The land on which Ford House resides was purchased from The Crown for £10 as a 10 acre freehold property by John Blechynden, in 1857. He built a “gentlemans” one room hut in 1860 using bricks made from clay on the river . John married Elizabeth Green in the same year and they moved into the hut.
A year later, while his family home “Bridgedale” was being built his first child, John William Blechynden was born. Bridgedale was completed in 1862. It was the first brick multi-roomed building in the region. Apart from housing Johns wife and 11 children, it was a popular venue for local dances (until Ford House was built).
FORD HOUSE BUILT
On August 26, 1896, Lucille Jane Walter(nee Thompson of Brookhampton) and William Ardagh Gardner (WAG) Walter bought half the land, 5acres for £200, from John William Blechynden.
WAG Walter and his wife came from Kalgoorlie. (WAG was born in 1860 in Galmington, Taunton, Somerset, to Octavius Ardagh Gardiner Walter, one of the owners of the London Times. WAG was a keen sportsman, predominantly with tennis, rugby and also aquatic sports(head of river at Oxford for 3 years). He came to WA in 1886 and took up land at Tanjannerup, near Nannup and became a member of the Weld Club, Perth and Hannans(Kalgoorlie).
WAG became the first Mining Warden for Murchison, in Kalgoorlie & Cue, having previous experience in England. He remained in Kalgoorlie for 5years, mostly living in a tent, and was very concerned about the lawlessness in the town due to the inbalance of males to females. When he put up posters in Kalgoorlie threatening to publicly castrate rapists, he was politely asked to “move on”. Having a brother already in Bridgetown, WAG Walter moved here as the Mining Registrar and Magistrate during the tin boon in Greenbushes in 1898.
The Walters built Ford House in 1896, named after his fathers house, “Ford House” in Wellington, Somerset, England, near Taunton. WAG used his father’s house plans, although his fathers house had no verandah, was two storey, with stairs where the current “Bookcase” is located. (A painting of this house, painted by Lt-Col. Tracy was given to the Serventys-[1974-1986]. It now hangs in the corridor of FH). It is incorrectly rumoured, however, that FH was named as a result of a ford close by. WAG may have decided on the exact location after the original bridge, built directly outside FH was repositioned due to the height of the high water mark.
There is also a suggestion that 3 other attempts were made to build in the V between the road traffic bridge. The roof was corrugated English “Rothschild” steel (with 4 arrows), and clay bricks made in Yornup. Although the walls were a drab grey, there was an abstract 6 petalled flower just below the dado line. The maids room was where the bathroom is now found, and the kitchen is now the dining room. The Cookhouse was separated from Ford House, as was the trend at the time, to protect the house from any accidental fires.
The builder was the first white child born in the district, John William Blechynden, aged 25 years. His name is inscribed in the brickwork on the NE corner of Ford House. The barn was built on the river flat. It had doors on the long sides, and originally timer both horizontal and vertically nailed. It was used as a buggy shed and horse stables until a tree fell on it in 1972.
An orchard of 50 trees, predominantly of apples was planted to the east of FH by WAG. He kept the orchard weed free by his own hand, using his “Hand Planet” junior cultivator and seed sower. An apricot tree still stands outside the Ballroom from his era.
In 1897, WAG Walter became the first Magistrate in the South-west, for the Nelson Location, and also Chairman of the Lower Blackwood Roads Board. His tenure as a Magistrate was brief as he moved to Geraldton in a similar capacity only 9 years later, then he moved back to Mother England.
WAG & Lucille had 2 children, Prudence Kate (1891-1971)and Guy (1888-1916). Unfortunately Guy lost his life during WW1). By 1916, WAG had lost heart in everything and went back to England, never to return. For several months in 1910, the Armstrongs moved into Ford House, while their own house was being built.
THE MIDDLE YEARS
While Bridgetown was expanding in 1895, Kate Eva Layman Alnutt married Herbert Davies Senior. Herbert was the third son of Maurice Coleman Davies and Sarah Salomon, (Jews from Melbourne… this marriage was initially delayed on religious grounds, but Maurice and Sarah were eventually married, on Christmas day, 1895 in the local schoolroom in Bridgetown). When Eva and Herbert married, Evas father John Allnutt, bought a home for them in Bridgetown which they named Kelah (Kate Eva Layman Allnutt Herbert). Kate and Herbert then left in 1896 to South Africa for a couple of years, and then returned, with Herbert managing Millars Timber and Trading Co in Karridale, W.A., until his death on January 26, 1915. This left Eva alone, so she went back to her Bridgetown roots and moved back to Kelah later in the 1915.
Seven years later, on February 6th 1922, Eva bought Ford House from WAG Walter for £1200. It was grand, with a cake cook (Mrs Rose) and Nellie Marshall (the Housekeeper). There was also a footman (named Daly) who wore a uniform with a gold fob and breeches. Children who swam near Ford House feared Daly and maintained a “Daly Watch” to ensure that they were not caught. Nellie met, and later married Mr Tillman. Their sons used to walk 8km from Yornup every year to bring Mr Davies Junior a birthday cake. During this time, the house was used occasionally as a “Bed and Breakfast” for those waiting for the river to subside, or for railway coach patrons.
Before the Bridgetown Tennis Tournament started in 1931, Ford House had a wonderful grass tennis court, for the “elite set of Bridgetownites”. (The tennis court is now the succulent parterre). On the FH verandah, there was a wonderful array of wooden half barrels with wonderful, blue hydrangeas, as a result of horseshoes being buried in the barrels. Kate Eva Layman Davies died in December 1928, and her children Herbert Coleman Davies and Kate Florence Davies inherited the property. It is believed that Kate loved wood carving, and may have been responsible for the mantelpieces in the rooms with the bay windows.
Rosemary Hodgson, a nursemaid, met her future husband here. Her husband to be, John, was not allowed to inside so he lived in a garden shed. Their two dogs, Biff and Boof, “stole” a celluloid doll from one of the children. The garden was full of arum lilies and babys breath. Two white swans stayed on the river, until one was shot.
In February 1937, Kate married Dr. Kenneth McKay George Aberdeen. Kates brother, Herbert Jnr, married Peggy Dodwell Brown. They leased Ford House to Arthur and Sarah Gandy & their kids, Rose(10), Ted(9), Neil(6) and Bruce(4) in 1939/40. Rose and Ted got into trouble when they dangled their legs in the river in full flood as it passed by the verandah in 1939, and even more trouble when their cubby house, dug into the middle of the tennis court, captured one of Sawyers cows after the flood. Rosie got a lifetime fear of cats as one jumped from window to her bed (in the Bookcase) to window.
Part of the house was subleased to Bill and Girly Russell who lived in the lounge, and cooked on a stove in there. It was then leased to Les & May Duncan, and their daughter Jean until 1947. There was another flood in 1945 that came all the way up to the door stops of Ford House. The Duncans has two dogs, Funny Face & Tripey. Funny Face chose the washout area by the Cedar of Lebanon to deliver her pups. Jean must have been an animal lover as she also had a tame galah, pigeon and sulphur crested cockatoo (when she wasn’t playing acrobatics on a beam by the cafe).
The barn was still “down the paddock”, and a disabled elderly man “Mr O’Grady” lived there, supported by the charity of May. Unfortunately, he passed away while he was here, his spirit visiting the children sleeping on the FH verandah. Fire from the train was a constant concern, and the this was put out by wet flour bags. Later, Doddy Davies, a child born at Riverwood House came to live here. Both Herbert and Kenneth died by November 1953. In February to July, 1955, there was considerable flood damage to the property, most significantly to the old barn, built by the Walters.
The property was sold to Ernest Thomas Moyes, Farmer, and his wife Elizabeth on August 16th, 1955 for £1700. In England, Mr. Moyes grandfather was a builder who sculptured the lions outside the St.Georges Hall, Liverpool. E.T was caddy to the Prince of Wales(of Edward & Mrs Simpson fame). When he lived in England, ET became The Kings Messenger to King George V. In this capacity, he was shot (but not fatally) when he was escaping from the Germans after delivering a message to the Russian Czar – the story goes that due to his “gentle features” he was able to hide in a Turkish harem to escape. He also delivered a message to the Japanese Emperor. (Perhaps this history explains why he was such a good shot with his 410 shotgun…snakes and parrots beware).
Before arriving in Australia, he completed an agricultural degree in Canada and was visited by the Prince of Wales. ET then came to farm (for 22years) in Yornup, 10km south of Bridgetown before retiring and moving to FH. Their baby son, Henry just tagged along. (Eventually, Henry and his wife Elvey Dawn Lowe had 9 children, all of whom went to Boarding School, and 26grandchildren). ET was an active member of the community, as a Justice of the Peace, a lay Anglican Canon/preacher and owned a small store in Yornup, mostly patronised by residents of the local timber mills. (He also had a “gallon licence” allowing beer to be sold in gallon lots).
At the time of his ownership of FH, the Ballroom was his sitting room with handpainted “Renaissance” prints as decoration. ET sat there, smoking his pipe (he was buried with it in 1966) and the Jarrah room was the dining room (where Christmas celebrations were held). It was entered by one of three doors, a narrow door next to the fireplace, or two doors into the passage as originally, the room was two not one, in the 1940s. Now only one door remains. The bathroom remained, and the current sitting room was his bedroom. The storeroom and the pantry were two separate rooms, where the kitchen now is, on the NW corner.
In the pantry were a lot of large boiled lollies called Tombolas, given when you were good, and taken up through the manhole into the roofspace when you were not. There always seemed to be lots of lolly papers up there. Also stored in the pantry were bottles of fizzy pop from Bridgetown Aerated Waters, in large brown ale bottles. There was a water tank on the NW and NE corners of FH, and steps down to a gate in the fence opposite the front door. On the north side, there was a trumpet flower (datura), and a 3stall washhouse and boiler which would have been outside what is now the Cooks Retreat.
Outside this area was also where pigs were sometimes kept. Ernest became sole owner when Elizabeth died in 1959. ET went solo until his death in June 26th, 1966, leaving FH to his son, Henry Stinchcombe Moyes, and his wife, Elvey inherited the place on June 23rd 1966 and rented it to Hayga & Anna Sika and their children, Dianne, Tom, Harry, Wally & Jeannette (born here in ’67), and then to Mr. Kay, a primary school teacher. In 1966, the old railway bridge was demolished as the new one had already been opened to traffic in June 1965, 4 years after work started. He rented it to Marjorie and Bill Ailmore, farm manager to the local chemist for a year in 1972.
On Jan. 25th 1974, John Conrad Serventy, a Forests Department Researcher and Angela Maureen Serventy bought FH for £9,650. They planted the Arboretum by the railway, and removed many non-native trees. Using nearly 500 railway sleepers discarded from the railway upgrage, a decade before, they built up a protective wall in front of FH. The house was in need of repair… many cornices removed, the verandah and roof steel replaced.
The verandah originally had timber parallel to the house, rather than splayed out as it is today. They also blocked up a small door next to the dining room chimney. The barn, with 3 rooms, some timber horizontal, and other vertical, was moved from the river flat, by the palms and the lower gate, as a tree fell on it. John planted those palms. Some of the slab timber also came from a Giblett farm. The shelves are ex-Manjimup Manchester. The Serventys also added 928m2 to the property in May 23rd, 1977, by the purchase of Lot 12, near the railway bridge and river. This area was then incorporated as part of Lot 14, on the Torrens Title. (This title conferred ownership and responsibility to the centre of the river, unlike most river frontages where the first chain (20.12m) is owned by the Crown).
They also removed the Cookhouse from the western end as it had very unstable walls, and replaced it with a carport, (now converted into the Cooks Retreat). The Wendy House was built in the garden for their daughter, Sarah. A flood to the foundations, and water covering the road on Eedle Terrace, occurred on Jan 24th, 1982 as a consequence of Cyclone Bruno in northern WA. 3 days warning so they put books in the ceiling. The Serventys also flattened out the area to the east of the Barn in preparation for a tennis court.
During their stay, John measured the salt levels in the river every week. These ranged from 1091tds (height of 1982 flood) to 9184tds. In the garden, they planted the mulberry, Satsuma plum, crabapple, pear, mandarin, lemon and cherry trees, and two apple trees (that may have been removed during the great tree pull to combat Codlin Moth) Apart from the apples, all the other trees remain and are very productive. They also built a good vegetable patch where Carmody Cloister is today. A large robinia tree had to be removed from the eastern lawn, and a large, lidded bowl, donated by the Serventys, is all that remains of it. The robinia features prominently in the sketch of Ford House, which they also generously provided.
On the 17th of February, 1986, the property was sold to Timothy Michael Daly, a welfare worker and later teacher, and his wife Christine Anne Daly. Tim Daly, a New Zealander, was no relation to the footman in 1922. He had famous hungis. They modified the entrance hall by changing it from a T to an L shape, and put in an en-suite off the master bedroom. This required the Rose Room door to be shifted from the North-south corridor to the central corridor. They also built a jarrah kitchen in the dining room (which was then transferred by the next owner into the current kitchen). They cut off the lower branches of the Cedar of Lebanon by the Blackwood River, and had the timber made into a sideboard.
On August 5th, 1988 it was sold to James Graham Edwards, retired Engineer from WAPET (West Australian Petroleum), and his wife Patricia (Trish) Caroline Edwards, a former Nursing Sister and member of the National Trust. On 28th of July, 1989, the road on which Ford House stands was changed from Carey Street to Eedle Terrace to avoid confusion to motorists as Carey St is on both sides of the highway.
Jim and Trish replanned the garden, planted many deciduous trees by the river, and in 1994,established Carmody’s Cloister (named by Kenny & Jenny after a long time friend of Ford House). Jim removed a wall between the pantry and washhouse, restored the window (which had been bricked up by the Serventys, and made it into the kitchen. In 1994, they re-tuckpointed FH. They modified the existing carport into a storeroom, and built a commercial nursery for native tree seedlings adjacent to the barn, as this had been levelled by John Serventy years before. Unfortunately Jim became ill so Ford House was sold just before he passed on.
THE CURRENT STATE OF GRACE
In July 1995, Jennifer Lee Brickwood, Photographer, and Kenneth Perry Rotman, Environmental Scientist, were tired of their jobs. They went to Tilba Tilba, south of Sydney for a holiday. Discovering that the B & B in which they were staying was for sale, they fantasised about getting away from it all, never to return, by buying and running the place. The only hitch about taking on the enterprise (for which they had absolutely no experience) was that it was 3000kms from their homes in Perth. So they bundled up their luggage and dreams and headed back to Sydney for the long flight home.
An hour before departure, they met Caroline Hart, a good friend of theirs and of the owners of Ford House at the time. Simply put, Caroline said “They must sell” and Ken said “We must buy”. Two days later, on July 21st, 1995, they saw Ford House for the first time and signed an offer to buy two days later. Jenny cried all the way home wondering if they were mad. From then on, every weekend and often a day or so on either side, they continued their madness and went to and fro from Perth to Ford House. Finally in April 1998, nearly three years later, they declared Ford House, home.
Since then, they built a seduction walk (August ’96), a new retaining wall (September 97), replacing the railway sleepers put there 20 years earlier, got married under the Siberian Elm (20.11.97), built a bridge(February ’98), and cleared the island (May ’98). In September 1999, they opened the café and Aislinn House (September ’99) and planted the Aislinn gardens and the 54 camellia hedge. A timber face was put onto Evan, the shed(November ’98). The Fathers Day seat and the Albertine Pavilion were built in 2000.
Ford House was awarded the best B&B in WA in July 2001. Won the “Hospitality Industry” and “Best S.W Small Business – less than 5 Employees” Awards(April 2002) and runners up for Best B&B in WA in 2002, and the Minister of Tourism (Clive Brown) and Kate Lamont opened the Cooks Retreat in Oct 2002 and a commemorative tree, a “Zelkova” on Kilkenny Mound (where the Serventys had lovingly flattened the land so long ago) at the opening of the Blackwood Garden Festival in November 2002.
In 2003, Ken and Jenny built an extension to the café, and built their apartment upstairs. Thus opening the way for the original Ballroom to be re-furbished with a four poster king sized bed built in 1862 and its own en-suite. In October 2004, Ford House won the highly prized Merit Award for the best Hosted Accommodation in WA . In October, 2005, the argument, a parterre, laid out in September 1998 on the riverflat was planted up with roses to become the Hungerford garden. (The roses got eaten by rabbits, to be replaced by pelargoniums which got frosted out, so now we have succulents on trial!)
The Dormer Studios, comprising of Delaportes and Oddingtons, was completed in December 2006, housing two more couples in absolute luxury. In December 2007, Jenny & Kenny opened WAG Walters Emporium, a homewares and gift shop extraordinaire. Then the building devil took to them again in 2011, with their newest house, still to be properly named. And now, they are contemplating building again!! Their adventures and love affair continues…………