Sydney Architecture Images- Leichhardt and area

Witches’ Houses, Annandale (aka the "Johnston Street group")


attrib. John Young


Johnston Street Annandale




Victorian Free Gothic




  Layout of the Johnston Street group
  The Abbey, Johnston Street (on the National Estate)
  Highroyd during restoration
  Kenilworth, former home of Henry Parkes
Major George Johnston (1764-1823) captained a ship of the First Fleet, which brought convicts to Australia from England. He was granted 100 acres of land in the area around Annandale and Stanmore, which became known as Johnston's Bush. He later renamed it Annandale after his birthplace Annan in Scotland, United Kingdom. His name is remembered in Johnston Street, Johnstons Creek and Johnstons Bay. Johnston and his wife Ester Abrahams, one of the convicts on the ship, farmed it with their children. They built a fine residence called Annandale House in 1799, a distance back from Parramatta Road. It was demolished in 1905 but the gatehouse still stands in Johnston Street on the grounds of Annandale Public school. His son Robert inherited the estate but in 1877 sold it to John Young, who was a businessman, architect and mayor.

Young began turning the Johnston estate into an attractive suburb by building some very picturesque houses. One of those houses was Kenilworth, with a "witch's cap" style of roof common to that period of architecture, which Young rented to Henry Parkes, father of Federation and former Premier of NSW. Other houses in the group were The Abbey, Oybin, Rozelle (now demolished), Greba, Hockingdon, Highroyd and Claremont (now demolished). Some of the houses are popularly known as "witches houses" because their towers resemble witches' hats. Of the various houses in this group, The Abbey is the most notable. Built by John Young, The Abbey has been described as a stone Gothic Revival mansion, modelled on Scottish manors. Young gave his imagination a free rein and the house incorporates gables, arches, gargoyles, lions, quatrefoils, chimneys, turrets, a cloister and a tower with copper cladding (it was rumoured that Young may have stolen gargoyles from St Mary's Cathedral, which he built, but there was no proof). Young was the highest ranking Mason in Australia and The Abbey incorporates Masonic themes. It is possible that the building may have been used by Young as a Masonic Lodge. After Young's death, The Abbey was occupied by a series of tenants, who subdivided the house to create flats and flatettes. A new owner acquired the house in 1959 and restored it. It is now on the National Estate.

Another home in the area was Kentville, which was built as John Young's home, in a three-hectare garden setting adjacent to Rozelle Bay. The land was bought by Young in 1877, and included a cottage built by Robert Johnston. Young enlarged the cottage and named it Kentville after his home county in the UK. He also built a bowling green on the land and opened it to the public. Young hoped that the Annandale area would be fine enough to rival places like Darling Point, but was unable to get rid of industries in the area or prevent the subdivision of lots. He died in 1907.

The land was subdivided in the late part of the 19th century and more so after Young's death. Since then it has undergone a number of social transformations, from factory floors, migrant stop off, ageing population, to now young families and modern small and micro businesses. Source Annandale on the Web.

The Municipality of Annandale was incorporated on 2nd January 1894 but merged with the Municipality of Leichhardt in 1949. The old Council Chambers are now the home of the Annandale Neighbourhood centre.