Originally Maitland consisted of three separate towns which arose roughly all around the same time. West Maitland, now just Maitland, was a privately founded town which grew because of its proximity to the Hunter river and which today is the commercial centre of the city.
The other areas were East Maitland, which was established by the colonial New South Wales government, and Morpeth, another private town founded by Lieutenant Close, a Peninsular War veteran.
Each town functioned as if they were separate municipalities.
I was born in Maitland and lived there with my parents until 1976 when my father lost his job and was forced to look for part time work in Newcastle to make ends meet.
We moved to Wallsend, Newcastle and I have lived in that city ever since.
To be honest I really didnt like Maitland when I was growing up. In fact many of the areas scared me to death.
As I grew older things changed and what seemed scary to me when I was small now intrigued me.
By the time I was a teenager my head was constantly in books and I used to do a lot of walking and exploring on the weekends.
I was pretty much a geek from early on - not into sports or social gatherings but I loved to look at the old buildings around Horseshoe Bend, Lorn and inner Maitland.
I used to go with my parents when they visited their friends.They would sit for hours on the weekends over coffees and cake and I would go for walks and wonder what and who lived inside some of those grand old buildings.
But, back to the houses.
Isaac Beckett and Samuel Owen were born in Sheffield England in 1810 and 1811 respectively. They grew up together and were firm friends.
They came to Maitland in 1838 and set up their own general store in the commercial centre of Maitland. The store was proclaimed as ‘General Merchants, Tailors, and Wool Brokers, Wine Spirit and Tobacco Merchants’ and sold everything that settlers might need. The merchandise ranged from candlesticks to firearms. Over the years their business prospered.
Their harmonious relationship in business extended to their personal and family relationships and resulted in their building the two adjoining homes in Church Street in a flood free area and almost opposite the Church of St Mary the Virgin.
This was the most prestigious address in Maitland.
The homes were built in the early 1870s on an elevated block of land which had been part of the estate of the late George Yeomans. William White was employed as the architect to design and supervise the construction of their two family homes.
Entcliffe (now known as Grossman House) was built for Isaac Beckett and Brough House for Samuel Owen. They were designed as mirror images of each other which further reflected the close ties that existed between the two families. The principal entrance of each residence was located on the outer side wall. This afforded a degree of privacy. Both residences shared a common laundry.
Isaac Beckett died in 1888 and Samuel Owen in 1884. Their properties were left to their children. Entcliffe was sold to Mr James Downs Prentice in 1890. Samuel Owen Jr lived in Brough House until he died in 1904. Brough House was then sold to John Rigney who occupied it until his death in 1918.
In 1893 the Beckett’s home, Entcliffe, was resumed by the then Department of Public Instruction as the new home for Maitland Girls’ High School which had been flooded out from the Manse in Free Church Street by the disastrous 1893 flood. It was purchased for 4,709 pounds.
In total 50 pupils with their headmistress Janette Grossman moved into the new premises.
Janette Grossman remained as headmistress until 1914 when she was transferred to North Sydney Girls’ High School. Her period as headmistress became part of the school legend. Under her strong leadership the school became one of the most respected institutions in the community.
Entcliffe became known as “Grossmann House” in 1935 when a name plaque was donated by the Sydney Branch of the Old Girls’ Union. The building served as Maitland Girls’ High School until 1964 when the school was relocated to larger premises at East Maitland.
In 1918 the Department of Education purchased Brough House to use as a hostel for the many country students attending Maitland Girls’ High School.
In 1964 the Department of Education granted permissive occupancy of the house to the Hunter Regional Trust to develop it into a house museum of the Victorian period. The building was opened to the public on the 4 June 1966. Today an extensive collection of nineteenth century costumes and textiles are held there, reflecting the lifestyle and industry of the region. Internally the house accurately reflects the lives and lifestyle of its inhabitants and generates a prosperous Victorian ambience.
Our tour started with everyone just taking time to explore the two houses with no information given to them.
Two houses to investigate, so very different as they are, is quite something to behold!
A dream situation for any ghost hunter to be in.
I could feel everybody's excitement.
People began to sense things in the buildings as they discovered the houses for themselves.
We then got back together for a chat about what everyone had experienced and their thoughts on the families that had lived there.
Then something amazing happened.
As we stood talking I could hear the distinct sound of footsteps above us.
To me, it sounded like a few people were walking around upstairs.
The floors are wooden and not carpeted. The footsteps were being made by heeled shoes connecting with timber flooring.
I looked at one of my volunteers for the night, Anne, and she at me.
She was also hearing what I was and without a word between us she immediately took off out the door.
After her, another volunteer bolted.
My concern was that someone was upstairs and may have entered the building without our knowledge.
Or maybe one of the participants was still upstairs?
Upon coming down to the room they both said that they looked everywhere and found no one.
So I decided then to ask if anyone else had heard anything while I had been talking.
About 10 from the group had also heard footsteps.
I assured them that no one was upstairs - we had just checked it thoroughly.
Could it have been paranormal?
I certainly think so!
It was very exciting - and primed us all to head back out to investigate some more.
The rest of the evening was made up of everyone doing their own thing and coming together for some experiments. A few of the groups did some EVP sessions in different areas of both houses.
We felt we had just begun and it was already time to leave.
Feedback from the evening has been very positive and we cannot wait to head back in October.
I think that the ghosts are just beginning to warm to us.
There is more to come for sure.