The Chestnuts – Great Houses of Ipswich 2019
Constructed in 1885, The Chestnuts is Ipswich’s only example of a two storey brick cottage with attic rooms, a residence built in true Gothic Revival Style. Its steeply pitched gable-ended roof, highly-fretted bargeboards and lancet windows make it reminiscent of the mid-Victorian era English cottages seen nestled in the countryside of Sussex and Kent.
Thomas Brew Lyons, an Ipswich watch and clock maker originally from the Isle of Man, purchased the land on which The Chestnuts was later constructed for £75 in 1858. The Chestnuts was not the first building situated on the site. ‘Mona Lodge’ a pair of semi-detached cottages were constructed there in 1863. Records indicate one early occupant of ‘Mona Lodge’ was Thomas Given, a fellow watch and clock maker.
The Chestnuts was designed by John Mackenzie, a cousin of Thomas Lyons. A Queensland Times article of 1885 described the high quality and craftsmanship of the building’s construction, applauding the sense of ‘snugness’ that the cottage appeared to possess. Within a year of its construction, Thomas Lyons sold the property to Mary Darnley-Morrison, a widow from Glasgow.
Having arrived in Ipswich with her young daughter in the mid-1860s, Mary Darnley-Morrison established a school for young ladies and conducted classes in dancing and physical culture. It was during their occupancy that the cottage came to be known as The Chestnuts. According to reports, the Morrisons considered themselves to be ‘blue bloods’, maintaining they were related to Lord Darnley, the first husband of Mary Queen of Scots. One former pupil recalled a dirk that hung on a wall in the parlour.
Mary Darnley-Morrison lived in the cottage until her death in 1928. In 1936, the contents were auctioned and The Chestnuts was sold to Sidney Harold Hancock, who rented it out until the early 1960s. Initial restoration work on the property then began, although much of the restoration work was completed during the nearly three decades of occupancy by its next owners, the Clark family. The Chestnuts was restored externally, the contract being undertaken by Allen and Linda Cooper who subsequently purchased the property. They added a three-storey extension, a walled garden and a sandstone summer house, as well as completing an internal restoration that returned the cottage to the snug, genteel residence it once was.