July 11, 2020

History in the Hunter: A mosey round Morpeth

View of main street from William Arnott Hotel (RE)

Something we found out straight away was that one day is not enough time to visit Morpeth in NSW's Lower Hunter Valley. It may be a small and ornate historic town with a compact village atmosphere, but it has a heart that beats as vitally as ever. It comes alive on weekends when day-trippers throng the main street, scrutinising the curiosity shops, tea rooms and bakeries.

Morpeth Bridge, opened in 1898, is a timber trestle bridge employing Allan trusses (R Eime 2020)

Accommodation in the town itself is at something of a premium, but we also learned that is being rectified with the addition of stylish new premises such a The Bronte and The William Arnott Hotel. Basic 'pub' accommodation is also available at The River Royal Inn near the old wharf.

Ginger beer is just the beginning at the Campbells Store complex. (RE)
Lots of garage curiosities at Robinson Ordinance. Also in Campbells. (RE)
Fabulous pub lunch at Commercial Hotel (RE)

Once an important river port, the town of Morpeth was subject to few modern intrusions when the river trade faded away and the brick and mellowed stone buildings remain almost exactly as they were at the turn of the century. As a result, the whole township has been classified by the National Trust and is covered by a permanent conservation order

From the 1820s this location - originally known as Green Hills operated as a funnel for the produce of the rich Hunter region; the Sophia Jane blazed a trail for steamers when she chugged up the river in 1831 and from then on there was no turning back. In 1834 the New Town of Morpeth was founded by the pioneer and former British Army officer, Edward Charles Close, and was soon the major provincial port of the New South Wales coast until trains and trucks supplanted the ships which plied back and forth to Sydney.

By the turn of the century, the bustling town where such famous Australian commercial names as Arnotts and W.H. Soul Pattinson had their start was in decline; the last steamer made its run to Sydney in 1931 and Morpeth became a peaceful, rural backwater which was amalgamated with Maitland in 1944.

Today, in place of river traders, there are tourists who come to visit the past in the form of Morpeth's treasure chest of colonial architecture.

Text source: Readers Digest Guide
to Australian Places 1995

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