ROWFANT SCHOOL, 199 Mowbray Road, Willoughby


199 Mowbray Rd today

The following details are taken from the WILLOUGHBY BICENTENARY BOOK

Page 64/65

The only known private school to have existed in the present-day suburb of Willoughby was the now defunct ‘Rowfant’ school which was at 199 Mowbray Road, just east of Sydney Street. Little is known of its early beginnings and the snippets of information that do exist conflict in facts, unless the school commenced on another site to that mentioned above.  For example, The Clarion (2 July 1959, ‘Meeting to Save Rowfant School;) refers to the 50 year old Rowfant School Willoughby.  If this statement is correct, the establishment date would have been about 1909. A search through the rate books reveals that Joseph Asplin purchased three blocks of land east of Sydney street  in 1917 and built two houses, calling the corner one Keera and the adjoining one Rowfant. The latter was tenanted by J M Owen-Harris from 1917 to 1919, by Cardine Anne Whitfield from 1920 to 1921 and by Lilith E Saxby from 1922 to 1926. Lilith Saxby purchased the property in 1926 and seems to have retained possession until her death in the 1950s. The property was sold to Walter and Dorothy Scarfe in 1956 but the school carried on until about 1960 with Margaret Row as its principal. In the latter years Miss Row conducted the school in one of the halls of St. Stephen’s church.

Rowfant School could not have commenced at 199 Mowbray Road before 1917 at the earliest. It is thought it began in the original church building of St Stephens in 1909, during the incumbency of the Rev. Daniel Murphy and was named Rowfant when it transferred to the house named Rowfant at 199 Mowbray Road.  (See St.Stephens….)

Willoughby Historical Society member Greame Costin recalls:

The first school I went to was Rowfant School on the north side of Mowbray Road a few houses east of Sydney Street.
My mother enrolled me in Rowfant School for kindergarten and 1st Class. From 2nd Class onwards I was at Artarmon Public School.
The large old house in which the school was run is still there, but a newer house was built many years ago on the adjacent block of land which had been the school’s playground while I was there.
The school was run by Miss Rowe. I think there may have been another teacher or two but I don’t remember any teachers other than Miss Rowe.
My most enjoyable and long lasting memories of Rowfant School were learning about Holland – the country and its people.
That was a long time ago – probably 1951 and 1952, but I don’t remember whether I was at Rowfant for just one year or more than one year. In 1953 I was in 2nd class at Artarmon Primary School.

From: Department of Social Studies, University of Sydney, study of aspects of social organisation in the Municipality of Willoughby:-

ROWFANT’ 199 Mowbray Road Chatswood.

Principal: Miss L E Saxby

‘Rowfant’ is a private school open daily from 9.30am to 3.30pm. It takes 60 children from 5 to 13 years and could take 70 with additional staff. At present there is a staff of four with visiting teachers for physical education, music and verse speaking. The children come from Artarmon, Chatswood, and Castlecrag. The school is un-denominational though the religious instruction given is Church of England. There is no organised sport and the only group activity outside school interests is Junior Red Cross. Milk only, is supplied by the school.

Rowfant is a large brick cottage with about half an acre of land attached including a disused tennis court, all of which provides a playing area. Small tables and benches are set out in a garden under trees.

There are many inquiries at this school to take children 2½ to 3 years.

The house in which the school was conducted still stands, but the playground, a disused tennis court, was sold for a home site.

 NOTES in Rowfant file in Esther Leslie’s files in office show:

Joseph Asplen owned three blocks of land. He built two houses, one on corner of Sydney Street named Keira and the other Rowfant occupied by J M Owen-Harris from 1917 to 1919.

Miss Cardine Anne Whitfield occupied Rowfant from 1920 to 1921, followed by Miss Lilith E Saxby, who occupied Rowfant from 1922 to 1926 and purchased same in 1926. A Tennis Court was built in 1932.

In 1941, Miss Jane Elizabeth Stephens occupied the house and continued to conduct the school. Rowfant was sold in 1956 to Walter and Dorothy Scarfe from the estate of the late Lilith Saxby.


There is an uncorroborated report:

I only remember Rowfant Infants School operating from a separate building in the grounds of Chatswood South Methodist Church, on the corner of Mowbray Rd and Pacific Hwy. I attended there from about 1960 to 1965. There was a big concert put on by the School at the Town Hall in Chatswood. It was “Sleeping Beauty” and I played the wicked fairy, Blackabogle!!! Sometimes, there were smaller concerts held in the Church Hall. We also had a fete, to raise funds for a toilet block to be built on the back of the school building. Most of the students learned to dance the maypole, which we performed at yhe fete. My maiden name was Snaddon.

The school was run by Miss Margaret Row, who retired from the School in (I believe) 1966.
Additional information from WDHS&M researcher Joan Anternakis:


Private School, Mowbray Road, Chatswood. The students were taught in the church hall attached to St. Stephen’s  Anglican Church before moving to 199 Mowbray Road to a house named “Rowfant”.

The school was established by Mrs E.H. Saxby (formerly Euphemia Hutchison Bowes) wife of Henry Saxby;  married in 1873, Manning River, Taree. NSW. Mrs Saxby was the daughter of Rev. John Bowes of Stanmore NSW. The school was run by her three daughters, Effie (Euphemia), Jessie and Lillian.  Lillian Saxby was school principal.  It was a private school for girls but boys were taken up to 7 years of age. The house was extended and classes held in the additions at the rear of the premises. This house is still standing in 2018.

Mrs E.H. Saxby died at Rowfant in 1931 and was buried in the Methodist Cemetery.



Sydney Morning Herald – 26  Dec 1936  – Speech Days –                         page 2 or 5





Kindergarten – Pamela Callaghan, Mary Healy, Betty Caldwell, Xavier Droulers, Pat Beau ???

Michael Baker, Billy Grinstead, John Robson, Peter Chown, ??Bruce Short,

First Form: James Roche, Robert McManacy, Robert Downey, Ronald Anderson

Second Form – Writing – Anne Callaghan,

Tables – Pat Walshaw

Geography – Beraze Downey

Nature Study –  Kresser Lees

English – Maureen Colwell

Third Form –  Highest Examination marks – Winsome Grant
Highest class marks –  Pat Bayley,

Special Literature – June Spooner

Dancing – Shirley Otton

First History and second English – Gwynneth Dearman

First Nature Study and second Arithmetic – Jessie Teiffel –

Second History and second Poetry –  Pam Moodie

Fourth Form and highest examination marks – Betty Mount-Batten

Nature study  – Jean Davis

Geography – Ailsa Spooner

First Mathematics – second English – Nancy Drew

General Improvement – Barbara Blake,

Fifth Form –  History, Geography and Botany – Margaret Blakey

Mathematics – Lola Hess

Sixth Form – Second History and English – Joyce Curnow

Highest examination marks and art – Joyce Mills

Any additional information would be much appreciated.