The Hydro Majestic’s 1904 grounds formally known as the Medlow Bath has grown with our young nation and facilitated many roles in her time, originating as a hydropathic resort the grounds have also acted as a makeshift hospital for injured soldiers, an opulent ballroom venue for high society and the place of death for Australia’s first Prime Minister, Sir Edmund Barton.
To me, the Hydro Majestic represents a Gatsby-esque aspiration – a venue that provides a glimpse into what wealth in the 1900’s looked like. A pillar of history that continues to marvel travellers from far and wide when passing the Megalong Valley. The first time I laid eyes on the grand Hydro structure, I was awe-struck. Since then I have been fortunate enough to have stayed and dined at the Hydro Majestic and thought it fit to honour the historical grounds by sharing my experiences.
The Hydro Majestic boasts an extensive history that has seen the grounds acting as a health resort for the upper echelon of society, to a dilapidated and abandoned suite of buildings to the present opulent hotel used by those exploring Catoomba and surrounding Blue Mountains. The extensive narrative of the Hydro Majestic has led to the estate being Heritage Listed by the New South Wales Department of Environment and Heritage – a formal acknowledgment of the significance of the former retreat to the area.
The iconic hotel at Medlow Bath was created by Mark Foy, the Sydney businessman, sportsman and playboy (1865 – 1950) by bringing together three existing buildings and by developing the complex around them from 1904 onwards.
In 1904 Mark Foy opened his hydropathic establishment, advertising cures for nervous, alimentary, respiratory and circulatory ailments, but excluding sufferers from infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and those with mental illness. The Hydro waso, however, from the start advertised as ‘the most enjoyable place to spend one’s holidays’ (Kaldy 33-4).
A prefabricated casino of striking aspect was imported from Chicago and erected between Hargravia and Belgravia, while the famous picture gallery joined the buildings together, giving superb views over the Megalong Valley. There was initially in 1904 a resident doctor, Georg Bauer, from a Swiss spa, to add prestige, but by the end of the decade the family hotel had triumphed over the hydropathy (Kaldy 36; Silvey 43).
Entertainment in the casino was lavish, with international stars such as Nellie Melba and Dame Clara Butt singing there on a number of occasions(Walsh 571). The kitchens were supplied from Foy’s farm below in the Megalong, with produce brought up on a flying-fox. A stable of horses in the Megalong gave guests the chance to explore the valley and Mark Foy’s famous fleet of motor-cars (he was a pioneer motorist) took them on more extended trips, particularly to Jenolan Caves (cf.MB 003).
In 1922 the northern part of the hotel, including Belgravia and the picture gallery, was severely damaged in a bush-fire, but the lost buildings were replaced and the hotel recovered. During World War II it was used as a convalescent hospital for American servicemen, who did some violence to the fabric, but it again recovered after the war (Silvey 43).
When Mark Foy finally died in 1950 he stipulated in his will that an extraordonarily lavish tomb be constructed for him at Medlow Bath, but the Equity Court released his family from obligation and he is buried at South Head in Sydney (Walsh 571).
The Hydro has continued as a grand hotel on a fabulous site and has recently been the subject of a Conservation Management Plan and subsequent works of extensive renovation.
Photographs of Hydro Majestic in 1986
The Hydro Majestic Grounds
The grounds are wonderous.
The tall ceilings, grand walkways, decadent art deco interiors, crisp white exterior walls and unparalleled natural backdrop leaves a lasting impression.
Whilst, undeniably, the Hydro Majestic costs a pretty penny to stay at, the Hydro Pavillion is open to the public and allows passers-by to stop and enjoy some of the views the grounds offer. The Pavillion hosts a cafe where visitors can enjoy coffee, bespoke teas, pastries, gelato and other delicacies. The open plan cafe is a shared space with the Hydro Majestic store where one can purchase Hydro Majestic skin care, self-branded clothing, umbrellas, candles, stationary and other miscellaneous goods, as well as the bespoke teas that are offered to guests of the Hydro Majestic.
The Pavillion doubles as a historical display where artefacts and original pieces of furniture, clothing, fine bone china and luggage of various points in time are displayed for visitors. This display exhibits the vast history of the Hydro Majestic as well as the changing expectations of hoteliers throughout the ages.
Whilst the Pavillion space sounds like a muddled composition of a cafe, shop and historical exhibition, the space is a seamless continuation of the elegant design within the Hydro Majestic. The space resembles the greenhouse scene in The Great Gatsby – orchids, peonies and other delicate plants are scattered throughout the shop and cafe front – a serene experience that makes you feel as if you, standing here in the Hydro Majestic, will be a part of history decades into the future.
Wintergarden High Tea
The Wintergarden High Tea is another way of enjoying not only the views of the grounds, but also the decadence that early visitors of the 1900’s would have also enjoyed.
The Wintergarden High Tea takes place in a beautiful bright setting with traditionally set tables, with surprisingly filling afternoon tea, a pianist playing on a grand piano and attentive and friendly staff.
The High Tea is a great way of spoiling your nearest and dearest to a slice of the Hydro Majestic and a brilliant location for potential kitchen teas, hens gatherings, as well as birthday and anniversary celebrations.
Irrespective of what you’re looking for, what your budget it and how long you have to spare – the Hydro Majestic is a must see when traversing through the Blue Mountains.