A sign calling for expressions of interest (EOI) in purchasing 340 Marrickville Road has been up for some time and the EOI period closed on 27 May 2022.
The sign highlights the opportunity for residential development (i.e. demolition) of the site, particularly for a “new generation boarding house or townhouse”. No explanation of what a “new generation” example of either of these might be is offered. Although boarding house is certainly a very popular term in today’s development market.
Looking at 340 Marrickville Road, opposite the Town Hall, people might think it has always been a block of flats. But it is actually a house that was built as part of what was a ‘medical precinct’ which grew up around the Marrickville Cottage (later District) Hospital.
Today the hospital building has been repurposed as the Marrickville Library and is a very busy place. Newer residents may not be aware that the whole area was once just as busy, as a medical hub. A number of the large houses around about operated as the homes and surgeries of doctors associated with the hospital.
The house at 340 Marrickville Road is such a house. It sits on land acquired by Robert Wardell from Thomas Moore’s crown grant of Gadigal lands. In 1877 it was sold by Wardell descendent Thomas Fisher to Richard Fletcher and the illustrious William Whaley Billyard, Crown Solicitor 1850-59, and the ‘namer’ of Gladesville.
Fletcher built a row of terraces on the street he created – Fletcher Street. He also sold part of the western side of Fletcher Street, from Marrickville Road down, to James Smith, the brick maker and timber merchant of Goodlet and Smith fame (See Building Blocks of Empire for a look at brickmaking in our area). Smith built ’Shrublands’ on the land from Fletcher Street to Livingstone Road. This land is now occupied by St Brigid’s Church and school.
When Smith died in 1887 the property passed to his wife, Jessie, who lived there until her death in 1915. Jessie Smith did offer the 340 Marrickville Road site to Marrickville Council for the new Town Hall but council in-fighting delayed an agreement. So, in 1912 she sold it to Emily May Wherrett “wife of Ernest Albert Wherrett”.
The sale came with a building covenant which is unknown at present. Perhaps it was related to the new Town Hall, but considering later events it may have been that the Wherretts couldn’t build while Jessie was in residence at ’Shrublands’.
The Wherrett family
Ernest Wherrett was born in Moonah, Tasmania just north of Hobart. His father, Charles Wherrett, was a well- known photographer and one of Charles’ descendants is a well-known photographer in Tasmania today.
Ernest grew up in the family home called ‘Loscombe’ in Florence Street, Moonah. Over the years the property has been well loved and maintained; it now sits on its own street at 1 Loscombe Court.
Ernest studied pharmacy in Hobart, then moved to Sydney to study medicine at Sydney University. He graduated as a surgeon in 1906 and married Emily Janet May Polson. The couple moved into a house (1909-1911) they called ‘Loscombe’ around where 421 Marrickville Road is today and Ernest began his practice.
Then, just after Emily bought the land from Jessie Smith, they moved down Marrickville Road to a house, since demolished, between the Victoria Hotel (Illawarra Rd Corner) and St Clement’s Church. They stayed there for two years, then moved to a house between Petersham Road and Fletcher Street, also demolished.
Perhaps during this period, they were biding their time and honouring the covenant because when Jessie died in 1915, they moved into ‘Loscombe’ at 340 Marrickville Road and the Roman Catholic Church purchased ’Shrublands’.
Emily and Ernest had five sons, all following their father’s example. Four became doctors and one a pharmacist. If the name sounds familiar it is because of Emily and Ernest’s grandchildren. Richard Wherrett was the founding director of the Sydney Theatre Company. Pip Wilson (born Peter Wherrett) was an ABC motoring journalist and famed television presenter. Their father was Arthur Wherrett, the pharmacist son of Ernest and Emily.
The Wherretts stayed at ‘Loscombe’, 340 Marrickville Road until 1939. Then Ernest retired and the couple moved to Ashfield. It was Ernest who converted the house to flats, spending at least 800 pounds in the process. While this was a little later in the 1930s the conversion of large houses to flats was common at the time. (See our story on 50-52 Warren Road).
Although the house has been primarily made up of flats since then part of it did retain its medical character under a lease to Dr. Charles Davidson from 1943 to 1958.
With Emily’s death and the end of Dr. Davidson’s lease the property was sold. Today only the house at 311 Marrickville Road is still primarily used for medical purposes. Apart from the hospital site the medical story of the area has been effectively lost. Now we must see if ‘Loscombe’, the house at 340 Marrickville Road, will also be lost.