The Irons family at Wyewurk


by Robert Whitelaw


hile not a direct part of the D.H. Lawrence, Wyewurk and Kangaroo story, an historical loose-end has been who was the architect of the seaside bungalow (now Heritage-protected) and what other buildings did he design.

We know that a student architect Roy Irons was the designer, mainly because its original owner was contemporaneously quoted as saying proudly that he had given his son a free hand in its interesting design.

Who then was Roy Irons?

His full name was actually Thomas Roy Irons (1889- 1950). He was known as 'Roy' to family and friends to avoid confusion with his prominent Sydney engineering and manufacturing father, Thomas Irons (1849-1918). Roy had 2 brothers and 2 sisters.

Thomas Irons (Snr) was a Scottish-born engineer who arrived in Sydney 1855. He worked at P.N. Russell Engineering and at the Woolwich Dockyards. In 1898, he headed a consortium that rescued what became Clyde Engineering at Granville. It grew to become the largest engineering company in Australia (prior to BHP) specializing in railway locomotive and cable tram construction. Thomas was an industry leader, travelling to Europe and the USA to review technological and business developments. He was Mayor of Granville declining further opportunities in politics. At the time of Wyewurk's construction, Thomas was President of the Iron Trades Association (now the peak council- the Australian Industry Group). He was also a leading public figure in the promotion of technical trades training and in the affairs of St Mark's Anglican Church, Granville.

Born into a Granville-based family, Roy finished his schooling at The Kings School, Parramatta 1903- 1904 in preparation for an intended professional career. Family photographs (available for viewing at the Wollongong City Library) suggest a physically robust young man. He also rowed with the fashionable Sydney Rowing Club eights.

His architectural training in Sydney after leaving school is unclear. The normal vehicle for entry into the profession at the time was through industry experience and articles, supplemented with classes at Sydney Technical College (a Faculty of Architecture was not established at the University of Sydney until 1920).

Given his father's prominence, his own schooling and elite sporting connections, Roy would not have had any particular problems gaining articles with any leading Sydney firm of the day- possibly Kent & Budden, or Nixon & Adam. Both firms were building fashionable Arts-and-Crafts homes and would have had exposure to the new bungalow style emerging in the architecture schools in United States. There is also a family memory that Roy somehow had a junior role in the construction of the famed circular swimming baths at Clifton Gardens, designed by James Rutledge Louat.

Suffice that by 1910, Roy would have been well into his architecture studies and his older siblings were producing the first Irons grandchildren. The growing family had need of a child-friendly weekender and, at the age of 21, Roy was given the chance by his father to show his talents. He produced Wyewurk, skilfully adapting the latest American bungalow style to the environment of Thirroul, the sea and the Escarpment so carefully described by DHL.

It may have been his only completed work- overseas study from 1912, WW1, marriage and family tragedy intervened.

During the years 1912-1914, Roy was enrolled as an Architecture student at the Ivy-League, University of Pennsylvania. With the outbreak of war, he patriotically took leave from his studies and enlisted as an officer in the British Army. In November 1915, Roy transferred to the newly-created Royal Flying Corps. In January 1917, he was invalided back to England from the Western Front with the rank of Major.

While recuperating at the seaside estate of Lord Colwyn in North Wales, Roy met and married Winifred, the peer's eldest daughter. The Colwyn's were a classic Manchester cotton mill owning family that had diversified into the manufacture of Macintosh waterproof clothing and later Dunlop Rubber. In addition, the family had banking, railway and steel interests as well as high political connections.

Roy died in England in 1950 never apparently resuming his architecture studies, nor returning to Australia. Winifred passed away the following year. They had only one child- Elizabeth, born in 1918. She later married a Scandinavian and lived much of her life in Spain and South Africa dying in 1996.

His decision not to return to Australia and to sell Wyewurk (when he inherited it in 1918) was undoubtedly influenced by the tragedies experienced by the Irons family during the years of WW1 and the sad memories that the once happy family holiday home would by then have evoked.

Roy's older brother, David Irons had been Works Manager at Clyde Engineering, but had suffered a nervous breakdown with the war production effort. He committed suicide in 1916 bizarrely outside Granville Police Station using both poison and a revolver.

His younger brother, Ralph Irons had attended Sydney Grammar and was an engineering graduate from the University of Sydney. He died of wounds shortly after arriving in the trenches on the Western Front also in 1916.

His ageing father's health never recovered from these shocks and he died of a heart attack at Wyewurk in 1918.

Wyewurk was sold out of the Irons family in 1919, following a short period of transitional ownership by Roy's brother-in-law Thomas Nossiter. The new owner was Beatrice Southwell from a property/business family at Epping. She subsequently rented the property (through her sister, a local Thirroul real estate agent) to DHL and Frieda in 1922.

Beatrice remained Wyewurk's owner and protector into the 1970s.