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Rediscovering Ginninderra:
Cranleigh Farm

Cranleigh Farm was the name given to Soldier Settler Block 17, Belconnen, which was taken up by Major-General James Gordon and Annie Frances Legge in 1922.

James Gordon Legge was born in 1863 in London, his family moving to Australia in 1878. In 1885, he joined the 3rd New South Wales Infantry regiment as a Lieutenant, attaining the rank of Captain by 1894. Legge had an impressive military career, climbing through the ranks to the position of Major General. He made a significant contribution to Australia's military forces, including assisting with Kitchener's Defence Scheme in 1909, and leading a division in France on the Western Front in 1916.

Perhaps Legge's most enduring contribution to Australia's military history was during his assistance to Kitchener. Kitchener's Defence Scheme has been said really to be 'Legge's Defence Scheme', given the work he undertook. He was also instrumental in the establishment of the Royal Military College at Duntroon in 1911. He became Commandant of RMC Duntroon in 1920.

Legge retired in the early 1920s at the beginning of Canberra' development and with the assistance of the Soldier Settlement Scheme, he and his wife Annie Frances took up the 400 acre (162 hectare) Belconnen Block 17 (now parts of Scullin, Latham and Florey) and turned to pig-farming. He named the property Cranleigh Farm after his school in Surrey, England (and his former home in Sydney).

Part of the appeal of Belconnen Block 17 was it's distance from the construction activity taking place in the city area and the early suburbs being built for public servants. It is evident from the sketch plans that Legge envisaged a substantial pig farming operation and this was in part premissed on the planned Canberra-Yass railway running across part of his property, that would have assisted transporting his pigs to market. This railway was never constructed however, and this was one of the reasons Legge's pig farming venture failed. Drought put an end to his later potato farming venture.

Soon after taking over the lease of the block, Legge began the construction of an unusual residence. The style he adopted was said to have derived from houses he had seen in India early in his military career. The house was completed in 1923 and was square with a flat roof resembling a fort or block house construction and was built of concrete blocks moulded on site with sand from Ginninderra Creek. Internally there was a central verandah courtyard surrounded by ten rooms, with each room having an entrance to the courtyard. Cottages for a manager and workmen, as well as stables, a machine shed and pig pens were also constructed in 1923. In 1923 a residence was also erected on the property for Matthew O'Brien, with Mr Wilson as the contractor.The Weetangera correspondent of the Queanbeyan Age observed: 'General Legge was fortunate in securing the services of splendid workmen...' (Queanbeyan Age, 27.7.1923)

The latest machinery was introduced, including a Fordson tractor which did good work. A cement weir was constructed which conserved a large quantity of water and a fine collection of pigs was brought into the district, including the Berkshire, which was the most popular class of pig in Australia

A report of the annual meeting of the Weetangera Branch of the Farmers and Settlers Association at Mr Gribble's residence [The Glebe Farm] on 2nd May records that 'General Legge' was re-elected President (Queanbeyan Canberra Advocate 14.5.1925). However, his attempts to raise pigs, grow potatoes and graze cattle were not particularly successful.

Legge lived at Cranleigh until 1947 when ill health forced him to move to Melbourne to live with his son. His wife, Annie, had left three years earlier due to her own ill health and had lived in Melbourne, then Sydney, under the care of family members. Legge received news of his wife's death in September 1947 while he was ill with bronco-pneumonia in a private hospital. He died little more than a fortnight later on the 18th September aged 84.

By 1961, only the foundations of Cranleigh Farm and surrounding windbreak were left. Legge planted the windbreak of pine trees to shelter the homestead and a small orchard.
The house was demolished in 1951 and building remains were cleared from the site in 1986 to form an urban park. The park is dominated by Legge's pines with approximately 161 remaining in multiple rows delineating the park's borders on the north, south and west sides. There are many vacant spaces within the rows, indicating the previous existence of more trees than those that exist today. A grove of fruit trees in the northern half of the park is the remains of an orchard planted by Legge. These trees were planted in three or four rows. Approximately 20 trees remain.

Cranleigh Special Needs School in Holt is named after the farm.

ACT Planning & Land Authority: Legge Road commemorates General James Legge

William Thomas Cassells (1913-1990) became the lessee of Cranleigh Farm in 1957, a decade after James Legge left for Melbourne:

His family were pioneers of the district, with his parents, William and Olive, settling at Frogmore near Boorowa. He was educated at St Joseph's College, Hunters Hill. On returning to the family property, Omagh, Mr Cassells gained a reputation for growing some of the finest wool in the district. He was also a renowned wool classer who was sought after in shearing sheds well beyond the district for his keen eye and sharp judgment.

Mr Cassells later diversified into cattle grazing and wheat before moving in 1957 to the Cranleigh property in the Weetangera district. This district has now largely been subsumed by the township of Belconnen. Remnants of this property include the stand of pines in Latham on the intersection of Southern Cross and Kingsford Smith drives. Chewings Street in Page follows the road to the old homestead from the old Weetangera road.

Mr Cassells subsequently moved to the Nanima district near Hall where he continued on the tradition of fine wool growing and grazing.He retired from farming in the early 1970s and became involved in various aspects of Canberra community life, including the Salvation Army.

[Canberra Times, Wed 24 January 1990, p.7]

He was buried at Hall cemetery.

Related Photos

General James Gordon Legge ⧉

Click on the caption (⧉) to view photo details and attribution.


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