Cornish builder responsible for Sydney’s Centennial Hall and St Mary’s Cathedral, also constructed and hosted Woolloomooloo’s Merryfield Hotel

The Merryfield Hotel, Woolloomooloo, the year its name changed from the Domain Hotel, 1930. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University

LARGELY unheralded for his many notable building projects, Cornish builder, Richard Merrifield Nancarrow was responsible for an imposing pub that traded at Woolloomooloo, in Sydney’s east, for almost a century.

The Merryfield Hotel, which sadly called last drinks in 1972 – 97 years after it opened for business – thankfully remains as a tribute to Nancarrow, at the busy intersection of Sir John Young Crescent and Palmer Street.

Nancarrow arrived from England to Australia at the age of 24 in 1851 and for years was engaged as a builder for colonial governments in Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales.

Amongst his many works, in which he took a leading part, were the entrances to Pentridge Stockade, the Provident Institute, the Ballarat Gaol, the bridge over the Plenty River and the Mount Gambier Hospital.

Nancarrow, at the age of 41, came to New South Wales in 1868, where he married Maria Carroll in Sydney in 1870, and they would go on to raise one son, Richard Junior, born in 1871.

Nancarrow, under John Young (Mayor of Sydney), superintended the building of St. John’s College, St. Mary’s Cathedral, the Sydney Post Office, the first Exhibition Building, Farmer’s establishment in Pitt Street, the forts at South Head, Bradley’s Head, Middle Head and Shark Point, the Garden Palace, the Lauds Office, and the Lane Cove Bridge.

At the time of his death in 1888 he was working on Sydney’s magnificent Centennial Hall in the Sydney Town Hall.

Nancarrow was also said to have been largely instrumental in developing the marble and granite industries of the colonies, and was the discoverer of marble at Blayney and Marulan.

A little-know architectural beauty that Nancarrow was responsible for building is the former pub at Woolloomooloo that would later be named in his honour.

On completion in 1875, Nancarrow leased the four storey, 20-roomed hotel of brick and stone with a slate roof, to local hotelier, Michael Hanly. The hotel reportedly had a net value of £176.

Michael Hanly had been the licensee of the Lands End Hotel at Pyrmont before he was granted the license of Nancarrow’s Royal Domain Hotel at Woolloomooloo in April 1875. Hanly stayed on as licensee until 1877, with Elizabeth Simpson taking the license on his departure.

Following Simpson, William Clements was host from 1880 to 1884, after which time the Nancarrows took control of the pub.

Nancarrow was 57, and his wife, Maria, 52, when they became hosts of what now was known as the Domain Hotel, in 1884.

The old builder continued working on a number of projects in the city while licensee and it’s likely his wife was managing the pub during this time.

Nancarrow was employed by the Corporation of Sydney, and was supervising the construction of the Centennial Hall inside the Sydney Town Hall when he suffered a stroke and died on August 16, 1888 at the age of 61. His widow, Maria continued as licensee of the Domain Hotel for the following 12 years before her retirement in 1901 at the age of 69.

Maria Nancarrow sold the hotel to Thomas Jones and retired to her home at 363 Crown Street, Surry Hills. She died on February 25, 1909 at the age of 77.

After Maria Nancarrow’s death the hotel changed hands several times, and in 1930 it was purchased by J. N. Bolgraat, who renamed it the Hotel Merryfield, most likely in honour of the man who built the pub in 1875.

The hotel was purchased by British Breweries in the late 1930s, which was responsible for the famous Britons and later Richmond beers. More on Britons beer and the Merryfield Hotel at the Time Gents’ story HERE.

Later, British Breweries was bought-out by Millers, before the license of the historic hotel was transferred to Warriewood.

Merryfield Hotel, Woolloomooloo, Sydney, 1949. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.
The Merryfield Hotel, Woolloomooloo, C1965. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University

The Merryfield Hotel served last drinks on July 26 1972 before the license was transferred to a new venue on the south-west corner of Pittwater and Warriewood Roads on September 29, 1972.

Interestingly, Ian Kiernan, the founder of Clean Up Australia, purchased the former pub for $130,000 in August 1972.

The old pub has had many uses since its closure, including as office space. The property was purchased by art collectors Elinor and Fred Wrobel in 2003, and opened as a gallery.

The former Merryfield Hotel, Woolloomooloo, 2020. Picture: Google Streetview

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Categories: NSW hotels, Sydney hotels

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1 reply

  1. Thankfully put to good use.

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