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Breathing new life into old hospital

The old Greytown Hospital. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

In 1991, more than 6000 people held hands around Greytown Hospital in a bid to save it from closure. Their success was short-lived. Now, four couples are revamping the old buildings, which stood deteriorating and overgrown for years. HAYLEY GASTMEIER reports.
Ryan Smock holding the document which completes his four-year project of developing the dilapidated old Greytown Hospital into his new home. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER

Ryan and Nadine Smock are used to people pulling up outside their house.

Some take selfies from the carpark, others just walk straight in.

One man handed over his medical specimen sample, totally unaware that the grand old brick and mortar building was no longer a hospital, but had been transformed into a family home.

The Smocks purchased the main building in the old Greytown Hospital complex in 2014.

With its 40 rooms, restoring the 780m2 structure to its former glory has been a fulltime project for Ryan, who says more than 700 sausage rolls and 2200 cups of coffee were consumed from The French Baker during the restoration.

It is thought the brick building was erected some time around the turn of the century, with the surrounding hospital structures added in the decades that followed.

Smock has cut no corners in bringing his piece of history back to life.

A derelict wall in the old hospital pictured in 2014 is now a vast wine rack (below).

While every metre of the building has been reinstated to the highest standard, the odd crack or crumble has been preserved to show its age.

“You’ve got to be careful not to renovate the life out of a building,” he says.

“You’ve got to leave some of the wounds and hits and knocks, because that shows the character.”

Even though the building is over a century old, it has no historic protection, and it was in a sorry state when the Smocks started work on it.

“Most of the damage here was through destruction, not deterioration.”

Everything that could be stolen, had been taken.

“It was people coming in here, helping themselves to floors and doors and locks and timber and just smashing things up – the graffiti here was just terrible.”

Even the copper pipes that were above the five-metre-high pressed tin ceilings were nicked.

“So, when they stole them they kicked a hole in every ceiling instead of taking them over to a manhole to lower them down.”

With walls up to 52cm thick, Smock had to work with the existing floor plan.

All the bathrooms are where they originally were, and while they boast high-end modern fittings, their original concrete floors bear a fracture or two under the fresh paint.

The old women’s ward is now a giant function room, and the men’s ward has been converted into a lavish master bedroom.

A self-contained guest wing, which features the old matron’s quarters, would be bigger than some houses.

What used to be a sun porch in the old Greytown Hospital is now a large, modern kitchen and dining area (below).

Inside the linen cupboard, Smock points at the copper edging on the floor and explains it was to stop rats and mice from gnawing through the floors to get at the corn-starched sheets.

This is just one of many stories he’s been told by nurses and old hospital workers since buying the building.

These days, most people who stop by the old hospital are locals who were born there.

One thing guaranteed to come up in conversation is the question of ghosts . . . but Smock says there have been no spooky encounters to date.

The Smocks’ new home, now known as the Greytown Embassy, is officially the largest house in the Greytown borough.

They purchased the section for $230,000 and have sunk $780,000 into doing it up.

It is now worth more than $2 million.

Smock says he was only able to pull off the mammoth project because of Greytown’s amazing community spirit.

Mixing old with new

The original morgue and the old ambulance station is now fittingly in the hands of Lisa Ingham and Paul Lloyd.

Lloyd is a Wellington Free Ambulance paramedic and Ingham is a former ambulance call-taker and dispatcher.

They had no idea of the building’s past when they put in their offer for the hospital section last year.

They were delighted to discover its past while carrying out due diligence.

Ingham says somewhere in the timeline, the morgue was relocated during an expansion and the building was then used as a living quarters for staff, and for storage.

“The morgue is really cool.

“It’s still got all its original floors which look to be art deco, and its compact but very cute, so it’s going to make a really nice guest house.”

When they took over the building, it was littered with shattered windows and the inside was stripped bare, with only the framing remaining.

But, bit by bit, after plumbing, insulation, lining, and cabling, the new family home is coming together.

Like the Smocks, the couple are honouring the existing floor plan, adding in the odd wall rather than tearing any down.

New custom-made joinery is being installed, as well as a large set of bifold doors that were salvaged from a school demolition in Christchurch.

Ingham says the house will have an industrial look, with “an earthy palette”.

“It will be brick and white, concrete floors, and then we’ll add some quirky accents with the light fittings and the wallpapers, that we’ll do in the bathrooms.”

She says restoring the historic site is a privilege.

Long and narrow [6m by almost 40m], the house is certain to be unique.

“Nothing about it is going to be beige or boring.

“We’re embracing that point of difference and trying to inject our personalities into it, while trying to keep in mind the period of the building.

“It’s about mixing a lot of old with a lot of new.”

Keeping history alive

Esther Lau and Neil Cole are facing a double whammy, having taken on two sections of the old hospital.

They have bought the maternity ward and old theatre block, which was built in 1947, as well as one of the women’s wards.

The couple say they were inspired to buy the buildings as they saw it as “an opportunity to keep history alive”.

Lau says they will make one of the buildings their home, but they’re not certain on the future of the other.

“Given the varying sizes of the two properties, there’s too many options.

“But as a principle we would like to ensure the buildings will be renovated and restored in a manner that respects the history, but reflects our personalities and the modern world of today.”

She hopes the finished results will capture stories of the past, present and future.

Cole has somewhat of a “medical connection” to Greytown,

The first home he purchased, and then renovated, was the former maternity home on West St.

A remedy for everything

At the southern end of the former hospital grounds, Prime Community Trust is developing a five-lot subdivision.

The Greytown Community Board has approved the development’s road name as Bey Lane, after William Bey, who came from Scotland and settled in Greytown in 1882.

He was a medical adviser to the borough council and was a surgeon for Greytown Hospital until 1918, when he died during the Influenza pandemic.

Bey was a “much loved doctor”, according to Fraser Books’ Helping Hands: A history of health care in Wairarapa.

“William Bey always wore a heavy frock coat and top hat to visit his patients and was often heard to say in his Scottish lilt: “If all else fails, take a wee drop of castor oil”.

Greytown’s Alison Paterson says she was the last woman to give birth in the hospital’s maternity ward.

“She was born at seven [o’clock] and the builders were in there at seven-thirty closing it up and banging walls out.”

That was on October 10, 1988. Births at the hospital were then carried out in a birthing unit.

Paterson worked at the hospital during school holidays when she was a student at Kuranui College.

To get the job she said she was 16, but she was actually only 13.

As a nurse’s aide, she did odd jobs like making beds and cleaning teeth.

Eventually she got a permanent evening job, serving meals to the Buchanan Ward patients and then cleaning up afterwards.

Ward undergoing transformation into family home
The Buchanan Ward (right) and the old nurses’ residence (left). PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER

The Buchanan Ward, which officially opened on July 18 in 1912, is set to be the new home of Rusty Hight and Lisa Coney, along with their three young children.

The couple also purchased the two-storey building next door, which served as the cleaner’s residence upstairs, and the nurses’ offices down below.

Hight, a commercial builder who’s worked around the world, picked up the properties four years ago, deciding to sink his teeth into a project that would benefit his whole family.

The new family home, under construction, will have “a lot of character”.

According to the hospital centenary booklet from 1975, the Buchanan Ward specialised in the treatment of “geriatric conditions” and had 56 beds, that were “nearly always fully occupied”.

Hight says the ward, which had been added to over the years, was built to a fantastic standard to withhold strong earthquakes.

The main area of the house would be open-plan living, with exposed trusses.

Rusty Hight is converting Greytown Hospital’s Buchanan Ward into his family home. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER

In the centre, a cast iron spiral staircase would wrap up to a storage loft.

One end of the building will contain four large children’s bedrooms and a bathroom, along with a master bedroom complete with a generous walk-in wardrobe leading to an ensuite.

The children will also be treated to an enormous playroom at the opposite end of the house.

“Everything is massive in here,” Hight says, pointing to the 4m stud.

“The place didn’t look like this when we first got here – it was pretty horrific.”

The building had been taken over by ivy, having stood vacant for years.

Now, all the windows have been sanded back to their original glory, and the old fireplaces have been restored.

Hight has planted a feijoa hedge along his street boundary so Kuranui College students can fill their pockets as they pass.


  1. What happened to the gates to the Hospital donated by my Great Aunt Harriet Card Mayoress of Featherston. After her death in MARCH 1944, CAN YOU HELP

  2. Great article – always wondered what was happening with the hospital – and now we all know! Just a bit confused with the claim that the last birth happened in 1988, as my daughter was born at the hospital in 1997 – of which I’d always believed she was the second to last birth there?

  3. The birthing unit was still part of the Greytown Hospital as I gave birth to my two youngest there in December 1991 and November 1993.

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