In 1911, the year of the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary, the Wanganui Borough Council, using the expertise and equipment of the Wanganui Chronicle, published a book about Wanganui, as it was then spelt.
Rich in photographs and well-researched text, the book covered organisations, businesses, attractions and several houses. Such homes, owned or built by people of standing in the community, were fine examples of architecture and craftsmanship. Most were large, imposing and expensive, surrounded by well-maintained gardens on big sections of land. For various reasons, many of those homes have been lost, consigned to the pages of the 1911 book, but some survived to be included in later historical documents.
In 1978, the Wanganui City Council Town Planning Department published a small book of 18 structures in Historic Places Wanganui, 11 of which were residences and some of which remain standing to this day. Line drawings of the homes' frontages and floor plans accompanied text about the history of each building.
The following year, 1979, artist Des Bovey and researcher Kathleen McDonald produced Wanganui Buildings of Historic Interest, which included many stately residential edifices, some of which appeared in the aforementioned publications. Sadly, some of those, too, have been lost to us.
Some, however, remain, and many are in good condition.
Over the next little while, Midweek editor Paul Brooks is going out and about, photographing some of the remaining homes and telling a little of their story.
Field House, as it is called, is at 246 Somme Parade. At the time it was built, the road was known as Taranaki Quay.
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Field's Track, the road from the Parapara Highway to Karioi, was named after Henry Clayland Field, the surveyor and engineer who arrived in Whanganui from Hampshire, England, in 1851. He was responsible for the construction of more than 3000km of roads in the region, was engineer to two roads boards, worked for the Wanganui Town Board and was consulting engineer to the Rangitikei Roads Board. He also wrote Ferns of New Zealand in 1890 as well as the astronomy and biology columns for the Saturday supplement of the Wanganui Chronicle. He was a man of diverse talents.
It was he who designed and built the Somme Parade house for himself and his family in 1868, the Fields having lived in a cob cottage on another site in Aramoho up until then.
The two-storeyed home was built of a shipment of kauri from Kaipara that Henry Field and another resident bought, floating it upriver on the incoming tide. Rimu was also used in construction. The house has a shallow Z-shaped plan with two steeply pitched gables facing the river with a central ridge joining the two. Between the two is a gabled dormer and directly beneath is the centrally located entry. Tall windows stand on each side of the entry and dormer, and the dormer has a door giving access to the verandah, which extends from the south and east to the north walls of the house. The latter was added in 1915 by Robert Sewell, Henry Field's son-in-law.
Zinc was used for ridging and shingles for the roof, but zinc replaced the shingles and corrugated iron replaced the zinc in 1878.
At the time of construction in 1868, it was the biggest house in the area and became the neighbourhood social centre for gatherings and dances.
Henry Field died in 1912, but the house stayed in the family. The last direct Field descendant to live in the house was Joyce Sewell, Henry's granddaughter, who died in 1987.
The house has been much modified over the years, has been well maintained by the present owners, and retains the grandeur and imposing presence that Henry Field intended.
Historic Places, Wanganui (1978)
Built Heritage Inventory, Whanganui District Council