Castle Cove

Introduction

Originally known as Little Sugar Loaf Peninsula, the land in this area remained largely undeveloped until the 1950s. The first land purchase in the area was in by Dr Haynes Gibbes Alleyne in 1858 and by 1878 most of the land had been sold, but no residential development followed. In 1886, Allan Armstrong had purchased most of the land in today’s Castle Cove and Middle Cove and formed the Cammeray Estate Land Company which, with English capital, intended to develop it for residential purposes. A sub-division plan was prepared, which showed eight roads in Castle Cove named after towns on the central NSW coast. No development took place and of the original roads, Kendall Road is the only one developed to its original plan, while today’s Cammaray Road follows part of the planned Corrabare Road. During the 1890s depression the company went into liquidation. The land passed into the hands of the Association of North Sydney Debenture Holders, but remained undeveloped.

The first permanent resident of the area was Henry Willis, who acquired 52 acres of land from Dr Haynes Gibbes Alleyne and built a large castle-like house in 1903-05 from sandstone quarried on the site. He named his home Innisfallen Castle, after a ruined abbey at Killarney, Ireland (see below). When the Public Magazine Complex was established at Bantry Bay on the eastern shore of Middle Harbour from 1907, the State Government resumed 58 acres of land on the peninsula as a buffer zone, which became Explosives Reserve (see below). Mr Henry Christian Press developed picnic ground and a dance hall, called Palmer Pleasure Grounds, on the tip of the peninsula and a wharf on the southern shore around 1910. People came from all over the city for a day’s outing there, especially on Sundays.

When Walter Burley Griffin purchased 650 acres of virgin land on the western shores from the English liquidators of the Cammeray Estate Land Company on behalf of his company, the Greater Sydney Development Association (GSDA) in 1920, the northern parcel of 406 acres was located on Little Sugar Loaf Peninsular. Griffin decided to commence the development on his waterside garden suburbs on the southern parcel of land, which he named Castlecrag. He named the middle portion Cove Crag and the northern peninsula was named Castlecove. The GDSA purchased a cottage located in the middle of Castlecove in 1921 and installed a caretaker there.

Castlecove Country Club

The development of a golf course as a centrepiece of the Castlecove Estate was promoted by Walter Burley Griffin from 1924. While the development of the Castlecrag Estate remained the priority, Griffin began drawing up plans for the golf course in 1928 and work commenced in 1930. By this time the Depression had severely impacted on the finances and prospects of the GSDA, but development of the nine-hole course from virgin bushland continued with meagre resources. When it opened on 12 April 1932, it was the first golf course in the municipality. Griffin designed the small but delightful clubhouse, which featured a shallow reinforced concrete domed roof, rustic stone walls and distinctive French doors. The clubhouse was subsequently enlarged, but the building was destroyed by fire in 1957. A much larger clubhouse was opened in 1968. For a more detailed history of the golf course, click here.

The Hooker Corporation developed the residential estate between 1956 and the early 1970s though two of its subsidiaries (Headland Development P/L and Hooker-Rex Estates). As originally envisaged by Walter Burley Griffin, the waterside estate incorporated large areas of bushland recreational reserves and it attracted wealthy residents. While many of its houses are large and ostentatious, there are also outstanding homes designed by leading Australian architects.


Further reading

Leslie, Esther, The Development of Castle Cove and Middle Cove, Chatswood, Willoughby Municipal Council, 1988.


Heritage Sites

Innisfallen Castle

Innisfallen Castle circa 1975.  Courtesy Willoughby City Library.
Innisfallen Castle circa 1975.
Courtesy Willoughby City Library.
In 1903 Henry Willis commissioned a Parramatta architect named Hill to design a substantial residence on his land at Castle Cove in late Gothic perpendicular style. The large castle-like building was constructed from sandstone quarried on site and features a crenellated tower on the northern side, three-stories high with a separate staircase that two maids used for their quarters. Each corner is graced by a solid stone circular turret and the exterior walls are two feet thick. The interior joinery is of cedar with seven foot doorways and ceilings 14 feet high. The decoration has a strong Federation theme with many Australian wildflowers depicted in the plaster and stained glass. Willis named his creation Innisfallen Castle after a ruined abbey at Killarney, Ireland.

Access to the property was by motor launch from The Spit to a private wharf below the property. All the furniture and fittings were brought in by boat and carried up the hill be hand. Later the family used a horse and sulky to travel over the partially-formed Cammaray Road to collect mail and newspapers from near Roseville station. The house was not connected to the town water supply or electricity grid until 1967.

Henry Willis died at in February 1950, but his son, Dr Henry Hastings Willis, and daughters Urania and Calliope continued to live there. The land was gradually sold off until there was only 0.8ha remaining. A development proposal to Willoughby Council in 1975 to convert the building into two units, and build 12 townhouses in the grounds generated strong community opposition and the newly established Willoughby District Historical Society became involved in the campaign. The society adopted the castle as its logo and a design incorporating the building was formally adopted on 20 August 1975. That matter was finally resolved in April 1987 when Bob Carr, the Minister for Planning, announced that no development would be allowed in the grounds of the historic Innisfallen Castle. Mr Carr said the proposals were “inappropriate” and would “crowd the castle excessively and destroy the spaciousness provided by the existing grounds.”

Parks and Reserves

The attractiveness of Castle Cove is significantly enhanced by the large areas of bushland reserves and parks that have been retained. These are managed by Willoughby City Council’s Open Space Department.

Castle Cove Country Club

Golfers at the Castle Cove Country Club in the 1940s
Golfers on the 8th green at the Castle Cove Country Club in the 1940s with the Griffin-designed clubhouse on the knoll in the background.
WDHS Archives, Mr & Mrs Maher.
The development of a golf course as a centrepiece of the Castlecove Estate was promoted by Walter Burley Griffin from 1924. While the development of the Castlecrag Estate remained the priority, Griffin began drawing up plans for the golf course in 1928 and work commenced in 1930. By this time the Depression had severely impacted on the finances and prospects of the GSDA, but development of the nine-hole course from virgin bushland continued with meagre resources. It was finally opened on 12 April 1932 in a low-key event. Griffin designed the small ‘shelter shed’ in 1931 which featured a shallow reinforced concrete domed roof and distinctive French doors. The clubhouse was subsequently enlarged, but the building was destroyed by fire in 1957. A much larger clubhouse was opened in 1968.

Castle Cove Park

This 6.22ha park was created by dedication and by purchase when Council approved the Deepwater No 6 Subdivision in 1953. There are three sports ovals, a children’s playground and picnic facilities, while much of the area is managed as a bushland reserve. The park pavilion is named after Laurence Frederick McGinty.

Explosives Reserve

Originally established as a buffer zone for the explosives magazines at Bantry Bay, this 31.4 ha reserve features some of Sydney’s most untouched bushland areas. It comprises open woodland and ridge-top heathland and the two circuits of walking track within the reserve offer partial views of Bantry Bay.

HC Press Park

Located on the south-eastern extremity of the peninsula, this 4ha park was part of the original HC Press Estate. It is linked to the Harold Reid Reserve by the North Arm Walking Track around the shores of Middle Harbour. One of Sydney’s most scenic walks, this track offers panoramic views up and down Middle Harbour.

HD Robb Reserve

This 89ha reserve extends along the northern foreshore of the peninsula and is a designated wildlife protection area. It was named after Hugh Douglas Robb in 1959 on the initiative of the Hooker Corporation. A walking track linking the HD Robb Reserve with the ‘painter’s rock’ lookout at Castle Cove via Willowie Road was developed by Willoughby City Council from 2008 using grant funds from the Sharing Sydney Harbour Access Program (SSHAP).

Willis Park

Located east of Eastern Valley Way, this 14.2ha bushland park straddles the suburbs of Castle Cove and Middle Cove. It is named after Dr Henry Hastings Willis. Around 3.6ha of the area is leased to bowling and tennis clubs. The park occupies the site of the pre-1927 Chatswood-Willoughby Sewage Scheme septic tanks.