July 24, 2020
Spicers Founder, Jude Turner, purchased shares in The Balfour Hotel in 2007 soon after acquiring the Tamarind Retreat, Clovelly Estate, and Vineyards Estate – these properties located in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, and New South Wales’ Hunter Valley, respectively. In contrast, Balfour is located in fashionable inner-city New Farm, one of Brisbane’s most vibrant urban locales. The purchase came about when the hotel was in the early stages of development led by Jude’s friend, a local business woman called Beverley Trivett, who was working closely with Rowena Cornwell, a designer from Coop Creative. The project involved an adaptive reuse and thorough refurbishment of a large, run-down traditional Queenslander home of timber and tin. Under Rowena’s guidance, the structure would be transformed from the inside out into a beautiful, boutique hotel.
Beverley suggested to Jude that Balfour’s nine rooms and boutique character could be a good fit for the Spicers portfolio. While the Spicers property approach had so far been all about the country, Jude recognised the valuable opportunity to have a “springboard for the country properties” – a place in the city that would help encourage guests to visit Spicers’ related properties and that Spicers could easily coordinate transfers to and from. With that in mind, Balfour joined the Spicers portfolio. A couple of years later, Spicers Retreats bought Beverley’s shares and took full ownership of the property.
In 2013, a delightful art-deco apartment building containing eight flats called ‘Simla’ came up for sale just a couple of doors down from the Balfour. It was the perfect opportunity to expand the Balfour accommodation offerings and Jude jumped at the chance to purchase it. She worked with Rowena on a major overhaul to redesign the suites and align the style of the Simla interiors with the Spicers brand. The Simla building opened in 2015 bringing the Balfour to a total of 17 rooms.
The history of the Simla begun in 1865 when the first owner of the land, Arthur Edward Richards was born. Aurthur was born in Darjeeling, India in 1865 when his father, Rev Joseph Richards, was Padre to the British Army. Aurthur moved to the UK where his father was posted and was well educated finishing his studies at Oxford University but on 16th April 1886, at 21 years of age, departed for Australia before completing his degree.
On 17th September 1907 he married Ada May Jones in Brisbane. On 9th March 1910 a Certificate of Title was issued to Ada May Richards for property in Balfour Street.
It would appear this was for the whole parcel of land which later encompassed “Mimosa” 33 Balfour St, “Tara” 31 Balfour St and “Simla” 17 Balfour St, New Farm. The property included a tennis court and Arthur raised orchids.
On 26th October 1921 a mortgage was recorded for the building of “Simla” which was to be the retirement home of Arthur and Ada. While it has been described as “Georgian Revival in style” it also appears to have elements of Indian Colonial architecture. Even the names of the 3 properties, refer back to Arthur’s life in India.
Ada May Richards and the family lived initially in “Mimosa”, then for a time at “Simla” but Arthur Edward’s died on 15th January 1927 at 62 years of age.
In March 1930 Ada and the two girls departed for Europe and the United Kingdom in part to attend the knighting of Arthur’s brother Henry, an Oxford University graduate, for his work in Education in the UK. They returned to Brisbane in March 1931. In December 1939 “Simla” was sold by Ada May Richards. At some point Ada had moved back to “Mimosa” and in her later life lived at “Tara” which was sold by the family on 8th July 1978.
Art at Balfour
Balfour has a wonderful, diverse art collection on display. Some of it has been created by materials found within or around the property. There was an old, deteriorated piano in the foyer area at the time the original renovation took place, and Jude commissioned Beverley’s husband, sculptor Steven Hart, to create a series of four assemblage artworks using the old notes and piano parts. They are currently on display. There’s also a suite of black and white photographic works by Steve Ryan showcasing the Story Bridge – an iconic Brisbane landmark located just a stone’s throw away from the hotel. Other old photos of Brisbane on display at Balfour were gathered from the Queensland State Archive.
Balfour’s mysterious stash of cash
During the Balfour’s renovation, the builder dug up a big glass jar full of old $20 notes, totalling up to $3000. There was some sort of handwritten note with the jar. Given the paper currency was printed in the 1960s, and this currency style was phased out in the 1980s, the on-site team estimated the jar had likely been buried in the 1970s. As it was close to “The Valley”, aka Fortitude Valley – an area now largely gentrified, but once notorious for underworld activity and illegal brothels – they also considered it was possibly ill-gotten gains! The jar has been kept intact as an artefact, with the intention it will be playfully integrated into the Balfour’s interior decoration at some stage in the future.