If you have to appear in court, make sure you're at St Albans Courthouse…
Built in 1890 and perched on wooded slopes of Hawkesbury sandstone high above the Macdonald River, St Albans Courthouse is one of Australia’s oldest Colonial-era buildings and it has to be one of the most picturesque too.
Those who entered its doors back in the 1890s might not have been marvelling at the beauty unfolding before them – they were probably thinking about the sentence about to unfold before them – but enter the building today and you’ll be happy you did.
The Courthouse and its attached police station is one of the Hawkesbury’s hidden gems and it sits in what locals often call The Forgotten Valley, on account of the area’s low profile in the Hawkesbury.
Kate and Rob Stuart
Kate and Rob Stuart bought the Courthouse four years ago this month after falling in love with the place, spruced it up substantially over the years and now rent it out to holidaymakers and visitors to the Macdonald Valley.
“We were weekenders for five years before we bought the Courthouse,” Kate told the Post. “We just fell in love with the area.”
And why not, it is quite simply a stunning part of the Hawkesbury.
The first thing the family did was put an outdoor pool on the property, within reach of the Courthouse but not so close as to take anything away from the old building’s charm.
“We have done a lot of work on the property since we bought it, constantly trying to improve it,” said Kate. “The first thing we did was put in the pool, a necessity for the hot summers.”
And all was going swimmingly until Covid came along.
“When Covid first hit, we had to close, and there was no one able to come and stay anyway. However, since people have been able to move around in NSW we have had business as usual, if not slightly more! It's so great to see people travelling and exploring locally.”
And there’s plenty to see in the St Albans area.
“I always send our guests to the Old North Road walking trail (Divines Hill) near Wisemans. It is such an amazing walk, with so much information on our convict settlers and the conditions they endured. In winter, people love sitting around the fire, and in summer lazing by the pool,” says Kate.
There are also fantastic bush walks, river swimming, kayaking, and bike rides. For those looking for a more relaxed visit, there are gentle country strolls which you can follow with a long, lazy lunch at the Settlers Inn - the only pub in town and another Colonial-era gem dating from 1836.
And while mobile phone coverage is a constant challenge in the area - in fact there is none - ironically it’s one of the pluses of staying at the Courthouse.
“Even though the thought of being digitally disconnected can be daunting at first, it is without a doubt the single thing that most people comment on and enjoy. We forget about how distracting devices can be, and how pleasant it is to have a forced break,” says Kate.
Back in the 1890s, a forced break meant time in the cells. And that’s where you’re headed today when you visit, but it’s a touch more comfy than it was back in the day…
The old holding cells have been converted into bathrooms with underfloor heating – something the original visitors to the cells would no doubt have appreciated.
“The fact the bathrooms are the old jail cells, and the room outside the bathroom is the old prisoners' exercise yard draws a lot of attention,” Kate told us.
“The doors are still the solid steel, and you have to lock yourself in."
Well that’s a lot better than having someone else lock you in.
The old exercise yard, kept original, now houses a foosball table, and dart board, and a wood burner for those chilly St Albans’ winter nights.
There are open fires throughout the building, creating a really snug, warm and cosy environment – the perfect place to unwind after a day of exploring the valley. And, recently installed air conditioning is available in the formal living and dining rooms.
The Courthouse contains a fully equipped country kitchen, with a new 90cm oven, plus a gas BBQ outside.
There are several accommodation options to choose from.
The Courthouse has four very comfortable double rooms (three queen, and two single beds), and luxurious linen and towels are included.
The old Courthouse stables have been converted into a studio apartment (30m from the Courthouse), and a Tiny House is also available, so there really are options for all visitors.
We asked Kate if the Courthouse happened to have a resident ghost.
“The previous owner told us stories about ghost hunters coming and staying in the Courthouse, hoping to connect. Sadly – or maybe it’s thankfully - their stays were uneventful and no resident ghosts were discovered!
So you can always sleep sound at the St Albans Courthouse. Give Kate and Rob a call, or email them, and check out the website.
Where: 19 Upper Macdonald Rd, St Albans, NSW 2775
Call: 02 4568 2042