Jonathan Chancellor is one of our authors. Jonathan has been writing about property since the early 1980s and is editor-at-large of Property Observer.

e Email Me

meet one of our observers

Jonathan Chancellor

28 April 2013

Camelot at Camden is captivating as A Place to Call Home location on Channel 7's new 1950s drama series

Camelot at Camden is captivating as A Place to Call Home location on Channel 7's new 1950s drama series

Camelot, the grandest house near Camden on Sydney's outskirts, was the location for filming of the latest Channel 7 drama series, A Place to Call Home.

Set among rolling green pastures with well-established cottage-style gardens, and a winding, tree-lined drive from gates originally from Yaralla, Concord, the historic Narellan mansion was built in 1888 for the White pastoralist family.

aplacetocallhomeapril29flicker

It comes with the romantic silhouette of turrets and chimney stacks and gables, the backdrop to many a wedding photo session - such as this picture below by leading Sydney weddings photographer Gemma Clarke - given its captivating grounds.

placetocallhomemay9one

It's known as Ash Park in the series. Until the latest Bevan Lee creation - the writer and executive best known for creating the TV dramas Packed to the Rafters and Winner & Losers - Title Tattle hadn't seen Camelot since its late 1990s mortgagee marketing campaigns which came after dramatic 1996 eviction proceedings.

But the 55-room fairytale-like, Camelot and its gardens have clearly been stunningly restored by the owners, Brendan and Rachel Powers. The property has actually only had four owners with it last selling in 1999 for $2.6 million.

It's a John Horbury Hunt-designed three-storey 1888 house, originally known as Kirkham when built for the Hon James White, which got its current name from Frances Faithful-Anderson, who, on seeing the property in 1900, was reminded of the opening verse of Tennyson's The Lady of Shalott.

On either side by river lie

Long fields of barley and of rye,

That clothe the world and meet the sky;

And thro' the field the road runs by

To many tower'd Camelot.

 

The NSW State Library has photos circa 1900.

James White built it, cashed up from his winnings from Chester, his racehorse which had 19 wins - including the 1877 Melbourne Cup and VRC Derby - from 29 starts.

White was the grand-uncle of author Patrick White. with the family's best known property association still to this day, being with Belltrees in the upper Hunter Valley. In 1848 James leased Belltrees, in partnership with brothers Francis and George, which they purchased in 1853.

In around 1860 James White bought Martindale, near Muswellbrook, where he was elected to the Legislative Assembly for the Upper Hunter with his main political interests being railway expansion, taxes on luxuries and an interest in free selection. 


His first association with architect John Horbury Hunt was in about 1873 when Hunt carried out large scale extensions to newly purchased Cranbrook, Rose Bay. Hunt was invited in 1888 to build him a "rural seat" at the Kirkham holding, but died at Cranbrook in 1890, perhaps never having lived in Hunt's creation at Kirkham.

The 33-hectare grounds include classic examples of Horbury Hunt's clay-brick specialty including a beehive-shaped smoke house, an octagonal aviary and large ornate stable block, with hammer-arched roofing, which featured as Lady Ashley's stables in the Baz Luhrmann film, Australia.

Title Tattle recalls even the garden beds are quiet intricate as White, the mad-keen gambler, shaped then as heart, club, diamond and spade.

NSW Heritage says another usual feature of Camelot is the main staircase with its landing projecting beyond the external wall and forms the base of a semicircular tower, terminating in a candle-snuffer roof, complete with finial.

It's been a house that every so often comes to public attention as in 1981 the Supreme Court's Justice Rath determined the 1938 will of Mrs Faithful-Anderson took precedence over her daughter, Clarice who willed Camelot to the NSW National Trust.

As that 1938 bequest - with Camelot desired to become a convalescent home after Clarice's death - clashed with council zonings the property was sold in 1985 to John Neal, a retired coalminer and Wallacia pub owner, for $1.3 million.

But Neal evisaging a convention centre with restoration funds coming from a subdivision, did not actually proceed to settlement.

It was subsequently bought by Michael Howarth, the New Zealand-born cattle breeder, and Artes Studio founder, who paid more than $2 million in 1986.

In 1994 as a result of a costly 1980s cattle leasing tax minimisation scheme, the entrepreneur was briefly bankrupted owing $741,983 to his creditor, the State Bank of South Australia subsidiary, Mortgage Acceptance. But the court was told his debts totalled about $7 million with his major asset, Camelot through complicated trust arrangements. Quickly discharged from bankruptcy, Howarth was, however, unable to hold off the sale by receiver Anthony Sims.

The six-bedroom mansion was once described by critic Leo Schofield as the best house John Horbury Hunt ever designed.

Even its bathrooms impressed Leo, Title Tattle recalls: "One has a tub the size of a gunboat, wonderful tiles and a shower like an upturned tin tiara," he wrote.

The interiors feature stained glass by Lyons, Wells, Cottier & Co.

Camelot stands on the site of explorer John Oxley's Kirkham Mill after an 1810 land grant.

Its availability for weddings is through completewedding.com.au.

Watched by 1.7 million, the series premiered Sunday April 28 in the timeslot previously held by Downton Abbey. IMDb says it is a 13 episode series which wikipedia says has been described as a ”compelling melodrama about love and loss set against the social change of the 1950s”.

Joh Griggs got a tour through recently.