Solid, calm and unpretentious, Camden Park stands on a rise and is set in a plantation of trees. Commenting on its architectural pedigree, Morton Herman noted that “Verge received two hundred pounds for designing the finest building to come from his drawing board”. Amidst an early period on appreciation and concern for early Australian buildings, The Royal Australian Institute of Architects in their report of 1949 observed:
“If nothing else in Australia is saved, this house must be”
Verge’s design is Georgian and based on the Palladian principle of a central two storied block flanked by symmetrical pavilions. The design of the house, though based on a European pattern, has proved appropriate for the extremes of the Australian climate and to the changing patterns of social behaviour.
The house is said to have two fronts. On the entrance elevation tall casement windows flank the simple Roman-Doric entrance portico. On the storey above them, casement windows light the bedrooms. Stone pilasters emphasise the single-storey wings, beyond which extend two slightly curving walls. Fanlight and sidelights of rectangular design embellish the panelled front door, which opens into a hall laid with mudstone set diagonally and interspersed with black marble squares. The entrance is one of dignified reserve, but beyond the arch of the hall a change occurs, where passages on either side terminate in semi-circles, echoed by small niches in the walls. The symmetry of Georgian architecture is reflected in the entrance hall as it is throughout the house.
The four main living rooms, all in the ‘front’ of the house, look out through French doors onto the garden. This elevation, apparently simple, is carefully planned. The wings being lower than the main body of the house, give the whole mass a relation to its site, from which it appears to rise gradually, rather than to be imposed upon it. The repetition of the colonnade is broken at the wings, the break being emphasised by the shape of the parapets above, which rise to a slight apex. Coupled columns mark the centre of the colonnade and define the termination of all three sections, so that the end
John Macarthur’s plans for Camden Park began many years before his dream was fulfilled or even commenced. After a number of early plans and architects were considered and dispensed with, John Verge was commissioned. Sketches and designs were discussed in 1831, work commenced in 1832 and by 1835 the building was completed. Regency in style, this handsome house is built of sandstock brick, stucco-covered and scored to appear like stone. The use of local sandstone for the window surrounds and columns combines with this smooth surface to add texture and colour. The house is large but not enormous (around eighty rooms) and in every detail is beautifully finished. It consists of a central block and two wings enclosing a courtyard.
sections almost become separate porticos, framing french windows that have side-lights, making them twice as wide as the four windows placed in the centre of this subtly planned design.
The cedar joinery with its fine mouldings, is a feature of the house, and is of the same design throughout the ground floor where tapered architraves terminate at the top in a small square design; upstairs they are plain. The mantelpieces, similar in design to the architraves, are made of marble in the four living rooms. It is probable that the marble came from quarries near Marulan. The ironbark floors were milled locally while the sandstone was quarried from a creek bed near Cobbitty (Brownlow Hill) and it is still possible to inspect the stone bed from which the columns were hewn. The large quantity of Australian cedar utilised in the house was sourced from the Burragorang Valley.
Beneath the house are extensive cellars. Now only used for storage, they were originally an important part of the domestic economy, in the days when the products of the orchard and vineyard were laid in for use during the ensuing year. Here, in 1864, William Macarthur wrote that he had some 18,000 gallons of wine for sale, stored on shelves of brick, which still stand. From his letters we know that here also peaches, nectarines, apricots and apples were dried and stored.
For a house of its day Camden Park contained several unusual design features. There was a purpose built bath house as an annexure at the house's southern end. The provision for a boiler is still evident. For both heat control and to reduce fire risk, kitchens were commonly separated from the main house. Camden Park’s original kitchen was located in the centre of the north west wing.
Fortunately the house has endured only a few structural alterations since its construction. Indeed the only major addition was the addition of a second storey to the north west wing which occurred in the early 1880’s which followed a long drought which is likely to have curtailed the more substantial and elaborate extensions that were being considered.