate patchwork quilts. “I never finish them,” she chuckles. “The backing is always my stumbling block. But I thoroughly enjoy it and I have so much fabric, it’s ridiculous!” For now, the quilts may have to wait, as Meg is preoccupied with a new hobby: gardening. “My father was an agricultural science teacher and he grew vegetables everywhere in our garden in Nowra. But me? I know nothing, really, about gardening,” she admits. “That’s all part of coming up here. I’m learning something new.” Much of the 18-hectare property is covered in mountain ash and woollybutt eucalyptus, but it also boasts many established European trees, such as horse chestnuts, pears, lilacs, and some oaks that the Thumpstons reckon to be about 140 years old. The pair have added several large garden beds and invested in a ride-on mower to tackle the lawns, but they have help — the resident kangaroos do a good job of keeping the grass in check. “They’re like pets, they’re gorgeous,” says Meg. Although it’s just the two of them, every room of the sprawling house is used throughout the year, from the cosy sunroom in winter (Meg’s favourite reading nook) to the large and light-filled kitchen in the brick extension, which stays delightfully cool in summer. And the couple are far from lonely. A steady stream of guests, including Toby and his friends, and extended family, fill the bedrooms and gather for festive feasts under the chestnut trees. “We do tend to have more people than we have ever had come and stay,” Meg says. “And we can do that here really well. It’s just lovely.” History repeated.