Thursday, June 21, 2012

Pambula's Toad Hall - A Local Landmark For More Than a Century

As one of the recognisable heritage structures remaining in Pambula today, the building now known as Toad Hall has played an important role in the township for more than one hundred & thirty years.

Its varied use over the years as a post & telegraph office, general store, saddlery, accommodation house, fisheries inspector's & mining warden's offices & gift shop make it cultural & socially significant as a tangible reminder of the growth & contraction of business & government facilities within the township while its age & relatively in tact architectural nature adds to this importance as a representation of local building styles. Although other two-storey weatherboard & stone structures did once exist within the main street precinct, the fact that this is the only remaining example of such a larger scale building make it an important unique extant illustration of an otherwise lost form of local architecture.

Toad Hall in 2009.

 Fondly known as "Behl's two-storey" amongst many of the older residents, the original single storey portion of the structure was built around 1880 by local resident John Behl. He provided it to the telegraph department rent free for two years in order that the facility could be established in the township, a fact that is supported by reports from the Post Master General Department & in correspondence between Behl & the local post & telegraph master Mr. E. J. Cornell. John Behl, writing in 1882 to Pambula Post & Telegraph Master Mr. E. J. Cornell, commented that "The premises, as you are aware, were erected by me for the purpose [of a telegraph station] for which it has since been used...", & noting that from January 1 the following year, he intended to commence charging rent at the rate £25 per annum, payable quarterly. Local media also commented in 1883 that “The ancient township of Panbula, the pioneer architectural aggregation in this part of the colony, anxious not to be left behind in the race of progress…is again stirring forward….The new Post & Telegraph Office, erected & presented rent free to the Government by Mr Behl, offers every accommodation for the public, & Mr Cornell in charge is highly & deservedly popular…”

The double storey portion of the structure appears to have been added around 1884, a local newspaper reporting in August that year that “…The two chief buildings that have been erected there lately are one by Mr. J. Behl & one by Mr. P. Doherty. The former is a most imposing two storey structure, & is at the present time being nicely painted by Mr. W. H. Cone. It has not transpired in our hearing what the building is to be devoted to, but since it has eight or nine rooms, it is suitable for almost any business, or family as a residence…”

By early 1886, Mr Behl had erected a new, single storey building further down Toalla Street, & wrote to the Post & Telegraph Department that “…I have a new building centrally situated which will be finished in a few weeks…”, offering it to the government for rent. He further stated in correspondence to local Postmaster Cornell that the then post & telegraph office, together with the adjoining seven roomed two storey building, were for sale. Cornell wrote to the Post & Telegraph Department that “The new building mentioned is in every way suitable for a Post & Telegraph office, being in a central position…& I can with safety & confidence recommend it…” Postmaster Cornell was informed in March 1886 of the Postmaster General’s decision to accept the offer of the new building & in February the following year, it was reported that the office relocation had completed.
Looking down over Pambula from towards the top of Monaro Street. Behl's two storey & the old School of Arts can be seen to the left centre of the photo.
Noted as something of an early local entrepreneurial property developer, John Behl not only provided two different premises for the local post & telegraph office, he was also responsible for construction of the Commercial Hotel ("Top Pub") & the Pambula branch of the Australian Joint Stock Bank, as well as donating land for the erection of the Pambula School of Arts hall & in 1883, was described as "...that enterprising townsman..."

After the Post & telegraph Office vacated the two storey, it was used by various local businesses & other government departments. Around 1890, the mining warden moved his offices into the premises, remaining there until 1894, after which Donnelly & Co took the premises as a general store. 

1894 invoice from T. Donelly & Co.'s Paragon Stores, Pambula, around the time the business moved into the two storey building.

T. Donelly & Co.'s 1895 invoice, shortly before they vacated Behl's two storey.
 In 1895, it was advertised to rent as a “…general store premises & dwelling”, & the following month was let to Goldberg Brothers of Wyndham who had “…resolved to open a general store at Pambula….” 

Pambula School of Arts, with Goldberg Brothers Hampden House to the rear left.
 In July, local media reported that “Hampden House…is now in full swing & receiving extensive patronage. The proprietors have opened up an enormous stock of every description of general store goods, & intend leaving nothing undone to merit success & support. The Messrs Goldberg Bros. are fully alive to the many advantages gained by advertising & we have pleasure in directing the special attention of our readers to their announcement on our second page.” In 1897, after that business moved to the building on what is now the Pambula Milkbar site, Mr. J. Kennedy moved his Sydney Stores into “…the big two-storey premises opposite the Commercial Hotel in order to cope with his increasing trade.”

An 1896 invoice from Goldberg Brothers' Hampden House, soon after they took over the two storey premises for their general store.
An 1897 Goldberg Brothers invoice, shortly before they moved from Behl's two storey.
The building remained similarly utilised until 1915, when the local paper reported “Mrs J. C. Behl has returned to Pambula & intends opening up a boarding establishment in the premises adjoining the school of arts.” James Charles Behl, who inherited the property from his mother in 1896, had passed away the previous year, in turn leaving the two storey building to his wife Mary Josephine, & local directories record the existence of her accommodation house until 1923.

Mr. E. A. George with his trotter "Winalto". The old school of arts & Behls two storey can be seen in the background, 1917.
From at least the late 1920’s until about the mid 1930’s, the building was home to the local Fisheries Inspector, Mr Gascoigne, & his family, & may also have served as the office for the department as well, whilst in 1938, it became Mr. Denham’s saddlery shop.

It is uncertain how the building was utilised after this date, although it was purchased by Joseph D’Arcy Bucket from Mary Josephine Behl in 1938. After Mr. Buckett passed away in 1944, his wife, Dorothy Eileen Buckett sold the property to William Thomas Whitby in 1950, who in turn then sold it to Royston Clifford Cole. Interestingly, both the conveyance to Mr. Whitby & to Mr. Cole carried a condition that the site could not be used without written consent for or as a motor garage or motor service station for a period of five years from the dates of conveyance. Mr. Whitby was the then owner & operator of a service station & garage in the Pambula township.

Behl's two storey in the 1960s.
© The estate of A. C. ("Bubby") George.
 By about the 1970’s, the property had been purchased by Ronald & Barbara Hay, & eventually became a craft/gift shop, for which it is still used today. 

The single storey portion at the rear of the double storey section, 2009.
© Angela George.

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