The Morpeth Experience
There is a lot to discover in Australia’s oldest river port, the birthplace of one of our most familiar icons, Arnott’s Biscuits.
Morpeth has a charm that is both understated and inviting. A thriving, picture-perfect village on the banks of the Hunter River, set against a backdrop of rolling hills and rich flatlands. Originally known as Illalaung by the traditional owners, the Wonnarua people, it is a place of natural beauty and historical significance.
Situated an easy half hour drive from Newcastle and two hours from Sydney, Morpeth was founded in 1821 by Lt. Edward Charles Close following a private land grant of around 2,600 acres. By 1832, Morpeth had grown into a major bustling port that was instrumental in the development of the region.
On the cusp of its bicentenary, Morpeth has plenty to offer, for locals and visitors alike. This is a village with everything you need for a great day out in easy walking distance. An important part of Morpeth’s attraction is the ability to discover the town’s living history first-hand, by meandering along Swan Street, the main thoroughfare, and into the many cobblestoned alleys and laneways.
Take a carriage ride and explore Morpeth the old-fashioned way. Hunter Valley Classic Carriages offer a guided audio tour that is fun for all ages. Owner Donna Huckerby has been with the business for 26 years and says she still loves seeing how the horses always delight children.
Or experience the town’s history on foot. The Morpeth Heritage Walk showcases 25 places of interest in the town centre. A map is available on mymaitland.com.au, on the Maitland Walks app (on the Apple app store and on Google Play), or you can pick up a copy at the Maitland Visitor Information Centre.
There is St James Anglican Church built in 1837 by Lt. Close as an offering of thanks for his life spared in the war. Earlsdon was the family home of engineer John Portus Snr who established the region’s first central flour mill. Watch out for the 19th century, single-level cottages on Swan Street that housed the families of workers employed at the river wharves or on the railway. And, of course, you can’t miss Arnott Bakehouse, which is now home to Morpeth Sourdough and still in the Arnott family.
Brothers William and David Arnott arrived in Australia in 1847 from Scotland where they had just finished their trade qualifications. William was the confectioner, and David the baker. Together they created one of the most recognisable and delicious icons in Australia – and it all started in Morpeth.
The building and the baking business on the premises are still in the family. William’s great, great, great, grandson, Stephen, began making traditional sourdough bread there 18 years ago. He will soon hand his baker’s cap to his son Mackenzie who, at 18 years of age, will be the 7th apprentice to Morpeth Sourdough and also a 7th generation Arnott to continue the family trade. Buy some of their delicious bread or attend a sourdough class and learn how to make the real thing yourself.
It is the connection of past and present, the familiar charm of icons like Arnott’s and the eclectic mix of locally made food and drink, gifts and antiques, fashion and flowers that make a visit to Morpeth so much fun.
As you enter the town from Maitland, Campbell’s Store is on your right at 175 Swan Street. Originally built in 1835 by James Campbell and located not far from the river port at Queens Wharf, it was in its day, a hub of activity and the go-to place to shop.
By 1986 however, the two-storey sandstone building was falling into disrepair and Trevor Richard OAM, a chemist from South Australia came to the rescue. Since then, it has been returned to its former glory, and quite possibly elevated beyond. The original stone building is now home to Morpeth Antique Centre where around 30 dealers, each specialising in a different area, showcase an immense variety of antiques and collectibles. There are nautical memorabilia including glass fishing floats from Japan, rare books, buttons, estate jewellery and the largest collection of Moorcroft pottery in the world according to Eric Knowles of Antique Roadshow fame who popped in while filming the 2017 TV series Clash of the Collectables.
A large barn-like structure along the back is housing Morpeth Ginger Beer Factory & Gourmet Foods and Morpeth Gift Gallery.
Try on the hats, play with the puppets, and taste the ginger beer for an interactive experience that has everyone, whatever their age, oohing and ahhing. The whole complex is overflowing with delights like original Steiff teddy bears, Kewpie dolls and even a life-sized grizzly bear.
Artwork by some of Australia’s very best artists are being featured at Morpeth Gallery in the very same building. Discover the works of James Hough who has won multiple international awards for his spectacular, stunningly detailed illustrations of Australian fauna and flora. Or immerse yourself in the paintings of Bill Cooper, AO, who was described by Sir David Attenborough as the world’s best scientific painter of birds. In fact, Sir David has made two films on Bill with the most recent one filmed at Morpeth Gallery in 2013.
Peruse and ponder
Morpeth’s stone pavements are wide, and its quaint, inviting alleys full of hidden delights that are yours to discover. Within a couple of blocks you will find hand-made chocolates, fresh flowers, beautifully scented soy candles, plants, garden goods and fashion. Louise’s of Morpeth offers smart-casual ladies fashion in natural fibres like cotton, linen or silk, and wonderfully cosy wool garments for the chilly season.
“We offer practical, but high-quality clothing that is comfortable to wear, go-to pieces that will be staples in your wardrobe for years,” says owner Louise Moase who takes great pride in offering excellent customer service. “We love to make our customers feel special and see them leave the store with a spring in their step and a smile on their face!”
At her bright and airy store on Swan Street, which is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 4pm, she stocks beautiful clothing from Yarra Trail, quality garments from Goondiwindi Cotton and Foil, ageless pieces enriched with a playful colour palette from See Saw and an extensive range of pants from Vassalli.
Princess Bazaar is bursting at the seams with boho inspired fashion, great denim, original and pre-loved pieces. It is located in a large historic terrace that owner Lisa Simmonds-Webb restored using antique fixtures. Australian Alpaca Barn will catch your eye with its bright and happy garments. Owner Marion says the Australian made socks she’s now stocking are a real drawcard.
It’s easy to work up an appetite as you are exploring Morpeth’s past and present. At the Servant’s Quarters Tearoom next to Morpeth Gallery quench your thirst with an old-style Ginger Beer or a refreshing cordial made with pure fruit from Australian produce.
For something more substantial, discover delicious wood-fired pizzas and Indian delicacies just next door at Morpeth Woodfired Pizza. The restaurant featuring this quirky menu combination is at one end of a sandstone home built for Elizabeth Hillier and her husband, Dr Francis Bennett, around 1850. At the other end you will find the Surgeon’s Cottage, offering boutique accommodation that is warm and inviting. With a hipped roof, decorative cast iron columns and a lovely verandah overlooking the river, it’s the sort of place that is truly a home away from home. Boydell’s Restaurant and Cellar Door around the corner sports rustic wooden beams and corrugated iron in a nod to a colonial past.
High Tea on the Hunter next door is the perfect place to end (or start) your visit. Kerryl (or Kez as she is known to friends and customers alike) has created a space inspired by her love for all things vintage and beautiful. Step inside her wonderfully welcoming boutique restaurant and be prepared to be spoilt rotten. With three variations of High Tea on offer your tastebuds won’t ever want you to leave. We highly recommend her Traditional High Tea which includes savoury bites (gourmet sausage rolls, prosciutto, feta or roast tomato on flatbread anyone?), homemade scones with luscious, locally made strawberry jam and clotted cream, exquisite petit fours and as a refreshing finale, a sorbet served in beautifully old-fashioned crystal. Devonshire Tea and seasonal specials are also available.
There’s so much to discover in Morpeth, stay for a weekend, or simply keep coming back for encores. Experiencing a lively bustling village is encouraging and heart-warming. The old buildings, housing new ideas on the banks of an ever changing but steadfast river, exude a charm that is impossible to resist. We are looking forward to seeing you in Morpeth!
Read more in the Spring issue of Hunter & Coastal Lifestyle Magazine or subscribe here.
Story by Megan Hazlett, photography courtesy of Maitland Council