Major service centre beside the Hunter River
When the explorer John Howe traversed the Hunter Valley near Singleton in 1820 he reported: "On our way down the river we came thro as fine a country as imagination can form ... it for cultivation and equally so for grazing". It was this eulogy, combined with the enthusiasm of Benjamin Singleton, which led to the rapid settlement of the area.
Over the years there have been periods of great prosperity in the town and city. After the railway arrived in 1863 there was a flurry of building and this is reflected in the city's large number of elegant homes and commercial buildings. The same occurred in the 1980s when the city became the centre of the Hunter Valley mining and electricity generation industries.
Today the local economy is diverse with the principal sources of income including dairying, beef cattle, viticulture, vegetable growing, tourism, commerce and the large army base.
Singleton is located on the Hunter River 200 km north-west of Sydney via the Newcastle Freeway. It is 73 metres above sea level.^ TOP
Origin of Name
The town was named after Benjamin Singleton, a member of John Howe's 1820 expedition into the area. Singleton really was responsible for the establishment of the town. He occupied land as early as 1821 and was appointed district constable in 1823; he started an agistment enterprise on the banks of the Hunter River at what became known as Singleton's Ford; he established the Barley Mow Inn in 1827; he opened a flour mill on the riverbank in 1829 to process their grain and a post office was established at his inn the same year. It was Singleton's grant which, when subdivided in 1836, formed the basis of the town. A rare example of a town correctly named after its founding father.^ TOP
Things to See and Do
Singleton Heritage Walk Tour
There is a Singleton Heritage Walk Tour which can be printed out. Check https://www.singleton.nsw.gov.au/715/Heritage-Walk-Tour and you will see (as is indicated on the map in the images attached to this entry) that it can be downloaded. It is actually a Google Map with all the major places of interest marked and described. It is a substantial walk spread over a number of kilometres but the visitor will experience the full range of interesting buildings including ones constructed in the 1980s when the town received a secondary boom from mining. There are a total of 37 places of interest on the walk. The most impressive ones are:
1. Burdekin Park and Singleton Museum (George Street)
Burdekin Park, edged by Bourke, Elizabeth, George and Hunter Streets, was given to the town of Singleton by Benjamin Singleton as a market square in 1837. Today the park includes the Munro Fountain - a donation from Alexander Munro, the first mayor of Singleton, which was made in Glasgow in 1887; a Boer War Memorial which was erected in 1903 to the memory of Trooper H W Waddell, a member of the Bushman's Contingent; and most importantly it is home to the Singleton Museum which was originally built by Benjamin Singleton as a courthouse and gaol in 1841. It served that function until the new courthouse was erected in 1868. The portico was added in 1899 when the building became the Singleton Municipal Council Chambers (1899-1941). In 1963 the Singleton Historical Society was granted the use of the former Council Chambers which was originally the lock-up keeper's residence. The building was to be used as an Historical Museum and its commencement was to coincide with the Railway Centenary in 1963. In 1968 the Museum was extended to include the cell block section. The rural section was added and opened in 1977.
The museum's displays include Aboriginal artefacts, convict relics, an 1862 gaol cell, the St Clair bell in a tree, Singleton's first ambulance, Geary's cash system, telephones and postal items, musical instruments, clothing and personal items, kitchen and household items. It is open open Tuesdays from 10.00 am - 1.00 pm, as well as weekends and public holidays from 12.00 - 4.00 pm, tel: (02) 6571 1895.
2. Ewbank (88 George Street)
On the corner of George Street and Market Street is Ewbank which was built in 1884 as the Bank of New South Wales and manager's residence. It is a large, elegant and beautiful building. The entranceway is adorned with an arch and columns and the upstairs veranda is rich with cast-iron lacework.
3. Royal Hotel (84 George Street)
This two storey brick hotel was originally built in 1859 for Henry Hewitt, an alderman on the first Singleton Municipal Council. It has been much modified over the years and is now known as the Burdekin on George or the Royal Hotel-Motel.
4. Percy Hotel (65 George Street)
The Percy Hotel started life as the Horse and Jockey Inn which was built on this site as far back as 1839. In 1848 it became known as the Rose Inn. Later it was renamed the Hotel Hotspur and in 1892 the Percy. The current building dates from 1892.
5. Former Council Chambers (74 George Street)
The Former Council Chambers at 74 George Street is the old Mechanics Institute, designed by John Pender and built in 1866. It was rented by the Singleton Municipal Council from 1869 to 1874 and served as their council chambers from 1941 to 1975.The architectural style is mid-Victorian with Palladian references. It is a brick two storey building with slate roof and stucco. The original plan consisted of a central porch entrance with a hall leading to a large reading room at the rear of the building. On the right of the hallway was the librarians office, the library and a classroom. On the left there were two more classrooms. Stairs from the entrance porch led to the second floor which contained a ticket office and a grand entertainment hall. Another staircase led from the second floor to a gallery along George Street which overlooked the Grand Hall. The official opening by Henry Parkes took place on 8 July 1867.
6."Patrick Plains Shire Council Building" (57 George Street)
Built in 1911, a classic example of elegant Edwardian architecture, it served as the chambers of the Patrick Plains Shire Council from 1911 to 1975. It is a striking building because of its unusual structure.
7. "Former CBC Bank" (44 George Street)
Built in 1884 by W. Burnett in the Boom Style. The architects were Backhouse and Lough.
8. Caledonian Hotel (40 George Street)
On the corner of George and Cambridge Streets, is the large brick Caledonian Hotel, built by Alexander Munro in 1851. Characterised by iron posts it was the venue of the first municipal council meeting in 1866. It was here that the body of Aboriginal bushranger and multiple murderer, Joe Governor, was laid out in 1900 after he was killed by two farmers north of town. Governor was trying to get to an Aboriginal mission at St Clair when he was split up from his brother Jimmy after an ambush. The inquest into his death was held in the hotel.
9. Former Post Office (George Street)
Further up George Street, close to the bridge and on the left, is the old post office (1878), which was designed by James Barnet. It is a substantial building with an arched colonnade at the front and an upstairs balcony which was added at a later date.
10. Former Commercial Building (9 George Street)
This handsome building, known as "Bon Accord", was built as chemist shop and residence. Note the iron posts and the filigreed iron lacework on the veranda.
11. Glass General Store (corner George and John Street)
Located on the corner of George and John Street, this commercial building was built in the 1860s as Glass's General Store. It has been tastefully converted into a private home.
12. Merah House (259 John Street)
Merah, a large and attractive brick building, was built as a private residence in 1862 it later served as the premises of the Australian Joint Stock Bank.
13. St Patrick's Catholic Church (cnr Queen Street and Combo Lane)
St Patrick's Roman Catholic Church was consecrated in 1860. The towers were added in 1920. The original church on the site was a slab building erected in 1845. The Chancel, intended as a small chapel for the sisters, was designed by Maitland architect Jonathan Pender and built in 1881. It was extended in 1894 with an organ gallery built under the direction of Frederick Menkens and a mosaic walkway connecting the chancel to the veranda of the new convent, which was then under construction.
14. Sisters of Mercy Convent and the Catholic Complex (30 Queen Street)
The oldest building is the octagonally-shaped, Georgian-style cottage between the church and the college. It began its life as a presbytery in the 1840s and became a convent when the first Sisters of Mercy arrived from Ireland in 1875. A rendered sandstock brick building, it consists of two hexagonal rooms and some fine joinery with a flagged veranda.
Frederick Menkens designed the convent which was built between 1893 and 1909. The brick arches replaced cast-iron lacework in the 1940s. There is an elegant campanile and a statue of the Virgin Mary above the front door. Inside are ornamental steel ceilings, leadlight windows and doors and the whole is surrounded by fine gardens.
St Catherine's College was designed by Menkens' partner F.G. Castleden and completed in 1911. It features brick buttresses and colonnades and a castellated parapet around the roofline. It blends well with the chancel on the other side of the garden.
The Italian Renaissance-style chapel is notable for a decorative vaulted ceiling, stained-glass windows, and large Roman arches over the chancel and transepts. The floor of the nave is a tile mosaic, the choir stalls are maple, the altar is marble, there are three Italian murals at the rear of the chancel and a mid-19th century pipe organ. It was opened in 1925, while the novitiate was built in 1933.
15. Boundary Street
Boundary Street was named, appropriately, as it divided the original grants of Benjamin Singleton and John Howe as well as, at a later date, the domains of the Patrick Plains and Singleton councils.
16. Lonsdale Residence (10 Dangar Street)
Located at the corner of Dangar Road and Cameron Street this impressive late Victorian residence, with its decorative veranda and fine landscaping, was built in 1890 and extended in 1907.
17. All Saints Anglican Church (40 High Street)
The church was built in 1913 after the design of 14th century St Neot's Church in Cornwall. This was where the Dangar family came from. Henry Dangar, a government surveyor, was a prominent figure in the early history of the district. His descendant, A.A. Dangar, lived at Rosemont and financed the family mausoleum, built in 1862 in honour of Henry who died in 1861. The mausoleum is situated between the church and the rectory. Girded by an iron palisade fence, a series of columns support an elaborate architrave and pediment.
The original church on the site was the first to be designed in Australia by noted architect Edmund Blacket. Built in 1845 it was demolished in 1907 and some of the stonework was used in the present church. An attractive lych-gate (1900) faces High Street.
18. All Saints Rectory (40 High Street)
Located next door to the church, the Victorian Gothic rectory was designed by Benjamin Backhouse. It was built in 1875 and features steep gables, chimneys, a red slate roof and some particularly impressive gabled dormer windows.
19. Court House (Elizabeth Street)
The Court House, designed by James Barnet in 1868 to replace the building in Burdekin Park, reflects the prosperity of the town with the arrival of the railway. It is a symmetrical design with bays on either side of the main block, large columns, three round-headed windows, timber tracery, a clock in the gable with a tower on top and pilasters around the central windows.
20. Whiteheather (11 Macquarie Street)
This white painted two storey timber residence with its ornate lace veranda is a particularly impressive example of a timber house with gracious features including high ceilings, open fire places, wrought iron balustrades, a carved timber staircase, french doors and timber floors.
21. Terrace Timber Pair (3 & 5 Macquarie Street)
These timber and stone residences were built around the early 1900s and are good examples of the type of functional working men's houses built around that time.
22. Wesleyan Methodist Church (Elizabeth Street)
This is the town's Methodist, now Uniting, centre. The Gothic style church was built in 1880 and had major alterations in 1949; across the street is the old Methodist Sunday School which was built in 1856 and served as the first Methodist Church. When the main church was built over the road in 1880 the stained-glass windows were transferred from the old church. Next door is Bel Glen, the former Methodist Parsonage (1869), also a private residence. Over the road is the 1880 Methodist Church, now a Presbyterian Church, which is a sandstone building with lancet arched windows and door, leadlight windows and turrets. Next to it is the charming Methodist Kindergarten Hall (1918).
Located at the corner of Gowrie Street and Ryan Avenue is Rose Point Park where one of the town's distinctive attractions stands proudly above the sporting fields. It is the largest sundial in the southern hemisphere and comes complete with a list of seasonal modifications so that visitors can accurately determine Australian Eastern Standard Time.
Other Attractions in the Area
Historic Homesteads in the District
Some of Singleton's finest buildings are historic homesteads from the early days of settlement, many of which are located on the outskirts of town - Bebeah, Ardesier, Townhead, Greenwood, Hambledon Hill, Abbey Green, Flowerbank and Crail. The Visitor Information Centre has details but they are all in private hands and therefore are not open for inspection.
Lake St Clair
Lake St Clair is located 36 km north of Singleton and is the large body of water held behind the walls of Glennies Creek Dam, named after James Glennie, a former naval captain granted land at the junction of the creek and the Hunter River in 1824.
The lake, covering 1540 ha, is named after St Clair homestead, now buried beneath the lake. The dam, completed in 1983, has a storage capacity of 283,000 million litres (half the volume of Sydney Harbour). The dam wall is 67 m high and 535 m long. There are camping sites and activities include boating, fishing, picnic-barbecues, waterskiing, swimming and fishing. The lake has been stocked with bass, golden and silver perch and catfish. There are 11 powered camping sites. For further information tel: (02) 5522 4010 or check out https://www.singleton.nsw.gov.au/198/Lake-St-Clair.
Head north from Singleton on the New England Highway, turn left into Maison Dieu Road and then left again into Hambledon Hill Road to reach Houston Lookout. There is a viewing platform which allows visitors to look down on Hunter River flood plain (the lookout is 60 metres above the floodplain) and across to the mines at Warkworth. Check out https://www.sydney.com/destinations/hunter/hunter-valley/singleton/attractions/heuston-lookout for a useful map.
Australian Army Infantry Museum
Located 8 km south of Singleton, off Range Road, is the road to the Singleton Army Barracks (the main training facility for the Royal Australian Infantry Corps) and the Royal Australian Infantry Corps Museum. The museum has an historic collection of infantry equipment, weapons and memorabilia dating back to Australia's first overseas military excursion to the Sudan in 1885. The website explains: "The exhibition is divided into two areas. The ground floor displays focus on the chronological history of infantry operational deployments, from Sudan in 1885 through to our current deployments. The mezzanine displays focus on the small arms and their associated training aids the infantryman's ‘tools of the trade' and how they have developed and influenced the tactics, techniques and procedures of the Royal Australian Infantry Corps."
There is a picnic-barbecue area . The museum is open 9.00 am - 4.00 pm. Wednesday to Sunday, tel: (02) 6575 0257. Check out http://www.infantrymuseum.com.au/about.php for details.
* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area around Singleton was occupied by the Wanaruah people.
* An expedition to find a route to the Hunter Valley as led by William Parr in 1817.
* In 1818 Benjamin Singleton, who had been on Parr's expedition, led a private expedition to the area.
* A third expedition by John Howe in 1819 headed north from Windsor to the land west of Singleton.
* John Howe returned in 1820 to explore the Hunter River and continued east along the river to a site just east of present-day Singleton. It being nearly St Patrick's Day Howe named the area St Patrick's Plains and it subsequently became known as Patrick's Plains.
* Benjamin Singleton occupied land in the district by 1821 and was appointed district constable in 1823.
* In 1822 Mary Singleton became the first white woman in the district when she joined her husband.
* In 1823 John Singleton was born, becoming the first white child in the area.
* By 1823 Benjamin Singleton started an agistment enterprise on the banks of the river at what became known as Singleton's Ford (where the New England Highway now crosses the Hunter).
* The area was officially opened up for settlement in 1823 and large pastoral estates, aristocratic in tone, were granted to men of substantial capital who utilised convict labour to improve their properties.
* When Singleton established the Barley Mow Inn on the Hunter River in 1827 a settlement began to emerge.
* By 1829 Singleton had established a flour mill and developed a post office at the Barley Mow.
* The first church to be built in the town was Presbyterian. It was consecrated in 1838.
* The Anglican and Catholic churches were erected in the 1840s.
* By 1841, when Singleton built the first courthouse, there were 431 recorded residents in the township and 2,659 in the police district of Patrick's Plains. The Post Office was renamed Singleton.
* By 1853 there were ten licensed inns.
* By 1860 the first mine opened at Rix Creek, 5 km north of the town.
* When the railway arrived in 1863 Singleton's economy boomed. It became the main commercial centre in the Hunter Valley.
* The railway station was built in 1863.
* A dual carriage railway and road traffic bridge was built in 1866.
* In 1866 Singleton was incorporated as a municipality.
* The first Singleton Agricultural Show was held in 1868. That year saw the construction of the local Court House.
* The town's first official post office was built in 1878.
* By 1881 the town's streets were lit by gas.
* By the late 19th century there were 16 mines operating in the district.
* The Singleton army camp was established in 1941.
* The Liddell Power Station started operation in 1965.
* Singleton was declared a shire in 1976.
* By 1996 coal mining operations in the shire employed 4000 people and produced 46 million tonnes of coal.^ TOP
Singleton Visitor Information and Enterprise Centre, Townhead Park, New England Highway, tel: (02) 6578 7560.^ TOP
The local council website - http://www.singleton.nsw.gov.au - has a lot of useful information about the town.^ TOP