A fire, a mysterious lady and a singed parrot

Today we know the Ilam Homestead as the University of Canterbury’s staff club and for its connections to the Parker-Hulme case, but another house existed on the site and burnt down in 1910.

IMG0019
The old Ilam Homestead destroyed by fire in 1910, File Reference CCL-KPCD12-IMG0019

This wooden house was built in the 1850s for the Hon. J. C. Watts Russell, a prominent early settler. It changed hands several times and in 1910 was owned by the Countess Reina Ruys Fortega de Fresnedo. The Free Lance newspaper of 5 October 1907 tells us that she is a lady of ‘Spanish birth and estates’ and that she is a ‘countess by her own inheritance’. In 1907 she was making her first trip to the colonies, having done much travelling in the Old World.

The Countess is something of a mysterious figure and I haven’t (so far) been able to find out much about her, such as where she came from and what happened to her after the fire. However, the New Zealand Truth, a good old fashioned scandal rag, reveals that she was sued by her gardener in early 1910 for non payment of wages. (What ever did we do before Papers Past?)

Newspaper headline from A COUNTESS "COURTED". NZ TRUTH, ISSUE 243, 19 FEBRUARY 1910
Headlines from A COUNTESS “COURTED”., NZ Truth, Issue 243, 19 February 1910

Reports on the Press and the Lyttelton Times, both on 23 August provide quite a lot of detail abut the fire. The Countess was away in Australia, leaving the caretaker, Mr H. J. Croker as the only occupant. He escaped, but rather stupidly went back in the retrieve his gold watch (do not do this!) Thankfully the house was insured (for £2000) but the contents – which included some splendid furniture, silverware, and a new piano and pianola – weren’t.

Fortunately the cats and dogs managed to save themselves, but sadly a number of guinea pigs and canaries were not so fortunate. There were also two caged parrots (or possibly cockatoos). The fire seems to have destroyed or melted the cage and one of the parrots didn’t make it, but the other one did, albeit in a singed condition.

The Press reports that the ‘origin of the conflagration is a mystery’ but the Lyttelton Times suggests that there could have been sinister motives afoot:

Mr Crocker states that his opinion that the fire was willfully started is strengthened by the fact that some months ago the Countess received an anonymous letter stating that she would see Ilam burnt down.

Might this possibly be a case of a disgruntled gardener? I’m presuming that there must have been some kind of inquest, but I’m yet to track that down…

Do you know anything more about this fire or the mysterious Countess Fresnedo?

Knowlescourt, 274 Papanui Road, 4 March 2011, north facade: Picturing Canterbury

Knowlescourt, 274 Papanui Road, 4 March 2011. Kete Christchurch. Knowlescourt__274_Papanui_Road__4_March_2011___north_facade. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License.

The former house at 274 Papanui Road, known  as “Knowles Court” was built in 1910 for Christchurch solicitor, Thomas Gregory Russell and his wife Doris. It was designed in the Arts and Crafts architectural style by John James Collins of the firm Armson, Collins and Harman. The interior of the house was later converted into flats. Although a heritage listed building, having sustained damage during the Canterbury earthquakes, the house was demolished in 2011.

Do you have any photographs of 274 Papanui Road? If so, feel free to contribute to our collection.

Kete Christchurch is a collection of photographs and stories about Christchurch and Canterbury, past and present. Anyone can join and contribute.

Los Angeles, North West Corner: Picturing Canterbury

Los Angeles, North West Corner. Kete Christchurch. Los_Angeles___North_West_Corner. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License.

Los Angeles is a bungalow at 110 Fendalton Road built in 1909.

Photograph taken 21 March 2003.

Do you have any photographs of Los Angeles bungalow or Fendalton Road? If so, feel free to contribute to our collection.

Los Angeles is one of the earliest examples of a California bungalow to be built in New Zealand. It was constructed sometime between 1909 and 1913 for its owner, Captain James McDonald, a trader. Opinion differs as to the origins of the material used in its construction. One tradition states that the kitset form of the house was brought out from California by McDonald. The other, that only the weatherboards and cedar shingles were imported from the United States. However, the chimneys, roadside fences, and verandah pillars were built from Canterbury riverstones.

Kete Christchurch is a collection of photographs and stories about Christchurch and Canterbury, past and present. Anyone can join and contribute.

Anarchy in the living room

I’m not really one for housework, so Punk house : interiors in anarchy was destined to be a winner with me.  Sure, a nice looking coffee table book edited by Thurston Moore (from Sonic Youth) might not be very punk, but these places deserve some kind of treatment.  Be it warehouse, treehouse, basement or farm, these low-cost dwellings provide shelter for touring bands, gig venues and the creative hub where many zines are published. I guess the houses could be viewed as a continuation of the 60s commune. 

The author and photographer Abby Banks was once in a band with the great name Vomit Dichotomy (is that when your liquids and your solids come out separately?).  Her idea for the photos came when she went to see some bands play at a punk house.  The house was for sale and its distinctive decoration was about to be dismantled.  Banks wanted to document it before it went away.  Quoted in the New York Times, she said  “I just think they’re really important and beautiful. For some people it will be their lifestyle forever, but for others it’s just a phase.”  The ephemeral nature of the houses is demonstrated by the fact that many of the places no longer existed by the time  the book had been published.  This got me reminiscing about some of the house set-ups I’ve visited that aren’t around now.  Christchurch must have had many similar establishments over time.  I’d love to hear about them.