You can see my latest posts and photos by scrolling to the bottom of the page…

What’s Special About Lambhill?

Lambhill’s story links Wanganui’s past to its present. The property is one of Wanganui’s oldest district farmhouses, originally built in 1856 by Scottish settlers (they bought the farm about 1847), and is still not much altered, and still has tatty Victorian wallpapers and floor linoleums, marks of long life, and home-repairs. The most modern wall- and ceiling papers date to the 1930s, judging from old diaries. It is a wonderful old place, with quirky corners, and a lot of rooms, but with a comforting human scale. What makes it special, is not what it is: once there were hundreds of similar houses around New Zealand. What makes it special is that it has survived. And it has survived with its character intact.

Photos of Lambhill Homestead a few years after we arrived here

The Pantry

Lambhill has 16 rooms, sundry passageways, and four verandahs. The pantry is one of my favourite rooms. It is an odd L-shaped room with two large sash windows looking due South, through a verandah, and over the sloping sweep of gravel drive, over paddocks, windshaped hawthorn hedgerows, miles of farmland, and – eventually – the sea. The pantry is a good place to stand, talking to someone on the phone; you have a wide horizon to gaze upon as you talk. And if it’s not too crowded at the time, you can climb up onto the large Victorian table and sit in cross-legged comfort while you talk. Of course, this would horrify some Maori who do not believe in sitting on tables. But although I have part-Maori cousins, I am not Maori, and so I sometimes sit on tables…

The House

Lambhill homestead was built, initially, in 1856, by Dr James Allison and his wife Georgiana (nee Gilfillan). It was on the highest spot on the farm, with 360 degree views for miles and miles and miles… The house was built of local kahikatea timber, which grew in the deep swampy valleys nearby. Kahikatea was soft to work with, and so many Wanganui settlers built their first “proper” houses with it. What the settlers did not know was that, to a borer beetle, a kahikatea homestead was a giant pavlova with whipped cream, with a sign on top saying, “Borers welcome – free accommodation – easy terms!” By 1880, the house at Lambhill, like other local houses, was so hole-ridden, it was practically a seive.

By then Dr Allison had died, but his family rebuilt the house. They recycled the useable bits, like matai joists, and rimu joinery, sledded away one section as a shed (now dissolved into dust), and dismantled the rest. In 1881, they built the new house on the exact footprint of the old one, sitting on the same lumps of local ironstone, and with the same rooms. They recreated the original house almost exactly – but in stronger rimu timber from Marton in the Rangitikei. The only difference between the two houses was that the new one had no lookout platform on the roof.

The house has always been T-shaped, and one angle of the T has been filled in over the years. Although it has two storeys, the house is on four levels, with: the ground floor; then at the top of the first flight of stairs, a passage running east, with storeroom (where the stairs to the roof platform used to be) and parents’ room; back at the top of the first flight, there is a small landing at right-angles, with the original small bathroom on it; then another short flight of stairs at another right-angle, up to the centre of another passage which runs both north and south. Five bedrooms open off it.

All the upstairs bedrooms are attic rooms, and several have gable windows. One is tiny. It used to be the Governess’s room.

View from East Passage, Upstairs

Downstairs, there are verandahs on every side of the house. At Lambhill, you always know which way you are facing because the house is sited squarely on the compass points: accordingly, when you stand in the “Real Front Door” looking out the front porch windows, you know you are looking directly West – towards the sea, Wanganui and Mount Taranaki. (Also, right into the teeth of the prevailing wind!!) So:

The stained-glass front door leads from the little porch room on the West of the house, to the main downstairs passage, which runs East. Nearby, on the left, is the Sitting Room, which faces West and North, over two verandahs. (In its past, the Sitting Room has also been a Dining Room, but now, we eat in the kitchen.) …If you go through the Sitting Room’s french doors onto the North verandah, you’ll see a door at the Eastern end. That is the door of a small, sunny bedroom, with no other access. …Back through the Sitting Room, go back to the passage. Straight across it, on the right of the front door, is the Parlour. Like the Sitting Room and main Passage, the Parlour has high ceilings, but it is smaller than the Sitting Room. (At one stage, the Parlour was turned into a bedroom for ricketty old ladies who could no longer manage the steep stairs, but we use it as a Library.)

Nearly at the Eastern end of the downstairs passage, you’ll find – if you look – an unobtrusive door in the under-stair panelling. That leads to the “Secret Passage,” beloved of generations of children. Opposite it is a curtained doorway open to a side passage. In the old days, the side passage housed Dr Allison’s Library, and there are still bookshelves there, as well as hat-and-coat hooks. The South end of this passage has a glassed door to the South verandah, and this is the door we usually come in by, because the drive sweeps close by.

Back to the main downstairs passage: let’s reorient ourselves: At the far end is the front porch, facing West, and here at the Eastern end, is the kitchen door. The kitchen is large, with a lower ceiling, and two large Georgian twelve-light sash windows facing East. The Pantry opens off it, close on the right, and at the kitchen’s Eastern end, another door on the right opens to the Scullery. The Scullery has six doors, including the one from the kitchen: on your right (the Western) wall, are two doors, to the bathroom and pantry; straight ahead (the Southern wall), are another two doors, to a cupboard and to a final bedroom; and on the same wall as the kitchen door, to the left, is the Back Door, to the East verandah.

Confused? When we first came to look at the house, it was full of stuff, and so it was hard to see room dimensions, and I got thoroughly lost. When we left, I found it impossible to draw a floor plan! This description is just to give you some idea of the layout of the house, and over time, I will add photos of it for you – but not just now, because I am working on a book, as well as trying to maintain a big garden! It is a great house – quirky, full of odd corners, human-scaled, marked by lots of human life, and not at all pretentious or grand. It looks big from the outside, but it is really an overgrown cottage. I love it! And I hope you will, too….

Winter in the Sitting Room

Monday is always my house-cleaning day. Today, after dusting and vacuuming, shaking out the textiles and tidying, I wrapped up and went out into the (very wild) garden for some flowers. The results in the warm Sitting Room, are filling the whole room with their gorgeous blended scent: pink luculia, pink salvia, rust-red salvia, and lemon verbena. Mmmm! Planting scented winter flowers in the garden is a great investment towards cheering you up with colour and perfume on the stormiest days of the year!

Every morning my breakfast is a pot of tea on a tray with pretty china, and a jug of lactose-free milk with added cream. I drink it cup by cup, enjoying the gentle flavour and the heat, as I read something inspiring. Usually, it’s the Bible. I was brought up to value the verse that says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” And then, when I’ve found some uplifting meditations (generally written down in a prettily-covered exercise book so I can go back to it later), I’ll turn to other books. We always have a big pile of library books, and if I run out of those, there are always our own books off the shelves all over Lambhill…

I do love beauty, don’t you??! Starting my day by using and looking and thinking about lovely things always sets me up for the morning with a sense of calm – of knowing who I am, and what’s important.

Some glimpses of the Attic bedrooms

Mismatched wash set on washstand in the south-west bedroom. We took the top wallpaper layers off when the roof leaked and the papers got sodden and mouldy. The little papier-mache shelf is Victorian, and was given to us by friends. The candlestick is a Vintner’s one, which would have been suspended from a belt, and used for lighting up dark wine-cellars with hands free. The linen cloth is one I found with the design printed on it in a thrift shop, and I sewed the embroidery on it myself, using silks given me by friends from their late mother’s stash. I got to choose the colours!

Behind the door in the blue room, china and a straw hat and old prints on a washstand. The wall photo depicts Daisy Sutherland reading c.1915. She was one of seven sisters and six brothers who lived here. The towel rail reminds us that most washing at Lambhill was carried out in the bedrooms.

The Sitting Room, September 2019

Lambhill sitting room after a great winter tidying and cull.

Lambhill Kitchen, Spring 2019

Pantry, September 2019, Lambhill…

The Scullery tub

The Scullery

The Lambhill Scullery is like a back-room hub that you step into off the East Verandah. Off the Scullery, doors open to a bedroom, the pantry, the downstairs bathroom, and the kitchen.

The Scullery is for wet and grubby kitchen work – scrubbing vegetables, washing dishes… Before the house had any sinks, there was just a table in this room, where you brought a bucket of water you had filled from the outside rainwater tanks, and poured it into a wash-basin. You saved dirty water for the garden.

When the bath was installed, in 1938, a concrete pad was laid in the Scullery, for a chip heater with a wet-back, connected to a hot-water tank in a new cupboard, which was piped to the bath. Since the rest of the plumbing was connected, the chip heater was removed, and the hot-water tank taken out of the Scullery cupboard. Now, I have added shelves of my own to make the cupboard storage for cleaning things.

After the Wash-house building in the garden was taken down, about the same time as the sinks and loos went in (late 1970s), a concrete tub was added to the Scullery.

We put a washing-machine in as well, as soon as we arrived here. After all, we had boys – and a lot of washing to do. The plumber was not very large, but he could not get under the house to connect the washing machine pipes. That’s because the floor joists are only a foot or so off the ground, sitting on lumps of rock rather than on concrete piles. Instead, he sent his apprentice down, with a coal-shovel, to dig himself a shallow path and worm under the joists to do the pipework. The poor lad was small, fresh out of school, and pretty miserable to be having to battle spiderwebs, broken bottles and shards on hard clay, in a confined space.

Sadly for us, we did not discover until eleven years later, that the boy had disconnected the kitchen-sink drainpipe from the drain, in order to fit the washing-machine drainpipe in it – but had forgotten to reconnect the kitchen pipe before he squirmed out from under the house…. All the kitchen water waste was emptying under the east side of the house, in a stagnant pool which took its time soaking into already-soaked clay soil.

We wondered why the east side of the house was gradually slumping. Now, we think the joists and framing under the Scullery and the bedroom next door, might have rotted. That will be an expensive rebuilding job – one day – and that side will all have to be jacked up and re-levelled, and strong concrete piles put in. That will have to wait, though. Meantime, the roof needs replacing!

The Scullery has coat hooks all round, which is jolly useful in a country house. That’s where we store muddy raincoats and overtrousers, gardening hats and aprons. Under the sink bench, I have enamelled laundry buckets, alongside Millie’s water – in an old enamelled potty! Dogs don’t mind! On the shelves flanking the windows, I store vases, and old chipped china jugs and anything else that will hold flower arrangements. This room is a handy place to arrange flowers. And flowers are one of the ever-changing joys of this house.

Pantry Spring-clean and Reorganise

I write about my pantry frequently. It is one of my favourite rooms at Lambhill! Yesterday it was still full of china and other things that I had taken out of the kitchen to paint it, but had not yet put back there. I love order and simplicity, and so I was not intending to put them back into the kitchen… But now the pantry was choked up: time for a Spring-clean!

The first thing I did, was to take everything out of the pantry – all the empty jam and preserving jars, all the appliances, all the storage jars and tins full of food, all the bowls of fruit and vegetables, all the china, and teapots, jugs, plates, and hurricane lamps, all the baskets and trays…. It took a long time. Everything went onto the kitchen table or the kitchen floor, and I set to work with a broom and a wet rag. I never kill spiders if I can help it, but yesterday, I made them run! I was moving too! It is excellent exercise, spring-cleaning the Lambhill pantry: you are up and down the ladder, up and down the ladder, leaning into far corners, tickling the undersides of the table, lifting, carrying, carting things, trotting out to the scullery to rinse the rag, going back to wash the floor…. jumping three feet in the air when a spider abseils down your collar….

Eventually, the room was clean, and it was time to ruminate and have a pot of tea. I wrote lists of what the pantry had held, while I rested my feet, and tried to group them together. Then I went back into the pantry with my list, and looked at the shelves: I put all Jonathan’s things, his sauerkraut and kombucha-making paraphernalia, all his spices, rices, pulses and oriental mysteries on the shelves and bench behind the door, with his porridge oats and various salts, dehydrator, juicer, the egg-basket, tin of rice-crackers, coffee supplies, coffee maker, apple peeler, his big picnic basket, the tins of food, and cartons of spare preserving jars. Everything he would need would be close to his hand. In another section of shelving, from ceiling to floor, I put the baking things; in another, tea things and jugs; and in another, preserves, with bowls of fruits and vegetables on the bench below. On the upper shelves, I put the extra-extra empty jars, the baskets, and the big old water urn. On the shelf-hooks, I hung jugs. On two shelves at the other side of the table, I ranged some old kitchenalia, some from Lambhill, and some that I’ve been given or bought. And I shoved all the rest into the “Secret Passage” (under the stairs) to sort out this morning – for donations or for friends to sift through. Ahh – a clean, orderly, clear pantry: how delightful!

A House on a Hill Cannot be Hid

Which is perfectly true – although Lambhill farmhouse is so far off the Warrengate Road that most people don’t notice it as they drive past – and it is even further from the State Highway (1 mile); you only see it from there, if you know where to look, and turn your head that way at the right moment…. Yesterday, Wednesday the 19th of February, I wandered out onto the meadow to take some pictures as the sun was sinking. It had been a hot day, after a week of hot days, and the gathering coolness was delightfully refreshing.

Mt Taranaki (Egmont) was as hot as I was, apparently, and wearing a cold cloud on its head. Jonathan reminds me on hot evenings, to chill a wet cloth in the fridge-freezer, to lay on the veins of my wrists, or on the sides of my neck: Ahhhhh!!!!!

The Lambhill Stables

Coming up the hill, on your way up the current Lambhill driveway, which is historically the back entrance, you pass the remains of the old stables. It has only half the footprint it used to have, and was accidentally shoved off its ironstone “piles” by a farm manager with a tractor, some years ago. The upstairs floor joists have been dangerously borer-ridden for at least eighty years, and so it is a wonder that the building is still as upright as it is today. We do not own the stables, because we felt, when we bought the house, that we might not have enough money to tackle this building as well. (Even when Spin and Joan Sutherland were young, they were forbidden to go up the steep ladder-stairs in the stables, in case they fell through the floor. Spin will be ninety this year.) When I have a cold, I walk by the stables in a large arc, in case I accidentally sneeze, and the whole building throws up its rafters and collapses on me in a pile of dust and rusty iron… It is beautiful, though.

Sleeping on the Verandah

Last summer, on the hottest nights, I slept on a mattress on the floor of the north verandah, overlooking the main lawn. This summer, I was better prepared, having had an old iron bedstead repaired, that had been stacked in the storeroom since before we bought the house.

There are few things more delightful than sleeping in the cool night air on a verandah, in summer. Sandflies and mosquitoes find my blood delectable (probably because it tastes of the raspberries I eat every day!), so I dab insect repellent on my wrists and neck before bedtime. Sleeping out there is so restful, with the deep blackness of the sky, or pretty stars to look at – but never for long, because the breezes stirring the forest elms are so very, very lulling. In the night, if I wake briefly, I’ll hear an owl (the New Zealand “morepork”) hoo-hooing, or crickets creating white noise, or distant peacock calls out in the forest. Sometimes, there is a soft rustling sound near at hand, in the garden, but I know that’s only a hedgehog…. How delightfully cool and damp the air feels, after a long day of heat and too many clothes! In February, the days get too hot for clothes, just about, and then as the days go on, they seem to be too hot even for wearing skin: and then I start counting the days before autumn brings a drop towards coolness, when clothes will seem rational again, and energy will return. The autumn usually arrives here about a week into March – so: only three weeks to go! And meanwhile, hurrah for sleeping outside!!!

Trickle and Seep

Jonathan was just about to go out to bible class on Tuesday night, when I looked up at the passage walls while talking to Spin on the phone. Was the wall wet?!!! After saying goodbye to Spin, I climbed on a stool, to touch the dark patch near the lower part of the ceiling, under the landing bathroom….. it was wet, alright! “Jonathan,” I said, “come and look at this…. I think the upstairs loo must be leaking.” He came, he saw, he heaved a sigh, and he slumped off slowly to find his pliers and climb the stairs.

The pipe leading into the cistern had come loose. It took him a couple of hours to twiddle and tweak – and fix the leak. “Give me a bowl you don’t mind writing off,” he said – and so now, there is an old glass salad bowl waiting under the pipe for future fitting-failures (try to say that fast!)… Needless to say, Mr Godfrey did not make it to church that evening. I dare say he might liken it to ‘saving his donkey from a well on the Sabbath’ – because this is an old house, and the poor old place no doubt regards springing a leak with alarm and distress, and we are meant to be kind.

The passage wallpaper may be a little more stained, now, but it is drying out nicely. As you see from one of the photos, we also need to re-patch that hole next to the seep-mark, which the rats have eaten, out of the wooden sarking under the wallpaper! O, la! Always something, here, to set to rights!

Waking up on the North Verandah, last days of February, 2020.

These photos of the dawn breaking, were taken during the dawn chorus, with the sweetest piping, warbling, tweeting, joyous medleys and scales and arias being sung in the lightening trees. I love the sound of the English blackbird, but there were song thrushes also singing, and New Zealand bellbirds, tui, tiny grey warblers, a smattering of finches, and others… also the odd Australian magpie. They sit in the very tops of the trees, warbling in the sunlight, long after the other birds have busied themselves about their breakfast. The others only sing while its too dark to make their toast…

The South Verandah Door

This is the door you might enter Lambhill by, if you arrive here up the driveway.

An old lock and a newer one…
This was put up by the old lady who rented the house before we bought it, and we left it up because it is funny, and also because we don’t always hear cars arrive, or people knocking on doors!

Cleaning one of the Little Attic Bedrooms

This little room is on the top floor, in the west wing, which has five bedrooms. All the six upstairs bedrooms, and the upstairs storeroom and the tiny bathroom on the landing, are under the eaves, and have slanting ceilings. This one used to belong to Nathaniel Sutherland (the Third, as far as I know), or Nattie. He was the eldest of Nat and Kitty Sutherland’s 13 children, but after a bout of Meningitis as a toddler he was left with a brain impairment and suffered from epilepsy all the rest of his life. His seven sisters looked after Natty after his mother died, and this was Nattie’s room. It has two kinds of Edwardian linoleum still laid over the floorboards, and two Lambhill chests of drawers and a wash-stand that we bought from Spin and Joan separately, when we bought the house. Although we did sleep in this room for a while, with a double bed crammed into the nook behind the door, we now use it for a dressing room. The first slideshow is pictures taken before I cleaned the room! It was a little dusty, and there were a few webs in the upper corners…

After cleaning, with a good deal of takings-down, wipings, wet-cloth wringings, and rearrangings, here are some “after” pictures:

The china wash set is an old Lambhill one, that Joan kindly gave us, as part of Lambhill’s history. I love it, and it had an exciting story, since it was one of the few things recovered by the police, after Lambhill was burgled, while the house was empty, following the deaths of Spin and Joan’s aunts and uncles. The following pictures show small details in the dressing room. I like to hang some pretty clothes on hooks where they can become “art” when they are not being worn. All my clothes are either handmade or bought second-hand.

As you see, there are framed pieces of art in here. One was bought from a student art sale years ago, an etching of an Edwardian dress superimposed on an antique Chinese robe, to invoke her family’s fashion history; another is glued onto the wallpaper, of Edwardian dressmakers – it has been eaten by silverfish along with the wallpaper underneath: an ordinary hazard of an old house with many layers of papers and scrim! The next two pictures show the linoleum in this room.

One of the items of Lambhill furniture we bought from Spin and Joan was an old green-stained rocking chair, whose rattan seat had been replaced with a piece of wood, and whose rattan back had fallen apart. I eventually painted the wood white, and wove a backing with some loose raffia found in a second-hand shop.

And this is my Great-Nan, Petronella Jane Keziah Mattson (later Vincent, later still Ricketts). Her father was a Swedish woodsman from the village of Morrum, who became a sailor to escape the poverty at home. He jumped ship at Invercargill, escaped upcountry to the central North Island, where he made friends with local Maori, who gave him a small plot in the bush to build himself a house. He married the daughter of some Oxfordshire immigrants. Two of his sons, Petronella’s brothers, both took after their father as woodsmen. They both patented saw-tooth patterns for the big two-man saws people used to cut down the New Zealand bush during the 19th Century. Now we wish people hadn’t cut down the trees! We have the wisdom of hindsight.

Rainy Day Hygge and Small Jobs

In early May, 2020, the warm autumn weather suddenly gave way, with a grand Southerly Change. All day we had squalls of rain and wind, bright outbursts of sunshine, and driving hail. I did the ironing, set the verandah pot-plants on the step to catch some rain, and dashed out with a basket to pick feijoas.

The odd picture of the nest is one that Spin found in a firewood log, and brought up “for your Cabinet of Curiosities” – and the last photo shows my watering can, which the wind had bowled off the south verandah, into the meadow! Did you see the dark seawater, in one of the pictures of a break in the squalls?

The house, May 2020:

The North front, taken from the main lawn.

The kitchen, in May (Winter) 2020, when I was appreciating dim light because of headaches:

June 2020

Hurrah! After the covid-lockdown, finally, our builder was able to come in, take up the broken floorboards we had been treading over for months, and install the recycled matai boards we had ready for him:

What do you mean, “those are boring pictures”???? I think newly-fixed floorboards are the most beautiful things in the world. Holes in the floor add an element of drama and The Unexpected which is wholly out of place in a house….. And the builder did a lovely job of cutting a sliver to fill in a gap…. We have been floor-gazing. And now my great-aunt’s wooden pastry board is back to being a pastry board instead of a hole-cover.

The Landscape in which the house and garden sit….. Walks on the farm…

Winter 2020 was a time of headaches and neck pain, worsened by gardening or vacuuming, or too much writing – so, for exercise, I began walking, instead. Spin and Joan were happy for me to ramble over the farm which the Lambhill house used to belong to, and which they still farm all around us, raising sheep, fattening steers, and breeding Hanoverian (German Warmblood) and Thoroughbred horses. Here are some pictures taken on those walks, in July:

There are two photos of mountains, in the images above; the first is Mt Ruapehu, to the north; the second is Mt Taranaki (Egmont), to the west.

Lambhill is just a big hollow tree – to a ladybird!

Just a few of the hundreds of different ladybirds which live inside the walls of Lambhill – and come out on warm days, to wander all over the inside of the window panes… I go around catching them and letting them out.

Working on our bedroom in August:

We started working on this bedroom ten years ago! It is upstairs, on the north-west corner, and has sun most of the day, as well as wonderful views of the garden and towards the sea and Mount Taranaki, over pretty countryside…. This is a slow job, and has been done with the help of friends. My sister Aydie paid to have it gib-boarded, after we had pulled apart the walls and ceilings, lined them with insulation and builder paper, and nailed everything back together. Our friend Paul plastered the cracks. I started painting it, but had to stop with neck issues. Jonathan is continuing. The builder, Daniel, has fixed the windows (for a second time, after the first builder’s repairs proved an expensive disaster). Now, Daniel has just replaced the sash cords so our windows open again…. Working windows always seem important to me, in case there is a fire, and we have to clamber out, helter-skelter some night!

This white paint is sealer. When I paint, I end up covered in paint, head to foot, with the brush and paint tin coated! Jonathan, on the other hand, ladles a precise amount of paint onto his foam “brush” and works to an exact and endlessly-repeated pattern. He was extremely cross when he got ONE DROP of paint on his shirt!!!!! I knew him well enough to hide my laughter… He dropped everything, and went downstairs, fuming, to get that solitary paint drop off at once. When he got back, I lay on the floor (to keep my neck still) and admired his technique, and beamed up at him rays of admiration and encouragement!

My view from the gable window he had been painting, taken while he was downstairs… The native wood-pigeons (kereru) were out the other window, eating the first leaf-shoots off the wild plum tree.

Lambhill’s Setting in August (Winter), 2020

The mountain is Taranaki, at sunset; it sits on our western horizon.

Lambhill in September 2020

Whenever I see the house from the West like this, I long to replace its original curved verandah roofs. They started from 2 1/2 clapboards under the gable windows and swooped down in a concave Regency curve. The house’s proportions would be much improved if we could afford to replace them! As it is, the house looks wierd, like a woman with too-short bangs and over-plucked eyebrows!
The house talks to its cousins the clouds and the gum trees.

Glimpses of Lambhill, October 2020:

Lichen growing on the outside of the dressing-room window, above the North Verandah. Lichen reminds me of coral. One of Dr Allison’s grandsons, born at OverLetham, originally part of the Lambhill farm, was one of New Zealand’s most respected scholars on the subject of mosses and lichens; and his book is regarded as An Authority, decades after his death.
Lifting the skirts: peeking under the wallpaper and scrim (hessian) on the upstairs passage wall. The fine-looking woodwork on the left is hand-painted “wood-grain,” like all the woodwork in the downstairs hall and stairwell. You can glimpse the rough-sawn sarking boards underneath the wallpaper, which is part of the structure of the house. …Spiders adore these loose and gappy old wallpaper layers….
Doll teacups waiting to be put back in their bedroom, after our three-year-old granddaughter Phoebe had been to stay. The china is parked on the metal edge of the stairs off the first landing, that lead into the Upstairs East Passage. The metal held down the old coconut floor-matting so that nobody would trip over it and hurtle down the steep flight of stairs below. It would have been painted white to be visible in candlelight – since, for most of its life, Lambhill had no electricity, and stairs were a constant hazard in the dark, even if you thought you knew where to put your feet….
Blue undercoat paint showing under the worn-away wood-grain paint effect. The native timber underneath, polished by many hands as they hung on, descending the stairs, is a warm orange-brown. The wood-grain paint was a rich darker brown, intended to look more like English Oak than “foreign” native timbers! Now, native New Zealand timbers are prized, in proportion as they have become scarce.

Lambhill Larking About in Long Grass, Late-October 2020:

Can houses dance? Lambhill does, quite often. Especially in the wind.

Progress on Our Room.

Hurrah! Paint nearly finished, trim nearly ready for nail-filling and second coat; curtains ready to install….

I want to pull up that old 1970s carpet and have bare boards with lovely old rugs… Do you like my beautiful taupe linen curtains?

Why I chose soft green and taupe for this room: to go with the outdoor landscape.

These photos show the views out the windows of this room on a lush, softly-raining late-October day. Greens and greens and more greens. Glorious.

Looking west, out the gable window.

House-Breaking, Burglarious Rodents of Unusual Size….

When we arrived at Lambhill in December 2003, we found quite a few rat-holes in walls, floors, ceilings, and in cupboards. We also found a variety of vintage patches… the rats had moved into Lambhill quite early on, it seems. So we have put in patches of our own. We wage a constant war against rats, with traps and bait laid all around the garden, and inside the house. And no matter how many rats we kill, more arrive.

Here, in the side-passage downstairs, a rat has eaten round the edge of an old hardboard patch!
This rat-hole is in the corner of the tiny bathroom on the landing. See how they’ve nibbled and gnawed away oilcloth, papers, lead sheeting, and strong wooden boards?! Rats’ teeth keep growing, and they simply have to gnaw them down, or they will die. And so – It’s either them or the house! I’m sorry rats – I’m on the side of the house!
This delightful old patch – in the angle between the kitchen floor and the wall panels – is made from hammering flat a kerosene can. Vive Lambhill! Vive the rustic-mends!
The worm-tailed house-breakers are still Infiltrating The Premises!!!!! Look at this avocado, after a Ratty Midnight Feast in the pantry!!! Vigilance! We shall fight them on the peaches. We shall fight them on the flans and cheeses. We shall fight them in the walls and under the stairs. We shall never give up! (Keep Calm And Carry On!)

Lambhill Swallows

…which live in the old Stables, and sun themselves in the mornings on the electric wire where it connects to the house.

Fluffed out against a chilly Southerly breeze.
Glimpse out the same open window we’ve been peeping from, at the swallows.

Summer is coming in!

…in the form of Ivy-leaf toadflax!

Hanging the Curtains….. Our Room…

I was keeping well out of the way while the Curtain Master mastered the twiddly hooks.
And, yes, that carpet is going! When our two sons were here after Christmas for a night or two, they maneuvered it out the window, and wrestled it onto the verandah for disposal. From the look of that water-stain on carpet and floor-boards, someone dropped a wash-jug full of water in here, once!


We finished our bedroom, and moved in.

During the moving-back-home cull, I disposed of the bed in the tiny Governess’ Room. The bed had borer and was not very comfortable. This beautiful rug was one of two given me recently, and I love it! Shortly after I took this photo, I also culled the wot-not in the corner!
It took a while to tidy up all the outlying rooms after we moved home. This is the top south-west bedroom… I am hoping this can be insulated, lined, and decorated, with shelves and electric plug sockets installed, as a Writing Room for me…
When the loo begins to leak, a Plumber is a girl’s best friend. We saw quite a bit of the Plumber for a few weeks, what with roof leaks and mysterious goings-on with spooks in taps (apparently). But, after a few large plumbing bills, all was serene again (mostly) in the Drainage And Water-Flow Departments. I don’t envy Plumbers their job. They deserve their pay, and they deserve hot cheese scones for morning tea.

A Big Change to Lambhill!

When the original verandah roofs blew off in the Wahine Storm (1960s), the Sutherlands replaced them with low, straight roofs. I’ve always felt they were A Shame, and that they ruined the proportions of the house. Now, we are getting on with proper repairs, and the first job on the Major Works list is replacing the verandah roofs. They have long been leaking like colanders, and so, since we have to spend quite a bit of money to replace the iron, we may as well spend (quite a bit) more, to reinstate the original, tall ski-jump curves. Our excellent builder, Daniel Forlong, has a feeling for old houses, and is doing an excellent job. Here are initial pictures, taken from when he began removing the first pieces of iron.

Here are some photos of the beautiful curved beams that Daniel and his sidekick, Paul, made to support the new verandah roofs. They made 14 of them! The original roof had almost no underneath beams, only one at each corner – and those few were half the size of the new ones. The house is going to be much better braced after these are all fixed on!

The beams were stored in the little bedroom off the north verandah, before being taken out, sanded thoroughly, and painted, and then stacked in the carport, awaiting use. Daniel and Paul have stripped out the bedroom, which they are going to make into Jonathan’s office, where he can work from home.

The builders took off the layers of wallpapers stuck to newspapers on scrim (loosely woven sacking hessian), which was nailed to the rough-sawn internal sarking boards. Paul carried armfuls of scrim and wallpaper down the garden to the burning pile – but I went through it all and salvaged some, to keep as a record of the room’s history.

The wallpapers had been glued together in a large sandwich, and so I filled a roasting pan with warm water, and carefully soaked them apart. The papers were often cheap pulpy ones and so it was not easy to rescue fragments big enough to show patterns and colours. And many of the colours had obviously faded badly. Here is what I uncovered:

The newspapers at the bottom of the wallpaper sandwich were Wellington and Wanganui papers. One was dated 1897, and so it seems that, although this little room was rebuilt at the same time as the house, in 1881, it was left undecorated, with its rough-sawn sarking timbers bare, until 1897.

The advertisements are lovely: “Private Asylum and Home for Inebriates. Ashburn Hall, near Dunedin, a licensed….. for both sexes…” “Adoption. Wanted, a good Woman to adopt a baby boy aged two months old. Must be Roman Catholic.” “Lessons in French and German by Foreign lady. For particulars, Apply Harley Cottage, Sydney Street [Wellington] between 1 and 3, 6 and 8.” And, in a Wanganui paper, “Re-Opening of the Celebrated Corner Boot Shop (the oldest established Boot and Shoe Business in Wanganui), with a Magnificent Stock of every description……. Ainsworth…” There is a line-drawing illustrating the fetching male fashions for Winter 1897 (shiny top-hat, striped trousers, high collar and striped tie, cutaway tweed jacket, and fancy cane)…

The photos below show the wallpaper fragments, which give an idea of the wildly varied styles, beginning from the earliest, in order of chronology:

This one is thin and flimsy, with alternating ribbons of delicate flowers in pastels, and brown stripes with palm trees. It is very similar in style and feel to the earliest papers on the walls of the tiny upstairs bathroom on the landing.
Fragile paper, but still bright! A semi-abstract yellow pattern of plant pods and leaves?
Influenced by the Aesthetic Movement, a graphic but delicate design in terracotta.

The new Office is already lined with building paper and insulation, ready for the electrician to add new wiring and for the plasterboard to go in. We thought we would wallpaper the room, in a design by William Morris, but even though it is such a small room, we were going to need 21 rolls of paper, each costing NZ$285!!! So that would be a silly waste of savings! Now we are considering finding a cheaper, but still appropriate, paper – or painting the room, and adding pattern in other ways. This is a dilemma: do we try to preserve the room’s historic character, or move on and impose our own? (Remembering that what we have always loved about Lambhill is that it has retained its early character in many details, against all odds, and over many changes in fashion!)

A Bit Of A Shocking Change: Where’s the Porch??

The Conservation Architect, Bruce Dickson, who is a member of the Whanganui Heritage Group, has been saying that Lambhill would look better without its funny little bay-window porch. Even though the porch was put on very early in the house’s earliest iteration, and was rebuilt with the rest of the house in 1881, it has always been a bit of a “carbunkle.” Although the porch was put around the front door to shelter it from the fierce Westerlies, and though it created a warm and sunny spot to sit, yet still the porch configuration interrupted the flow of the verandahs, and cut off easy access to the outdoors. Indeed, we could not shift our two large tables out of the pantry and kitchen, because the porch would not allow them to leave the house!!

The film crew’s Art Department asked if they could remove the Lambhill porch during filming, to give it the look they needed; in consultation with Mr Dickson, we allowed them to take the porch off and store it in a paddock out of sight, with the proviso that they would reconstruct it after filming ended. Instead, we like the house without the porch, and so will be turning it into a small summerhouse when we can afford to.

So: what does the Western Front (!) look like without the old porch?…….:

This was before work started on the verandah roof. The little brick path was made from the fallen chimney bricks of the disintegrating little cottage just down the slope, in Spin and Joan’s farm paddock.
This is what it looks like from the main hallway now!
The Gilfillan cottage seen from the front door now, without the porch room.
Skipper is happy when he can see Millie. Millie is happy when she can see what’s going on outside!

Rats! The Roof is Rusting…

Looks like we might have to hurry up with saving to replace the main roof! We’ve spotted two holes already!

The south-west corner of the house on a Winter’s evening…. All those water-pipes are endangered species; the builder is going to have a plumber reroute them more tidily during the verandah-roof-rebuild!

The Plumber’s Hole

There is not much room to get under Lambhill! Its old ironstone piles are not large, and when the plumber decided to feed the water pipes straight under the house from the tank to the scullery, he had to dig a hole to squirm under the floor joists on his tummy. You’ve heard of a mouse hole? This is a Plumber’s hole.

As the plumber squeezed himself along under the house, he realised that it would be too hard to feed a waterpipe through, between the ironstone lumps. Instead, he cleverly thought of running them under the verandahs. When he wriggled out, Daniel the tall builder decided to have an inspection of the underside of the floor, and went in through the Plumber’s Hole. This is what he found and brought out for me under the house:

It is part of a transferware dinner plate with the “Rhine” pattern on it. I have found pieces of this all over the garden. This china was owned by the Allisons, and it seems to have been popular in colonial-era Wanganui, since archaeologists have also found pieces of this pattern under buildings in the town centre, from the 1840s.
This is what always happens after plumbers “tutu” with the pipes, or after they have frozen and thawed out again: bits of rust come adrift inside them, turning the bathwater tea-coloured! It’s only temporary, of course. But a fairly regular occurrence in Winter!

The Boundary Fence Goes Back In

Last Summer, our boundary fence with Spin and Joan came out for movie-making; here it is being put back. It looks good, too.

Mind your thumb!

Hurrah! The Verandahs are Shaping Up!!!

Doesn’t it look lovely already???!!!!!!! These are shy Builders, so you have to make do with a far-distant view of Daniel (left) and Paul (right). And do you like the new paint colour on the house walls? It is Resene’s “Beachcomber:” a beige-cream with a touch of green in it – which I had painted inside the porch room and loved.

Work proceeds on Jonathan’s Office

The office is going to be in the small bedroom on the north verandah.

With the ceiling ripped out, you can see the corner of the old verandah roof iron – and cobwebs! The new white beams will be extended. Here, the rough-sawn wooden sarking boards have been taken off the walls, and building paper and insulation put in, ready for the electrician to add a trillion electrical plug-sockets, and then the plasterboard will cover it all up.
Jonathan sawed up the sarking boards for us to burn. So we are not only burning furniture, this winter, but also the house!
This was when the work on the verandahs began to creep around to the west, and Daniel began to take off the iron.

Dilemma: How Faithfully Do We Restore the House??

In his 1989 book, “The Complete Victorian House,” (Sidgwick & Jackson), Robin Guild wrote, “It is almost impossible to create anything like a faithful replica of a Victorian kitchen without compromising modern standards of convenience and comfort.” This is true, but some of us adapt ourselves a little more patiently than others, to fewer modern comforts.

He goes on to say, “One of the options is not to take this path at all but to go for a highly modern treatment… The other option is to evoke the Victorian past through fittings and decoration, but we must remember that whatever we do in this direction will be largely pastiche rather than anything approaching faithful reproduction.”

Mr Guild is speaking about kitchens in Victorian houses, but the same dilemma goes for the whole of a historic house. How much do you alter? Lambhill has had three owners, and it has always been tweaked according to their needs…. Sensitivity need not preclude modernity…. And repairs mean modern materials (we can’t source heart rimu now, and have to make do with pine)…. The dilemma continues – and probably always will.

September Building Work, 2021

How exciting this is! I love it!… Just waiting for the dark green rolled iron now….

Work starts on the South Verandah, Early September 2021

October 2021…

I asked our builder to give me a quote for replacing the half-post on the left of the verandah-trellis with a full-height post: he just went ahead and built one, made the curved brackets, and ferreted out a length of matching moulding for underneath the brackets, out of his father’s storeshed… his father is a retired builder who worked on many local historic homes! …And doesn’t the extra verandah post frame the view beautifully?!
Here we are, looking back at the house from the lawn. I love this new post! Doesn’t it give this elevation a sense of symmetry?
Hurrah! Hurrah! The original verandah curves are back at Lambhill at last! Hip hip hooray!!
I love this pretty house! Counting blessings!!!!
One of the original Ironstone lumps that the house is sitting on for piles/

New Year’s Holiday tasks: January 2022…

As soon as the baby sparrows had flown the nest, Jonathan blocked up the gap! He put up a piece to wood instead of the old chicken wire. Stymied sparrows: Jonathan 1, Sparrows nil.

More Holiday tasks: Jonathan paints the new Parapet Wall.

This wall is over the pantry window, and had to be reinstated to hold the curved verandah iron. I gave Daniel the builder a tiny photograph taken about 1912, to copy, and he copied the parapet wall exactly as it was in the old days. …One of the pictures below shows what the swallows have left behind, under their favourite perch on our power line! Look out for the sea, seen from the pantry roof!

Exciting Acquisition from Lambhill’s History

In late Summer, 2022, the local newspaper advertised an online Heritage Art auction, which included several 1865 etchings of Lambhill. I knew of the prints, and had photocopied images of them, but it was utterly thrilling to be able to buy some of the originals, with some saved-up tax-return money!!!

The prints are by John Gilfillan, son of John Gilfillan the Royal Academy artist, and brother of the first woman to live at Lambhill, Georgiana (Gilfillan) Allison. She married Dr Allison at the age of 15, and it was the first European wedding in Wanganui. After a tragedy in 1847, which wiped out most of her large family, Georgiana’s surviving brother and two sisters moved to Australia with their father, and came back to Lambhill c.1860s, after he died. Her brother, John, made a portrait of the house then, which is fascinating because it backs up what Bruce Dickson, the Conservation Architect had concluded: that although the little conservatory/porch room was old, it was not original to the house. That is partly why we left it off, after the movie designers asked to remove it temporarily for their filming.

Dr Allison used this picture, with its label, shrunk, for his letterheads. Here, you see his hedgerows, neatly cut and laid, as they originally were. The same hawthorns, hollies, buckthorns, and box remain where he planted them, although they were left to grow tall and untended after the First World War appropriated so much manpower! If you look carefully at the roof, above, you can see the lookout platform, with its parapet walls, which was never reinstated when the house was rebuilt as an otherwise faithful replica, in 1881. (The room which housed the ladder-stairs to the lookout platform became a storeroom and photographic darkroom instead. That’s where I keep the linen now.)

Soon after John Gilfillan junior made the first portrait of the house, the Allisons obviously put on the little porch conservatory, so that when he made the next views of the house, there it was! The Lookout Platform is clearer here. I notice that, in this copy, John Gilfillan has handwritten the orientation, and has added a plant in front of the house, on the meadow, in ink, as well as some clouds above the cowshed on the far right. Notice the stable building. Later on, in the late 20th century, Ray Hatcher, the farm manager, took down the back half of the stables, for Spin and Joan’s aunts. Underneath, he found some musket bayonets, from the 1860s, when Dr Allison was Captain of a Volunteer Rifle Brigade.

A better view of the stables, on the right. And I love the way the woman’s long riding habit hangs below her horse’s belly.

This view shows the house from the north-east, with the woolshed below, where it still stands, although much altered. I like the trees depicted around the house, and along the ridge and down the gully to the right of the house, where Dr Allison began planting exotic trees from his first days at Lambhill – 1847. His arboretum was planned early on, and still, there are many interesting oaks and other trees still growing, seeding, and thriving, and giving Lambhill a lovely setting.

A sketch in ink, by John Gilfillan, on the back of an extra copy of one print – which must have been a proof, because the print is faint. These hairy characters are obviously some of the men roped in to Military Conscription – possibly actually some of Dr Allison’s “Caledonian Rifle Brigade.” The man on the left wears a Scotch Bonnet, as well as some ebullient whiskers! and they both hold muskets. The little military cap on the man at right, was copied by young boys of the time – I have a copy of a photo of a little boy from a neighbour’s family – one of the Twogood children, at Grassmere, next to the part of the Lambhill farm across the main road (Overletham), where the Allisons lived after selling the rest of Lambhill in 1886, and he is not only wearing one of these military caps, but also holding a wooden musket. As you can see from this, and from his other prints, although John Gilfillan liked to draw, he was not as talented as his Royal Academy father – and probably never took art lessons! But his work is charming and I enjoy its naivete.

Climbing on the Roof, to see what the view might have been like, from the original Lookout Platform!

I asked Jonathan if he’d like to climb on the roof with me, to see the view. My feet were bare, so they could grip the nails, and I didn’t have quite enough nerve to get onto the top ridge on the West wing. So these photos are a couple of meters lower than what you’d have seen from the Lookout!

Jonathan took the opportunity to set the cowl back on straight: a gale had blown it sideways a few weeks ago. (The same gale blew off one of Spin and Joan’s chimney cowls entirely!) Brrrr!! Rather him than me! Vertigo!

I shut my eyes after snapping this, until he was safely (???) sitting astride the East wing ridge again!!

“Hello birds! Hello sky!” to quote….

About now, we heard the buzz of a ride-on mower; Joan had refuelled, after starting to cut our meadow! And she was coming back up the drive….

….And here she is!! …..We scooted down the roof-valley on our behinds, stepped down onto the pantry roof, and in through the gable window in the East Passage, and downstairs, to go and give Joan some chocolate. …Wouldn’t it be fun to rebuild the Lookout Platform!? But I don’t think it would be very practical, from an engineering and maintenance point of view! Oh well….

%d bloggers like this: