Annandale – the houses of John Young

John Young “The Eminent Australian Builder”

John Young master builder, engineer and masoner, erected a row of notable and original houses in Annandale, situated along Johnston Street. Six of these houses remain to be significant historically and architecturally: Nos 260-272 Johnston Street are: Kenilworth, Highroyd, Hockingdon, the now demolished Claremont, Oybin, Greba and The Abbey.

Johnston Street, Annandale, ca 1880s showing The Abbey

Kenilworth: 260 Johnston Street, built 1888-1889 The house Sir Henry Parkes rented for the last years of his life and died there in 1896. Originally there was another identical house called “Claremont” at 258 Johnston Street, which was demolished in 1967. This pair of houses featured a centre spire. The design of the four original “Witches Houses” display Gothic and Romanesque features which are likely the work of architect John Richards. It is thought the homes were dubbed the “Witches Houses” from the resemblance of the silhouettes of the towers to witches hats.


Highroyd & Hockingdon 262, 264 Johnston Street, 1888-1890. Hockingdon and Highroyd were built as a pair, to provide an income for Young’s daughters, Annie and Nellie, although they never lived there. These two houses featured side spires, unlike the other two “Witches Houses”.


Oybin: 270 Johnston StreetAnnandale Situated next to the Abbey Oybin was built for the architect C.H.E Blackmann who occupied it from 1881 to 1885. A handsome example of the Victorian Italliannate villa, the home features a square tower over the front enterance, a typical feature of houses built in the 1880s in Annandale and nearby suburbs.


The Abbey

The Abbey is the most notable and renowned of the houses built by John Young,  It has been suggested that the architect may have been William Wardell (architect of St Mary’s Cathederal) in conjunction with Young. The Abbey has been described as a stone Gothic Revival mansion, modelled on a Scottish manor. Young gave his imagination 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 Register of the National Estate.[1]


Kentville, 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 – thought to be Sydney’s first lawn bowls green. Young hoped that the Annandale area would be fine enough to rival places like Darling Point – a suburb for the “genteel” classes – but by 1895 Annandale was referred to as a “working man’s suburb”, similar to its neighbouring inner-city suburbs, with workers housing interspersed with manufacturing industry. John Young’s vision for Annandale was never realised.

Witches Houes

This image taken in 1952 shows number 262-268 Kenilworth, Highroyd, Hockingdon, Greba.


1. The Heritage of Australia, Macmillan Company, 1981, p.2/34

2. The Annandale Association Newsletters.

3. Annandale – Buildings file in Leichhardt Local History collection.

Current News on the Houses of Sir John Young

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21 thoughts on “Annandale – the houses of John Young

  1. You may be interested to know that the entire contents of The Abbey are to be auctioned off on the weekend of 23/24 May 2009. The house will be sold later in the year. I grew up in the Abbey – on and off – for the first 10 years of my life, (it was owned by a dear friend of my dad, and one of the first people I knew in my life, Dr Geoff Davis, who sadly passed away last year).

    It’s been the one constant ‘institution’ in my life, and I can’t believe it won’t be in the Davis family hands for much longer.

    • Dear Matt,
      I am writing this letter hoping you may like to know a little about the years I lived in The Abbey. It was 1931 when i first went to live at The Abbey, i was 8 years old and my grandmother and Aunt were the caretakers (Mrs M Denson and Miss D Denson). I was married from the Abbey in 1942. My husband was in the army, so i still lived with my grandmother and Aunt until 1948 or 1949 when we built our own home. The Abbey had 9 flats, I can still remember all the tenants names. My uncle built a boat in the garage in the back where the laundry was. We were told it used to be horse stables. I think it was early 50’s when my grandmother and aunt came to live with me. I dont know where the story came from but we always thought that the owner of The Abbey was Sir John Young who had The Abbey built so he could bring his wife out from England but she died on the ship on the way over. Perhaps that is where the story ‘lady in white’ came from. It was very interesting for me to learn the real story about John Young and that he was the builder of all the other old homes.
      I would like to hear from you.
      Marcia Goulding

      • Dear Marcia,

        I would be very, very interested in anything you have to tell me about your time living in The Abbey. I am particularly interested in exactly that time – prior to when we came there in 1959 – and yes I too can remember many of the names of the tenants in the flats! You can email me directly if you would like.

        And Hi Matt – you missed a very, very big weekend! Lots of memories…but it is not over and out, just yet.

        Francesca Davis

  2. Pingback: The Abbey, Johnston Street, Annandale « Local Notes

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  4. Hi, I’m the person who wrote the articles about The Abbey and Highroyd on Wikipedia. Thanks for this site, which is fabulous. I intend to put it in the articles as a link.

  5. Hi,

    I was just looking up “Hockingdon” and found this. I grew up in Greba (70-76), then Hockingdon (76-81) and am a long-term friend of Katriona Davis from The Abbey (We went to Hilda Booler). I am too young to remember Roselle, but I distinctly remember those horrid flats being built. Recently I had cause to go to those flats…they have the same smell as they did in 1975!

    I attended Annandale Nth and the houses were well known and were also our sporting houses. The then owner of Highroyd, Mrs. Isabelle Godfrey was most pleased that my sport house was hers! I was constantly asked about the houses, as there was much interest…and disbelief of the fact I lived in the Witches Houses. This was dispelled, somewhat, while on a walking tour with our teacher I took my yr6 class into the backyard and opened the back door and came back out with my budgie, George, who was too fat to fly.

    I was always entranced by the history of the houses and extremely grateful for giving in some of Sydney’s most fascinating houses. Even though they were subdivided tenancies, it was a remarkable childhood indeed.

    Oh, and Hi Fran :-*

  6. Hi,
    I’m an illustrator with a special interest in childrens’ literature and I’m fasinated by The Abbey. I’ve lived in Leichhardt for over 28 years now but my interest in this over the top romantic architectural fantasy dates well before that. I’ve sketched it from various angles – or what you can see of it above that incredible tangle of a garden – over the years and have featured it in one of my fun pieces on the web. I’m so pleased to find all this information available and hope beyond hope that The Abbey will survive with its new owners as mysterious and quirky and amazing as its been all these years.
    Thanks for the information.

  7. Hi to everyone who has shared their stories of the houses built by John Young in Annandale. He is my great great grandfather and some years ago I did a bit of family research and learnt a fair bit about him – I even found his grave at Waverley cemetery – one that hadn’t been known to my side of the family. If anyone reading this has any current connections with any of the houses I would really like an opportunity to look inside one of them. I have driven past them for many years as I have long lived in the inner west – but don’t know who or how I might get a closer look. Any ideas any one?

    Also and by the way, myself and my family come from a property near Cumnock in central west NSW. This, I understand, was also built by Young and handed to his daughter (Annie) and son in law – my great grandparents. That house has very similar and unmistakable characteristics in common with the old Annandale council chambers in Johnston St. Does anyone know if he also built that building? I’ve always assumed he did, but have never thought to check with someone who may know.

  8. Hi Ann,

    I’m so sorry that I hadn’t re-checked this website and the comments for some years. I have just noticed your reply from 2011. Are you still at the Abbey and am I still welcome to have a look around? I’d so love to and I’m so sorry that I missed you’re very welcome reply to my inquiry abck in 2010.

    I will keep checking back in case you see you this and reply at a later date.

  9. Hi Ann,
    I live in Annandale st and am constantly researching about the abbey and the witches houses. I would do anything to have a tour around. I often see you lovely son at revolver!


  10. Hi,
    I’m living at 268 jhonston street one of the eight houses built by Sir John Young unfortunately it has been demolished and now is an apartment. Does anyone has any information of what Rozelle(demolished) looked like?
    I’ve tried all means …but couldn’t get any information from any where.
    Thank you.

  11. Hi,
    Have always been fascinated with the eight houses built by John Young which was part of the reasons I live on Johnston street. It Would be good if there a link to see the other two houses which has been demolished- Rozelle & Claremont.

  12. Pingback: The Abbey: Part 1 |

  13. Hi I’m a teacher at Annandale North PS and we are always keen to find new information about the local history. I don’t know if any of the people above still live in these wonderful houses or would be available to come and talk to the children about growing up in Annandale- but we’d love it if any of you got in touch!

  14. Hi I lived in the 1st one number 258 right at the very top I lived there for over 23years with mum and dad my sister and nan we had 75 stairs to climb my sister and I used to slide down the banisters at night it was very dark unless you knew where the lights were we where the last ones to live there until they pulled it down great times growing up there

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