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The Farncombs of Ebor House – Pt 3 in the Ebor House series

“Who would have built such a grand home?”

That’s what I wondered on that first day when — having become lost on an obscure  country road — I sat in my car, gawking at Ebor House.

Blog Photo - Ebor House

Frederick Farncomb would have.

And he did.

**

1867 was a great year. After years of debate, Canada’s separate parts became one country under God and queen.

Robert Harris painting, via wikipedia
Robert Harris painting, via wikipedia

East, west, north and south.

Former adversaries. Aboriginal, French and English. Different languages. Different back-stories.  Different customs and beliefs.

Starting in 1867, confederation brought these parts together under one national ‘roof’.

And the glory of that moment inspired many Canadians to reach higher, dream bigger.

Some of Canada’s finest residences were built in the period just before, during and after 1867.

Ravenscrag Photo Built in 1860's

Shaughnessy House in Montreal

At the Bond Head Harbour, east of Toronto,  a customs officer named Frederick Farncomb had ambitions for a roof of his own. But not just any roof.

Orphaned at 7 years of age, Frederick left England for Canada as a young man. He married Jane Robson, also of British background.  Together they had 7 children.

Blog Photo - Ebor House and Bond Head harbour

Bond Head Harbour (also called Port Newcastle) thrived,  as ships plied their trade with various cities in North America.

Cargoes of wheat, oats, flour and lumber sailed across Lake Ontario.

Frederick’s uncle Thomas Farncomb, the wealthy Lord Mayor of London, England, was also a merchant and ship owner. After he died (in 1865) Frederick inherited a large amount of money from his estate. In 1867, Frederick hired a Toronto architect to design a house for his family on land he already owned and within 18 months, the 17-room house was completed.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Entrance and Stairs

Some of the furniture was from Jacques & Hay, who made furniture for Canada’s wealthiest citizens and British royalty.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Dining Room full

York, England, had special significance for the Farncomb family and they called their home Ebor House. In Latin, “Ebor” means “York”.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Gates

Frederick was influential in his community and church.  When local Anglicans built St. George’s Church, Newcastle, (just up the road from Bond Head) it was “patterned from a church near Leeds, England, the old parish church of Frederick Farncomb, a member of the building committee and an avid supporter of the new church.

Blog Photo - Ebor House and Church Entrance

“When the design was accepted and the building commenced, money was raised from far and near. Even the Lord Mayor of London, Mr. Farncomb’s uncle, contributed generously to the fund.”

Blog Photo - Ebor House and Church Steeple

Blog Photo - Ebor House and Wide shot of Church

The Farncombs were undoubtedly one of the most prominent families in the Bond Head-Newcastle area.  When son Alfred  became a doctor  and John became “Reverend Canon John Farncomb” at St. George’s Church, their influence grew even more.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Living Room

One of the biggest symbols of the Farncombs’ success was their beautiful lakeside home. With its stately rooms and beautiful grounds, Ebor House was the perfect setting for family weddings, dinner parties, picnics and important social events.

**

Next: Joyful Times at Ebor House.

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A Man in Love With a House – Pt. 2 in the Ebor House Series

The moment Ron Coffin saw Ebor House,  he was smitten.

He hadn’t been house-hunting in Bond Head – a small historic area consisting of just a few country roads on Lake Ontario, east of Toronto.  But Ron felt mysteriously drawn to both the house and its location.

“It’s like being in another world here. You even have to go through a series of entrances to get to this home. The first entrance is a bridge that you have to go under when you leave the highway. Then there are the gates to the property. Then there are 2 entry doors before you can come into the house.”

Blog Photo - Ebor House Gates

He also hadn’t planned to buy this house.

“It was for sale for a couple of years and a friend said I should see it. I saw it and said, ‘My God!’  I fell absolutely in love with it.”

Ron didn’t know the house’s history.  He didn’t know that it had belonged to generations of an illustrious Bond Head family whose close relatives included two Lord Mayors of London, England. Blog Photo - Ebor House 

Blog Photo - Ebor House Entrance

What he saw was a house badly in need of repair. Outside, four acres of weed-choked land surrounded the grand old house and barn.

Blog Photo - Ebor House overgrown lawn

Inside, the rooms were derelict.

Blog Photo - Ebor House derelict Room 1

Cobwebs hung from the ceilings.  The rooms were crammed with old contents.

And there was that stuffy, old-house smell everywhere.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Derelict Room 3

But the  house spoke to him and he answered. Ron was a man in love.

**

It was 8 years later when I knocked on Ron’s door.

As Ron welcomed me into his house, there were no signs that it had once been in disrepair. The place glowed from the love and attention he had lavished on its restoration.

We sat in the refurbished kitchen, sipping coffee.  I had questions and the first was the most obvious.

“What possessed you — to take on such a daunting task?” I asked.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Kitchen and side door

“In life there are things you have to do,” he replied. “Some people have to climb Everest. I had to do this.”

Blog Photo - Ebor House Ron Smiling

I understood, sort of.  I remembered the magnetic pull I’d felt as I sat gawking at the house and surrounding property. It had drawn me back here today. 

Ron, a single parent, has four children and a dog. He ran his own business.  He also had “a huge interest in Canada’s architectural heritage and how it fits into its time”.  

He hurried to begin the restoration.

“I made the common mistake of plastering the walls and painting, then realized the roof was leaking”, he said. “The house also needed all new plumbing, heating and wiring. So I had to rip out some of that work and start again.”

Luckily, the seller still had the architectural drawings from 1867,  the year Canada became a nation. (Construction on Ebor House started the following year.)  Those drawings convinced Ron that he was on the right track.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Dining Room full

Fortunately, also, some chandeliers and furniture  – such as this Jacques & Hay sideboard on the right – were still in the house, where they’d been since 1869.  Ron bought other period furnishings – including lighting, paintings, mirrors, and other furniture — after meticulous research.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Green Room with portait and walls and furniture

Sometimes he felt like a detective trying to solve a mystery.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Living Room

The house and grounds provided clues that helped him along the way.

The pantry doors were found in the barn. Old pennies were found under the lawn.  Ron thinks the pennies, found together,  likely fell from someone’s pocket during a picnic.

Blog Photo - Ebor House back lawn

Blog Photo - Ebor House Canadian penny 1858

The more Ron learned, the better he understood how people lived in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

Blog Photo - Ebor House entrance inside

“One thing I learned was how the double front doors were used. On days when the family was receiving guests, they’d open the outer door, while the inside door was closed. That would signal that visitors were welcome.”

Ron also became deeply interested in the Farncombs, who built the house and lived here for more than 130 years.  He shared with me what he knew.

I should have stopped there, but I was already hooked. I needed to learn more. And that would lead me to a powerful story that was both joyful and heartbreaking.

**Click here for Part 3: The Farncombs.

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Lost Without a Clue – Pt. 1, The Ebor House Series

I kid you not: I could get lost in a room. 

So – naturally – I got lost while coming home from an appointment in a nearby town.

Blog Photo - Bond Head main street

The key to getting lost graciously is to act as if where you’ve ended up is where you’d meant to go all along. But I was too agog at where I’d ended up to even pretend to be gracious. My mouth fell open.

Blog Photo - Bond Head Whtie fence and flowersIn no time at all, I’d gone from modern streets and brand-new neighborhoods to this old country road and a feeling that I’d time-traveled into the 1800’s. Beautiful old houses flanked both sides of the road.

Blog Photo - Bond Head White House1

And I knew, without being told, that some of these homes had belonged to certain local families for generations. It was that kind of place.

Blog Photo - Bond head grey hosue between trees

Most were surrounded by expansive grounds with big old trees…

Blog Photo - Bond Head Grey House and Lawn

Sweeping lawns and glorious gardens.

Blog Photo - Bond Head GRey House 3

On the lake side of the street, were more gardens, houses and infinite vistas….

Blog Photo - Bond Head Bayard and lake

Parkland and beaches and families at play….

Blog Photo - Bond head family playing by lake

Boats at the marina…

Blog Photo - Bond head marina boats in bg

People fishing…

Blog Photo - Bond Head Marina, Boats and Man fishing

Where on earth was I?

Blog Photo - Bond Head Boats at marina

Not one to panic till I’d run out of options, I kept going…  and thought I’d seen that enormous old tree just a minute or so before I turned…

Blog Photo - Bond Head huge tree and fence

So I turned around again and kept going…..

Blog Photo - Bond head lake shot

And discovered a sign…..

Blog Photo - Bond Head sign

Historic Bond Head.

I’d never heard of it.

Later, I’d learn that Bond Head, formerly known as Port Newcastle, was once a thriving harbour, with ships ferrying cargo to and from Quebec, Toronto to the west, Kingston to the east and various American ports.

In 1856, Bond Head and the neighboring village merged under the name of Newcastle. The overall region is now known as Clarington.

But right now, I was just busy being lost.

And then I saw a strangely beautiful old house.

This house must have a great story, I thought.

And this is how I met a man named Ron, whose historic home had belonged to generations of an illustrious Bond Head family which counted as relatives two Lord Mayors of London, England, and had a big impact on the life of many Canadians, including themselves.

Click here for Part 2:  A fascinating story begins

Stay tuned.

**

Dedicated to lovers of history everywhere, including residents of Bond Head and Newcastle in Ontario.

 © 2008 CSR