The second part of our trip to Tassie was spent at “Woodbridge on the Derwent.” Situated on the river in the tiny town of New Norfolk, it is the main attraction in the area. There are neighboring vineyards, salmon ponds, and a wildlife sanctuary a short drive away, but I was reluctant to venture outside the grounds of such a special property. Staying at this boutique hotel was like a bespoke package of my favorite things: vernacular architecture, antiques, and southern-style hospitality. I never wanted to leave…
My love for vernacular architecture can be easily summed up in the countless hours spent on my college thesis, which focused on a local builder in Lexington, VA. I spent days (willingly) in the Rockbridge County Courthouse piecing together puzzles of land ownership and development; why the sizes, styles, purposes, and materials of houses and structures changed, and in turn their affect on the community. Needless to say this background of mine has always made me hyper-aware of the unique architectural history of each town, large or small, wherever I travel.
It is no surprise that my ears perked up upon hearing about this c. 1825 building where we would be staying, and how its owners saved it from a condemned state. The façade today is classically beautiful, harkening back to its first owner and the preferred Georgian style at the time. But the house has not led an unblemished existence. From its foundation, built by the hands of convicts, to its 21st century restoration, Woodbridge has quite the story to tell.
Upon arrival, I all but sprinted to the library to learn about its rich architectural history. Quite like a family wedding album, the current owners carefully recorded every moment of the renovation. Throughout the narrative and labeled photos, they refer to Woodbridge as “her.” It is clear that from the moment they discovered Woodbridge, the owners viewed her as a wounded, living, breathing creature that needed major surgery. I can assure you they were successful in their skillful resuscitation, and she surely glows today.
Woodbridge was built by Chief Constable Thomas Roadknight in 1825. Roadknight was eventually jailed for shooting a servant and sold the property to George Lindley, who turned it into an academy for boys. The mansion was then sold to Assistant Surveyor General William Sharland, and it stayed in his family until 1905. It passed on to several owners thereafter and was eventually divided into seven different apartments. Perhaps the only significant maintenance of Woodbridge over the whole of the 20th century was some underpinning done in the 1950s. This detail proved invaluable in the later restoration processes.
Traveling in the area in 2003, property developers John and Laurelle Grimley laid eyes on the unique building by the river. They immediately fell in love with the structure (despite its forlorn state) and realized its potential. Little did they know the hard work –and bountiful rewards– that laid ahead. I am still in awe of their unparalleled determination in persevering through countless obstacles to restore Woodbridge to its former glory.
The renovation process was complicated, to say the least. The Grimleys faced a plethora of tangled electrical wires, leaking pipes, and significant moisture damage. In short, they had to gut and replace everything from the electrical to the sanitation system, whilst taking care to preserve its architectural integrity along the way. Luckily, Fate handed John and Laurelle a German architect who happened to live in the area. He had “significant experience with castles,” making him an ideal leader for the efforts.
Among my favorite tales of the renovation was their excitement in uncovering original passageways and rooms that remain intact today. Using their knowledge of Georgian architecture, and a bit of good luck, they tore holes in walls and chiseled away until they discovered a lintel. Their instincts were spot-on, as they eventually discovered an original ballroom, expansive underground corridor, and beautiful original brick archways that are so special to the house today.
Upon visiting their website you will see how all room are different but equally charming. There are no cookie-cutter designs here– rooms vary in size, shape, and style depending on their location. The Grimleys’ hard work has paid off in the form of its 5-Star luxury boutique hotel status. In addition, Woodbridge won the 2005 Tasmanian and 2006 Australian HIA Restoration of the Year Awards. Each recognition is well-deserved.
Antiques and Interior Details of Note:
John and Laurelle preserved innumerous original details of the house, displayed cleverly throughout the property. Centuries-old, rusted, bent nails would be considered junk to many, but framed today, these keepsakes are unique and memorable works of art. Pieces of the original wallpaper are also framed by the front door. The Grimleys even left the underside of the stairwell partially uncovered in order to leave a signed name “Lewis” intact, probably of one of the convicts who was responsible for building Woodbridge in 1825.
Locally-sourced antiques appropriate to the period add to the authentic décor, from lanterns and chests to door knockers and planters. Even the “putty” toned wall paint stays true to the home’s heritage.
There are a few ingredients that make up genuine, southern-style hospitality (in my mind), and Woodbridge ticked all with ease:
-a warm welcome
Upon our arrival, hotel manager/host extraordinaire Tim welcomed us enthusiastically (with glasses of bubbly, thank you!) We settled into wicker chairs in the beautiful, bright pavilion whilst jazz played in the background as he briefed us with local activities and choices for that night’s dinner. It did not feel rushed nor forced. His enthusiasm for the property and its story was apparent as he guided us to our rooms.
Owners John and Laurelle have hearts of gold almost as big as the Lindt chocolate egg left in our rooms for an Easter treat. We enjoyed chats with them at breakfasts, which were kicked off with warm croissants and locally made jams.
In addition to the friendly, approachable hosts and delightful food, decorative details made this stay a welcoming one. Wicker chairs (to me) mean a good book on a southern sunporch, but they seemed equally fitting at this hotel in the southern hemisphere. There was no shortage of them, in the dining pavilion and on patios. The library was filled with books to read and blankets to curl up with by a fire. Every detail was considered and I very much appreciated each one.
With its rich history, beautiful surroundings, and fascinating hosts, Woodbridge was the perfect way to explore a new area of the world with just enough touches of familiar southern hospitality.
The next time you travel, I urge you to trade the chain hotels for B&Bs or boutique hotels. You are sure to meet some wonderful people and experience a weekend away that is much richer and more unique than any other.
P.S.- John is opening a glamping resort soon. Who’s in?