Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Woodbridge, New Norfolk

Woodbridge was built by the first Chief Constable, Thomas Roadknight in 1825 at a cost of over 1000 pounds. The Roadknights had numerous interests in the valley, including the property Ivanhoe, and the bakery in Bothwell. Thomas Roadknight was later jailed for shooting a servant, and sent to Sarah Island. On his return in 1831, he sold Woodbridge to George Lindley and it functioned as an academy for young gentlemen, known as Richmond Hill Academy.

Woodbridge was again offered for sale in 1833 and was purchased one year later by the Assistant Surveyor General, William Stanley Sharland, for 750 pounds. The Sharland family had been amongst the first arrivals to Van Diemen’s Land and William Stanley married another first settler, Miss Sarah Schaw and they had a large family of four sons and seven daughters, all of whom grew up at Woodbridge. While Sharland lived at Woodbridge he took a keen interest in all colonial affairs as well as carrying on agricultural and pastoral farming in the Derwent Valley, and in 1857, at the age of 56 years, he was elected MLC for the County of Cumberland and later represented New Norfolk in the House of Assembly.

Upon his death in 1877, Woodbridge passed to his eldest son, William Cockburn Sharland, who like his father, devoted himself to the development of his Derwent Valley properties. Clara and William Cockburn Sharland had five daughters and one son and in 1905 when it was decided that they should be educated abroad, Woodbridge was again sold. Thereafter Woodbridge passed from one owner to the other, falling gradually into disrepair. In the 1970’s Woodbridge’s glorious out buildings and Dutch barn, collectively know as Alloway Banks, were demolished to make way for the roundabout of the new bridge. By 2003, Woodbridge was once again dilapidated and decaying.

In 2003, Laurelle and John Grimley first saw Woodbridge, sad, forlorn, derelict and overgrown, when they came to Tasmania on holidays, and they were indignant that ‘the government’ and ‘heritage’ could allow such a wonderful, historic house to get into such a state. Then in 2004 they happened to be in Tasmania again and found that Woodbridge was up for sale. There had apparently been a lot of interest in it but no one had been willing to take on the mammoth task.

The Grimleys were semi-retired, experienced in property development and had rejuvenated old buildings, but they had never tackled a project as complex as this. However they recognized that they brought together three crucial elements – they had the time, they had the expertise and they had the finances… it was a matter of ‘put your money where your mouth is’! As Laurelle explains it, when would they ever get another opportunity to do something like this?

They consulted a German engineer who had experience with European castles, who agreed that ‘the bones were sound’ and that Woodbridge could be saved, and thus began a two year project under John’s direction, which won the 2005 Tasmanian and later the 2006 Australian HIA Renovation of the Year Awards.

But restoring the building was just the first stage of the project. If Woodbridge was going to survive, it had to be able to pay its way. The Grimleys pondered the options, and agreed that Woodbridge would make a delightful boutique hotel, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The Grimley’s one regret is that they had not owned Woodbridge earlier to fight the government’s decision to demolish the out-buildings for the roundabout.

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