14 Ben Boyd Road, Neutral Bay

‘Bengallala’ was one of Donald Esplin’s clearest applications of contemporary English Arts and Crafts architectural design.

The influence of the English architect CFA Voysey can be seen in the pitched roof, and the ‘battered’ or sloping chimneys. And, as was often the case with Arts and Crafts houses, the architect’s eye was extended to cover the smallest detail. So ‘Bengallala’s’ fence reflects the aesthetic of the house as does the font chosen for the name that is inscribed near the gate. The dramatic roof line and simple white stucco finish suggests a link to later holistic Modernist styles.

The house was built in 1911 for Wilfred Spruson, an engineer, patent attorney and former politician. Spruson’s parents were Irish immigrants and he was born at sea – en route from Ireland to New South Wales in 1870. His acceptance of Esplin’s strikingly English design is interesting, therefore, and may reflect the general Arts and Crafts aesthetic that permeated contemporary architecture and the new town planning movement in the early 1900s. In 1913 Spruson was a founding member of the Town Planning Association of New South Wales which included John Sulman and Walter Liberty Vernon.

‘Bengallala’ was a large house sitting on two lots with ample living space on the ground floor – a dining room, ‘den’, drawing room and conservatory; and four bedrooms on the first floor. One of these was for a live-in maid. Not unusually, domestic service staff were also provided with a separate bathroom to minimise interaction with the owners of the house.

The name ‘Bengallala’ dates from the construction of the house as it is inscribed in the original fencing. It seems to refer to a locality in West Bengal, India – Bengal Lala Laipat Rai – although Spruson’s interest in the subcontinent is unclear.