Out at Concord, located in Sydney’s inner west, is the magnificent building of the former Thomas Walker Memorial Hospital for Convalescents, that is now the school Rivendell. It was recently open for inspection by the City of Canada Bay Heritage Society.
The heritage society organises regular open days to continually raise public awareness of this heritage icon.
The Heritage Council of NSW states:
The Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital is situated in the Municipality of Concord on the Parramatta River bounded by Brays Bay and Yaralla Bay. It is a large complex on a large park-like riverside estate, with extensive and prominent landscape plantings, making it a landmark along the river.
Opened in 1893 patients were taken from Circular Quay to the Watergate at the front of the complex on the Parramatta River. The landing stage was a pontoon that went up and down with the tide. A bridge connected the pontoon to the Watergate.
The convalescent hospital was constructed from a bequest of 100,000 pounds from the will of businessman and politician Thomas Walker who died in 1886. Walker was a philanthropist, member of the legislative council and director of the Bank of New South Wales.
The executors of Walker’s will announced a design competition in 1888 for a convalescent hospital. Architect John Kirkpatrick won the design competition although criticized for being overly expensive.
In 1889 architectural commission was given to Sydney architects Sulman and Power. The building cost 150,000 pounds with additional funds coming from other family members and supporters.
Between 1943 and 1946 the hospital was managed by the Red Cross with control then passing to Perpetual Trustees.
The hospital complex
The main hospital building is Queen Anne Federation style with a four-storey clock tower at the centre. There is classical ornamentation. On either side of the main building are two wings containing cloisters.
The hospital complex is based on a pavilion basis, with each pavilion to retain its functional integrity with the central block for administration and service blocks either side. There are 8 buildings in the complex.
The main building is two storey with a three storey tower over the main entrance, an impressive vestibule, and an entertainment hall for 300 people. There is sandstone detail throughout inside and out.
The Sulman buildings have elaborately shaped exposed rafter ends, Marseilles pattern terracotta roof tiles and crafted brickwork.
The History of Sydney website states:
The building’s symmetrical design originally divided it into male and female sides. It includes two enclosed courtyards, a concert hall and a recreation hall which is supposed to be highly decorated. It is of the first known buildings to make use of “cavity walls” for insulation and protection against Sydney’s hot climate.
Significance of hospital complex
The NSW heritage inventory states:
The hospital is important because it reflects Florence Nightingale’s influence on 19th century convalescent hospital design principles and their adoption into Australian architecture.
The Estate is a rare surviving late 19th century major institution of a private architect’s design in Australia and is John Sulman’s finest work in this country.
The grounds of the hospital are of national heritage signficance as an intact example of Victorian/Edwardian institutional gardens which have maintained an institution throughout their whole existence.
Look out for the next visitor open day in mid 2018 (July) run by the Canada Bay Heritage Society as well as the associated house of Yaralla at Concord in April and October.