A living spirit of past and future

Four historic terraces in the heart of Cooks Hill are brought back to life, ready for the next chapter of a story rooted in Newcastle’s early days.

Matt and Marilyn Sainsbury were looking to move from the suburbs to the city in pursuit of a change of lifestyle. They wanted a home for themselves and one for Matt’s sister, Helen Griffin, that were close enough to allow them to support each other while still living their own lives.

“I had been searching online and only found three blocks big enough to accommodate two residences in all of Cooks Hill,” Marilyn says. “We knew the Anne von Bertouch Gallery well and had often been to the Gallery’s Collector’s Choice events, so when the property came up for sale, Helen and I went to to the open home together.

“She said ‘We have just gone upstairs to go downstairs, I can’t even figure
out where I am’. However, I was sure it had potential and Matt agreed. Happily, so did Helen, once she got over the initial shock.”

The property comprises a set of buildings and is as steeped in Novocastrian history as it can possibly be. The original four terrace houses on the corner of Laman Street and Hunnifords Lane first appear on a Cooks Hill cadastral map of 1886.

At that time, Christ Church Cathedral was but a mark on a map (“to be erected”), Civic Park was a swamp doubling as a horse paddock and City Hall wouldn’t be built for another 43 years.

Rate notices as far back as 1879 show baker Henry Alderton as the owner of the brick buildings that would become known as Hunniford Terrace. The block of land had been part of the initial land grant to the Australian Agricultural Company in 1847 and had changed hands several times before Alderton bought it for £350 on 13 July 1877 from Mungo Brown, an engineer. It is likely that a relative of Henry Alderton, George Hunniford, built the terraces soon after his arrival in Newcastle in the 1870s. George’s brother Thomas had become the owner by late 1891.

After his death in 1900, ownership passed to his widow, Maria Rose, and later to their daughter, Mary Ann (Annie), who had married Henry Charles Hills. The grandsons of Mary Ann and Henry Charles owned the buildings by the 1960s. By then, the terraces had been home to working families for almost a century but they had fallen into a desolate state of disrepair.

iscouraged, the Hills brothers sold to developer John C. W. Bridge Newcastle Pty Ltd in 1969. Cooks Hill had recently been zoned as a high-rise dormitory suburb. Union Towers on nearby Union Street had already been built and Hunniford Terrace was likely to be next.

Yet when issues arose in discussions with Council, the developer sold to Anne and Roger von Bertouch, for half the price they themselves had paid less than half a year earlier.

Read more in the Autumn issue of Hunter & Coastal Lifestyle Magazine or subscribe here. 

Story by Cornelia Schulze, photography by Firebug Photography