Step back in time at city’s Castlehill site
NESTLED in the heart of Blackstone is a historic hill that was once home to Ipswich’s coal king Lewis Thomas in the 1880s.
It’s now more commonly known as Castle Hill Blackstone Reserve and is used for walking trails and mountain biking tracks, but it was once an industrial and cultural hub for those who called Ipswich home in the late 1800s.
Once sitting at the hill’s peak was a three-storey mansion called Brynhyfryd. It was designed by Ipswich architect George Brockwell Gill.
Welsh for “pleasant view”, Brynhyfryd featured imported marble fireplaces, Welsh slate floors and roofing, electric lighting, cedar joinery and stately verandas.
It was fitted with a hydraulic lift to move food and other items between floors. The 49 rooms included a large library, dairy room and music room.
The surrounds featured a billiards room, stables, gardener’s cottage and sprawling gardens with hothouses filled with exotic plants.
Brynhyfryd had its own vegetable gardens, dairy cows and chickens and the Thomas family was almost entirely self-sufficient.
Mining operations were carried out on land surrounding the property.
By the 1930s. the contents and castle itself were put up for public auction and dispersed throughout Ipswich and further afield.
Ipswich Historical Society president Hugh Taylor has had a close relationship with the reserve, both during some of its mining operations and after.
He worked for a company that was the holder of mining leases covering Blackstone Hill.
“I was working in the mine doing survey work and the like,” he said.
“As part of the development of that mine, the company sunk a 200m deep airshaft on the southeastern part of Blackstone Hill.
“I was involved in doing survey work into that area and positioning that shaft so we could meet the workings with the shaft.”
Mr Taylor was also tasked with the job of locating the old Cardiff shaft, where an explosion had previously killed three men in 1919.
“They had a set of workings of that shaft in that same seam, we needed to locate that shaft and I did a bit of survey work there locating it, so that we knew the position of that for the safety of our workings,” Mr Taylor said.
Mr Taylor then played an important role in helping to preserve the hill’s history.
“I became quite interested in the hill and the old castle site, so I’ve carried on helping council,” he said.
“Fortunately, the last owner of the property, Mr Peter Keogh, he virtually donated the property to the council for the price of $1.
“After he purchased the site, he tried to do some development on there but found it was so heavily undermined that he gave up that idea and transferred the property to council on the proviso that they did something responsible, like creating this park.
“A great piece of Ipswich heritage is right there and to now see it preserved in council’s ownership I think is a great opportunity for preserving our heritage and history and also providing some really good facilities for bushwalking, birdwatching, fossil-digging and all those great interests.”
The walking tracks give visitors a look at Blackstone’s mining past with old shafts and bubbling springs.
Steam can still be seen rising from ventilation holes as some coal continues to burn underground, as it has done for about 80 years.