Oh, the irony: a tale of unexpected survival (or how the little things can last the longest)

Over the last few weeks, as archaeologists do, I’ve found myself thinking about the physical legacies people leave behind them. In particular, I’ve been thinking about the contrast between the monumental (buildings, in this case) and the artefactual and how, oddly enough, it is not always the large or the supposedly permanent legacies that survive. We’ve come across this contrast before in Christchurch’s archaeology, in cases like that of J. G. Ruddenklau and the City Hotel or the china from Sydenham House, where the structural legacies are long gone, but the story – the memory – can still be found in the a single fragment or a single object. In small things forgotten, as the saying goes.

This came to mind again recently, thanks to a clay smoking pipe we found in the CBD, incised with the mark of Messrs Twentyman & Cousin, “whole sale and retail ironmongers”. It’s a simple cutty-shaped pipe, with a slightly angled bowl and no heel or spur evident at the base. Were it not for the circular stamp of “TWENTYMAN / COUSIN N.Z” at the back of the bowl, it would be unremarkable. The stamp renders it unusual, by virtue of the fact that it is rare to find clay pipes in New Zealand with the marks of local retailers or manufacturers.

We found another New Zealand branded pipe at this site, this time stamped with the mark of Twentyman & Cousin. Messrs Twentyman & Cousin (wonderful names!) were Christchurch retailers

The Twentyman & Cousin clay smoking pipe found in Christchurch. Interestestingly, the mark is only on one side of the bowl – the one facing the smoker. Image: J. Garland.

We don’t really know why the clay pipe bears the mark of Twentyman & Cousin. The only other examples of similarly branded pipes that I’ve come across were associated with tobacconists and hotels, both of which are more easily related to the practice of tobacco smoking than an ironmonger and agricultural merchant would have been. Was it advertising, perhaps? Maybe the business branched out into a few examples of personalised merchandise? Maybe it was commemorative in some way? Whatever their reason for marking the clay pipe, I suspect it had little to do with preserving a legacy. Yet, in a way, that is what it does now.

Twentyman & Cousin was first established in the late 1860s in Cathedral Square (Lyttelton Times 10/8/1867: 1), by John Holm/e Twentyman and his cousin, Alfred Charles Twentyman (hence the name). Although it is unclear when the latter arrived in the city, we know that Mr J. H. Twentyman arrived in Christchurch in late 1865, along with his family (Star 6/3/1900: 1). By all accounts he was a particularly well-read man (one advertisement details a lecture he gave to the Young Men’s Christian Association on Egypt in the ancient and modern eras) and heavily involved in Christchurch’s church community (Star 17/06/1879:3, 13/08/1879: 3, 16/04/1890:3). Less information is available about Alfred, unfortunately, although we do know that the partnership between the two men was dissolved in 1888 (Press 10/08/1888: 1).

Early advertisements for the business indicate that Twentyman & Cousin imported and sold a range of materials, from woolpacks  to corn sacks and sheep shears (Lyttelton Times 23/12/1868: 1, 10/8/1867:1). In later years, they were known for their ironmongery, particularly their selection of agricultural, pastoral and gardening tools and machinery. One advertisement from 1881 mentions products such as “garden syringes” and the “Ward & Paynes bow pattern solid crucible cast steel sheep shears”, a phrase that I challenge you all to try and say fast five times (Star 9/11/1881: 4). In that following year, numerous advertisements tell of their sale of reapers and binders and their participation in a “trial of reaping and binding” (which, to me, suggests some kind of demonic exorcism as much as it does agricultural work; Wanganui Herald 25/01/1882: 2 ). They didn’t limit themselves to agricultural and pastoral tools, though: other advertisements for the business promote the sale of “an assortment of guns, which for finish and cheapness surpass anything ever brought into the market” (Star 31/05/1883: 1).

An 1881 advertisement for Twentyman & Cousin. Image: Star 25/11/1881: 4

An 1881 advertisement for Twentyman & Cousin, listing all manner of machinery and tools (shovels, rakes and implements of destruction, even). Image: Star 25/11/1881: 4.

By 1880, the company had moved from Cathedral Square to a new building on Cashel Street west, one designed by renowned Gothic revival architect Benjamin Mountfort. Mountfort is most famous for his involvement in the design of the Canterbury Provincial buildings, which still stand today. The new Twentyman & Cousin building on Cashel street was constructed from concrete, brick and stone, and cost somewhere in the region of four thousand pounds to construct, a hefty sum in those days. Contemporary accounts described it as being in the domestic Gothic style, having “solidity of structure and elegance of appearance” and ornamented “sufficiently so as to relieve it from the sombre and barn like appearance of too many of our other buildings” (Press 10/4/1880: 1, Star 8/04/1880: 4). It was, it seems, the talk of the town.

Extract from an 1880 newspaper article on the new Twentyman & Cousin building in Cashel Street. You can see images of the building here. Image:

Extract from an 1880 newspaper article on the new Twentyman & Cousin building in Cashel Street. You can see images of the building here. Image: Press 10/4/1880: 1.

Although this building is of note for a number of reasons (the architectural design not least among them), I find it particularly interesting to think about it as an example of branding, of legacy, in comparison with the clay pipe. The building was elaborate (ostentatious, even), durable (remember that “solidity of structure”) and, presumably, deliberately built to carry the Twentyman & Cousin name into the future, be it 10 years or 100 years distant. There is an intention of permanence in its construction, in everything from the materials used to the style of the building. The clay pipe, on the other hand, emits no such sense of intentional durability. It’s a disposable item, meant to be used until it no longer works and can be discarded. Yet, it survives (albeit slightly the worse for wear), and the building does not.

The contrast (and irony) in this particular story is not just in the difference between the intended purpose of the pipe and the building, but in the manner of their survival. It’s fair to say, I think, that the clay pipe has survived where the building has not because it was discarded, kept safely in the ground over the decades. This often seems to be the way in archaeology, especially in circumstances like those found in Christchurch: the big things are lost and it is the small, disposable, things – the forgotten things – that slip through and keep the past alive. A legacy is a legacy, after all, even if it is not quite as originally intended.

Jessie Garland


Lyttelton Times. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Press. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Star. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Wanganui Herald. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

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