Is Menangle Australia’s example of a homegrown Arts and Crafts enclave?

The St James Church in Menangle is beautiful and unique.

“St James’ is situated atop a high hill at the southern end of the village of Menangle and is visible across many miles of rolling hills. The Nave was designed by John Horbury Hunt and constructed in 1876. Sir John Sulman designed the central tower, chancel and apse which were built after the generous benefaction of Mrs Elizabeth Macarthur-Onslow in 1896.” [i]

The amazing organ was designed and constructed by Bryceson and Bryceson.[ii]

In 2007 I bought a house that no-one else would buy. My house has some of the same brickwork as the St James Church in Menangle.


Ever since I bought the house, I have been flummoxed as to whether it is Victorian, Queen Anne, Federation or Edwardian. I have been combing historic buildings to find likenesses and precedence in styles.

It dawned on me today how very unique my house really is.

My house is an Australian example of an Arts and Crafts house.

I have often watched Lifestyle shows, envying the Arts and Crafts movement in Britain and North America. However, I recently realised that I, and two of my neighbours reside in three of Australia’s answers to these houses.

Indulge me as I examine just how special my house  (as well as one brick façade of St James Church, Menangle and the historic Menangle School Building) is.

old school

Hand-hewn, the pitched-roof building is solid, determined to resist change and impervious to all types of weather. The lovingly restored, ten-foot ceilings are made from horsehair; the bricks are of Flemish Bond – which is much more treasured in Perth than Sydney, where heritage listing has occurred.[iii]

The doors are a mix of solid wood and French; the verandah harks back to the days where the men would sleep outside due to the weather and their state of cleanliness. There were (and are) no fly-screens, the windows are wide and open outwards, there is always a sense that they should be just that much larger and I am confused as to why the encapsulation of light was not more important to the builder.

The hall is long and luxurious with beautiful original floorboards (alas, these were too damaged in most other rooms to be saved). These floorboards survived due to the four layers of linoleum we stripped away. The other floors were covered in threadbare rugs and shellacked around the perimeter of the rooms. These floorboards have mainly been claimed by rising damp and have needed attention.

The fireplaces light up what could be a drab and grimly practical house. The one in the kitchen would have housed a wood-burning stove. The dining room fire is wide, warm and inviting, the one in the lounge room is cosy and comforting. I also have a boarded-up fireplace in my bedroom. I will get it working again one day…

I bought the house without a functioning kitchen or bathroom. The bathroom was a revolting lean-to added in the 1930’s and distastefully renovated in the late seventies.  I presume that in the grimly rustic kitchen, that women slaved over the wood stove and perhaps a few bits of furniture provided some comfort in their cooking, The ladies would have been hot in Summer and cold in Winter, as the double brick walls certainly celebrate and permeate the changes in nature and the seasons.

Another feature of my house that makes no sense is an ornate arch, which will eventually house the doorway to my bathroom. It is strong, solid and handsome. Such a lovingly built arch clashes with the almost puritan feel the other rooms had before I added comforts such as carpets, paints and soft furnishings. The arch would have only served as a thoroughfare from one verandah to another, where the old copper and stand-alone bathtub would have been located.

Would William Morris concur?

I think he would. William Morris would understand that I see the beauty in the hand-hewn, anti-industrialised architecture and materials of my house.

The Arts and Crafts movement flourished between 1880-1910, which is when the Macarthur family built Menangle in a Feudal-style to house the workers of Camden Park Estate.

I have heard it rumoured that my house was hand-built by the Macarthur’s resident estate carpenter between 1880-1910. My house is one of three facing Station Street and the old Creamery and Rotolactor. They were the Dairy Managers cottages. Workers of the estate were housed in mainly weatherboard Settler’s Huts.

With all this building and construction, unadulteratedly reminiscent of, and wishful for an ‘olde England’ would competition for quality not have been encouraged by the Macarthurs and achieved between the trades and artisans? I believe the quality must have been an extremely high standard. Menangle is a true tribute to this, as the buildings have survived since the 1880’s, despite various threats of residential and industrial change to the area.

If the Arts and Crafts movement was the fashion, why then would these clever craftsmen have not been directly influenced by the projects undertaken by the famous Architects Hunt and Sulman who collaborated with the Macarthur Family on their public buildings?

The Macarthur family commissioned the building of the historic Menangle School, St James’ Church, Gilbulla and many historic houses and cottages nestled within the Camden/Wollondilly landscape.

John Horbury Hunt, who designed the Church Nave, is recognised as an Arts and Crafts leader in Australia.

“The movement advocated truth to materials and traditional craftsmanship using simple forms and often medieval, romantic or folk styles of decoration. It also proposed economic and social reform and has been seen as essentially anti-industrial.”[iv]

Interestingly, John Horbury Hunt must have crossed paths with John Sulman in a few locations as both are recorded as designing churches and schools in Armidale and Menangle between the years 1875 -1900.

Unfortunately, there was little camaraderie between the two men and perhaps the clash and mix of styles in my house reflects the public war waging about the clash and mix of architecture in Sydney.

“Hunt, finally welcomed back into the Institute in 1887, continued where he left off. Much of his scorn was directed at the Palladians, a movement led by John Sulman, whose work Hunt (indirectly) described as ‘huge in bulk, vile in conception, false and reckless in construction, piles that are revolting to the cultured taste and positively revolting to the public mind’. Sulman and eighteen other members resigned in 1890, decimating the Institute. The press dubbed the remaining body ‘The Horbury Hunt Institute’ or ‘Horbury Hunt’s Secret Society’.”[v]

Despite factions within architecture, both men are recognised as pioneers of the Arts and Crafts Movement in Sydney.  Harriet Edquist chronicles this history in her text, Pioneers of Modernism: the Arts and Crafts Movement in Australia.[vi]

As my brickwork is exactly the same as Flemish-bond brick the entryway and the central tower of the Church these Arts and Crafts Giants designed, I am confident in proclaiming that I reside in a unique Arts and Crafts style cottage in Australia.

Laura Egan-Burt

12 Station St, Menangle