Piles, bones and marbles: what was under the Godleys’ house?

Way back in the winter of 2012, at the height of the post-earthquake demolition, I was pretty excited to learn we were going to get the chance to investigate the site of John and Charlotte Godley’s house in Lyttelton. John was a prominent figure in the Canterbury Association, the young settlement’s Chief Agent and is often regarded as one of Canterbury’s founding fathers. Charlotte was his wife and the author of a fantastic volume of letters that record so much detail about life in the new settlement and – importantly for this tale – the house they lived in. And then there was Arthur Godley, their son, born in 1847.

John Robert Godley. Image: Wikipedia.

The house was built for the Godleys in late 1849/early 1850, by the advance party of Canterbury Association surveyors sent to carry out some of the ground work to establish the colony. The house was ready for occupation when the Godleys arrived in Lyttelton in April 1850, although the Godleys only stayed a few days before travelling to Wellington to await the arrival of the first Canterbury Association ships. John Robert Godley later recorded that “after seeing it, we could not help laughing at our own anticipation of a shed on a bare beach with a fire at the door”, while Charlotte thought the house to be “…the best looking house we have yet seen in New Zealand”, and she particularly admired the “… kind of pantry” (Amodeo 2003: 117).

Charlotte Godley, 1877. Image: Wikipedia.

The house might have looked good, but the practicalities of living in it were trying, as Charlotte was to discover when the family returned to the house in December 1850: both dust and rain came in through the walls, depending on the weather. Charlotte records one sleepless night when the wind howled all night and the house creaked like a ship. She rose in the morning to find the inside of the house covered in dust, including all the furniture and all her dresses. The rain that seeped in through the poorly lined walls caused the drawing room wallpaper to come unstuck (Godley 1951: 170, 191). This anecdote’s a great one, because it tells us that (a) the house had wallpaper – in early 1850s Lyttelton! – and (b) that it had a drawing room. Historical records tell us that the house had six rooms (although it’s worth noting that Victorian room counts often didn’t include halls, pantries and/or similar service rooms), but don’t list what these were.

Lyttelton, with Immigrants’ Barracks and settlers’ houses, 1852? Frederick Aloysius Weld, 1823-1891. Alexander Turnbull Library, Reference number: B-139-004. The Godleys’ house is the building with three gables in the middle of the picture.

In spite of the “kind of pantry”, meat did not last well in the house, lasting on average two days before going off (Godley 1951: 155). This wasn’t really anything to do with this particular house, it was more about life in the 19th century… but it is relevant to this story. For John and Charlotte’s position in Canterbury meant that they entertained very regularly, hosting tea parties nearly every evening in December 1850 (Godley 1951: 153, 155, 161). And then there were the guests who stayed the night – or several nights, leading Charlotte to refer to John’s dressing room (yes, a dressing room! More on that in a moment), as “the spare room of Lyttelton” (Godley 1951: 172).

So, the dressing room, which seems fairly extraordinary to me in Lyttelton in the early 1850s. But John was an important man in the colony, and perhaps his status was such that a dressing room may have been required. I also wonder if the dressing room functioned as a study/office for John. When he got the chance to use it. Early in 1851, there was a plan to turn it into a dining room (Godley 1951: 153) – indicating both that the house didn’t already have one (perhaps guests ate in the kitchen or the drawing room?) and that the dressing room was of a decent size. Whether or not it ever became a dining room isn’t clear – there may not have been the opportunity, given how frequently it was used as a bedroom.

The dressing room wasn’t the only room to have been used as a bedroom – in August 1851 the bathroom was converted into a bedroom for a visiting Canterbury Association official (Godley 1951: 226). Perhaps John had finally put his foot down about the use of dressing room as a bedroom? The presence of a bathroom is also intriguing. Clearly the house didn’t have any running water, although a well was dug specially for it (Amodeo 2003: 116). The bathroom may have contained a bath or even a commode.

In terms of the other rooms in the house, Charlotte records the presence of a kitchen in the house, although the initial one must have been somewhat unsatisfactory, as Charlotte referred to a new kitchen in March 1851, complete with stove and “refractory chimney” (Godley 1951: 184). We know, too, that Charlotte and John had a bedroom in the house, as did young Arthur – the three seemed to alternate between sleeping up and downstairs. We know the Godleys had servants, and it’s possible that a servant may have lived in too. But perhaps the most interesting use of a room in the house was as the Lyttelton library, which started operation here in June 1851 (Burgess 2009: Appendix 4).

When it came time to do the archaeological work on the site, I really wasn’t sure what we’d find. Or, indeed, if we’d find anything related to the c.1850 building. But we did! Lots and lots of piles, and some pile holes: brick piles, timber piles and stone piles, specifically. The house sat on timber piles (identified as mātai and kōwhai) and its verandahs – on the north and west elevations – sat on stone piles. This is interesting, because it wasn’t long before houses in Christchurch and Lyttelton were supported by stone piles, stone being a much more readily available material than timber. The other intriguing feature found under the house was a mysterious brick pit…

Underneath the Godleys’ house. Image: G. Gedson.

We’ve no idea what this was used for, or even how old it was – it certainly predated the 1943 building constructed where the Godleys’ house had stood, but this feature was able to remain in situ and so we didn’t get to look at the bricks it was made from. One of the notable things about this feature was that it contained lots of animal bones, almost all of which was bird bone and all of which is likely to have been food waste. The bones were from at least two domestic ducks and at least one brown teal duck. The brown teal duck must pre-date the 1900s, as it gradually disappeared from the South Island prior to this date (Williams and Dumbell 1996). So, perhaps food from the Godleys’ table? There’s no way of knowing.

The mysterious brick pit, found at the rear of the house. Image: G. Gedson.

Amongst the other intriguing artefacts from under the house were several marbles, which were found scattered on the ground surface, and in some of the pile holes. Marbles aren’t uncommon on archaeological sites (see here for more information), but finding eight is. Half of these were lying on the surface under the 1943 building and the other half were in the piles holes. Realistically, given the nature of marbles – small round things designed to roll – these could have been deposited at any time from the house’s construction until the site was built on again following its demolition. So, sadly, we can’t say that young Arthur Godley was playing with these marbles, but nor can we entirely discount the possibility (although some of the types found date to the later part of the 19th century, so he definitely wasn’t playing with those ones).

Marbles! Image: J. Garland & L. Dawson.

We found a range of other artefacts at the site, too, most of which was the normal detritus of mid-late 19th century European life in Canterbury. Nothing, regrettably, that could be associated directly with the Godleys. But we only looked at part of the site, and it is possible that more remains outside the footprint of the area we excavated. And possibly the best outcome of this project is that the piles – and the mystery brick feature – have been preserved in situ for the future. And for me, the site provided a great opportunity to explore the lives of John and Charlotte Godley, leading me to Charlotte’s wonderful letters and to a wealth of information about life in Lyttelton at the beginning of the European settlement.

Katharine Watson & Kirsa Webb

References

Amodeo, C., 2003. Forgotten Forty-Niners: being an account of the men & women who paved the way in 1849 for the Canterbury Pilgrims in 1850. The Caxton Press, Christchurch.

Burgess, R., 2009. Lyttelton Township Historic Area. Registration report for a historic area (Volume 2). Unpublished report for the New Zealand Historic Places Pouhere Taonga.

Godley, C., 1951. Letters from Early New Zealand. Whitcombe & Tombs Ltd, Christchurch.

Williams, M. and Dumbell, G. 1996. Brown teal (pateke) Anas chlorotis recovery plan. Threatened Species Recovery Plan No 19. Department of Conservation, Wellington.

An archaeological fairytale

Presenting, with the aid of illustrations, the tale of an intrepid archaeologist, her trusty team and her quest to untangle the history of a house. It’s the story of a long lost age, a story for the ages, an age old story, a coming of age story, an epic tale from ages ago, but mostly it’s the story of a girl and her measuring tape[1], facing off against the murky mysteries of ages past with little to no plot of any kind[2].

Once upon a time there was a house[3] and an archaeologist[4]….

Part one: in which the measure of a house is taken and courage gathered for the task ahead.

Part 2: In which a mysterious cupboard is encountered.

Part 3: in which, even more mysteriously, a cupboard is discovered within the cupboard.

Part 4: in which, in the exploratory spirit for which archaeologists are famed, our hero investigates and finds herself in a strange and disturbing world…

Part 5: in which she is greeted by a trusty historical researcher, who appears in a blaze of light from the planet Vulcan, bearing a sample of historical timber as a gift of friendship.

Part 6: in which the archaeologist and historical researcher venture into the outdoors, animal friends are made and a musical number spontaneously occurs, until – in a case of sudden but inevitable betrayal – the ducks turn on their new friends and steal our archaeologist’s lunch (true story).

Part 7: in which a wise yet enigmatic buildings archaeologist with a fondness for puns is inexplicably encountered in a bathtub and persuaded, mostly with coffee, to join the fray.

Part 8: in which the team is struck down temporarily by the stick of malaise, a reference so obscure the narrator is fairly certain only the office of Underground Overground will get it.

Part 9: in which, still recovering from her battle with the stick of malaise, our archaeologist forgets which story she’s in and makes a brief, yet ill-fated attempt to use her hair as a ladder.

Part 10: in which our archaeologist, with her new friends, manages to find her way back and, good archaeologist that she is, makes sure to record the inception cupboard that led to so many adventures, and all is well.

[1] Known to its friends as Super Tape

[2] NOT featuring: princes, swooning or the rescuing of any maidens (we’re archaeologists, not damsels in distress)

[3] Actually several houses. We had to take a bit of artistic license with the telling of this story…

[4] Her name is Kirsa Webb. As well as being a buildings archaeologist extraordinaire, she is an amazingly good sport about being turned in to the protagonist of a somewhat silly fairytale.

 Jessie Garland

2016: It’s the end of the year as we know it

The end of year is upon us again, and Underground Overground Archaeology is closing the boxes on our finds for the year.

The year we finished up our Christmas party with a scavenger hunt around the central city using cryptic clues to revisit spots important to the city and to Underground Overground. It seems archaeologists can’t help but constantly revisit the past, be it their own or others, and with that in mind it’s time to look back on the year that’s been.

2016 has been another busy one, and it feels like we’ve done even more archaeology than normal, thanks to that bloody leap day in February. Here’s a few highlights from the year that’s been.

Luke records remnant 19th century wharf material in Lyttelton Harbour. Image Angel Trendafilov.

Luke records remnant 19th century wharf material in Lyttelton Harbour. The green-ness of the water is due to it being shipped in from the Rio Olympics (Deep dive! Remember the Olympics? That was this year!) Image Angel Trendafilov.

Kirsa did some helicopter survey of mining sites on the West Coast. For Kirsa, it was a chance to see what people had been hiding from her on the top shelf.

Kirsa did some helicopter survey of mining sites on the West Coast. For Kirsa, it was a chance to see what people had been hiding from her on the top shelf.

Annthalina and Francesca do some buildings archaeology. After serving several back-to-back sentences in the scaffolding, they were eventually acquitted on the grounds that scaffolding jail is not a real thing. Image: Annthalina Gibson.

Annthalina and Francesca do some buildings archaeology. After serving several back-to-back sentences in the scaffolding, they were eventually acquitted on the grounds that scaffolding jail is not a real thing. Image: Annthalina Gibson.

Megan, Shana, Angel and Kirsa excavate a number of brick floor and rubbish features in the central city. Image: Hamish Williams

Megan, Shana, Angel and Kirsa excavate a number of brick floor and rubbish features in the central city. Image: Hamish Williams.

The occasional fashion accessory for archaeologists. Chelsea and Peter celebrate exposing a brick floor in the central city. Image: Chelsea Dickson.

The occasional fashion accessory for archaeologists. Chelsea and Peter celebrate exposing a brick floor in the central city. Image: Chelsea Dickson.

A rubbish pit of scrap metal at a foundry site exposed in section. My doctor says I don’t get enough iron in my diet, so I ate a bunch of those cogs. Image: Tristan Wadsworth.

Curb your enthusiasm. An alignment of basalt stones associated with an 1870s grain storage warehouse building on St Asaph Street. and a 4 legged archaeologist. Image: Hamish Williams.

Curb your enthusiasm. An alignment of basalt stones associated with an 1870s grain storage warehouse building on St Asaph Street. and a 4 legged archaeologist. Image: Hamish Williams.

This year we’ve stayed busy with exhibitions and presentations, including Christchurch Heritage Week, conferences for the New Zealand Archaeological Association, the Australasian Society for Historical Archaeologists, and the Society of Historical Archaeology in the United States. Members of the team were involved with filming of Heritage Rescue and The New Zealand Home television shows, and of course Under Over alumni Matt Carter has graced the cast of Coast New Zealand.

Katharine, along with Billie Lythberg and Brigid Gallagher (Heritage Rescue) filming the opening of our combined exhibition ‘Buried Treasures’ for the Heritage Rescue TV show. Image: Jessie Garland.

Katharine, along with Billie Lythberg and Brigid Gallagher (Heritage Rescue) filming the opening of our combined exhibition ‘Buried Treasures’ for the Heritage Rescue TV show. Image: Jessie Garland.

“Let’s Dig”. Luke, Kirsa, and Megan set up a mock excavation for the young ones as part of Christchurch Heritage Week. Megan wields a sawn-off shovel, easily concealed, from her time as an undercover archaeologist in the former Soviet Union. Probably shouldn’t have posted that on the internet. Run, Megan! Russian hackers are on their way! Image: Jessie Garland.

“Let’s Dig”. Luke, Kirsa, and Megan set up a mock excavation for the young ones as part of Christchurch Heritage Week. Megan wields a sawn-off shovel, easily concealed, from her time as an undercover archaeologist in the former Soviet Union. Probably shouldn’t have posted that on the internet. Run, Megan! Russian hackers are on their way! Image: Jessie Garland.

Peter, Shana, and Jamie excavate a series of umu near Belfast used by Māori in the 15th century. This photo also happens be a magic eye. Image: Tristan Wadsworth.

Peter, Shana, and Jamie excavate a series of umu near Belfast used by Māori in the 15th century. This photo also happens be a magic eye. Image: Tristan Wadsworth.

Luke and Angel excavate and record a 19th century sea wall cut into a Māori midden and cultural layer from around the 17th century. The scaffolding above them would later be set up as a lighting rig for their two man show: West Trench Profile.

Luke and Angel excavate and record a 19th century sea wall cut into a Māori midden and cultural layer from around the 17th century. The scaffolding above them would later be set up as a lighting rig for their two man show: West Trench Profile.

During the 30 degree heat of summer, a Fulton Hogan crew built Teri a sun-shade.

During the 30 degree heat of summer, a Fulton Hogan crew built Teri a sun-shade.

This year Matt and Luke entered a house early one morning to record it, only to find the front room still occupied with sleeping squatters, and unexplained bloodstained clothing. The remainder of the graffiti can’t be shown here, but at least you can tell that they loved each other very much. Image: Matt Hennessey.

Archaeology-themed cookies made by the team for International Day of Archaeology. You are what you eat they say. Some of us are willow pattern ceramics. Image: Jessie Garland.

Archaeology-themed cookies made by the team for International Day of Archaeology. You are what you eat they say. Some of us are willow pattern ceramics. Image: Jessie Garland.

For the domestic gods and goddesses out there, how about a charcoal laundry iron, or a sewing machine for Christmas. Yes, the sewing machine does say Ballantynes!

For the domestic gods and goddesses out there, how about a charcoal laundry iron, or a sewing machine for Christmas. Yes, the sewing machine does say Ballantynes!

Lock, stock, and MANY smoking barrels! The hand gun on the left speaks for itself, the picture on the right is a pile of gun barrels from rifles and double barrel shotguns!

Lock, stock, and MANY smoking barrels! The hand gun on the left speaks for itself, the picture on the right is a pile of gun barrels from rifles and double barrel shotguns!

We could all do with a few more of these around this time of year! Here is a shiny British Empire penny from 1863, and a token for Jones & Williams wholesale and retail grocers, Dunedin. This duo was in business together as wine, spirit and provisions merchants from c. 1858 until 1865.

We could all do with a few more of these around this time of year! Here is a shiny British Empire penny from 1863, and a token for Jones & Williams wholesale and retail grocers, Dunedin. This duo was in business together as wine, spirit and provisions merchants from c. 1858 until 1865.

Treasures from the walls AND from the ground! The top photo shows a Book of Common Prayer - found between the walls of a local church. On the left you can see a personal handwritten note, dated 1862. The picture below displays the remains of a horse yoke – mid excavation. This apparatus may have been used to hitch a horse to a carriage or plough.

Treasures from the walls AND from the ground! The top photo shows a Book of Common Prayer – found between the walls of a local church. On the left you can see a personal handwritten note, dated 1862. The picture below displays the remains of a horse yoke – mid excavation. This apparatus may have been used to hitch a horse to a carriage or plough.

More of the best and brightest!

More of the best and brightest!

Work is hard sometimes, but fortunately I’m lucky to work with great people who make me laugh.

Self-dubbed A-team, winners of this year’s Christmas party scavenger hunt. As they say, many Shands make light work.

Self-dubbed A-team, winners of this year’s Christmas party scavenger hunt. As they say, many Shands make light work.

One of Luke’s highlights for the year was recording at the LPC dry dock. It just so happened that dock master Hal (a real cool dude) had to flood the dock at that time, and Kirsa and Luke got the opportunity to be on the caisson (gate) when Hal opened the taps. You can tell from Kirsa’s face that it was pretty darn exciting. Image: Luke Tremlett

One of Luke’s highlights for the year was recording at the LPC dry dock. It just so happened that dock master Hal (a real cool dude) had to flood the dock at that time, and Kirsa and Luke got the opportunity to be on the caisson (gate) when Hal opened the taps. You can tell from Kirsa’s face that it was pretty darn exciting. Image: Luke Tremlett.

Angel and Hamish. Entered without comment.

Angel and Hamish. Entered without comment.

It’s time for us to tap out for the year, and leave you all till January. Time to kick back, grab a cold beverage, and put our feet up.

You can tell Pete is still working, because there’s a laser measure in his hand. Image: Annthalina Gibson.

You can tell Pete is still working, because there’s a laser measure in his hand. Image: Annthalina Gibson.

The blog will return in February next year. Thanks again for joining on our journey down the rabbit hole of the past. We really appreciate you tuning in and hope you enjoy the holidays. From all of us here at Underground Overground Archaeology, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

everyone

Born again Baptist bargain barn

Who would have thought a Bin Inn could have such a sacred past?

We definitely didn’t see the potential when we first arrived on site. Image: P. Mitchell, 2016.

But as is usually the case with archaeology, once the layers are peeled back, an entirely different story starts unveiling itself.

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The former 1940s Wholesale Groceries (CH.CH.) Ltd store, revealing a rather holy facade. Image: P. Mitchell, 2016.

In its glory days this bargain Bin Inn was in fact the sacred church of the Spreydon Baptist Church congregation. Back in 1880 the growth of the congregation’s membership called for a larger church to be built. The new church, seating 100 people, opened its doors in November 1881 (Burdon 2015: 8).

The congregation’s old church, built in 1867, was also moved to the site and by 1894 a school and minister’s house were also located on the 1 acre property (Star 7/8/1894: 3). However, by 1898 the church school was deemed inadequate, and the church building was in need of alterations and repairs. Christchurch architect Arthur Chidgey was contracted to design a new, larger classroom. A somewhat simple fix to improving the building’s condition was to rotate the church so that the entrance faced northwest, towards the road. It was also during this period that a new Gothic porch and front windows were added, as well as the infant room extended off the southwest elevation (Press 29/10/1898: 7).

The 1881 Baptist church showing the relocated older church on the left, and the 1898 infant room extended to the right of the church. Image courtesy of M. Ballantine.

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The curved ceiling of the original church exposed during demolition. Image: P. Mitchell, 2016

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Northeast elevation of church, showing the location of the original windows, which had been removed. Image: P. Mitchell, 2016.

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Northwest elevation of church, showing where the old schoolroom and 1898 infants’ room were once attached to the church by a lobby. Image: P. Mitchell, 2016.

During the foundation removal, we bizarrely came across two foundations stones, one dating from 1881 when the church was built, and the other from 1898 when the church was rotated. A historical newspaper article explained that Thomas Dixon relaid the foundation stone on 15 September 1898 to mark the commencement of these radical alterations to the church (Press 16/9/1898: 4).

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Foundation stone laid when the church was constructed. Image: P. Mitchell, 2016.

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The 1898 re-laid foundation stone found at the west end of northwest elevation’s foundations. Photo: P. Mitchell, 2016.

On the morning of 1 January 1904, a fire broke out at the church, completely destroying the men’s social club room located in the lean-to added in 1898 (Press 2/1/1904: 10).

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Southeast elevation of church showing evidence of the 1904 fire damage. Image: P. Mitchell, 2016.

In the early 20th century church membership began declining, and by 1947 the Canterbury Baptist Association recommended that a union be formed between the Lincoln Road church and the Lyttelton Street Baptist Church. In 1948 a new combined Spreydon Baptist Church was built and the decommissioned old Baptist church began it’s second life as a discounted grocers (Ward 2004: 4-5).

Francesca Bradley & Peter Mitchell

Sources

Burdon, M., 2015. “Old Addington: The Baptist Church”. Addington Times, July 2015: 8.

Press. [online] Available at: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Star. [online] Available at: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Ward, K., 2004. “Against the Tide: Spreydon Baptist Church 1960 to 2000”. New Zealand Journal of Baptist Research 9: 1-50.

A man & his dream

Today I’m going to tell you about what is possibly my all-time favourite archaeological site (there is another contender, but it doesn’t have any connection to Christchurch or Canterbury so is unlikely to feature here). I reckon this site has pretty well everything going for it: a spectacular location, cool archaeology just lying around waiting to be explored and an excellent story. You see, it’s the story of a person (a man, as it happens, but that’s not that relevant) with a passion, who was determined to pursue their dream. And all of those things come together to form a place and story I love.

The site’s on the true right of the Rangitata River, in the lee of Mt Harper. It’s rugged country, made famous recently by a certain movie trilogy, and made famous in the 19th century by Samuel Butler, although he was on the other side of the river. It’s mountainous, there is a river (obviously) and there are lakes. And lots and lots of tussock. Not so much bush. It’s my kind of place. And there’s snow on the tops. And in winter there’ll be ice. Which is the crucial detail for this story.

Yes, ice.

The Mt Harper ice rink, from the slopes of Mt Harper. Image: K. Watson

The Mt Harper ice rink, from the slopes of Mt Harper. The trees were planted to provide shelter for both the rink and the Barkers. Image: K. Watson

You see, this was also Wyndham Barker’s kind of place (that’s a Barker of the Barkers of jam-making and photography fame). Barker was a man who loved ice skating. Not too much is known about his early life, but his first wife was a Dutch woman and the couple and their children lived in the Netherlands for a time in the 1910s, and the story goes that this is where Barker learned to ice skate. Certainly, there wouldn’t have been a whole lot of places he could have learnt to ice skate in New Zealand.

By the early 1930s, Barker and his second wife were back in New Zealand, and Barker and his two brothers had taken up the Ben McLeod run, on the true left of the Rangitata, just opposite Mt Harper. And Wyndham set about building an ice rink. Not just any ice rink, mind: an outdoor rink, with natural ice (to be fair, this would be the easiest sort of ice rink to build at the time).

Barker strikes me as the sort of person who’d have put a fair amount of thought into just where he was going to build his rink. This was no casual, carefree enterprise. This was a man on a mission, determined to bring the sport he loved to New Zealand. The site he chose was by no means easy to access – today, from Geraldine (the nearest settlement), it still takes over an hour (and a boat ride) to get there. And once you got over the river, there was quite a bit of swampy ground to cover before reaching Barker’s site (just perfect for getting a 4WD stuck in. It’s not an adventure if you don’t get stuck, right?). So the first thing Barker did in the summer of 1931-32 was build a causeway across the swampy ground to his proposed ice rink. And then work got underway on a house for himself and Brenda, his second wife.

The Barkers' house, which lies between the rink and the river, and looks out over the rink (albeit at a distance). The Barkers lived here year round, growing all their own vegetables, in what would have been a particularly harsh environment. Image: K. Watson.

The Barkers’ house, which lies between the rink and the river, and looks out over the rink (albeit at a distance). The Barkers lived here year round, growing all their own vegetables, in what would have been a particularly harsh environment. Image: K. Watson.

In spite of Barker’s careful approach, he got one thing wrong: the site of the first rink he built, in that summer of 1931-32. This site was some 300 m from the base of Mt Harper, and too exposed to the nor’west, which howls down the Rangitata – and rippled the ice. The first rink was prepared by ploughing and working the ground to level it, and building sod walls to contain the water. The causeway from the river bank connected directly to these walls, ensuring that skaters would not get their feet wet (assuming, of course, that they hadn’t got wet feet crossing the river). The great thing is you can still walk across this causeway, should your boat happen to land you in the right place. But it wouldn’t be fieldwork if you didn’t get your feet wet.

The plough used to form the first rink? Who knows, but it was undoubtedly used to form an ice rink. And the roller in the background was no doubt used to level the ground. Image: K. Watson.

The plough used to form the first rink? Who knows, but it was undoubtedly used to form an ice rink. And the roller in the background was no doubt used to level the ground. Image: K. Watson.

From the archaeology (the sod walls survive), we know that the first rink was triangular, and it was fed by a water race that took water from a nearby stream. The flow of water into the rink was controlled by a timber and concrete gate. Getting the flow just right was critical: too much water and it might not freeze. Too little and, well, there wouldn’t be enough ice. Barker was later to perfect a system of getting the ice in just the right condition by slowly building up layers of ice over a number of nights, and keeping it smooth with a Model-T Ford (known as Matilda. Or maybe it was Betsy. Sources disagree.) fitted with a grader blade. Cracks and holes were repaired with hot water. And sometimes the ice was sluiced with water from the hydropower scheme. Yep, you read that right, a hydropower scheme. So they could skate under lights at night, of course. See, isn’t this the best story?

The shed that housed the pelton wheel (which remains inside) for the hydropower scheme. This was installed by the 1938 skating season. Image: K Watson.

The shed that housed the pelton wheel (which remains inside) for the hydropower scheme. This was installed by the 1938 skating season. Image: K Watson.

After the failure of the first rink, Barker rethought his approach, and consequently built a new rink closer to Mt Harper. Oh, and by this time Wyndham and Brenda were living there year-round, in their corrugated iron-clad timber-lined house, with central heating. Well, you wouldn’t want to live in the mountains without central heating, would you? And let’s not forget that Wyndham had lived in Europe, and Europeans are so sensible about home heating. Not only was their house warm, it contained a workshop for repairing skates.

Tools for repairing ice skates, in the Barkers' house, with boxes for storing skates on each side. Image: K. Watson.

Tools for repairing ice skates, in the Barkers’ house, with boxes for storing skates on each side. Image: K. Watson.

It’s not entirely clear how the rink complex developed. It seems like the winter of 1933 might have been a bit of a trial run for the Barkers, after the failure of the previous winter, and that 1934 was the first major public season. By 1936, there were at least two rinks. Over the next few years, these rinks would be subdivided into smaller areas, and there may have been as many as seven rinks at one time, one of which was dedicated to ice hockey. One of the reasons for subdividing the large rinks into smaller areas seems to have been that the ice was no longer freezing as well. An early sign of climate change, perhaps? (This was in the 1940s.)

Along with all those rinks, there were also several buildings, including the White hut, a skate shed, men’s toilets, another toilet block (possibly for the women?!) and a ticket office. By the 1940s (after Barker had sold the rink), there was a shelter for the ice hockey rink and a refrigeration unit (to deal with the diminishing ice situation). This last ultimately ended up at the Centaurus rink in Christchurch. And of course there was the shed for the pelton wheel for the hydropower, installed by 1938.

The door to the White hut. Image: K. Watson.

The door to the White hut. Image: K. Watson.

Let’s go back to the White hut (imaginatively named for its white coat of paint…). This was actually built as a cow byre, for Sissy the cow (true story) – perhaps further evidence of the European influence on the Barkers? Not only did the Barkers drink Sissy’s milk, it was also used in drinks for skaters. In the 1940s, after the Barkers left, the hut was used for accommodation. Now it’s the only weather-proof building at the rink (although not possum-proof…).

In 1946, the Barkers left the rink, gifting it to the people of Canterbury. It was not to last much longer, however, with public use of the rink ceasing in the mid-1950s.

And what remains today? Pretty well everything – you can walk along the sod walls that surrounded the rinks, clamber through the remains of the Barkers’ house and, if you’re feeling energetic, scramble up to the water race that supplied the hydropower scheme. It’s easy to conjure up images of groups of people skating under the stars and lights, with the snow- capped peaks glistening in the distance, the laughter, the friendships formed. For me, it’s a magic place. I hope Wyndham Barker felt that he’d succeeded in his ambitions. Certainly, he left something pretty awesome behind.

Katharine Watson