Bronte House up for grabs as Matt Handbury hands back the lease: Title Tattle
The fate of historic Bronte House is being resolved by Waverley Council after the tenants, magazine publisher Matt Handbury and his wife, Clare Strang, have decided to relinquish their lease.
Keeping the home in public hands has become a priority for the council, which doesn't wish to oversee any sale.
Bronte House’s story begins in 1836 when William Mortimer Lewis, colonial architect, bought 42 acres of land. He began a house on his land, but the 1843 depression hit so he was forced to sell the property before its completion.
Robert Lowe, an English barrister and later NSW parliamentarian, bought the property as a country residence for himself and his wife, Georgiana, who finished the house in 1845.
The Ebsworth family, who bought the property in 1882, were the longest private owners of Bronte House, occupying the property over three generations.
In 1948 the Ebsworths sold the house and its grounds to Waverley Council, which leased it to the Red Cross until 1969. A weekly evening card party was held to raise money for the rent.
Most notable among recent lessees was Leo Schofield, whose love of the gardens is explored in his book The Garden at Bronte. He was in residence from 1994 to 2004.
The house was built of sandstone with a slate roof in the Gothick picturesque style featuring romantic circular and hexagonal corner turrets, deep bay windows, and pierced wooden tracery. A second story was added to the house in the 1880s.
The future of the 19th-century building was discussed at Waverley Council earlier this month following the decision of tenants Matt Handbury and Clare Strang not to sign a new lease when the current one expires in January.
A report to the council listed several options for consideration, including selling the property for an estimated $5 million or more.
But most councillors, led by mayor Sally Betts, expressed the desire to preserve and protect this type of property, which was listed on the Australian Heritage Commission’s Register of the National Estate in 1978, and made the subject of a permanent conservation order under the Heritage Act in 1981.
Betts told the local paper she disagreed with the report's suggestion that suitable tenants would be hard to find.
"I'm not sure that's a correct statement because we haven't tried. We didn't look for the Handburys, [former tenant] Leo Schofield found them," she said.
The current tenants are required to spend $200,000 per year on the upkeep of Bronte House and its gardens as part of their repairing lease.
The grounds of the house is to be open to the public several times a year.
It will be open for those who want a sneak peak this weekend, November 24/25.
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The current policy solves a short-term problem by creating jobs in the building sector, but in the long run it is likely to place young first home buyers under financial pressure.