Church St, Richmond

Church St, Richmond

This prominent Richmond landmark was built in 1888 by renowned architect William George Wolf for Dr Joseph Lalor, the son of Eureka Stockade rebellion leader Peter Lalor. Its architectural design is inspired by the Victorian Italianate style that was popular in Melbourne during the 1870s.

Lalor House features a vast, imposing façade that reflects its architectural and historic significance ‒ in fact, it was one of the first houses to be listed with Heritage Victoria.

It was purpose-built as a doctor’s residence, with a separate side entrance providing patient access to the waiting room and consulting room. Today, the built-in sink is the only hint of the room’s former life as a surgery ‒ other than the external sign.

On the left of the entrance hall, original Victorian four-panel doors reveal the grand drawing room and dining room, featuring soaring ceilings, elaborate marble fireplaces and an original hand-painted wall mural that is presently being uncovered.

The rear domestic quarters include the kitchen, pantry, laundry and a smaller dining room for the former servants. An external door from the kitchen to the adjacent alley would have facilitated kitchen deliveries. The narrow unlit servants' staircase behind the laundry leads to the first floor where the servants once slept.

From the main entrance hall, the magnificent L-shaped staircase sweeps up to the first storey, where four generously proportioned bedrooms and a standalone bathroom are located. To the left, an external door leads to the servants' quarters; and to the right, large double doors open onto the spacious front balcony. Here, gas lamps attached to the external stone walls hark back to the days before electricity was connected.

Dr Joseph Lalor operated his general practice from 1888-1896, at which time he moved elsewhere in Richmond. He died in 1907 and his funeral was held across the road at St Ignatius. Lalor House had several consecutive owners between 1896 and 1930, all of whom were doctors.

The house became a boarding hostel during the 1930s and 40s, which was the fate of many large 19th century mansions in Melbourne at that time. The declining popularity of such architectural styles and the impact of the Great Depression contributed to this trend. However, the medical surgery was retained.

When opal miner Gordon Morton purchased the house in 1953 for 11,000 pounds, the house was reportedly ‘in a run-down state with ivy growing all over it’. It continued to function as a medical surgery until 1973.

The Morton family occupied the house for 60 years, during which time the kitchen and bathrooms were substantially modernised, many ceilings were replaced and major changes were made to the décor, including wallpapering.

Externally, the asphalt tennis court was replaced with a lawn, and the swimming pool was added as a feature in the 1950s. The rear stables were largely demolished.

A local Richmond family purchased Lalor House in 2016, with plans for a significant renovation to commence later in 2018. In the meantime, all heavy window furnishings have been removed and most of the 1950s wallpaper has been stripped.

Black hydronic heating panels have been sourced from the United Kingdom, and striking black Catherine Martin ‘Antique Lace’ wallpaper has been hung in the entrance and stairway, to be continued downstairs and in the upstairs hall. The 1950s pool was recently filled for the first time in 20 years.

The major renovation will involve restoring the façade, stripping all carpet and polishing original floor boards and painting and wallpapering (including restoration of the original mural in the drawing room). It will also encompass a contemporary transformation of the servants’ quarters, creating a north-facing living area downstairs and master bedroom upstairs. The former surgery will be converted into a guest suite.

St Joseph’s will have the privilege of revealing this stunning renovation in a future Open Houses event, so this is a unique opportunity for our patrons to witness an exclusive ‘before and after’ transformation.