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Byles, Ida and Cyril

Ida Margaret Byles (1869-1953) was a member of the Unwin publishing family and had private income from the family business. It was also Allen & Unwin who published most of her daughter Marie’s, books. Ida studied at the Slade School of Fine Art in London – which was the first art school to offer female students the chance to study from a life model. In the 1891 (English) Census she put her occupation as ‘painter.’ She exhibited at the Royal Institute of Oil Painters between 1892 and 1894 when she was living at Chilworth, England. A portrait by her of a Charles Barker is in the Guildford (England) Borough Collection. She was a suffragette who participated in their marches. Ida (like Cyril) was a vegetarian.

Cyril Beuzeville Byles (1871-1952) was a railway man. While in England he worked for Great Western Railway (1888-1897) Lancashire Railway (1897-1910) and then as (starting as the Assistant) Signal Superintendent for the NSW Railways (1911-1928). He wrote “The First Principles of Railway Signalling” which was published in the Railway Gazette in 1910. He publicly protested at the enclosure of public land and was a Fabian Socialist.

Cyril “was a little man and a bit pompous. He would walk up Welham Street and if the door of the shop wasn’t open, he would have his watch out in his hand and would say to Mr Higgins “you’re one minute late or you’re two minutes late … He was very punctual and he expected his family to be so as well. His wife was much more of the artistic temperament. He was always worried about breakfast being late and so he got [David] to buy a railway clock – I had it here until it got a bit unreliable and now my son has it in Adelaide. Cyril had it put up in the kitchen – not that it made any difference. He was an impatient man” [1].

Cyril worked in NSW as Chief of the Signals Branch, NSW Railways to which he had been specifically recruited. It was reported that “the world-famed efficiency of the signal system which he has perfected right throughout the State stands as a monument to his organisation and vast knowledge” [2]. He retired in 1929 after 19 years of service. As part of his retirement speech he said:

“It would not be proper for me to traverse the circumstances leading to my retirement from the service but I will say that retirement was not voluntary and I would infinitely sooner have remained in the service. It was not voluntary on my part, I did not want to go, and I wish to say that I have nothing to reproach myself for or in regard to duty or honour” [3].

The Byles family arrived in New South Wales in 1911 and initially rented a house in Copeland Road [1] before purchasing 3 acres of land from the Willis family. This land was between the southern end of York Street and the western end of Welham and Mary Streets. In 1913, and again in 1915, they added further land leading down to Devlins Creek. In 1937-38 Cyril bought another two acres in Welham Street while at the same time Ida purchased another two acres in Cheltenham. They built their house Chilworth in 1913 overlooking the bushland they had come to love. Much of their holding is now part of Beecroft Reserve, including a valuable donation which formed the Chilworth Reserve. Ida Byles also donated land for the 1st Beecroft Scout Troop in memory of her brother Wilfred Unwin who was killed during World War 1. This land, facing York Street, was sold by the NSW Scouts in 2008 and the scout hall was demolished for a house to be built. 

Their distant cousins and friends, the de Beuzevilles, became neighbours when they bought some of the Byles’ land in 1929 and built a house opposite Chilworth in Welham Street.

The elder son, David (1903-1985), was an engineer who married Babette de Beuzeville and they purchased land on which to build in Kedron Avenue, however could not do so because of the Great Depression. David lost his job at Australian General Electric and in 1933 they moved to Batlow where David was working on a little hydro plant.

Cyril and Ida Byles enjoyed bushwalking, and it is clear that the whole family valued the native bushland environment of Beecroft.

Mrs Lutherburrow used to do the washing and ironing for Ida.

For many years Cyril played the organ at St Johns Church of England (now Anglican). When Mr Bootle arrived as a new Minister he said to Mr Bootle “You know that I am not a Christian” as he and Ida were Unitarians. Mr Bootle advised him that in these circumstances it was not appropriate that he play the organ. This caused dissension amongst the congregation and 89 parishioners (including members of the Parish Council) presented him with an inscribed and bound volume of organ music when he left in June 1926.

In 1914 Ida purchased and built on land in Sunrise Road, Palm Beach, as a holiday home [4].

The original Chilworth was built below Welham Street with views over a tennis court and the bush. Their son Baldur built his own home (also called Chilworth) closer to Welham Street (on what had been the family chicken yard) and finally Cyril and Ida built a smaller fibro house on Welham Street as they grew older and rented out their original home to the Roberts family.

[1]      Notes of an interview with Mrs Babette Byles, 27 May 1989

[2]      Sunday Times, 8 September 1929

[3]      typescript held by the Byles family and referred to in the notes of an interview with Mrs Babette Byles, 27 May 1989. Underlining in the original.

[4]      Sydney Morning Herald, Domain, 26 January 2013 p2