A crumbling mystery…

North and west elevations of the house.

Regarded as Christchurch’s oldest home, this two storey farm cottage was built in 1851-2 for Mr. Parkerson, a surgeon. It was built with 600 mm thick scoria stone blocks quarried from Lyttelton and roofed with Welsh slate.

Exposed wall structure in upstairs bedroom.

600 mm thick south wall of original stone cottage.

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Stonemason’s minor blunder hidden in the cupboard under the stairs.

The layout of this cottage is unusual, and some have suggested it was a common design back in Norfolk, England. Downstairs, the two rooms are orientated around central back-to-back stone fireplaces, with a chimney that runs up through the centre of the house, and there’s no central hall.

Central fireplace in the east downstairs main room.

Central fireplace in the west downstairs main room.

Oddly enough, this small cottage has two mirroring staircases at either end of the house, each leading to two small upstairs bedrooms. But perhaps the most bizarre aspect about this building is the absence of a connecting doorway to allow the occupants to access both ends of the house.

Staircase at east end of house.

Staircase at west end of house.

Upstairs main bedrooms once separated by a brick wall (which collapsed in the earthquakes).

Original casement windows in upstairs bedroom.

Exposed early split lath used to constructed a wall in the west downstairs main room.

The layout of this mid-19th century stone cottage presents us with whole new set of questions about the mysterious ways our ancestors lived, and will help us understand the development of Christchurch’s domestic architecture.

Francesca Bradley

Let’s paint the town, shall we?

So much of the archaeology that we deal with on a daily basis, particularly from an artefacts perspective, is associated with the everyday domestic lives of Christchurch’s 19th century residents that it becomes quite easy to forget about the other industrial and commercial aspects of life in the city in the 1800s. Every now and then, however, we are reminded that – as is the case today – there was another side to Christchurch that was just as important, if not quite as archaeologically obvious.

On that note, while working through a box of artefacts recently, I came across several stoneware jar stoppers with DAVID STORER AND SONS / GLASGOW impressed on the top, circling the image of a bell. As it turns out, David Storer and Sons were oil and paint manufacturers operating during the latter decades of the 19th century. They made all kinds of paint, oil and varnishes, from olive and linseed oils to white lead paints, yellow ochre paints and several types of varnish. Presumably, some of these were intended as artist’s paints, while others were made for more utilitarian or structural purposes (still artistic in a way, though, right?).

David Storer and Sons stoneware lid. Image: J. Garland.

David Storer and Sons stoneware lid. Image: J. Garland.

Their products show up in shipping manifestos and advertisements from the 1870s well into the 1890s, despite a plethora of notices in 1887 that the company ‘failed’ (i.e. went bankrupt). I have no idea what happened after this point or how their products continued to be sold in the 1890s – the aftermath clearly wasn’t as sensational or newsworthy as the failure. The lids that we found are likely to have belonged to one (or several) of the builders, carpenters and painters located on the site during the latter decades of the 19th century. The paint, oil or varnish contained within those jars could have been used to paint houses, furniture, cabinets, paintings, fences, machinery and who knows what else.

And, it got me thinking. Researching the life and times of David Storer and Sons led me to wonder about 19th century paint in general: how it was made, what it was used for, whether we have other archaeological evidence for its use in Christchurch. It’s not something we normally think about, archaeologically, but  – as it is today – it would have been everywhere back then.

A paint joke from 1890. One of the many strange results discovered during the research process. Image: Evening Star 3/11/1890: 2.

A paint joke from 1890. One of the many strange results discovered during the research process. Image: Evening Star 3/11/1890: 2.

As it turns out, there were several types of paint available to New Zealand residents in the 19th century, from lead and zinc based mixes to paint made from iron oxide, asbestos (yes, you read that right), hematite, rubber, potatoes and skim milk. Some of these were available wet, while others arrived in the country in powdered form (just add water!). There was luminous paint (used on buoys), sanitary paint (not what you think, or, at least, not what I thought…), disinfecting paint, heat sensitive paint and even fire-resistant paint. Several articles and advertisements detail experiments undertaken to see how well certain paints helped to prevent fires, most of them surprisingly successful.

Advertisements also suggest that a range of colours were also available, from yellow ochre to red and white lead paints, white zinc paints and ‘Prussian blue’ (apparently made from the ashes of horses hooves). Lead based paints were very common and, as you would expect, sometimes affected the health of those around them. One account tells the story of a whole family who suffered from lead poisoning thanks to a painter who lost his lead paint covered brush at the bottom of the rainwater tank and contaminated their drinking water.

The things you can do with milk. Who knew? Image: Bruce Herald 18/09/1900, p. 2.

The things you can do with milk. Who knew? Image: Bruce Herald 18/09/1900, p. 2.

Interestingly, New Zealand appears to have had its own paint manufacturing industry fairly early on, with the New Zealand Hematite Paint Company established operating in the 1880s with factories in Nelson and Collingwood. A Mr Louisson was making hematite paint in Timaru in the 1860s or 1870s (later bought out by the NZ Hematite Paint Company), and another paint manufacturing company based in Thames made oxide of iron paint in the 1880s. Smith and Smith, now a name synonymous with window glass repair, were also active as paint manufacturers and distributors from the early 20th century onwards (often with slightly less than PC advertisements).

Despite the strong local industry, still more types of paint were imported from overseas, with shipments coming from America (Vulcan paint!), Australia and the United Kingdom. Scotland does appear to have had its fair share of paint exporters, with several advertisements for Scottish paints appearing in contemporary newspapers.

The uses of paint in urban life haven’t changed much over the years, although there are perhaps fewer articles now suggesting that we should paint all our ships with luminous paint to prevent collisions. Hematite paint was used on everything from railways to most metal structures (it was less corrosive than lead paint on metal). Sanitary paint, despite it’s name, was used for internal walls and “all outside work in wood, irons or stone, from a steamship to a golf ball.” Other uses noted included priming, machinery, bridges and barns, agricultural implements and branding sheep.

Some of the proposed uses for luminous paint in the 19th century. Image: Evening Star 17/03/1883, p. 3.

Some of the proposed uses for luminous paint in the 19th century. Image: Evening Star 17/03/1883, p. 3.

Unfortunately, when it comes to archaeological evidence of paint use in the past – other than the occasional container lid – material is scarce, especially on 19th century buildings. Many buildings are, of course, repainted over the years (it would be very unusual to find the original coat of paint without any later layers over the top). Interior and exterior decoration of houses adapted to match the changing fashions of the last century and a half, so it stands to reason that very little evidence of 19th century house paint remains, particularly on external walls and weatherboards.

Additionally, in our experience, a lot of 19th century houses used wallpaper rather than paint as interior decoration. We occasionally find paint on skirting boards and trim (under several layers of later wallpaper and paint), but it doesn’t appear to have been used much on the internal walls themselves. Sometimes, we’ve come across instances where the floors or stairs of a building have been painted – often on either side of a rug – but it’s difficult to tell whether this is Victorian or not. Other times, we’ve seen paint used as a decorative element in the interior design – used to colour a ceiling rose, for example, or stencilled on to the ceiling.

A painted staircase. Note the unpainted strip in the center, where the rug would have gone. Image: K. Webb.

A painted staircase. Note the unpainted strip in the center, where the rug would have gone. Image: K. Webb.

A painted ceiling rose. Image: K. Webb.

A painted ceiling rose. Image: M. Hennessey. 

The relatively infrequent use of paint in the interior of houses may have been partly a cost or fashion issue, but was probably largely a result of the materials used to form the walls. Lath and plaster, for example, is far more suited to wallpaper than to paint, as is scrim – both of which were often used on internal walls. Tongue and groove match lining could sometimes be painted, but is far more likely to have been varnished instead. In truth, it seems like paint would have been used most often on exterior walls – which, of course, we’re unlikely to see. It’s weird really – for something so visible, paint is strangely invisible in the archaeological record.

There’s so many aspects of life that we take for granted – both in the past and now – things that are all around us all the time, which form the fabric of our material worlds and set the scene for the stageshow of our lives (to get all melodramatic and Shakespearian on you). The relative archaeological obscurity of something like paint is especially ironic, given the purpose for which it is intended. It’s just not something I thought about, until an unknown Scottish company and a small stoneware lid reminded me to look for it. Yet another reminder that the smallest of objects can have the greatest of stories to tell.

Jessie Garland

A poetic reflection on heritage buildings

As building archaeologists we record and analyse the form, structure and ornamentation of 19th century dwellings to learn about the lives led by past occupants.

The Victorian era was a time of invention and achievement. Society was dominated by middle-class morality as they relentlessly pursued comfort and material wealth. Their houses expressed the energy and exuberance of this time, as they presented their best face to the public.

These efforts can be directly observed through the choice of internal linings used in 19th century dwellings. Wealthy homes were commonly lined with timber laths and lime plaster, while poorer houses used roughly sawn butted sarking boards. When we recorded a modest workman’s cottage in the Avon Loop we uncovered some of these roughly sawn butted sarking boards in the parlour, a room purposely decorated for public display.

Roughly sawn butted sarking boards used in parlour of workman's cottage. Image: F. Bradley.

Roughly sawn butted sarking boards used in parlour of workman’s cottage. Image: F. Bradley.

Over time, however, seven layers of wallpaper had been applied to this room to disguise the poor lining material.

Original layer 1

The first layer of wallpaper applied was a mid-Victorian pattern design of purple and light brown diamond shapes dating to between the 1860s and 1870s. Image: F. Bradley.

Layer 2

Applied on top of the original layer was a brown wallpaper with a blue flowers and leaves pattern design, dating to the 1880s. Image: F. Bradley.

Layer 4

The fourth layer of wallpaper dated to the 1850s and had design elements of the Edwardian period, with green diamond shapes and pink roses. Image: F. Bradley.

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The last layer was a pearlescent wallpaper with a design pattern of white, pink and yellow flowers, dating to between the 1920s and 1930s. Image: F. Bradley.

When we record these historic dwellings, we try decipher the social conventions at play during the Victorian era and how they influenced the way in which their dwellings were decorated. But when it came to recording this workman’s cottage in the Avon Loop, we were confronted with the juxtaposition of how 19th century society decorated their houses and a very unique way one 21st century occupant had decided to decorate her humble abode.

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Street-facing elevation of workman’s cottage in the Avon Loop. Image: F. Bradley.

In its irreparable state the creative owner of this house took to it with a fine paint brush and turned its rough-cast plastered walls into a mural of poetry.

The street-facing south elevation bore the words of Percy Shelley’s sonnet ‘Ozymandias’.

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Percy Shelley’s poem ‘Ozymandias’ painted on the street-facing south elevation. Image: F. Bradley.

Ozymandias – Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.

(Source: Wikipedia, 2001).

‘Ozymandias’ was one of English romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s most famous works, first published in 1818. Shelley’s works often attracted controversy as they spoke out against oppression, convention and religion (Source: Wikipedia, 2001).

His poem ‘Ozymandias’ acts as a a metaphor for the ephemeral nature of political power. Its central theme explores the indiscriminate and destructive power of history, by contrasting all leaders’ pretentions to greatness and their inevitable decline. It is a powerful statement about the insignificance of human beings to the passage of time (Wikipedia, 2001).

Along the north elevation of the cottage were the words of Denis Glover’s iconic New Zealand poem ‘The Magpies’.

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Denis Glover’s poem ‘The Magpies’ painted along the north elevation of the cottage. Image: F. Bradley.

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First section of ‘The Magpies’. Image: F. Bradley.

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Second section of ‘The Magpies’. Image: F. Bradley.

The Magpies – Denis Glover

When Tom and Elizabeth took the farm
The bracken made their bed,
And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said.

Tom’s hand was strong to the plough
Elizabeth’s lips were red,
And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said.

Year in year out they worked
While the pines grew overhead,
And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said.

But all the beautiful crops soon went
To the mortgage-man instead,
And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said.

Elizabeth is dead now (it’s years ago)
Old Tom went light in the head;
And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said.

The farm’s still there. Mortgage corporations
Couldn’t give it away.
And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies say.

(Source: Xyphir, 2011).

‘The Magpies’ by Denis Glover is one of New Zealand’s most famous poems, first published in 1941. This poem relates to the passage of time as it laments the fate of farmers in hard economic times (Wikipedia, 2006). The hard-working farming couple become victims of an oppressive social system that exploits the working man. In this poem, the cruel and impartial nature of time is personified by the distinctive caw of the magpies, as they watched the farmers struggle away (Shieff, 2008).

As architectural styles and their decorative features can help us understand the conditions of bygone generations, the choice of poetry used here to decorate this workman’s cottage may be a reflection on the current post-quake social condition of Canterbury. Or perhaps the owner was merely commenting on the passage of time and its indiscriminate treatment of her home. Who knows, as archaeologists we can only speculate…

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Words of wisdom painted next to the dwelling’s front door. Image: F. Bradley.

Francesca Bradley.

References

Wikipedia, 2001. Ozymandias. [online] (22 September 2015) Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ozymandias [Accessed 1 October 2015].

Xyphir, 2011. The Magpies – Denis Glover. A poem a day, [online] 26 April 2011. Available at: http://nzpoems.blogspot.co.nz/2011/04/magpies-denis-glover.html [Accessed 1 October 2015].

Wikipedia, 2006. The Magpies. [online] (2 May 2015) Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Magpies [Accessed 1 October 2015].

Shieff, Sarah, 2008. Denis Glover, 1912 – 1980. [online] Wellington: Victoria University. Available at: file:///Users/Shebitch/Downloads/716-622-1-PB%20(1).pdf [Accessed 1 October 2015].

 

 

The dilapidatedly grand villa

This week we are treating you to a photographic tale of the life of a Cantabrian abode. Come with us now on a journey through time and space, to the wonderful world of dilapidated Victorian villas…

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Between 1904 and 1905 Mr. Andrew McNeil Paterson, a salesman, built this rather grand residence. In its former glory the house had a total of eight rooms, including a scullery, pantry and bathroom. Image: Kirsa Webb.

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Mr. Paterson’s dining room with faceted bay windows. Image: Kirsa Webb.

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Detail of decorative cornice in the dining room. Image: Kirsa Webb.

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The perforated ceiling rose in the dining room. Perforated ceiling roses helped ventilate rooms with fireplaces. This one was the most decorative ceiling rose that remained in the villa. Image: Peter Mitchell.

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The turret bay window of the drawing room. The door on the left led to the modern addition of a bathroom, where the original verandah would have run. Image: Kirsa Webb.

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Detail of unperforated ceiling rose in drawing room. Image: Peter Mitchell.

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Original perforated ceiling rose in the hallway. Image: Peter Mitchell.

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Ornate cornice detail of the original hallway. Image: Kirsa Webb.

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Detail of a perforated ceiling rose in a bedroom, which was significantly smaller than the other remaining ceiling roses in the house. Image: Peter Mitchell.

Despite its grandiose design, Mr. Paterson soon grew tired of the villa and sold the house just four years later. Over the next couple of decades the dwelling was home to a collection of different occupants. However, as was common practice in Christchurch during the Depression, this ornate villa was eventually divided up into a jigsaw puzzle of single bedroom flats.

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2011 plan of Mr. Paterson’s former residence divided into four flats. Image: Francesca Bradley.

And it was this jigsaw of four derelict flats Underground Overground Archaeology had to piece together to bring you the story of Mr. Andrew McNeil Paterson and his once grandiose residence.

Francesca Bradley

An architectural interlude

We’re taking a short break between perfume posts this week and veering off in another direction entirely to present you with a photographic essay on one of the historic buildings we’ve recorded recently (but never fear, we’ll be back on course next week!).

The building, a Victorian villa,  appears to have been built in 1899 by the delightfully named Matilda Sneesby (very Roald Dahl-esque), wife of Christchurch printer William Sneesby. They lived there with their family until the 1920s. The building itself has some fascinating architectural features and additions, laid our for your perusal in the photographs below.

North elevation of 34 Harvey Terrace with bull nosed veranda, cast iron laces work, chamfered timber posts, timber fretwork brackets. The east end has been walled in.

North-facing entrance to the house, with bullnose veranda, cast iron lace work, chamfered timber posts and timber fretwork brackets. The east end has been walled in, as you can see. Image: P. Mitchell.

2.Bay window on the east elevation. Identical bay windows have been found on other houses suggesting that they were available pre-built or as a kitset (not sure of wording for this).

Bay window on the east elevation. Identical bay windows have been found on other houses. Image: P. Mitchell.

Fireplace removed from the parlour.

Beautiful fireplace removed from the parlour. As you can see, the chimney piece has been made to look like black marble, which was, of course, far more expensive than a wooden imitation. A manufacturer’s trademark – a single Scotch thistle bloom with “REGISTERED / TRADEMARK” around it – was found on the back, suggesting possible Scottish origins. Image: P. Mitchell.

Hallway arches like these were used to separate the ‘public’ and ‘private’ areas of houses. The front rooms of a dwelling were considered public because these were the rooms most likely used when entertaining guests.

Hallway arches like these were used to separate the ‘public’ and ‘private’ areas of houses. The front rooms of a dwelling were considered public because these were the rooms intended for entertaining guests. Image: P. Mitchell.

Traditional moulded skirting boards and architraves. These went out of fashion in the early 20th century as they became more expensive to produce. Note the child’s scrawl. Touches like this remind us that these buildings were people’s homes

Traditional moulded skirting boards and architraves. These went out of fashion in the early 20th century. Note the child’s scrawl on the wall above. Touches like this remind us that these buildings were people’s homes as well as the architectural remnants of a bygone era. Image: P. Mitchell.

Another ceiling rose, in another room.

A ceiling rose. This house was unusual in that there were three identical ceiling roses – of this design – in three different rooms. Typically, they vary from room to room. Image: P. Mitchell.

Ceiling roses. 34 Harvey Terrace was unusual in that there were three identical ceiling roses in three different rooms.

Another, slightly different ceiling rose, found in one the smaller rooms of the house. Image: P. Mitchell.

his double window was at the south end of the Phase 1 (original) build. The window on the right was boarded up when the house was reconfigured at some time in the early 20th century

This double window was at the south end of the original part of the house. The window on the right was boarded up when the house was reconfigured at some time in the early 20th century. Image: P. Mitchell.

The south wall of this room held a fireplace or coal range associated with the kitchen which had been removed. The kitchen is most likely to have been the room beyond the opening, which was still being used as a kitchen in 2011.

The south wall of this room held a fireplace or coal range associated with the kitchen that had been removed. The original kitchen is most likely to have been the room beyond the opening, still used as such in 2011 (albeit somewhat different in appearance). Image: P. Mitchell.

This wall is something of a puzzle. The ceiling shows evidence of a wall having been removed, and the wall shows evidence of a door having been removed. The wall was probably removed first, and the wall relined. Then the door was filled in at a later time. The main hallway lies beyond the filled in door way. The wainscoting was not original.

This wall is something of a puzzle. The ceiling shows evidence of a wall having been removed, and the wall shows evidence of a door having been removed. The wall was probably removed first, and relined. Then the door was filled in at a later time. The main hallway lies beyond the filled in door way. The wainscoting was not original. Image: P. Mitchell.