The Curious Case of the Red Building

The two-storey red building in the centre of Christchurch was like many typical pre-1900 buildings that had been modified over the years. The veranda was enclosed to provide more rooms within the building and multiple other extensions and rooms had been added over the years. The building had even been divided into flats which is not a strange sight for such a large old building in the centre of Christchurch. What was curious about this building was the saltbox cottage butted against its east exterior wall.

The west elevation of the two-storey building at the time of demolition. Due to the proximity of the fence and the overgrown trees detailed photography of this elevation was restricted, so this drawing is the best way to show this elevation. Figure: J. Hearfield.

The south elevation of the saltbox cottage joined to the main two-storey house on the left. Image: P. Mitchell.

There was a building built on this property between 1877 and June 1881. Through historical research we were able to pin down the occupation of this land to this time period due to a map in 1877 showing no dwellings recorded on the town section (Strouts, 1877) and June 1881 was when this building named ‘Gidleigh’ is first mentioned in newspapers as a property advertised for let (Press 3/6/1881:1). During this time the property was owned by Church Property Trustees (CPT) who are likely to have developed the property before renting it out to Mr Neville George Barnett. Until 1884 Barnett consistently advertised his services as an organist and professor of music at this address. In February 1884 Barnett accepted a position in Auckland and relocated to the North Island (Star 16/2/1884:2). In 1884 Barnett assigned his lease to a Mr George Frederick Tendall, who had been living next door at ‘Penwynholme’, with his family (LINZ, 1850: 340; Press 12/9/1882:1).

Within the first year of leasing the property Mr George Frederick Tendall and his wife Mrs G. F. Tendall (Eliza), built an extension, to be used as a school room (Lyttelton Times 3/5/1884:7).

Mrs Tendall begs to announce, she is about to have built a large and commodious Schoolroom, which will enable her to take an increased number of pupils. She offers a thorough education, including religious instruction, in the subjects usually taught in private schools…” (Lyttelton Times 3/5/1884:7).

Post-1910s additions to the buildings included an extension on the north elevation of the two-storey building that was completed before 1955 and a lean-to on the east elevation of the 1884 extension. During this time the buildings were converted into seven flats, which included the addition of more kitchens and bathrooms and altered the larger rooms with partition walls to create multiple rooms. At some point after 1955 the front veranda on the west elevation of the two-storey building was converted into two more rooms with the addition of a French door on the new west elevation. These additions changed the number of rooms in the two-storey building from the original eight rooms to 22 rooms and in the saltbox cottage it changed the number of rooms from four rooms to five rooms.

Aerial imagery from 1955 shows the north extension and the front veranda still in place. Image: National Library of New Zealand.

The ground-floor layout of the buildings before it was demolished in 2018. Figure: J. Hearfield.

Research into the history of this site provided no insight into what came first – the two-storey building or the cottage. No mention of the cottage could be found in the historical documents. During the recording of the building they both had similar building techniques and materials. These included:

Wide timber floorboards, measuring to 150 mm, are common in pre-1900 buildings and were found within both buildings. Image: P. Mitchell.

Split laths and plaster in the walls and ceilings of both buildings, which is another characteristic of a mid-19th century dwelling; not usually seen in buildings built after about 1880. Image: P. Mitchell.

Example of the bricks found in both buildings in all three original fireplaces. The bricks had frogs but did not have any makers marks and appeared to be pressed but not machine made. Image: J. Hearfield.

These three building materials found throughout the two buildings indicate they were built before 1900 as spilt lath and plaster, large timber floorboards and pressed bricks are common in buildings built in New Zealand before 1900 (Arden and Bowman 2004; 163,170 & 171). With no evidence in the history it could only be hypothesised at this point that both buildings were originally built within the same time period.

It wasn’t until the buildings were demolished that the truth was revealed. Underneath the floor of both buildings was a shared concrete and limestone ring foundation. This provided us with the evidence that these two buildings would have been built at the same time. But how unusual for a large building to have a small cottage butted against it.

An example of the foundations used for both buildings. Image: J. Hearfield.

After much discussion, it became clear exactly why there were two buildings built at the same time on this section – it was actually one large dwelling. Within the two-storey building there was no fireplace with an opening large enough to be the kitchen fireplace. The only fireplace large enough for cooking was in the cottage. This led us to the conclusion that there could have been an internal door from the hall in the two-storey building into the cottage. This means that the cottage would have been used as a utilitarian annex and functioned as the kitchen, scullery and servant quarters.

Newspaper article talking about the lease of the property and mentions servant bedroom and scullery (Lyttelton Times 9/6/1881:8).

What we have concluded may have been the original layout of the building in 1881. Image: J. Hearfield.

Whilst many pre-1900 buildings show evidence of a divide between public and private spheres, including areas that were designated for servants such as the kitchen and their living quarters, this usually is shown in the difference between decorative features such as skirting boards and architraves. However, this building took it to a whole other level by making the servant quarters look like a completely different building. Perhaps this was to give the servants a feeling of having their own space or else was it the owner wanting separatism between the family and their servants?

Jamie-Lee Hearfield


Arden, S., and Bowman, I., 2004. The New Zealand Period House: A conservation guide. Random House New
Zealand, Auckland.

LINZ, 1850. Canterbury Land District Deeds index – A – Town sections and town reserves register. Archives New
Zealand, Christchurch office.

Lyttelton Times. [online] Available at: [accessed 07/18].

Press. [online] Available at: [accessed 07/18].

Star. [online] Available at: [accessed 07/18].

Strouts, F., 1877. Map of Christchurch,

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