1887: Hawthorn Vic, Rotha

Series of windows, private residence

Although the majority of William Montgomery’s stained glass commissions would inevitably be for churches, his arrival during the boom period known as ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ ensured that he received orders for many of the grand homes under construction in the late 1880s and early 1890s.

Hawthorn Rotha JTC collection SLV H97.250 569

Fig. 1: Rotha, 29 Harcourt Street, Hawthorn Vic.  Photograph: John T Collins (1975), H 97.250/569 State Library of Victoria.

No long after set up up his Flinders Street studio and workshop, Montgomery was commissioned by the prominent Melbourne architect, John Beswicke (1847-1925), for a complete set of windows for his new home, Rotha, Harcourt Street, Hawthorn (Vic), designed in 1887.[i]

Hawthorn Rotha 1887 007

Fig. 2: Music room, formerly the billiard room, Rotha, 29 Harcourt Street, Hawthorn Vic.

Rotha is listed on the Victorian heritage register which states the following:

The house is two-storey red-brick and includes design features which anticipate the Australian Queen Anne style popularised at the turn of the century. A single-storey ballroom was added sometime before 1902. Rotha is one of eleven houses constructed as a speculative venture in Harcourt Street by Beswicke and his father Charles, one of the Port Phillip District’s early squatters. The Beswicke family occupied the house until 1980.[ii]

Hawthorn Rotha 1887 004Fig. 3: Entrance to Rotha, 29 Harcourt Street, Hawthorn Vic. 

Hawthorn Rotha Entrance transom002

Fig. 4: Detail of fanlight above main entrance, Rotha, 29 Harcourt Street, Hawthorn Vic. Beswicke family crest: demi-lion holding a bezant, scroll with motto ‘Denique cœlum’ – ‘Heaven at last’

Photographs in the Beswicke family archive indicate that Montgomery made windows that ranged from the Beswicke family crest over the front door, to Arcadian scenes and bird roundels, to modest geometric patterns in door panels and windows.  Although the building lacked the grand ornamental window on the main staircase seen in many grand homes at that time, the results were elegant and appropriate for the spaces.  More importantly, it heralded a long-term collaboration between architect and artist, which generated many significant commissions over the next decade.

Hawthorn Rotha Shakeperean figure001

Fig. 5:  Transom light, Rotha, 29 Harcourt Street, Hawthorn Vic.  Characters from Shakepeare’s plays were popular subjects for stained glass in Melbourne homes during the 1880s and 1890s.

All photographs of the interior of Rotha, courtesy of the late Ken Bethell, grandson of John Beswicke, architect.

[i] Signed contract drawings of Rotha, dated 1887. KCB Bethell, John Beswicke 1847-1925 Heritage Architect, Rotha Press, Camberwell, 2011, p. 27.

[ii] https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/578

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