The area was originally laid out by Philip Levi of the South Australia Co in 1851, when it was known as Lower Mitcham. Parts were previously known as Joyce Park, Hawkeston, Mitcham Estate, Torrens Park West, Lower Mitcham Extension, Hawthorn, Audrey Park, and Frimley. Further subdivision followed later.
Comfortable Dwelling Houses - Lower Mitcham
The present suburb of Lower Mitcham is bounded on the north by Grange Road, opened in 1852 and originally leading to "Grange Farm". This took up the whole of Colonel Light Gardens which forms the western boundary with View Street; Murray Street borders the south and the railway has formed the eastern line from the time when it cut through Torrens Park Estate and West Mitcham Cemetery in the 1880s. Originally Price Ave was the continuation of Unley or Mitcham Road, formerly Victoria Tce and now Belair Road, known in the early days as Bull's Creek Road. If one continued in a straight line south, Bulls Creek is the name of the settlement you would reach.
It seems anywhere west of Mitcham Village was referred to as Lower Mitcham, as like Mitcham Village the area was initially allocated to the South Australia Company. Section 233 was soon split and by 1840 occupied by William Spicer who fenced half the section with post and 3 and 4 rails, erected a wooden dwelling house, stockyard etc but had not attempted cultivation. The Brownhill Creek was the closest water supply. The other half was taken up by Joseph Gould who had arrived in September 1839 from Somersetshire and within ten days "was located as a tenant on a 67 acres farm leased from the SA Co." In the first year he planted very good crops consisting of five acres of wheat and oats, seven of barley and one of potatoes. He erected two dwelling houses, one of stone and one of wood and it was also noted that there was superior clay for brickmaking on his property. Writing home in 1842 he recorded that with profits he was able to build a comfortable dwelling house, barn, stockyard, sheep pens, pig sties and every other necessary requisite for a farming establishment... within two years he had doubled his capital even though some of his cattle disappeared and he was taken down by a person who "purchased" some barley. (SA in 1842)
With the returning prosperity resulting from the Victorian goldfield in the 1850s the northern half was quickly subdivided into 25 allotments including some small ones on the main road for potential business. Dwellings were erected and over the next generation many became substantial homesteads which form part of our built heritage today. Philip Levi's bookshop of the 1850s, market gardens and William Huffa's "Hawkeston Arms" public house and blacksmith in the 1860s were all signs of a young community. The Mitcham Public School was opened in 1877 and functioned as such for almost a century. Now as Mitcham Community Centre it is the base for most of the community base organisations in Lower Mitcham, many of which serve the wider community too, like the Mitcham Heritage Research Centre. The railway cut along the eastern edge in the early 1880s and Mitcham Railway Station is now waiting to be recycled to a new use and the adjoining garden was recently rejuvenated and named in memory of Nellie Ellis whose ashes are scattered there. The development of industry was encouraged by the installation of the railway which moved stone from the hills face quarries and milk from Rayner's dairy. Between 1891 and World War I, TJ Richards built carriages which were moved by the train load to potential buyers.
Gardens, Vineyards and pasture land gradually gave way to subdivision for 1/4 acre housing blocks from 1912,first along the NE end of Denman Avenue named after the Governor General of the day.
In spite of the variety of property names to choose from parts of present day Lower Mitcham were only offered as New Mitcham, 1913; Torrens Park West, 1923; Mitcham Estate, 1925 and West Mitcham, in fact one map shows the area as Old Mitcham. Anything but "Hawarden", "Ashleigh", "Netherbridge", "Sunridge", "Pellatt Villa", "Olive Villa", "The Olives", "Angas Park"; only "Wattlebury" is remembered by the wide avenue that bears its name. Many other street names commemorate the developers and their families of the twentieth century rather than the pioneers some of whom were in the area for several generations like WN Crowder, manufacturer of aerated waters, the Moulden and Manton families and William Huffa the innkeeper. Joesph Holmes Barrans and the Hood and Verco families are remembered by the street signs but WM Butler and WM Sizer were short-lived occupiers who subdivided the paddocks around the streets that bore their names. Other streets have been absorbed into newer subdivisions or the names changed.
Lower Mitcham today is almost completely a residential area with hardly a shop and only two reserves, Denman Tennis Courts and Barrans Reserve. However the leafy tree lined streets and well kept gardens contribute to the pleasant greenness of the area. "Wattlebury" built about 1874 by JT Manton, civil engineer, is on the State Heritage List but is perhaps no more valuable than the blue stone villas down the street or the slate roof residence around the corner.
Does anyone remember the Inn Nursery School for one to seven year olds ran by the Misses Symons in the old Hawkston Arms Inn from 1932 to 1947? Miss EM Symons studied he AS Neill method in England during the 1920s for eight years before returning and establishing what she later claimed was the first nursery school in Australia at 30 The Grove Lower Mitcham. The long house on the SW corner of Chasewater and Sizer Streets was the Boarders' Cottage and opposite, still stands the two storied "Baby House" as a private home.
Enjoy a walk around Lower Mitcham and ponder on the hundreds of lives that have lived here in the wide variety of houses, the styles of which are reflected by as much change in our lifestyles as those since the 1850s.