When Scotsman William Taylor began building Overnewton Castle in 1849, he started out small.
The original homestead in Keilor was a modest six rooms – a cosy home for Taylor, his beloved wife and the family they knew they wanted.
When he returned to Overnewton after a sojourn in Scotland, he knew his home needed to expand just as his family and business interests had.
He set about adding 30 rooms to the homestead and, in the process, created a legacy that lives on today.
Taylor and his wife Helen raised 12 children at Overnewton, which remained in the Taylor family until 1959. Its purchasers, the Carr family, were unable to keep up with the maintenance required for such a large home. Over the next 16 years much of Overnewton fell into disrepair. The two rooms being used to host weddings belied the state of the rest of the home, which was in need of serious love by the time it was offered for sale again in 1975.
Dr Lesley Norton’s family thought he had gone mad when he and his wife bought Overnewton.
“Mum and Dad had lived in an old home before, so they knew what would be needed,” says Dr Norton’s daughter, Emma Stott, who grew up in the castle and now shares its history with visitors.
Emma’s parents were doctors and her mother wanted to establish a practice at home. Overnewton was soon a medical clinic during the week and a wedding venue on weekends. Year after painstaking year Emma’s parents continued to restore their home to its former glory. Emma and her four brothers and sisters shared rooms during the long process.
Overnewton’s bluestone walls and expansive gardens were paradise for Emma and her siblings.
“We had no idea our home was different from other kids’ homes,” Emma recalls. “We explored every room and we searched for treasure. We used to fight over who would get to look at a new piece of antique furniture first, because sometimes you’d find a piece of newspaper or a little relic of the past hidden inside.”
With the exception of the Carrs’ brief tenure, Overnewton’s history is a tale of two families. Emma’s history tours, which run on the first Sunday of each month before high tea, share vignettes from both families courtesy of her own life at Overnewton as well as first-hand accounts shared by William Taylor’s only living great-granddaughter.
“She is in her 80s and sometimes she will come for a sleepover and tell me about what the place was like when she lived here,” Emma says.
“Life was very different for her than for me and my brothers and sisters. She was only allowed to come in or leave by the front door; there were separate entrances for the servants. We came and went however we wanted – doors, windows… They used bells to contact the servants; we used to just shout out and now we can use mobile phones if we can’t find someone.”
The history tour takes in the full gamut of the homestead and grounds, from the ground floor right up to the former servants’ quarters complete with an old-style panic room.
Emma’s father still lives in the property, which hosts weddings and functions as well as the popular monthly high tea. Evidence of genuine family life make the history tour even more compelling. The homestead feels alive; its history mingles with its present and reverence for the past mixes with relevance in the here and now.
High tea is a true delight – bubbly on arrival, unlimited tea and coffee, an abundance of scones along with hot food, delicious sandwiches and delicate petit fours make it an occasion to savour.
“It’s a lovely way for people who were married here or have special memories to remain connected,” Emma says.
“It’s a special place for a lot of people – this house has a heartbeat.”
Overnewton Castle’s history tours and high tea operate on the first Sunday of each month. The history tour starts at 11am while high tea is from 1-3pm. Bookings are essential. Visit www.overnewtoncastle.com.au or call (03) 9331 6367.