OUR TREASURES

While the resident family grew, left and came back again Glorat, otherwise known as the Clarke Homestead, has remained a standing stone on the gentle slopes of the Maunu countryside.

These timber floors, floral walls and antique furnishings have witnessed the growth of medical and farm businesses, the joy of new children, the deaths of mothers, fathers and grandparents, the bustling of social gatherings (many weddings and tea parties), the fear of a mother and children while dad was prisoner in a distant war and the return of war scarred men to heal and just get on with it back home.

Gazing down the hill to Manaia, forever standing guard over our harbour, surrounded by pastoral land, itself ringed by ancient bush, you can see how this peaceful place has supported three generations and more to come.

In 1886, Richard Keyte built Glorat on 94ha (232 acres) of land for Dr Alexander and Mary (nee Reid) Clarke.

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The 1930s Dodge car was the first replacement for the horse and buggy of the old days. Photo/Supplied
The 1930s Dodge car was the first replacement for the horse and buggy of the old days. Photo/Supplied

While having New Zealand-styled late-Victorian architectural features such as local kauri weatherboarding, mouldings, eaves, sash windows and other fittings, with brick chimneys and a galvanised iron roof, the house is unusual in Northland.

It had two original functions: a family home, doubling as a doctor's office and surgery.

The front and back areas were designed with social order in mind. A wide front hall and ornate woodworked joins, edges, beading, battens and architraving set off the front public rooms. In comparison, the back service and children's rooms had a narrower hallway, thinner skirting and plainer woodwork.

Alexander and Mary had three sons here, William, James and Alexander. William Reid Clarke originally stayed in Glorat but moved to Tuakau with his wife Kathleen Wilson.

In the 1940s yellow calcimined walls were put in to lighten the house up during the dark days of WWII. Photo/Supplied
In the 1940s yellow calcimined walls were put in to lighten the house up during the dark days of WWII. Photo/Supplied

Upon this move, brother James McLean Clarke returned from his place in Poroti to move into Glorat to live with his mother, now a widower. James and his wife Mabel Armstrong had four children while living here, Doris, Basil, Joan and Neville.

William and James' younger brother Alexander Clarke lived with wife Clara Story on a farm at Whareora, given to them by his mother.

During World War I, James, Mabel and Mary were living in Glorat. Due to farming operations, it appears none of the Clarke brothers went away for active service in the Great War, but remained in Northland working their respective farms, especially developing the Glorat Jersey Stud of high quality dairy cows.

Ownership of Glorat was transferred from his mother to James Clarke in 1919.

A 1912 Family portrait of James, Mabel and Mary Clarke. Basil Clarke is on his mother's lap and Doris is standing. Photo/Supplied
A 1912 Family portrait of James, Mabel and Mary Clarke. Basil Clarke is on his mother's lap and Doris is standing. Photo/Supplied

During the ensuing years of the 1920s James and Mabel made some structural changes to settle the house as a family home. These included opening up his father's old doctor's surgery and waiting room to make a family living room and adding a brick facade to the original wood and concrete fireplace.

They added new wallpaper, built-in shelves, kitchen units, a wood burning stove and a hot water cylinder. A major addition for comfort was the first bathroom and toilet adjoining the house itself, replacing the old yard long drop and bedroom commodes. Happier times returned when they hired Myra Carter as a housekeeper and their first daughter Doris was married to Charles Brett.

Worldwide, the period between the two Great Wars was one of major growth and industrial and technological development. New inventions brought the Clarke homestead out of the dark, hand crafted world of the late Victorians into the light, mechanical world of the modern century.

The 1950s kitchen stove and mushroom paint. Photo/Supplied
The 1950s kitchen stove and mushroom paint. Photo/Supplied

1930s Glorat saw the last candles and kerosene lamps used and the new era was sparked with the connection of the milking shed and main house to the town electricity supply.

Gas was also used to light the dining room for a time before the electric bulbs were installed, accompanied by wiring through the ceiling and walls and set off by china and Bakelite switches.

Some of the first electrical appliances such as a hot water jug, iron and vacuum cleaner were brought in at this time, though they were still relatively novel as there were only two power points wired into the house.

A Dodge car was brought in as the first replacement for the horse and buggy of the old days.

With the outset of the World War II Mabel and her son Basil had to say goodbye to Neville who was enlisted in the Royal New Zealand Air Force overseas military service. Although Basil was exempt from service due to his being a farmer, he volunteered here at home. His sister Doris and her two children moved back to Glorat during this period as her husband Charles had been captured as a Prisoner of War.

To lighten the house up during the dark days of World War II either Basil or Myra calcimined the dense floral wallpaper in the back hallway a yellow colour.

Upon returning safely from war, Neville was surprised to see this change considering the house was in much the same state as when he left otherwise. Myra also brightened up the dark kitchen by painting over the stain with cream, blue and eventually a creamy mushroom coloured paint.

Ownership of the house was transferred to Basil in 1948 from his mother Mabel. The new era of ownership by the third generation of Glorat saw another sliver of modification. Basil introduced new technology to improve the state of everyday living with the replacement of the old iron cooking range with a new 1950s enamel fronted oven and a hot water cylinder in the kitchen.

Despite these modernisations Whangārei is lucky to have inherited a homestead which still retains most of its original features and furnishings. In part this is due to the second Mrs Clarke, who, according to housekeeper Myra Carter, was "keen on old things. She never parted with a bit of the old furniture".

The second part is Myra's knack for leaving things as they were, except for the brightening up of course, because "it was so terribly dark".

The Clarke Homestead is a survivor. It has survived the lives, the losses and the alterations of three successive generations of the same family.

That in itself is quite remarkable; but more so, Glorat stands still within its original 19th century farm as an icon of a period of new and intrepid settlement, having seen two world wars, 20th century industrialisation and now the modernisation of the 21st century.

As a Grade 2 Heritage NZ listed building, and with the love and care of the community and the team at Kiwi North, who knows what else Glorat will witness.

■ Georgia Kerby is exhibitions curator, Whangārei Museum at Kiwi North.