Rippon Lea Estate
Image courtesy of Rippon Lea Estate
Rippon Lea Estate is a heritage-listed historic mansion and garden in the Melbourne suburb of Elsternwick, Victoria, Australia. The National Trust of Australia looks after it. On August 11, 2006, it was included on the Australian National Heritage List.
Sir Frederick Sargood, a rich Melbourne merchant, politician, and philanthropist commissioned the Rippon Lea Estate in 1868. Frederick and his wife Marion purchased Crown Allotment 253 in the Parish of Prahran, Elsternwick, and all or part of Crown Allotment 260, totaling 11 hectares (26 acres). He had a two-story, 15-room mansion built about 8 kilometers from Melbourne’s central business district. Around the house, there was a large pleasure garden with glasshouses, vegetable gardens, and orchards. The gardens were created to be water self-sufficient, and the property’s big man-made lake was created to store rainwater run-off from the surrounding area. Rippon Lea had grown to 18 hectares (45 acres) by the late 1870s, with the kitchen garden alone taking over 0.81 hectares (2 acres).
The Sargoods lived at Rippon Lea until Frederick died in 1903, and the house was expanded multiple times over the years. The house was extended to the north, and a tower was constructed in 1897, which was the most significant structural change. The house’s style has been described as “polychromatic romanesque,” and the architect, Joseph Reed, was claimed to be influenced by the architecture of northern Italy’s Lombardy area. Sargood employed a full-time electrician to maintain the system. The fittings featured an electrically powered bell system to connect with the servant’s quarters and kitchens below stairs, making the house one of the first in Australia to be lit by electricity produced by its generators.
The property was sold to a group of real estate developers after Frederick’s death in 1903, planning to demolish the mansion and subdivide the land. Elsternwick was a new neighborhood on Melbourne’s outskirts; when the Sargoods bought the land 35 years before, it was considered beyond the city’s built-up area.
The mansion sat idle for six years while the developers auctioned off various plots of land, including orchards and paddocks. However, the consortium’s leader, Sir Thomas Bent, died before the ultimate carve-up of the estate could be completed, and the property was put on the market in 1910.
Ben and Agnes Nathan purchased it, owners of the Melbourne-based Maples furniture brand. Ben Nathan died in 1935, and the Nathans continued to live there. Their eldest daughter, Louisa, received the property and a £1 million inheritance.
Mrs. Timothy Jones, Louisa’s married name, was a prominent member of Melbourne’s social scene in the 1930s. She remodeled and renovated the house extensively to allow her to entertain on a grand scale. The house’s interior was redecorated in a restrained classical 1930s design, with inspiration drawn from 1930s Hollywood cinema style and Syrie Maugham’s “all-white room.” Most of the house’s remaining Victorian features were significantly altered during the renovations—for example, the gold-embossed wallpaper in the entry hall and hallways was over-painted in white, as were the marble columns around the main entrance.
The elegant iron-framed ballroom (converted from an earlier conservatory) designed by Frederick Sargood was dismantled to make space for a luxurious “Hollywood style” swimming pool and ballroom. At the same time, 5.7 hectares (14 acres) of gardens were maintained. Mrs. Jones also constructed a new modern kitchen on the main floor. In contrast, the original basement kitchen and service facilities were locked off, preserving many of the house’s surviving 19th-century elements, such as the cool room, wine cellar, and enormous fuel burner.
The Victorian government compulsorily bought a piece of the site in preparation for the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne to house a new television studio complex for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). The Rippon Lea studio was converted into the ABC’s Melbourne studio and eventually served as the production center for several well-known ABC shows, including Bellbird, Countdown, The Big Gig, and The Late Show.
A few years later, the state government was forced to purchase another portion of the property, and Mrs. Jones contested it in court for years. She eventually agreed with the government, agreeing that the house and the property she still owned would be donated to the National Trust upon her death. The house and gardens were reunited with the contested acquisition after Mrs. Jones’ death on July 27, 1972, rescuing the estate from sale and development and allowing the public to enjoy the estate in perpetuity. The Vernon Family lived at the gatehouse during the 1970s and 1980s.
The lake, the impressive iron-framed fernery, the swimming pool, the adjacent ballroom (1939, presently leased to Peter Rowland Catering for social gatherings), and the stable complex are also noteworthy features of the grounds (1868). The basement kitchen complex, erected in the 1880s and subsequently abandoned in 1938 due to the installation of a contemporary kitchen on the ground floor, is well worth seeing. They are now a unique surviving example of a 19th-century kitchen suite in Australia, consisting of a kitchen, scullery, pantries, cold rooms, servants’ hall, and wine cellar.