In 1886 James Ferguson decided to build his family home, ‘Ayr Cottage’, on a block of land that he purchased some sixteen years earlier, on the 28th of June 1870, from a Mr Morton Moss.
James’s intention was to have the house built with the front facing Leonard Street, but this was objected to;
“Inquiries were recently made by the Minister of lands with regard to an alleged violation of the conditions under which the Royal-park frontages to the Sydney-road were sold by the department for building purposes. When the fee-simple of the land was parted with, it was stipulated that he allotments should not be subdivided, and that all buildings should be erected fronting the Sydney-road. It was reported to the Minister that Mr. Jas. Ferguson, of Messrs. Ferguson and Urie, was building a house on the back portion of one of the allotments, with the front to a side street leading from Sydney-road to the park. Mr. Tucker, on inspecting the plans, formed the opinion that the conditions of sale were being violated, and the Inspector-General of Public Works, to whom the matter was referred, endorsed this view. Mr. Ferguson has expressed his willingness to alter the plans so as to comply with the conditions, which he states, however, were not mentioned on the certificate of title received by him from the original purchaser of the allotment.”
Despite the objections by the Minister of Lands, Ayr Cottage was still built facing Leonard Street.
The construction of Ayr Cottage began in the latter half of 1886 and was completed in early 1887 by architect and builder Harry Lording. (Lording’s son, Frank Clifford, was also employed as a glass stainer with Ferguson & Urie).
The stained glass windows in Ayr Cottage reflect the personal preference of James Ferguson as well as elements of his Scottish heritage. His obvious deep affection for the Scottish bard, Robbie Burns, is immortalised by a detailed depiction of his bust in the stairwell window.
Photos have been updated 19th June 2013. The older historical photos are from family history collections.
Unfortunately James Ferguson’s wife, Jane (nee Lawson), never got to see the magnificent home. She died on the 19th of April 1886 at the former family home at 24 Little Curzon Street North Melbourne which James had purchased in 1853.
As far as I can gather, only James Ferguson Snr and his bachelor son James Jnr, and mentally disabled daughter Margaret had moved into Ayr Cottage when it was completed in early 1887. I suspect there was possibly a house-keeper but this is unconfirmed. At some point later, James’ sister in-law, Barbara Kennedy (nee Lawson 1821-1902), moved in after her husband had died circa 1890.
After James Ferguson’s death in 1894, Ayr Cottage was sold to the Lockington family who retained it for seven years. In 1901 the Victorian Neglected Children’s Aid Society purchased it and they retained it for the next 65 years.
In 1966 the Victorian Neglected Children’s Aid Society had considered the building no longer economical to continue repairs and tabled the options of either demolishing the house and rebuilding, or selling and buying elsewhere. Fortunately they opted to sell and it was subsequently purchased by the adjoining “International House”, the University of Melbourne, who still own it as at 2012. It is now known as Hilda Stevenson House.
Ayr Cottage still contains many original stained glass windows by Ferguson & Urie that were obviously of James Ferguson’s personal preference with the feature stairwell window containing a medallion of the Scottish poet, Robbie Burns which I suspect may have been the work of apprentice George James Coates. The fanlight window above the main Leonard street entrance, and the eastern entrance doorway, contain a depiction of the Scottish Thistle with a Bee hovering above which is the Ferguson Clan motto; “Dulcius Ex Asperis” (Sweeter after difficulties).
The whole house contains an eclectic collection of stained glass which doesn’t seem to fit a particular theme in general. Some elements, such as the Robbie Burns window, and the bee hovering above the thistle have a right of way, but everything else appears random. Close inspection of various elements of the glass leads you to believe that James Ferguson’s windows comprise bits and pieces or leftovers from the workshops. There is practically every element of the company’s style depicted. Like the modern day Plumber who has his own house full of leaky pipes, the same principal seems to apply to the stained glass craftsman!
One of the photos in the slideshow of the stained glass windows depicts what appears to be a native bird, the ‘blue wren’. The background through my photo shows a modern 2013 city landscape and modern vehicles. What was the scene through that same window nearly 130 years ago?
Special thanks to Peter Cole, Deputy Head of College, International House, Parkville and Laurel Clark, Librarian/Archivist, International House, Parkville for the wealth of information and assistance they provided regards Ayr Cottage and it’s history.
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