Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Barton Vale House

Barton Vale House

Built between 1850 and 1852 by Edmund Bowman, Barton Vale house, an early Victorian, Gothic styles mansion is now owned by the Smith Family Group.
Bowman tried to build the house as cheaply as he could, but still maintain excellence in construction and style. He sourced local materials and builders and constructed one of Adelaide's most impressive buildings.
Unfortunately for Edmund, he didn’t get to enjoy his new home for too long as he passed away in 1866. His wife remarried and with her new husband refurbished the house in 1880.
On Tuesday, August 23rd 1881 the “South Australian Advertiser” published a detailed description of the house on page 5, after allowing architects and builders in to let them inspect the fine work of the house. The article is very descriptive of the interior at the time and describes such things as room size and d├ęcor, it is a most interesting read for history buffs.
In 1922 the Bowman family house and the estate was sold by order of the Supreme Court after the death of Hubert Bowman. The sale lasted a few days because of the sheer amount of goods inside the home.
The house itself was sold to The Salvation Army, who installed within its walls a “home for wayward girls”. During this era the house was known as “Barton Vale home” and many girls saw the insides of its walls for their misdemeanour’s.
 It was not uncommon for the home to make the news in this era as the wayward girls would often try and liberate themselves, once such incident involved a lot of violence and the police were called in, the story made page 4 of the “Register News” newspaper in Adelaide on July 17th 1930.

In 1947 the house was again sold, this time to the State Remand System, who renamed it, “Vaughan House” causing a little controversy as the Enfield council were not happy with the new choice of name.
Renaming the house did not exclude it from the mischief of its residents, there were breakouts, with two girls absconding for five days, dressed as boys before they were caught. On Tuesday, December 15th 1953 the police were called to Vaughan House after the girls had become disruptive, just before the police arrived they climbed onto the roof and began hurling abuse at the officers and locals who had come out of their houses to see what the ruckus was about, they managed to stay on the rooftop until almost sunrise the next day.

By the 1980s the house was no longer used and remained empty, it was a shell of its former self, with windows broken, vines growing uncontrolled over it, and graffiti sprayed through its rooms, the house was in an awful state. The State very nearly demolished the building, but it was fortunately saved after the Enfield Historical Society campaigned for a National trust listing and for its restoration.

The Advertiser  Tuesday 11 November 1947,

The South Australian Government allocated funding for the restoration with the view of using it as government offices. Work got underway in 1991, the tower, which had been removed in 1944 due to its extreme weight cracking the floors was replaced with a new tower made of fibreglass and lightweight steel, allowing the building to be seen as it once was. Halfway through the year, the majority of the work had been completed in the restoration, except the interior, the Government then decided they would not need offices and put the house and land up for sale.

The land was sold to a developer, Collaroy Developments, who subdivided the 5 acres included with the house and sold it off as a new housing estate, leaving the house standing on one acre of land.
In 1995, Peter and Marilyn Smith purchased the house and began restoring its interior unto its former glory, a lovingly painstaking task that has seen the home return to the splendour and grandeur of its past.

The Smith family use Barton Vale house, partly as their private home and partly as the headquarters for their various business enterprises, it is well kept and in loving hands.

The Advertiser Wednesday 5 October 1949,

The ghost stories that grew around this magnificent structure can mostly be attributed to the time when it was vacant and in a state of disrepair, as with most grand mansions that acquire a status of haunted, it would seem that past usage of the house was not forgotten by locals and urban legends amongst the youth about goings-on grew, as did the reputation of the old empty rotting mansion, spawning tales of ghost girls walking its staircase and a nasty matron telling boys to leave.

As far as I am aware, from the beginning of the restoration period in 1991 to now, no ghosts or other paranormal phenomena have been reported from builders over the years or the current owners. It would seem that the ghost stories associated with Barton Vale house are just that, stories, made to scare younger kids from going inside the old mansion, that have been passed down from older brothers and sisters through the years and grown into legends.

© 2014 Allen Tiller


  1. Thankyou for this wonderful & interesting information on the beautiful Barton Vale House. My mother-in-law spent some time there in the early 1930s as one of the 'wayward girls' - which when she heard later, always made her chuckle. She was taken there when she ran away after a fight with her mother. After marriage, it was found the builder of Barton Vale was her husband's great uncle and in turn a cousin to Edmunds son who built Martindale Hall near Mintaro & Clare Sth Aust. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the history and am so happy and relieved it ended up in the loving hands of the Smith family.

    1. It was nice to read this website out of the blue and see your very recent comments about your mother-in-law. I was also there in 1959, for 9 months and have very clear memories of that beautiful home, challenged by the energy of so many 'wayward' girls. We scrubbed the ballroom floors nightly on our knees, with scrubbing brushes, to restore the even shine on the wax. I can also chuckle ruefully now, however, I have memories of great kindness and awful abuse inflicted by some 'wardens'. I often wonder at the whereabouts of my companions and hope they went on to better lives. I did! Eleanor
      Thanks so much for your comments.

  2. Hi there, I read your comments with interest. I was there also in 1959. Such a lovely old house - full of damaged girls - lots of abandonment. There were nice wardens and some truly evil ones and I've often wondered how my companions fared in life afterwards, especially the youngest ones. I live overseas now but was aware the Smith's had purchased the property and, like you, I was so happy to know it was being refurbished. Looks great now. Hard times and many residual memories.
    Thank you for your article and this post. I'm glad the history is being honoured.