Short Histories #1, "Nyth-A Deryn"

Nyth-A-Deryn as seen from Empress Terrace, photo courtesy of Space property agents

Michelle pinged me with a request to investigate "Nyth-A-Deryn", her house in Bardon which was for sale and scheduled for auction. The remarkable features of this home are plain to see in the photos below, including the extravagant Art Deco design of the main living areas with contemporary details continuing throughout the original parts of the house. Michelle was curious to see if we could track down the architect or builder before it passed to the next owner.

Viewed from the street, the house is a transverse gable which has been expanded with a veranda (to the left in the title picture) and sympathetically built underneath. The flat-roofed vestibule and bold design of the half-timbered gable infills are unusual features of what is otherwise a fairly typical 1930's home. But any preconceptions of normalcy are blown away as we step inside. Let's start with the drawing room, featuring rails, frames and a monumental room divider in chunky, gleaming silky oak. Also note the patterned hardwood floor and the mini-dome and fine detailing of the plaster ceiling.

The drawing room, photo courtsey of  Space Property Agents
Next the dining room, with veneered wall paneling and ceiling coffers. The fan-patterned inlays, contrasting use of timbers and strong vertical elements ooze of the Art Deco movement that reached Australia in the 1930s. There's an enormous amount of detail in this interior, more than we can cover in a short post. For example - the semi-hidden, spring-loaded pivot door to the kitchen is more reminiscent of a restaurant than a suburban home.

The dining room, photo courtesy of Space Property Agents
So what's the story behind this treasure of 30's interior design? Well - in this case let's skip the (not so ancient) history of Bardon and the original owners of the portion of land, and go directly to the historical title deeds for Nyth-A-Deryn.

In 1935 a 1,036 sqm plot of land was purchased by Charles William Hunt, a carpenter previously listed as living in Mt Isa. Shortly thereafter he applied for a mortgage to the State Advances Corporation, the government body charged with " the granting of loans to enable persons of limited income to erect... suitable homes for themselves, with a comparatively small contribution by them towards the proposition, with easy terms of repayment, and with a low rate of interest".

The Corporation issued mortgages to workers and artisans below a yearly income threshold, who already owned a suitable plot of land and wanted to build a house for primary residence. In many cases the construction works were tendered by the corporation on behalf of its clients, and lo and behold, a search of the news archives yields 20+ reports of Charles Hunt successfully bidding for projects in Bardon, Ashgrove and surrounding suburbs between 1934 to 1939.

Charles Hunt is contracted to build an Ashgrove
worker's dwellings, 1934. Click to enlarge.

So - despite the opulence of Nyth-A-Deryn, Charles Hunt was a humble carpenter and local builder of homes for the government worker's dwelling corporation, and he financed his own home under the same scheme. I haven't found any records of a tender so it is likely that he struck a deal with the Commission to build it himself. The basic design was probably from a standard pattern but again I haven't been able to find it in the published catalogues. As for the interior fitout and high-spec features, this was well beyond the scope of government funding but he probably made good use of his industry contacts or perhaps did some of the work himself. In any case, the quality of the workmanship is beyond doubt and this home will delight owners and dazzle visitors for many, many decades to come.

Otherwise the historical records yield very little information on Charles, as is often the case with working-class owners. He married Ethel May Robertson in 1936, the same year that the house was built, and stayed there until 1992 when he was well into his 80s. I've found no indication that the couple had children, and other than a publicized drunken driver charge in 1940 the couple appeared to have lived a private life. Charles' carpentry business was not listed in the commercial directories or in the press, at least not under his own name. The land was subdivided in 1965 and the Eastern portion developed as a separate property, as indicated in the below 1938 map overlay on a contemporary aerial photo.

Survey map ca 1938, showing the original plot of land pre-subdivision and
later house extensions. Click to enlarge.

As for the name, "Nyth-A-Deryn" translates to "Birds Nest" in Welsh and it is possible that it has its origins in Ethel's Welsh-ringing surname, but that's pure conjecture.

Thanks to Michelle for the opportunity to research her house, and congratulations to the new owners of this very unique suburban home.


Key sources:
- Deed of Grant and historical Title Deeds for the property, sourced from Queensland DNRM
- TROVE historical newspaper archives
- Genealogy.com, for family trees, census records and electoral rolls
- Post office directories from the 1870's through to the 1940's
- Queensland Police Gazette, 1864-1945
- Pugh's Almanac, 1859-1927
- Queensland Government Gazettes, 1836-1900
- Aerial photography, BCC PDOnline
- Miscellaneous texts on Queensland history
- Parish and miscellaneous maps, courtesy of the Queensland State and BCC Archives
- Brisbane House Styles 1880-1940, a Guide to the Affordable House, J. G. Rechner

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