Pymble Playgroup History
Settling of the Pymble area
The suburb of Pymble is named after Robert Pymble (1776–1861), an influential early settler whose 1823 land grant comprised of 600 acres, around half the land of the region.
Robert Pymble I, from Hertfordshire, England, arrived in Sydney with his wife Mary (nee Jamison) on board the Marquis of Wellington on 24 July 1821 as a free immigrant, lured to the colony by the expectation of a substantial land grant which assured him of a prosperous life in New South Wales. Robert and Mary brought with them their 6 children, Ann, Jane, William, James, George and Eliza. Sadly, in 1923 Mary Pymble passed away following years of ill health.
Robert Pymble cleared the land in Pymble, then referred to as Stoney Creek, and built the first house, just slightly south of where Pymble Railway Station is now. A photo of this house can be found below. ‘Robert Pymble was a farmer and silk weaver by trade, a timbergetter by necessity and an orchardist by design’ (Halstead.) Between 1826 and 1833 Robert Pymble was also policeman and pound-keeper of the 'Hunter’s Hill' District (roughly the North Shore).
Once settled in Pymble, Robert Pymble and his children became successful farmers and orchardists. They commenced cultivating oats, barley, wheat, maize and raised sheep, cattle and pigs. They also cultivated a large orange grove, and an orchard of nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, apricots, apples and vineyards of grapes.
Robert Pymble is credited with bringing the first orange seeds to the area in about 1828. Oranges became a popular and prosperous crop in the Pymble region.
The land before Pymble House
Robert Pymble II, the first Pymble to be born in Australia, built a large weatherboard house called Merry Vale which was on the corner of what is now Merrivale and Telegraph Roads. Merrivale Road was name after the Pymble family’s house. A photo of Merry Vale can be seen below. The house no longer exists.
The land on which Pymble House was built stayed in the Pymble family for a long time. The plot of land between Merrivale Road and Cowan Creek was passed onto William Pymble (III), Robert Pymble’s great grandson. William (III) Frederick and his wife Ada (nee McIntosh) lived the rest of their lives in a house opposite to where Pymble House is today.
At some point the land was subdivided and sold to Thomas Brown. Thomas Brown ran a successful orchard on the site where Pymble House is today. A local man, Thomas Brown, owned and lived on another orchard on Telegraph Road, near Mona Vale Road, Pymble.
Building of Pymble House
The land was subdivided again and in 1890 Thomas Brown sold the block to Charles Bathurst Bradford. Charles Bradford and his wife, Harriett Jane (nee Hawkes), built Pymble House in 1890.
Pymble House is a single story brick dwelling. All the woodwork was made of timber from the local mill. When the house was initially built by Charles Bradford it was called Wyangaree.
On the first day of January 1890, Pymble Railway Station was opened, and Pymble was much more accessible. In the 1891 there was only 125 residents in the Pymble area.
Richard Porter III, Builder of Pymble House
Pymble House was built for Charles Bradford by Richard (III) Joseph Porter. Richard Porter came from another influential family in the Pymble area. His father, Richard (II) (Dick) Porter, was a prosperous orchardist in the Pymble area, who owned about 100 acres, where Pymble Ladies College and Avondale Golf Course are now. After deciding to become a publican Dick Porter started the Gardeners' Arms Hotel and Grandview on Pymble Hill in 1866. The original 'Arms', later renamed Pymble Hotel, was built about 200 metres up the hill from the present Pymble Hotel. Grandview was the site of the area’s first bank. It still stands at 1178 Pacific Highway, Pymble, as a private dwelling.
Richard Porter I arrived with the second fleet in 1790 from Nottingham, England. It’s alleged that the family money to buy land in Pymble came from Governor Lachlan Macquarie who paid them to discreetly deliver moonshine.
Richard (III) Porter was married to Mary (nee McMahon), who was from another well known North Shore family.
William Henry Pymble, Carpenter at Pymble House
The woodwork on Pymble House was done by William Henry Pymble (grandson of Robert Pymble I) with all local timber. William Henry Pymble was a builder by trade, but he was also a gifted watch maker and musician. William and his wife Emily (nee McIntosh) also lived in Merrivale Road, opposite Nithdale Street.
Charles Bathurst Bradford, Owner of Pymble House
Charles Bradford was originally from Wiltshire in England. He arrived in Australia on the Cuzco in 1879 with his wife, Harriett, and daughter, Florence Harriett Benson Bradford. Once in Sydney, Charles Bradford become a quantity surveyor with the Lands Department.
Charles Bradford was well-known flautist, and a great friend of John Lemone (the flautist who accompanied Dame Nellie Melba). Robert Pymble II was also a talented flautist and is believed to have played with Bradford and Lemone on their porch in Pymble. All the Pymble family were renowned for their musical ability.
Charles Bradford was close with his neighbours William (III) Frederick and Ada Beatrice Pymble (nee McIntosh), who also lived on Merrivale Road, just opposite Pymble House. In his Will, Charles Bradford left Ada Pymble (who was widowed by that time) a bedroom clock and 5 pounds to 'buy a keepsake'.
Florence Bradford married local dentist, Dr Percie Chater Charlton in 1894. Roy Pymble became his apprentice in dental mechanics and showed particular aptitude for the craft. Roy Pymble passed on this craft to his nephew, Roy Samuel Smith, who went on to be a prominent dentist in England.
Charles Bradford lived in Pymble House until the age of 99 when he passed away. He had the honour of having a street named after him. Bradford Street, Pymble is very close to Pymble House. Locals will also know of Florey Ave and Charlton Ave nearby.
The Pymble Family’s association with Pymble House
Ellen Pymble (nee Smith), William Henry Pymble’s sister-in-law, built a neighbouring house at 49 Merrivale Road. It was call Hayden, after their first house, Hayden Dell, in Telegraph Road, which was named so because it was Ellen’s mother’s maiden name. The house was designed to be acoustically perfect so that the Pymble family orchestra could practise there. The Pymble’s were renowned for their musical talent.
William (III) and Ada Pymble, who are mentioned above, had 6 children. The eldest, Mabel Beatrice Jane Pymble, affectionally known as ‘Dot’ because she was so tiny as a child, went on to be heavily involved with the establishment of Pymble Playgroup. Mabel lived with her parents William (III) and Ada in Merrivale Road until she married and moved across the road to a house next door to Pymble House.
Mabel married Roy (Dick) Franklin Pymble in 1935. Roy is one the children of Robert (III) Pymble and Ellen Pymble (mentioned above as living in Hayden, Merrivale Road). Mabel and Roy were fourth cousins. Mabel was William Pymble’s great granddaughter and Roy, was Robert Pymble’s (II) grandson. William Pymble and Robert (II) Pymble were brothers.
Roy and Mabel built a house opposite her parents and neighbouring his mother and Pymble House.
Florence Bradford married local dentist, Dr Percie Chater Charlton in 1894. Roy Pymble was an apprentice to Dr Charlton in dental mechanics and showed particular aptitude for the craft. Roy Pymble passed on this craft to his nephew, Roy Samuel Smith, who went on to be a prominent dentist in England.
Mabel Pymble remembers Charles Bradford in his old age, living at Pymble House, ‘We used to look after him and feed him. I recall one evening taking his meal en route to the College as I was on early post duty. As I entered the door and flicked on the light, he shot out of bed in his long white nightshirt screaming, “Put out the light, there’s a war on!” I must admit to being somewhat startled’. Mabel refers to Canisius College which became a centre for war work at the beginning of World War II (Halstead).
Mabel Pymble went on to be very involved with Pymble House after the death of Charles Bradford. She was the proud patroness of Pymble Playgroup in its formative years. In the images below, she can be seen at the official opening of the display case at Pymble Playgroup in 1977. Mabel loved children, although sadly, she and Roy were unable to have any themselves. She passed away in 1987, at 85 years of age from complications associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Pymble House’s new owners – Canisius College
After Charles Bradford's death in 1947 the house was purchased by Canisius College, a local Jesuit college. They leased it to Eric Porter and his wife, who lived there with their adopted family of five. They called the home Pentecost, which was taken from their earlier house in Pentecost Road, Pymble.
Canisius College was a Catholic college which was build on land purchased by the Jesuit community from Thomas Brown. The College officially opened in 1939 and until 1968 was a training college for Jesuits. From 1974 to 2011 it operated as a house of formation for Jesuit novices and Tertains. The College also ran a dairy farm for many years.
The College building still remains as a beautiful historical function venue and retreat centre at 102 Mona Vale Road, Pymble. It is now known as Peter Canisius House.
Playgroup at Pymble House
In 1973 Ku-ring-gai Council purchased 25 acers from Canisius College and divided the land into residential blocks. This is when Pymble House was leased to The Playgroup Association.
In 1977 Leon Sadubin was commissioned by Mabel Pymble to design a display case notice board for Pymble Playgroup. Mabel was the patroness of the Playgroup at the time and no doubt paid for more than just this with her own funds. Leon Sadubin was a local up-and-coming furniture designer. Leon is now a well-known woodcarving expert whose bespoke works can be seen at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney and New Parliament House, Canberra.
The display case was built in Australian Red Cedar and features a carving of Pymble House as well as a young boy and a young girl to celebrate the playgroup. Leon’s original sketches and a photo of the display case can be found below. The display case was proudly dedicated by Mabel in September 1977, and it still hangs in the hall of Pymble House today.
57 Merrivale Rd heritage listing
Since November 1989, Pymble House has been a heritage listed building because of its historical, architectural and rarity value. It was deemed to be of municipal and state significance. The house is recorded as 'an extremely good example of early Australian Colonial style architecture within Ku-ring-gai.' The description also emphasises the house's 'association with many well known people and their families within the Pymble area'.
Recent Pymble Playgroup history
The State Government offered Pymble Playgroup a generous grant of $26 000 in 2012 which helped to fix and furnish the insides of the deteriorating house.
Pymble Playgroup currently have a lease with Ku-ring-gai Council until 31 December 2021.
Collaboration with the Ku-ring-gai Art Society
On 26th February 2020, Pymble Playgroup had the pleasure of revealing two stunning paintings of Pymble House by well-known local artists.
Pymble House has a long history with the Ku-ring-gai Art Society. The late Janine Bravery OAM was the president of the Ku-ring-gai Art Society, as well as an art teacher and renowned artist. She painted a watercolour of Pymble House during or before 1977. This special artwork (which is, sadly, undated) hangs in a customised display cabinet in pride of place in the House.
Nina Paine and Caroline Oesterheld, two local artists and members of the Ku-ring-gai Art Society presented their own paintings of Pymble House in a small unveiling ceremony. Everyone who attended was amazed by the beautiful detail in the artworks, and the kids enjoyed seeing their Playgroup in the paintings. For the committee of Pymble Playgroup, this is an amazing opportunity to celebrate the beloved house and its rich history.
The donated paintings will be framed and hung at Pymble Playgroup, along with Janine Bravery’s 43-year-old version, for future children and carers to admire.
Over the last 45 years Pymble Playgroup has served countless children and their families from the Ku-ring-gai area. Some of whom, now come to Pymble Playgroup with their own children. Hopefully, one day we will get to see a third generation of Pymble Playgroup members come through the doors.
A History of the North Shore Sydney from 1788 to today. Les G Thorne (1979).
NSW Government, Office of Environment & Heritage (1989)
Peter Canisius House
Ruby Pymble and her Families. Gwen James (1997).
The Daily Telegraph, Council reclassifies six properties including Pymble Playgroup headquarters (2014)
The Railway came to Ku-ring-gai. Kerrin Cook (1991).
The Story of St. Ives (NSW) and some of its Inhabitants. Gay Halstead (1982).
The Woodyatt Family History, 701 Charles Bathurst Bradford