The light fantastic

In last week’s blog post, we talked about the use of light in Christchurch’s city streets and public spaces, from oil lamps to gas lights to electricity in the early 20th century. This week, we step out of the street and through the door into the house, where 19th century residents harnessed everything from naked flame to caged lightning (their words, not mine) to illuminate their daily lives.

In the first years of European settlement, unsurprisingly, lighting options were limited. Setters in the 1850s and early 1860s would have relied exclusively on candles and kerosene for lighting in the home. These had the advantage of being cheap, easy and portable. They also had the disadvantage of being smoky, dim, sometimes odorous and prone to setting things on fire. In a settlement largely constructed from timber, the last of these was definitely a concern.

Candles and kerosene or oil lamps weren’t just used because of a lack of alternative options, however. Even after the introduction of gas lighting into homes later in the 19th century, candles and lamps continued to be a popular method of illuminating the room, so to speak, with contemporary newspapers advertising their use well into the 20th century (Ashburton Guardian 12/05/1900: 3, Star 12/09/1896: 4). In truth, candle light is probably the form of household lighting for which we have the most archaeological evidence, in the form of candle sticks, chamber sticks and candle snuffers. Most households are likely to have had several candle sticks and/or chamber sticks, the flat circular candle holders with a handle and inbuilt snuffer holder for ease of carrying (presumably into the bedchamber, hence the name).

Candle sticks and a candle snuffer. Candle snuffers would often rest on the cone of chamber sticks (see picture below) for ease of access. Image: J. Garland.

Candle sticks and a candle snuffer. Candle snuffers would often rest on the cone of chamber sticks (see picture below) for ease of access. Image: J. Garland.

We’ve talked about the types of candles available to consumers before on the blog, from cheap tallow candles to spermaceti (or, as they are hilariously referred to sometimes, sperm candles) and stearine candles, advertised for their superior quality and bright light. The amount of light provided from each of these varied, as one would expect, but even the best stearine candle was limited in the amount of illumination that it could provide. Stearine candles were, however, the ones used as a measurement of candle power against new light forms like burning magnesium. Lights could be anything from 15-20 candle power (basic lamps) to bright light house beacons with candle power measured in the hundreds of thousands.

Advertisement for prize medal spermacetti and stearine candles from the

Advertisement for prize medal spermacetti and stearine candles from the Lyttelton Times 6/05/1863: 5.

Candles, like the candle sticks and chamber sticks in which they were displayed, also came in a variety of forms, with some attention paid to appearance. For example, one advertisement offers “plain, fluted or coloured piano and bedroom candles”, suggesting that different candles may have been used in different – perhaps public and private – parts of the house. Similarly, the candlesticks we’ve found have been both decorated and undecorated, in everything from brass to porcelain to plain old refined earthenware. In this way, as with almost every other object we use in our lives, the provision of artificial light becomes another avenue for the expression of style and status and taste within the home (as is still the case today, from modern industrial chic fittings to terrible awful 1970 glass lamp shades).

Ceramic chamber sticks or chamber candle sticks. Note the cone for the snuffer and, although they're all roughly the same shape, the differing decoration. Image: J. Garland.

Ceramic chamber sticks or chamber candle sticks. Note the cone for the snuffer and, although they’re all roughly the same shape, the differing decoration. Image: J. Garland.

The same thing is apparent with oil and kerosene lamps.  While we tend to only find the plainer lamps in the archaeological record, if we find them at all (lamp glass is thin and fragile and usually in tiny pieces by the time it gets to us), a variety of elaborate casings were available to discerning consumers. Kerosene and oil lamps, as I’m sure many of you are aware, operated by burning fuel, usually stored in a burner at the base of the lamp, through the means of a wick, either an upright or flat wick or a circular rolled wick (also known as the Argand lamp), aided by a draught from the glass chimney casing.

Both kerosene lamps and candles were used in hanging lamps, chandeliers and light fittings as well as the portable lamps and holders that we commonly find in the archaeological record.  In fact, archaeological evidence for the more elaborate lights and light fittings is scarce. I think this is probably because they were part of the furnishings of a house and a) less likely to have been broken or damaged than portable lights and b) more likely to have been refitted for gas and/or electricity later on (although we also don’t find many original light fittings in extant 19th century buildings today).

A 'finger' lamp found on a site in central Christchurch and an advertisement showing the selection of lamps available to the consumer. This is the base of a kerosene lamp that would have looked a bit like this when complete.

A ‘finger’ lamp base found on a site in central Christchurch and an advertisement showing the selection of lamps available to the consumer. The lamp would have originally had a glass chimney on the top, attached with a metal burner, looking a bit like this. Image: J. Garland, Ashburton Guardian 12/05/1900: 3.

As I mentioned in last week’s post, gas began to be used for lighting in Christchurch in the 1860s. The Christchurch Gas Company was formed in 1862, by which point “the city of Christchurch [had] attained such dimensions and density that it appears capable of supporting a Gas Factory.” The company was formed with the purpose of lighting the city, and the advantages of gas as “the cheapest and safest means of illumination yet offered to the public” were emphasised, particularly in comparison to the cost of oil and candles (Press 22/11/1862: 6). Works were carried out throughout 1863 and 1864 and by November 1864, they were giving notice that gas would be supplied to consumers by early December, aided by the work of Mr Edward Reece, who would “furnish the internal fittings.” The first use of gas lighting in a building appears to have been in late December 1864, when Coker’s Hotel, J. G. Ruddenklau’s City Hotel and a few other buildings braved “the new acquisition” (New Zealand Spectator and Cook’s Strait Guardian 28/12/1864: 3).

Notice of the first use of gas lighting in buildings in Christchurch, given in December 1864. Image:

Notice of the first use of gas lighting in buildings in Christchurch, given in December 1864. Image:

By the 1870s and 1880s, many people were lighting their rooms with gas, piped through a meter from the mains laid down under the roads (the connection initially paid for by the Christchurch Gas Company). Public buildings were also outfitted with gas pipes and lamps, although kerosene also seems to have maintained a tenacious hold in some places: the Canterbury Provincial Chambers, although fitted with gas pipes, were still being lit with kerosene in November 1865, much to the outrage of one letter-writing citizen in the local newspaper. Interestingly, gas lighting in domestic residences is another thing that’s under-represented in the archaeological record, likely for the same reasons as the fixed oil and candle light fittings are missing. In fact, sometimes we only find indirect evidence of it, through the presence of associated architectural features like gas vents in ceilings.

Archaeological evidence for gas lighting in buildings. Top: a ceiling vent in a 19th century house. Below: one of the gas light fittings from the Canterbury Provincial Chambers. Image: F. Bradley, L. Tremlett.

Archaeological evidence for gas lighting in buildings. Top: a ceiling vent in a 19th century house. Below: one of the gas light fittings from the Canterbury Provincial Chambers. Image: F. Bradley, L. Tremlett.

Eventually gas lamps were surpassed by the “superior” electric light towards the turn of the century. By the 1910s, houses were being advertised with electric lights as a selling point, although, many homes in Christchurch (and New Zealand) continued to be lit with gas lighting until well into the 20th century. This seems to have the result of a few issues. For one, electricity was expensive, especially at the beginning, and gas was the easier and cheaper option. For another, people in the 19th century had become used to portable, easy, lights in the home and – early on, in the 1880s – electricity was neither of those things. At least one enterprising swindler took advantage of this, advertising “portable electric lamps” for the home in the mid-1880s that sounded an awful lot like oil lamps, described modestly as a “most important invention that will bring about a complete revolution in all branches of lighting” (Thames Star 26/11/1885: 1). The scheme was soon unmasked as “an unmitigated fraud and swindle” (Thames Advertiser 10/02/1886: 3).

Advertisement for the Norman Electric Company Portable light (left) and a company offering installation of electric lights in the early 20th century. Image:

Advertisement for the Norman Electric Company Portable light (left) and a company offering installation of electric lights in the early 20th century. Image: Thames Star 26/11/1885: 1Sun 13/08/1914: 2.

It brings up an interesting point though, this emphasis on the portability of light. If there’s anything that stands out to me from the progress of lighting in Christchurch, especially in the home, it’s that shift from artificial light as something personal – that people lit themselves, candle by candle or lamp by lamp, and carried with them – to something that is a fixture of the surroundings, no longer carried with a person, but always there to be switched on (as it is today).

Looking back at last week’s post, there’s also a contrast to be explored between the lighting of the public spaces of the city and the use and perception of light in the private spaces of the home, some of it to do with that same issue of portability. For the city as a community, lighting in public spaces was a question of safety and convenience, a response to the dangers of the dark, as well as a matter of civic pride and a certain standard of civilised living. The fixed street lamps, city wide gas provision, the requirement for lighting outside hotels and early attempts to adopt electricity all bear witness to this. Those same themes of pride and status are evident in the use of light in private homes, from just the ability to provide light after dark to the quality and style of lights used. The lighting of our homes and personal spaces, though, seems to me more of a convenient luxury than a mitigation of danger (although there’s an element of that as well), even in the 19th century. It is what allowed people then – and now – to live their lives outside of the constraints of sunrise and sunset, to essentially manufacture more time from the day.

Jessie Garland

References

Ashburton Guardian. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

New Zealand Spectator and Cook’s Strait Guardian. [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.

Thames Advertiser. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

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

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…

FOH

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.

plan

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.

Class, wealth & power

The challenge for this week’s blog was to consider class and buildings – more specifically: houses. When I decided to write this post, I thought it’d be relatively straightforward – I have a really interesting house to tell you about, and it definitely has something to say about social stratification. But I’ve started writing this about four times now, and each time it’s beaten me, because I’m struggling to understand and outline what this house says about class. As Jessie outlined in our last post, class is tricky. And the more you look at it, the harder it seems to get. To echo our last post further, we just don’t understand class in 19th century Christchurch well enough yet to begin to try and interpret very real objects in relation to this slippery, ephemeral concept.

 North elevation, cottage. Image: L. Tremlett and M. Hennessey.


North elevation, cottage. Image: L. Tremlett and M. Hennessey.

Let’s start with the basics. I think we can all agree that social stratification is readily apparent in houses today. It was no different in 19th century Christchurch. But what sort of social stratification are we actually seeing? Class is only one means by which society is stratified. The two other primary means are power and wealth, both of which are easier to define than class – and can clearly be related to class, and/or each other. Power can be social power, or economic, political, financial or even the power of celebrity. At its most simplistic level, wealth relates to how much money you have, and can also include the value of your assets. I’m sure economists and accountants have much finer, more nuanced ways of defining this concept, but we’ll stick with the obvious for now.

Of these three concepts, it seems to me that wealth is easiest to examine through tangible objects (whether the china you buy or the house you live in). It’s still not that simple, though: you might not choose to spend your money on material goods, preferring instead to travel, or to invest for the future, or to donate to charity. Or you could live on credit, living beyond your means to maintain a facade of wealth (possibly for status-related reasons). Different things, after all, are important to different people.

When it comes to houses and interpreting the wealth of the occupant, there are some other factors that need to be considered. Did the occupant build this house for themselves? Or did they buy a house that someone else built? Or are they a tenant? And if this last is the case, is it an indication of a relative lack of wealth, of an inability to generate sufficient income to pay a deposit? New Zealand society today places a high value on owning your own house, but was this always the case? I don’t know too much about the housing market in 19th century Christchurch, in terms of what sort of deposit was required and/or what the mortgage rates were – this isn’t to say this research hasn’t been carried out, just that there hasn’t been time to look into this for this post.

The house I’m going to tell you about today was built as a rental property, but would eventually be occupied by someone who owned it. The house was in the northeast corner of the area bounded by the four avenues, and was built in the early-mid 1880s. It was a rather lovely little house. It was a single-storey bay villa, with a decorative barge board and a finial on the gable end (as an aside, we don’t often see these things on the 19th century villas we record, possibly because they get removed during the 20th century), and a verandah next to this. The bay had a decorative bay window with a pair of sash windows in it and the front door had both fan and sidelights, and there was another pair of sash windows next to this. In keeping with the fashion of the times, this facade was clad in rusticated weatherboards.

 Decorative features on the street-facing facade: finial (top left), bay window (right) and bargeboard (lower left). Image: L. Tremlett.


Decorative features on the street-facing facade: finial (top left), bay window (right) and bargeboard (lower left). Image: L. Tremlett.

Already, these components would have told the visitor to the house something about its occupants. The key things were the fashionable rusticated weatherboards; the double – rather than triple – sash windows; the decorative features; and the narrowness of the facade, indicating a relatively small building (this was no quarter-acre section). Based on what we’ve seen elsewhere in Christchurch, I think that these would’ve told the visitor that someone ‘respectable’ lived here, someone who could afford the niceties of life, but who also lived modestly, whether through choice or circumstance – and I cannot stress strongly enough that these are suppositions, untested hypotheses, and should not be taken as truths.

When the visitor opened the front door, they would have seen a ‘properly’ laid out Victorian home (regrettably, we know nothing about the furnishings, furniture or bric-a-brac the occupants used to decorate this house – another problem when examining status via a house). Straight ahead was an arch (with lovely plaster consoles) that separated the public and private spaces. Between the front door and the arch, there was a door to the master bedroom, where you could stow your coat while visiting and, to the left, the parlour or front room, where the visitor would have been entertained.

 Looking down the hallway from just inside the front door, with the door to the master bedroom at right. Image: L. Tremlett.


Looking down the hallway from just inside the front door, with the door to the master bedroom at right. Image: L. Tremlett.

Most visitors probably never went into the ‘private’ part, and thus never knew what was in there. So they wouldn’t have known that, while there were ceiling roses in the parlour and master bedroom, there were none in the rooms in the rear of the house. In addition, the height of the skirting boards reduced behind that arch and so did the thickness of the doors. And there were plinth blocks in front of the arch, but none to the rear. Plinth blocks aren’t even something we find in homes that we think belong to the moderately or the comfortably well-off – I think of plinth blocks as being restricted to the homes of the truly wealthy. We don’t see them often. There might have been other differences, too, but these were the ones that were still evident in 2013. Of course, the visitor could well have suspected these differences, given the image presented by the house’s facade, and because these differences between public and private spaces were not uncommon in Victorian villas. But the reality is that, in houses of this size (and in a house with ‘only’ pairs of sash windows on its street-facing facade), I wouldn’t have expected these differences, because we don’t often see them in small houses – which could be a problem of survival.

 Top: the ceiling rose in the parlour. Bottom: the plinth block in the parlour. Image: L. Tremlett.


Top: the ceiling rose in the parlour. Bottom: a plinth block at the base of the door between the parlour and the hall. Image: L. Tremlett.

The first occupant of this house was a Mrs Sarah Gault, a dressmaker who lived there from 1886 until 1889. Mrs Gault was Irish. She arrived in New Zealand in 1883, with her father Davis Black, other members of her paternal family and an Alexander Gault (Press 23/4/1883: 2, 9/6/1890: 4) – husband, brother-in-law, son? It’s not been possible to work out so far. Mrs Gault set up her dress-making business in Fitzgerald Avenue, operating from her home, a common practice for dressmakers in the 19th century (Malthus 1992, Star 21/4/1884: 4). A year later she moved into the house in question here, and continued to operate her business from home (Star 3/11/1885: 4). In the Wises Post Office directories (sort of like the White Pages, listing who lived at what address), she was listed as the only occupant of the house in question – this doesn’t mean that she was the only occupant, but it does mean that she was the chief breadwinner, and possibly that there wasn’t a man living at the house (as the male of the house was typically listed in the directories). In 1889, Sarah Gault moved elsewhere in the city, and continued to run her business from home (Star 10/9/1889: 2).

Mrs Gault’s trade meant that she would have received her clients at home, measuring and fitting them in her parlour (Malthus 1992). In her line of work, image may have been very important, depending on the type of clientele she wished to attract. The ceiling roses and plinth blocks, and the barge boards and finial, may have conveyed to her clients that, although she lived in a small house, she understood how one was ‘supposed’ to live and even – this could be quite a stretch – that she was ‘respectable’, often held to be a terribly middle class characteristic. (But to me those plinth blocks suggest something more than middle class.) These features may also indicate the type of client she wished to attract.

So maybe you can tell something about class by looking at a building? While this building doesn’t say much to me about power (at least, not in a simple, immediately obvious way – it might be possible to extract some more subtle readings of power), it may say something about the relative wealth of its occupants: it suggests to me that Mrs Gault was doing reasonably well, business-wise, as this is unlikely to have been cheapest rental around – but maybe it was a financial stretch for her, and she chose it because of the image it conveyed to her clients? It’d be interesting to know about the house she moved to next, and why she moved there. Certainly, there’s nothing in the newspapers to suggest that she was in financial difficulties. What I’ve outlined is a theory only, though, it’s an untested hypothesis, and the next houses we record may prove all of this completely wrong. But I guess that’s the joy of doing research: you develop a theory, you test it, you see what you learn. And slowly, slowly, you maybe begin to understand.

Katharine Watson, Luke Tremlett & Rosie Geary Nichol

References

Malthus, J., 1992. Dressmakers in nineteenth century New Zealand. In Brookes, B., Macdonald, C. and Tennant, M. (eds). Women in History 2: Essays on women in New Zealand. Bridget Williams Books, Wellington.

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

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

Patterns of succession

When we are recording a standing structure we might be lucky enough to discover wallpaper hidden behind plasterboard or tucked under skirtings. In some houses we can find layers of wallpaper, each revealing a stylistic period. While many of the patterns and styles may be out of favour today, these ‘paper hangings’ and their application offer an insight about previous occupants and how they lived.

Wallpaper in New Zealand during the 1820s and 1830s was a rare thing. Many dwellings were often crudely constructed from pit sawn timber and were, at best, lined with canvas or sacking. By the 1840s wallpaper production in England had been mechanised. As the population grew in New Zealand wallpaper became readily available for many as a way to make a basic dwelling homely. Local newspapers started to advertise paper hangings at the general goods store, from the latest ship to have arrived in port.

Advertisement for paper hangings. New Zealand Colonist and Port Nicholson Advertiser,  3 February 1843.

Advertisement for paper hangings. Image: New Zealand Colonist and Port Nicholson Advertiser 3/2/1843.

In the early 1850s in Lyttelton and Christchurch, merchants would advertise in the newspapers and from records we can see firms such as Tippetts, Silk & Heywood, Longden & Le Cren and J Ballard of Lyttelton, all selling wallpaper (Lyttelton Times 1851). By the 1860s we start to see specialised trades advertised, and it is these painters and decorators who advertise papers and scrim. Samuel’s Paper Hanging Depot in Gloucester Street, Christchurch, is a frequent advertiser (Press 21/1/1863).

Advertisements for paper hangings. Press, 21 January 1863

Advertisements for paper hangings. Image: Press 21/1/1863.

Wallpaper was used not only for its decorative effect but also had a functional purpose: to stop draughts coming through walls. This application of wallpaper had varied success. Some pasted it directly to the sarking, which, even with taping, split the paper with the natural board movement. So the practice of sticking wallpaper to calico, canvas or newspaper developed. Newspapers and magazines were also used for decorative effect as wallpaper, people favouring the illustrated pages of publications. When recording properties these early reminders are often in the linings of cupboards or wardrobes while the walls of the room have updated coverings. If people had read Brett’s Colonists’ Guide and Cyclopedia of Useful Knowledge (1980) they might not have been subjected to their wallpaper cracking and would have been able to avoid choosing poisonous wallpaper…

Brett, H. Brett’s Colonists’ Guide and Cyclopedia of Useful Knowledge. 1883. Image: NZ Museums.

Brett, H. Brett’s Colonists’ Guide and Cyclopedia of Useful Knowledge, first published in 1883. Image: NZ Museums.

To be fair, Brett’s Colonists’ Guide and Cyclopedia of Useful Knowledge was not published until 1883, so the early settlers could be forgiven for their experimentation with whatever materials were to hand.  Brett’s guide is a compendium of practical advice drawn from the experiences of early colonists, resulting in a cyclopedia of guidance for new settlers to New Zealand (Brett and Thompson 1980).

We are particularly interested in the advice it offers on paperhanging, as it provides an insight into how the wallpaper examples we are finding were hung. Brett’s advised that hessian scrim should be tacked tightly to the walls in preparation for the wallpaper. Old newspaper was often used as a lining paper too. The ‘size’ was mixed with water and heated by the fire before application, improving the adhesiveness of the paper. Old flour and water could be used as an alternative and was mixed with alum or glue (Brett and Thompson 1980).

Example of newspaper lining and hessian scrim. Scrim became common use in the mid to late 19th Century. Image: L.Tremelett.

Example of newspaper lining and hessian scrim. Scrim became common in the mid to late 19th century. Image: L. Tremlett.

In my research on wallpaper I found that the type of paper used depended on the room’s function. In wealthier homes, private areas of the house such as the back bedrooms had small floral patterns. The public areas of the home, such as the hallway, parlour and master bedroom, would have the best wallpapers and sometimes a match-lined dado. Marble and satin patterns were also a popular choice in these rooms. Poorer dwellings had sarking with lining and wallpaper.

Brett’s practical advice on wallpaper also came with a health warning. Sounds ominous, but wallpaper has been credited as a silent killer in the home. Contributor to the cyclopedia, John Agnell, listed the warning as No.17 on his list of Health Maxims for the Home. It was to avoid arsenical wallpapers (Brett and Thompson 1980). Green flocked wallpaper (‘flocked’ was a process where finely chopped wool was applied to wet varnish and brushed to reveal the pattern) was the worst as the dusty flock was rubbed, shaken or even flaked off the walls, creating a ‘toxic air’. The green paint was commonly known as Scheele’s Green (acidic copper arsenite) and its successor Paris Green (copper(II) acetoarsenite; Wikipedia 2014). While exactly how toxic these wallpapers were is not known, much has been written about the inclusion of these green pigments in foods and clothing with dire consequences. If toxic wallpaper was not enough, tar paint and white lead paint were also used in early homes, particularly around windows and bargeboards. The Victorian period of innovation led to a few toxic mistakes but by the end of the 19th century an emphasis on cleanliness would see the introduction of ‘sanitary’ wall finishes.

By the 1900’s the impact of sanitary practices start to see wallpaper fall out of favour. Distemper is a chalk based paint originally used in some wallpaper printing. This particular advert endorsed by the Christchurch Hospital Board extolls the virtues of the paint being more ‘artistic’ than wallpaper. Advertisements for distemper paint. Press, 14 July 1900.

By the 1900s the impact of new sanitary practices started to see wallpaper fall out of favour. Distemper is a chalk-based paint originally used in some wallpaper printing. This particular advert – endorsed by the Christchurch Hospital Board – extols the virtues of the paint being more ‘artistic’ than wallpaper. Image: Press 14/7/1900.

So what types of wallpaper have we discovered in our recording and assessments? Well, it varies. Things to take into account when trying to identify wallpaper are: age of the structure, the function of the room, how many layers of paper are there? What is the base layer? Is it newspaper, scrim, calico, canvas or lining paper? Is the wall lined with rough-sawn sarking, match-lining or lath and plaster?

With the wallpaper things to check are: is it French or English? Most wallpaper in New Zealand during the 19th century was from England, which was known for its mechanised production and variety. French wallpaper was known for its quality and consistency in design. English wallpaper measured 21 inches wide and 12 yards long and French wallpaper measured 18 inches wide and 9 1/2 yards long. Other things to look for are: tax stamps on the back of the paper (wallpaper in England was taxed until 1861; Brett and Thompson 1980), maker’s names on the selvedge and the style of the pattern – does it fit into a definite period or manufacturing process? When we answer these questions and put them together with the history of the building, we start to understand the type of lifestyle the building’s occupants had and what their tastes were when it came to interior decor!

Breakdown of papers found in a Christchurch dwelling. Image: L.Tremelett.

Breakdown of papers found in a Christchurch dwelling. 1) Light blue floral abstract motif, vertical design; 2) Yellow/white/grey abstract floral pattern; 3) Purple abstract tree motif, light purple background; 4) Brown abstract flowers with dark red flowers; 5) Red checkered pattern with linear embroidery wreath-like motifs; 6) Brown abstract design; 7) Distinct curved and shaded floral design; 8) Newspaper from 1887 and 1888; 9) Hessian scrim. Image: L. Tremlett.

Cracroft House, Christchurch
This property was owned by John Cracroft Wilson. We have mentioned this gentleman on a number of occasions in our posts. The property was built in 1854 and, while fairly simple in design and construction materials, it did have 11 rooms! Both papers below have a similar application method and it is possible that Wilson’s son brought both papers back from overseas in the 1870s.

This floral paper was pasted directly onto the sarking as well as being pasted onto what seems to be lining paper rather than scrim. Floral pattern is highly ornate and has a base pattern as well. This trellised style of floral paper was very popular throughout the 19th century. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

This floral paper was pasted directly onto the sarking as well as being pasted onto what seems to be lining paper rather than scrim. The floral pattern is ornate and has a base pattern as well. This trellised style of floral paper was very popular throughout the 19th century. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

Highly ornate style of paper here, a possible Anglo-japanese style. The Great Game records that the wallpaper shown here is French in origin and is thought to have been brought to New Zealand about 1870 by the son of Sir John Cracroft Wilson and was discovered in 1982 during alterations, indicating that the cubbyholes had been sealed for some time. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

Highly ornate style of paper here, a possible Anglo-Japanese style. The Great Game  records that this wallpaper is French in origin and is thought to have been brought to New Zealand about 1870 by the son of Sir John Cracroft Wilson. It was discovered in 1982 during alterations, indicating that the cubbyholes had been sealed for some time (Anon. 1990). Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

Message in a bottle house
We have also mentioned this property before, the paper maché dado is very impressive and was preserved behind the plasterboard. It is commonly known as anaglypta (Anaglypta 2014), among other names. This embossed style of paper was designed in 1877 to be durable and easily painted. It protected the lower part of the wall from furniture. Lincrusta is a similar product made from linseed oil and wood flour (Lincrusta 2014). It has a deeper relief and is more brittle than anaglypta but can be painted and gilded.

Extensive investigation of the kitchen uncovered this finely moulded paper mache dado. This is the only example found so far of this product in Christchurch. Image: K.Webb.

Extensive investigation of the kitchen uncovered this finely moulded paper mache dado. This is the only example found so far of this product in Christchurch. Image: K.Webb.

It has been very hard to keep the word count down on this post as the history of wallpaper is a very interesting topic! In peeling back the layers we get a unique insight into a dwelling’s past occupants. While belongings may be long gone wallpaper reveals information about their interior decoration, wealth and influences.

Annthalina Gibson

Bibliography

Anaglypta. [online] Available at www.anaglypta.co.uk

Anon, 1990. The Great Game: Girl Peace Scouts and Girl Guides of Canterbury Province from 1908. The Girl Guides Association, Canterbury.

Brett, H. and Thomson, W.L. eds.,1980. Brett’s Colonists’ Guide Cyclopaedia of Useful Knowledge. 3rd ed. Christchurch: Capper.

Hoskins, L. eds. 1994. The Papered Wall, History, Pattern, Technique. Harry N. Abrams, Inc.: New York.

Lincrusta. [online] Available at www.lincrusta.com

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

McCarthy, C., 2009. Domestic Wallpaper in New Zealand, A Literature Survey. Victoria University: Wellington.

McCarthy, C., 2011. Before Official Statistics, Fabrications. The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand, 20 (1), pp.96-119.

New Zealand Colonist and Port Nicholson Advertiser. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

NZMuseums. [online] Available at www.nzmuseums.co.nz

Petersen, A.K.C., 2001. New Zealanders at Home. A Cultural History of Domestic Interiors 1814-1914. University of Otago Press: Dunedin.

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

Wikipedia. [online] Available at www.wikipedia.org