Ambrose Thornley Jnr


Terms served on Council

Title Council From To
Alderman Glebe 1885 1886
  • Glebe Council logo 1896 (City of Sydney Archives A-00333228)

Family background

Ambrose Thornley Jnr was born at Glebe on 4 February 1844, son of Ambrose Thornley and Mary Ann nee Helsby. He married Caroline Matilda Prior on 6 June 1868 at St Barnabas Church Sydney. There were four sons and two daughters of the marriage. He died at Rockdale on 3 August 1911, aged 67 years. Caroline Thornley died 16 November 1922, aged 77 years.

Occupation & interests

Ambrose Thornley Jnr began as a carpenter in the building industry under the tutelage of his father, graduating to master builder from 1864 to 1872 when he was elected architect for the Industrial Provident Building Society. Between 1871 and 1893 he called tenders for 87 houses, cottages or villas, 11 corner shops and dwellings combined (in partnership with John Smedley in 1881-4) and 2 bakeries, all in Glebe. The pinnacle of his career was Glebe Town Hall which he designed and had built. As his practice flourished he moved from Florence Villa to Llangollen in 1884, living there till 1893. Commissions declined after 1889, and unable to reduce his indebtedness, he was declared bankrupt in 1895. He became licensee of the Grand hotel at Rockdale in 1897, and in the early years of Federation maintained a modest architectural practice. He left an estate of 3,749 pounds sworn for probate purposes

Community activity

During his building and architectural career Thornley was closely associated with two building societies, the Industrial Provident Benefit & Investment Society, and from 1881 the Excelsior Land, Investment and Building Society. The number of builders with local address operating in Glebe grew from 26 to 42 between 1879 and 1885 displaying a flexibility to bend with market movements, shifting from repairing or jobbing to construction whenever the mood, dictated by availability of capital, changed. Thornley seemed fond of decoration on the corbels reminiscent of the lyre bird’s tail, and Thornley’s designs carry his own distinctive mark. In Glebe, Thornley designed the pavilion of Glebe Bowling Club and was a foundation member of Glebe Masonic Lodge in 1881.

Local government service

After Land was acquired for a new town hall at Glebe in 1878, Ambrose Thornley Jnr won a competition for the best town hall design and was appointed the architect on 6 February 1879. The contract was awarded to Camperdown builders J Sandbrook & Sons, their tender for 4,444 pounds accepted in May 1879 with Thornley as architect. Glebe Town Hall was built in two stages. The first part comprised the council room and town clerk’s office on the right hand side of the foyer, the reading room and library on the other side of the hall, and a main hall upstairs featuring a large mansard roof. It was opened by Mayor T J Dunn on 7 May 1880. The second stage of the building, the council chambers, the smaller upstairs hall, side entrance and backstairs, was added in 1890-91 by builder Christopher Robinson at a cost of 2060 pounds.


Burton, Graig A 1979, Housing the Glebe: Architects, Builders and Styles 1828-1915, M.A.Thesis, University of Sydney

Hoefschmit, Leo 1976, Ambrose Thornley junior: his architectural work, B.Arch Thesis, University of NSW

Glebe Municipal Council minutes 4 November 1878 & 31 March 1879, p. 257

Australian Town and Country Journal 24 July 1880 p. 24

Sydney Morning Herald 8 July 1885 p. 3

Australian Town and Country Journal 2 November 1895 p. 49

Sydney Morning Herald 5 August 1911 p. 12


Printer friendly version Persistent URL:

Share this entry on: