1888: East Melbourne, Cliveden

Decorative glass for the interior of Cliveden

Although most of William Montgomery’s early commissions were for churches, architects of some of Melbourne’s new mansions also noted his ability to produce high quality secular windows.  One of Melbourne’s grandest and most significant dwellings was Cliveden, Wellington Parade, East Melbourne, the town residence of Sir WJ Clarke and Janet, Lady Clarke.  It was under construction for two years from 1886 to 1888 and regular press reports kept Melbourne society informed with its progress and the lavishness of the appointments. On completion, it was judged as ‘one of the largest of private residences erected in the colony’.[1]

East Melbourne Cliveden

Fig. 1: Sir W.J. Clarke’s new residence, East Melbourne (Vic)

While travelling in England, Sir William commissioned a grand three-light window from the London firm, James Powell & Sons, Whitefriars.  It was designed by John William Brown and superbly executed by the firm.  Appropriately named Welcome, it graced the staircase landing that led to reception rooms on the first floor, a grand statement extolling the owners’ status in society and high standards of hospitality.

East Melbourne Cliveden Welcome 1887 002

Fig. 2: JW Brown (designer) James Powell & Sons, London (maker), Welcome, 1888.   Originally installed on the first landing of the Cliveden staircase, reinstalled in the Cliveden Room, Hilton Hotel, East Melbourne 1970.

However, this was the only window ordered in England and architect, William Wilkinson Wardell, engaged Montgomery to design and manufacture a comprehensive scheme of decorative glass for public areas as well as private rooms in the mansion.  In a long article entitled “Glass Painting as a Means of Decoration” for the Builder & Contractors’ News, Montgomery’s growing reputation and impressive list of church commissions was cited as the likely reason for his selection as stained-glass artist for the extensive commission.

‘…An opportunity has been afforded the writer of seeing some of the beautiful and artistic stained glass that is being produced under the superintendency of W.W. Wardell, Esq. (of Messrs. Wardell and Vernon, Architects), for the town residence of Sir W.J. Clarke in Melbourne. The panels for the large dining-hall are now in their places, and have a most brilliant effect, the treatment being a happy combination of mosaic and painted glass.  The subjects are all derived from the Flora and Fauna of Australia, and have been sketched from nature by the artists specially for the work… In order to get as much light as possible, a large quantity of very finely tinted “roundel” has been used.’[2]

It is a relatively rare occurrence of Australian flora and fauna in Melbourne’s secular glass, (unlike Sydney where Australian motifs featured from the time of the centenary of its founding) but the Clarke brothers, Sir William and Joseph Clarke, had already celebrated Australian aspects of their lives and environments in the homes they built in the 1870s: Rupertswood (1875) and Mandeville Hall (1878).[3]  Cliveden continued the family tradition of incorporating motifs from Britain and Australia in their stained glass.

East Melbourne Cliveden French door 1888

Fig. 3: A remnant of the French doors from the original Cliveden supper hall/courtyard wall (1888), reinstalled in the Hilton Hotel, East Melbourne 1970.


At that time, when lighting was only provided naturally during the day or by candles, oil lamps or gas at night, the need to allow light to enter the interior was highlighted in many reports.  It was noted by Table Talk that the ‘supper-room, which is a little to the left of the ball-room hall is admirably adapted for the purpose. It is lit by French windows glazed in the stained Renaissance style, which run the whole length of one end and open into a courtyard.[4]

The billiard room was described as being glazed with “Rendle’s medallion glass”, which, ‘with the light playing on it, presents the appearance of a mass of fiery jewels’.[5]  Contemporary photographs of the house show stained glass panels of many of the internal doors, which also would have transmitted and reflected light through rooms and corridors.[6]


East Melbourne Cliveden Welcome 1888 003

Fig. 4: Mosaic and roundel stained glass (1888), formerly in the billiard-room at Cliveden, reinstalled in the Hilton Hotel, East Melbourne 1970.

By the 1960s when Cliveden was demolished, the mansion had been a boarding house for many years and while many internal furnishings had long gone, the stained glass remained in place.  The exceptional staircase window and a number of the roundel panels were relocated to the ‘Cliveden Room’ in the new Hilton-On-The-Park Hotel that was built on part of the site fronting Wellington Parade.

East Melbourne Cliveden main doors 1888 005

Fig. 5: Cliveden vestibule doors, relocated to the Cliveden Room, Hilton-on-the-Park, East Melbourne.

When the Pullman group took over the hotel, these items were removed yet again in 2017 and auctioned along with other items deemed redundant by the new owners.   Bought by a long-time East Melbourne resident, the stained glass was gifted to the National Gallery of Victoria and the staircase window installed in the nineteenth-century galleries at Federation Square the following year.  Although Montgomery’s panels may lack the grandeur of the staircase window, it is hoped that ultimately they will be exhibited too, as they give a glimpse into Cliveden and the wider story of that extraordinary “Boom’ period known as ‘Marvellous Melbourne’.


All photographs: Bronwyn Hughes 2003  

[1] Illustrated Australian News, 5 March 1887, p. 42.

[2] The Builder & Contractors’ News, 9 June 1888, p. 371.

[3] Both stained glass commissions were carried out by Ferguson and Urie of North Melbourne.  See Ray Brown’s website Ferguson and Urie Colonial Victoria’s Historic Stained Glass Craftsmen 1853-1899: https://fergusonandurie.wordpress.com

[4] Table Talk, 5 October 1888, p. 3.

[5] Australasian, 22 September 1888, p. 9.

[6] Terence Lane and Jessie Serle, Australians at Home, 1990, See photograph by the Hon RH Lindsay (1903), Plate 247, photo, p.233.