High Times in High Street

An enduring passion to stop historic buildings wasting away or being demolished has become a life’s work for one proud Hunter renovator, and it’s possible he has met his biggest challenge yet.

Chris Richards moved to the region in the 1980s and began renovating old homes around Morpeth that nobody else wanted to save. “I couldn’t believe the heritage just rotting away, so I set to work fixing up one home when another just around the corner came up on the market. It’s ludicrous to think of now, but I bought the home on my bankcard, it was just $1300,” he chuckles.

Since then, dozens more properties have followed, but now he says he is nearing the end of what he says will be his final local renovation. And what a property to pick, possibly Maitland’s finest building, ’Mansfield House’.

Built in the 1880s, it was one of the finest bank buildings in the state, originally planned to be built in Sydney. However, the Hunter was booming and the structure, with its many levels of stone and cedar, was erected in High Street, Maitland.

The building is well loved in the community. It’s been the scene of countless weddings, balls and other celebrations since signing its final cheques after a long history as the region’s premier bank. It lay idle for many years and the pile of work needed to restore this beautiful behemoth only grew.

“I only buy buildings that speak to me,” says Chris. “I have to get a real feeling for the space and then when I fall in love I do nothing else but toil over it,” he laughs.

Story and Images Penny Evans.