Rippon Lea — A History

Rippon Lea is one of Melbourne’s finest historic buildings and gardens. Comparable with the Melbourne Royal Botanic Gardens for it’s beauty and tranquility as well as a fascinating history which ties it to the prosperity of Victoria. Designed in 1868 in the Lombardic Romanesque style Rippon Lea has many distinctive architectural qualities that have retained their unique elegance. The Italiante design was popular in Victoria during the gold rush and reflects opulence of the time, but the choice of polychromatic brick is what sets Rippon Lea’s design apart from any other private structure of the era.

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Rippon Lea set a new fashion in Victorian design, it featured an Italianate tower, as well as ornamental stained glass windows and embossed wallpaper.

Rippon Lea belonged originally to Frederick Sargood who was knighted in 1890 following a life of affluence and great successes, especially during the Gold Rush era. He was most notable as an MP in Australia’s first Senate, and Victoria’s first Minister of Defence. He bought the property in 1868, named it after his mother, Emma Rippon and had begun construction on the mansion within the year. Sargoods’ contributions to the significance of Rippon Lea include his forward-thinking additions to the house, including electricity and watering systems. Rippon Lea was among the first private properties to be connected to the electricity grid, and his design for a sustainable water recycling system for the garden helped to sustain Rippon Lea’s extensive and elegant gardens.

Construction on various elements of Rippon Lea continued through the turn of the century and was being continuously modernized up until the late 1930s.  The grounds on which Rippon Lea was originally established went from 27 acres at the end of the 19th century to it’s present 5.7 acres, upon which still stand many of the most attractive and commanding prospects of the estate.

In 1938 the then occupant updated much of the house to the popular neo-baroque “Hollywood style”, adding an elaborate pool area for entertaining.

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The most opulent additions to the property were constructed during the Sargood family’s occupation of the house, including the conservatory, the ballroom, billiards room and the cast iron porte-cochère, all of which are still standing. The property was known best in the 19th century for it’s elaborate and extensive gardens, and its variety of recreational facilities, including a tennis court, aviaries, as well as rifle and archery ranges.

Rippon Lea’s much lauded gardens were laid out during the building of the mansion in 1868, the design was distinctly Gardenesque, following the straight, manicured style popular to many gardens around that time. The gardens were later adapted by William Sangster – whose garden designs are prolific in Victoria – to the Picturesque style, which still exists today. The Picturesque style favours garden scenery, and themed settings that have a more natural arrangement of plants.  Rippon Lea’s gardens are phenomenal, featuring a private lake, conservatory, a flower garden, which all provide exquisite backdrops for wedding day photography.

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