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The incredible history of Toronto in Ipswich

The National Trust will open Toronto House to the public on May 10th. Photo: David Nielsen / The Queensland Times
The National Trust will open Toronto House to the public on May 10th. Photo: David Nielsen / The Queensland Times David Nielsen

It is a rare feat indeed to bring a home into the 21st Century, while retaining an incredible history, yet somehow the owners of 'Toronto' have pulled it off.

SOMETIMES you can walk into a house and sense that you are in a home...not just a house. Toronto is one such spot. Surrounded by history, it is impossible not to be impressed by what the current owners Vanessa Bell and Chris Elliott have done to the 154-year-old house.

Originally constructed in 1863, Toronto is one of the most recognisable homes in Ipswich, and for good reason.

 

A pic taken around 1900, where you can see Toronto in the top left
A pic taken around 1900, where you can see Toronto in the top left Photo Ipswich/Whitehead Collecti

It was Mrs Elizabeth Lloyd who bought the Quarry Street allotment for forty-five pounds from the Crown back in April that year. Originally named "Devonshire Cottage", she built it for investment purposes and only lived in the home herself for a short period in 1868.

When the home was listed for sale in 1873, it was described as having a detached kitchen, servant's bedroom and a large washing shed.

Today, the house still retains a storage shed that used to be stables, and a water pump still stands next to the kitchen, which was used for over a century.

Vanessa Bell knew she wanted the house the moment she saw it back in 2010, and her previous home in Sadliers Crossing was also a home with a long history.

"My previous home was an older home, with wrap around verandas," Vanessa said. "One day someone knocked on the door and said they wanted to buy it. Fast forward and I found myself looking at only two homes, including Toronto.

"I had a previous job that involved working in furnishing and decorating, so I appreciate all sorts of styles. I can walk into a modern home and appreciate it for what it is, but for me personally, they don't have the same 'soul' as an older home. I love that sense of history, and that's what I adore about Toronto."

Houses of Ipswich. Toronto House - 8 Quarry Street, Ipswich.
Houses of Ipswich. Toronto House - 8 Quarry Street, Ipswich. David Nielsen

Vanessa and Chris don't like to use any particular word to describe the home, preferring to describe it as "a mixture of modern and older 1870's styling", but their favourite spot is where they spend most evenings admiring an Ipswich sunset.

"I always tell the story of one Christmas night after everyone had gone home Chris and I were sitting on the front deck and we talked about who was sitting on this very deck a hundred years ago one Christmas night. How many people can do that?

"We imagined sitting by lamp light, and dressed so differently. When you think about it this house has seen two world wars, floods, you name it, all that history...and I'm actually a history teacher, so I love the fact that it has survived all those events," Vanessa said.

The home itself is immaculate, with everything in its place and furnishings that give it a classic feeling, including a gas stove in the kitchen that in its day, was top of the line, and it still too good to consider updating. If it wasn't for the big screen TV, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was an historic display home.

"The stove was already here when I bought the house, and I discovered the previous owners imported it all the way from Canada. The brand is called Heartland, and came at a cost of about $20,000 at the time, and that was in the 1990's, so I shudder to think what it would cost to buy today.

"Over the last few years we've painted the entire interior, ripped up carpets, and exposed the polished floors. The walls were green, and the kitchen a pine lover's dreams, so with some work and a heap of landscaping, we've got things the way we like it now, but of course it's all still a work in progress. For example, there's no bathroom upstairs, I'm keen to do that for a number of reasons. We sleep downstairs rather than upstairs as nobody wants to be going up and down stairs to use the bathroom," Vanessa said. "I don't plan to sell, but in the future it would be good to have that upstairs as a parents retreat or a kids retreat so that you have everything up there."

Houses of Ipswich. Toronto House - 8 Quarry Street, Ipswich.
Houses of Ipswich. Toronto House - 8 Quarry Street, Ipswich. David Nielsen

Vanessa and Chris surprisingly, don't have fly screens in the majority of the house, and has rarely found it an issue due to the construction of these older homes and the way they air.

"They knew how to build houses back then. Upstairs is warmer than downstairs of course, but the ground level is always cool. If there's a breeze to be caught the house is designed to catch it no matter from which way. I don't have fly screens, I'm not a fan, but every side of the house can open up to the elements.

"Before I moved in I had lots of ideas. My last home had a kitchen that had big sliding doors leading out to a pool, and thought I needed to extend the kitchen, then put in an island bench, but this home isn't an open plan. Once you live in it and get used to it you have to realise that some parts just don't need to be modernised."

Vanessa and Chris spend most evenings with a glass of wine, and with the lounge room and main bedroom at the front of the house, it means that the kitchen and conservatory areas are amazingly quiet. Up a short flight of stairs, you'll find a guest room, a utility room and a wonderful second lounge room which opens to the small balcony which overlooks Quarry Street and Warwick Road.

"I've always felt safe here" Vanessa said. "The house has a nice feel, and its surprisingly very peaceful. Even though its just near the Ipswich Hospital and Warwick road, it's a quiet area. I think about all the houses in this street, and I know that I could live in all of them for different reasons, there are so many historic homes in this area.

"I've been very lucky that previous owners did some of the more difficult jobs such as re-wiring and some re-stumping. Everyone who has had Toronto has been sympathetic to the design. Its nothing to change paint, curtains or carpets but it's a different story with moving a kitchen or doing up a bathroom," Vanessa said.

 

Toronto House owners Vanessa Bell and Chris Elliott.
Toronto House owners Vanessa Bell and Chris Elliott. David Nielsen

Local author Tanya Jen wrote a book about the history of the house, which was originally a seven-bedroom home.

"The book found that 1863 was the year that the first dwelling was built on this block. The original builder was a member of the Congregational Church, which sat on the spot where the new Coles is now on Limestone Street. Elizabeth Lloyd built the house with her husband, and they were members of that church," Vanessa said. "The church records show that Elizabeth Lloyd had different addresses and built Toronto as an investment, but after her husband died of tuberculosis she eventually sold it and took her two children back to live in England."

Toronto has been open in the past for events like the Great Houses of Ipswich, and Vanessa is open to doing it again.

"Right now our next task is to paint the outside of the house, which isn't cheap. Its really nice to have people admire our home, I've opened it for the National Trust and Zonta in the past, and for me it's about giving something back. I have a huge appreciation for old houses, and I really love it when people are generous enough to open their homes to the public.

"I love living in Ipswich, and my parents still live here, so I want to be close to them. I do get annoyed when people knock our city. It's just a postcode at the end of the day," Vanessa said. "It takes me five minutes to get to work, and still people say 'why do you live out there?'

"This is a great place to live, and we have so much wonderful history, of which Toronto is just one part."

 

The National Trust will open Toronto House to the public on May 10th. Photo: David Nielsen / The Queensland Times
The National Trust will open Toronto House to the public on May 10th. Photo: David Nielsen / The Queensland Times David Nielsen

Topics:  heritage homes housing ipswich history property


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