Nixon, William

William Mark Nixon was born in Sydney on 31 May 1859, the son of William Nixon and Jane (née Graham), who came from Lynwood, Hawick, in the Scottish Borders. The elder William arrived in Australia with £30,000 from the family woollen mills but lost most of it in gold mining investments. The parents lived in ‘Lynwood’ Bland Street Ashfield.

His son, William Mark Nixon, began work in the Colonial Architect’s Office and later the Department of Railways, and in 1893, despite the depression and having only £30 of savings, he set up his own architectural practice in Pitt Street, Sydney.[1]

In 1886 he married Ada Fox of Tumut, daughter of an Anglican clergyman. They had five sons, four living to adulthood: William E. (born 1887), Charles Ashwin (born 1889) Edwin  George (born 1890) and Allen Dalrymple (born 1893). They lived for a few years in Ashfield ut moved to Beecroft in the hope that the higher altitude and open space would improve Allen’s asthmatic condition.

In 1904 William purchased three lots on the southern side of Malton Road and erected ‘a magnificent new villa residence’ to his own design. It was of brick and tile, of the new ‘Federation’ style with a sunny north-eastern corner bay. The house was named ‘Lynwood‘. The first three boys attended Beecroft Public School and later Newington College. Allen went to live in Gocup near Tumut for his health.[2]

By 1910, as William Jr. and George were living in the country and only Charles lived at home while working with his father as an architect, the Beecroft house was  too large for the smaller family. William had earlier purchased three blocks of land opposite his home and in 1910 began building his second Beecroft home. It was of individual style with a slate roof and timber trims on stuccoed walls surrounded by a beautiful garden. This house was also  named ‘Lynwood’ .[3]
William Nixon was President of Hornsby Shire in 1908 and 1909, having been President of the Beecroft Progress Association the year after he made his home in the suburb. He was foundation President of the Parents’ and Residents’ Association, a committee member of the Literary and Debating Society and the Musical and Dramatic Society, a trustee of the Recreation Ground and a sidesman of St John’s Church in 1913. Gardening was one of William’s hobbies. Appropriately, he was first President of the Horticultural Club founded in 1910 and was responsible for the planting of roses in the station garden.[4]

As often happens with such people who are active and vocal in local committees, William Nixon had differences of opinion with his committee friends. After a long discussion in 1917 about the site of the proposed Honour Board to local servicemen, the Cumberland Argus reporter wrote:

‘There are two Mr. Nixons – one is a bluff, gruff and blustersome individual who annoys people and who will persist in trying to force his will on others when he knows he is wrong and unreasonable. The other Mr. Nixon is a really good-hearted fellow, a capital worker and a really fine citizen, but he is so very shy and retiring that he only presents himself to intimate friends.’[5]

Photography was another of Nixon’s hobbies and he did his own developing and printing when cameras first became popular. He also built an early crystal wireless set which caused some excitement in the family and neighbourhood.

Ada Nixon was a committee member of St John’s Church and for many years ran a Bible Class for young men in her home, William having built a large veranda on the back of the house for these meetings. She was remembered as a very kind lady with a deep religious faith.

Many of the solid, well built homes of Beecroft and Cheltenham were designed by William Nixon, in various styles according to their owners’ taste. Some were of a conservative plan of the traditional central passageway, others were in the ‘Arts and Crafts’ style, with both internal plan and external details of modern fashion. The houses he built in Malton Road were interesting architecturally. Before coming to Beecroft he had had wide experience in house design of the ‘Queen Anne’ style (or ‘Federation’ as it came to be known later). He also designed the Presbyterian Church in Waverley, the large South African War Memorial in Gundagai in 1900, the Crago flour mills in Newtown, additions to the Soup Kitchen in Kent Street, Sydney, a terrace of five houses in Darlinghurst, a drill hall in Randwick and a new ward at the Western Suburbs Hospital. The building contractor who often worked with Nixon’s firm of architects was Arthur Slingsby, who also made his home in Beecroft in 1903.[6]

In Beecroft William Nixon designed the second St John’s Church in 1907 and the Presbyterian Church in 1908.[7]

In 1918 Charles Nixon enlisted to join his brothers George and Allen already with the Australian Imperial Force in France where George had been badly gassed. In April 1918, George was awarded the French Croix de Guerre. Allen drove a field ambulance.  On 24 September 1918, Lieutenant Charles Nixon, who served with the 4th Brigade, Australian Field Artillery, died of wounds. For many years afterwards Ada Nixon would hear the roar of guns in a thunderstorm, bringing back memories of her dead son.[8]

In 1921 the Nixons sold their second home in Malton Road and moved into the smaller one alongside, which had been designed by their son Charles in 1910 and then leased. The name ‘Lynwood’ moved with them. William retired from architectural work when he was nearly 70 years old and died two years later in 1931. Ada Nixon remained in Beecroft with her sister-in-law for two or three years and on the latter’s death sold the house and moved to North Sydney and later Balgowlah. She died in Balgowlah on 11 th July 1945.[9]

[1] Hornsby Advocate, 11 June 1931.

[2] Land Titles Office, 1155/39; Cumberland Argus, 28 January 1905.

[3] Land Titles Office 1033/62, 1587/144.

[4] Cumberland Argus, 20 January 1906, 22 December 1906, 31 October 1918, 28 April 1906, 13 April 1913, 26 November 1910, 21 April 1917.

[5] Cumberland Argus, 20 October 1917.

[6] The Australasian Builder and Contractors’ News, 1897 to 1900, Mitchell Library, Q.690.5/A.

[7] Cumberland Argus, 9 February 1907, 15 August 1908.

[8] Cumberland Argus, 27 April 1918, 19 October 1918.

[9] Information from Mrs Nell Nixon of Rosehill and Mrs Ethne Kingsley of Reservoir, Victoria.