Historian's 'fluke' discovery in Canberra leads to wishing well being returned to Yaralla.
A chance discovery by a Sydney historian has led to the return of an ornate wishing well to its original home at Yaralla Estate.
The wishing well had been installed in the grounds of the Estate in the early 20th century when it was owned by the prominent mercantile and philanthropic Walker family. It’s likely Thomas Walker bought the well during an earlier trip to Italy.
Heritage consultant Margaret Betteridge first learnt about the existence of the well when she was working on a restoration project at Yaralla in 2016. But she was mystified when she visited the grounds and the well wasn’t there.
“I was intrigued,” Ms Betteridge said. She did a little further research and believed the well had been sold and would be hard to find.
But last year, she was inspecting historical homes in Canberra when she spotted a well in the grounds of Westridge House at Yarralumla. The two hectare property was built in 1928 for the principal of the-then Australian Forestry School.
“I hopped out of the bus at the grounds of Westridge House and I walked through the front gate and I saw the wishing well sitting on the lawn in the front of the property.
“I thought, that has to be the wishing well from Yaralla,” Ms Betteridge said.
The wishing well had no connection – visually or aesthetically – to Westridge House. “It looked really out of place. It looked medieval … much older than the house. It didn’t fit,” she said.
Images of a lion, a vase, a griffin within a laurel wreath and a cloaked, winged figure with a halo are carved on the well.
Ms Betteridge took photos of the well and, when she returned to Sydney, compared them to a black and white photo that had been taken in the grounds of Yaralla in the 1920s.
“I was certain, judging from the placement of the cracks, that it was one and the same. It matched up exactly … all the detail was the same… the cracks in the limestone.
“It was a fluke that I saw it… and that I’d done the research. I don’t know that anyone else would have made the connection,” Ms Betteridge said.
The Dame Eadith Walker Estate, also known as Yaralla Estate, is 37 hectares of land on the banks of the Parramatta River at Concord.
When Dame Eadith died in 1937, the Estate was bequeathed to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and many of the contents of Estate were sold by auction – including the well.
Ms Betteridge tracked down a 1938 Lawsons’ auction catalogue, which featured a wishing well.
It’s believed the well was purchased at auction by a wealthy Sydney couple, Jean and Vincent Flynn, who installed it at their residence at Bellevue Hill.
When one of their sons, Dr John Flynn, sold the house in 1983, the well was placed into storage for more than 30 years, said Tim Eakin, the executor of Dr Flynn’s estate.
Dr Flynn later bought Westridge House and the well was moved there in 2015, where Ms Betteridge later spotted it.
When Dr Flynn died, and the house was sold, Sydney Local Health District negotiated for the well to be returned to Yaralla Estate.
The District manages the Estate on trust and the Heritage Society runs tours of Yaralla to contribute money to help fund the upkeep of the buildings and grounds.
“The wishing well is part of the history of the Estate. It’s nice to see it home at Yaralla where it has significance,” said Lois Michel, the Society’s secretary.
The Society recently received a substantial bequest towards works at the Estate and some of the funds were used to purchase the well plus cover the costs of moving it from Westridge House to Yaralla.
“It [the bequest] is from a woman – all we know is her name. All I can gather is that she came to an Open Day at the Estate. It’s an amount of money to spend where we can. It’s amazing,” Ms Michel said.
Ms Michel used black and white photographs from the Society’s collection to ensure the well was placed in its original position.
“It’s good to see it back where it belongs,” she said.
The return of the wishing well will be officially marked at the annual Carols at Yaralla on Friday December 7, 2018.
Listen to Radio 2GB's Michael McLaren talking to the Daily Telegraph's History Editor Troy Lennon about the Yaralla wishing well.