21 November 2023

Riverina Rewind: Foxborough Hall still stands as one of Wagga's earliest stately homes

| Michelle Maddison
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man and stately historic country home

James Gormly standing outside his newly rebuilt Foxborough Hall residence in 1893. Photo: Museum of the Riverina (coloured by M A Maddison).

Wagga’s Foxborough Hall has been back in the news in recent weeks with the news that it may soon be transformed into a childcare centre.

This grand old dame is not only one of the city’s most historic homes, but is also one of the oldest standing and is a rare tangible reminder of our city’s heritage.

The Foxborough Hall seen here, in Hardy Avenue, was the distinguished residence of the Honorable James Gormly, one of Wagga’s illustrious pioneers, settling in the town circa 1854.

Foxborough Hall was originally an estate, comprising 40 acres (16 hectares), purchased by publican Thomas Fox in 1856 for £40.

On the block, Fox built the original Foxborough Hall residence, a brick building with two wings, standing atop a hill with a commanding view across the township of Wagga. He named the property ”Foxborough” after his wife’s parents’ home in Ireland.

Following Fox’s death in 1859, the estate was purchased by another publican, Thomas Byrnes, who then sold it to Thomas Darlow, co-founder of the Wagga Wagga Advertiser newspaper.

In July 1882, James Gormly became the new owner of the property, having purchased it from Darlow. Coincidentally, like Fox, Gormly also had links with Foxborough in Ireland. He was born to Patrick Gormly, a grazier, and his wife Mary (nee Docray) at Foxborough Hall, Elphin, County Roscommon, in 1836.

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It must have been a happy day when James and his family moved into the sprawling mansion built by Fox.

There, the family settled, until disaster struck.

In the early hours of Thursday, 10 February, 1887, a catastrophic fire broke out, and locals woke to the sound of the dreaded clang of the town’s fire bell and a lurid reflection in the sky from flames.

The cause of the fire? A lit kerosene lamp. Luckily, James and his family escaped, but none of their possessions survived.

The Advertiser told the tale: “It was utterly impossible to save anything. Mr Gormly deeply regrets the loss of his sporting library, and the accumulation of years, while his son has lost many charts and other documents by which he hoped to pass his examination in the Civil Service. Mr. Louis Gormly, who resides close to his father’s house, fears that his mother will deeply grieve over the destruction of many little mementoes of a lost little one, so cherished by a sorrowing mother.”

It was a day that Wagga lost ”one of the old landmarks of Wagga”, but James soon rebuilt.

On the same spot where the original Foxborough Hall had stood, he built an attractive two-storey home for his family.

Amazingly, another fire, in July 1893, resulted in the stables being burnt down, but the new homestead was luckily undamaged.

In 1913, James began selling off parts of the now 80-acre (32-hectare) estate. By the following year, ownership of the home had passed to his son Robert James Ernest, who then subdivided a large part of the remaining estate in 1922.

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In 1926, Robert sold the Foxborough Hall residence and an adjoining 20 acres (eight hectares) to the Sisters of the Little Company of Mary. Costing £8000, the residence became a temporary hospital, accommodating between 12 and 14 patients who were treated there during the construction of Lewisham Hospital.

Later, the home and grounds became, once again, a private residence.

Now, in 2023, there are plans to turn this historic landmark into a childcare centre. If the walls of this old house could talk, what stories they would tell.

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