MARBLE HILL STABLES
Built in 1879 to house 6 horses and included a carriage house, the Stables at Marble Hill were designed by the same architect who had created the Governor's Summer Residence, William McMinn.
Adjoined but distinct was a Coachman’s cottage, which housed the coachman and his family. While not featuring in McMinn’s plans, a blacksmith shop was located nearby and most likely of rustic construction, presumably timber and tin-roofed.
The interior of the Stables was well-designed, brick-floored, with six horse stalls and a hay loft. Hay was loaded in through a high window at the front of the building and stored hay dropped through trapdoors into the horse stalls below. The brick floors featured an elaborate drainage system of individual sumps in each stall and a “spoon drain” along the front of the stalls. Waste was piped out and over the western embankment. Each stall had individual ventilation. Also featured was a small tack room and feed (grain) store.
Construction of the Stables and cottage is of the same local sandstone that was used to make the Residence and from a quarry about 1.5km distant. Oddly enough the interior back wall of the Stables is lined to a height of five feet with a much harder local fieldstone quarried directly from the cut behind the building. We presume this was to protect against kicking horses as sandstone is quite soft and unlikely to withstand flailing hooves or even withstand the corrosive effect of horse urine. If this theory is correct it would confirm how well thought out the design was throughout.
Sometime around 1939, the Stables was converted to car garaging. The Governor of the day had put the coach horses out to pasture and replaced them with Bentleys. The façade of the building was changed as stable doors knocked out and garaging for four cars installed. Further the couch house doors were bricked in create an extension of the Coachman’s cottage, which now became accommodation for the Governor’s chauffeur. At this point, what became of the blacksmith’s shed is unknown but we assume his position would’ve become redundant too.
On the 2nd of January 1955, it all became a moot point as all buildings on Marble Hill were either destroyed or gutted by the Black Sunday bushfire. In 1973, the gutted Stable building was restored under the care of National Trust restoration supervisor Ted Eling. The building was re-floored, re-roofed, insulated and had gas heating installed. The Stables part of building was used by the National Trust as tearooms and the Coachman/Chauffeur’s cottage housed the Eling family.
Once completed, members of the public could visit Marble Hill on weekends and partake in a sit-down Devonshire tea after a tour of the ruins and newly restored museum. The National Trust maintained the site for 20 years before declining visitors and tight budget left the building gradually falling into disrepair.
In 2009 Marble Hill found itself with new owners who set about restoring not only the main residence which had lay in ruins for 60 years, but also to restore the Stables to their former elegance.
Effectively erasing the 1939 car garage conversion, a new central doorway and side doors were installed which reflect the original McMinn plan. The concrete floor installed by the National Trust was removed, surprisingly revealing the old brick stable floor worn smooth in places from the horse’s hooves and with sumps and drains intact, not to mention complete with oil stains from the Governor’s old Bentleys.
Unfortunately, this floor, which was designed to drain horse stalls was unsuitable for the intended purpose of the renovation. The old bricks were lifted, saved and later used as pavers leading to the main doors and in other projects on the Marble Hill site. A new slate floor was installed complete with underfloor heating and featuring timber inserts that demark the position of the old horse stalls. The old wall construction has been revealed by removing old plaster and paint and highlighted using strategic lighting.
The former tack room and feed store have been opened out for casual bar and sitting areas with the original open fire place brought back into use after being boarded up for 50 odd years.
We see now the Marble Hill Stables as an elegant and exclusive event venue with modern amenities within and spectacular views over the city and across the gulf, perfect for a private banquet or celebratory sunset drinks. It’s most interesting history only adds to the appeal of such an iconic building.