A stately survivor in Sydney’s east
new South wales Milford Street, Randwick $12m
For 40 years, Nugal Hall provided the ideal backdrop for Ellen and John Campion’s vast antique collection. The family home in Sydney’s east was a veritable time capsule – and that’s how the Campions and previous owners dreamed it would stay.
The Gothic Revival house in Randwick was designed by colonial architect Mortimer Lewis and built in 1853 for politician and merchant Alexander Arthur as part of a larger 80ha landholding. Subsequent occupants include Randwick mayor Magnus Peden; his son, barrister and parliamentarian Sir John Peden; Coogee Bay Hotel owner Dr Fred Tidswell and film entrepreneur Charles Cosens Spencer. In 1919, the house provided respite for soldiers returning from World War I.
At 1800sqm, Nugal Hall’s land area may have been significantly reduced but the building’s survival as a stately home is testament to the passion of owners such as Nell Pillars, founder of the Randwick Historical Society, who made provisions in her will that the house not be sold to an institution.
Dr John Campion, then a Moree-based GP, and Ellen bought the house from Pillars’ estate in 1977. “She was concerned it remained as a family home, and although it has had other uses, I think 90 per cent of its time it’s been a family home,” says Patrick Campion, one of Ellen and John’s six children.
“My parents felt very much like custodians of the house, particularly my mother. When she was nearing the end of her life there were two developments proposed right on the doorstep and she fought very
hard to stop them, even though it wasn’t her fight. The council is charged with looking after this property. We will come and go and the hope is it will be there forever.”
The mansion, sometimes referred to as Randwick’s Downton Abbey, has a distinctive circular turret and imposing sandstone facades. It was in need of repair when the Campions moved in; kitchenettes and poky bathrooms that had been installed to create six apartments had to be removed before any of the “fun cosmetic” work could begin, says Patrick.
Specialists were eventually enlisted to update the plaster and painting in keeping with the original style. Still in place are a grand staircase with stained glass ceiling, marble columns and fireplaces, a circular annexe card room, ballroom, mosaic-tiled foyer and six large upstairs bedrooms. Later additions included a self-contained wing with an observatory-style living area and slate roof.
Hidden stairways and secret maids’ quarters provided John and Ellen’s 17 grandchildren with no shortage of adventures and endless games of hide and seek. “It was always fun to bring guests to the house because they were always amazed that such a lovely big home existed,” says Patrick. “Our kids have such wonderful indelible memories of creeping around and playing in this house. They all claimed it was spooky.”
Despite its national estate register listing, Ellen was not obliged to decorate the home in its original style. She chose to imbue the rooms with her own, choosing colours and furnishings that offset her growing collection of antiques.
“My mother was a serious antique collector and real magpie – she collected anything and everything,” says Patrick. “I think my dad kept a lid on it while he was alive but as soon as he departed the scene she continued collecting unfettered. By the time she died [in 2017] you could barely move in the place, she’d collected so many things. She loved it.”