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Carterton’s house of history

Rob Tilbrook hopes the restored house at the north end of Carterton will become a landmark of the town. PHOTOS/PROPERTY TOUR NZ

TOM TAYLOR
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After two years of extensive repairs and restoration, a Carterton house once described as an “iconic ruin” is back on the market.

Rare Buildings director Rob Tilbrook and his partner, conservation architect Chessa Stevens, purchased the property at 260 High St North in December 2018.

After all-encompassing renovations, during which the pair had uncovered a tumultuous history of the property, they had set the new deadline for offers on March 18.

In notes she supplied to guests at a ‘market preview’ of the house, Stevens said the house had been dilapidated for a long time before their purchase of it:

“The roof was badly corroded and was leaking. Windows were broken. Window frames, external doors and weatherboards were rotting.”

The restoration of the house turned into an undertaking of two years.

“It’s been repiled, reroofed, replumbed, rewired, rejibbed, insulated – floors, ceilings, and walls,” Tilbrook said.

“It’s a brand-new house with old bones.”

Photos before the restoration work depicted a completely different house hidden behind trees on an overgrown section.

“This house was derelict; it was a mess,” Tilbrook said.

He had removed some of the trees so people could see the house when driving past.

“We wanted to create a landmark within Carterton, so when you’re coming from the north, it’s in your face. It’s a feel-good thing, to create something that looks smart and becomes part of Carterton.”

Although the house was not listed as a heritage building, it had a long history behind it.

Stevens said that in the 1860s, the property had been part of a 52-acre block owned by Angus McMaster.

The National Library of New Zealand described McMaster as one of the earliest settlers in Wairarapa.

By 1889, after several subdivisions, a section of 38 acres fronting High St was put up for auction. Stevens said that it was possible the present house dated back to this time.

When Stevens and Tilbrook removed layers of plasterboard, wallpaper, and scrim from the walls, they had found newspaper advertisements stuck to the sarking boards that dated back to 1866.

Since 1889, the property had been subdivided further, with more sections sold off.

In 1907, former Mayor of Carterton W Howard Booth bought the property.

Valuation records at this time listed the property as having a house, fence, and drainage.

Tilbrook said that when they bought the house, there had still been evidence of a fire in 1919 that had all but destroyed it.

The windows in the bathroom and some weatherboards outside were different from the rest of the house, indicating that they had needed to be replaced.

Some scorching remained on the floorboards, and there was still some water damage on the ceiling from the fire hoses.

When they started excavation for a new deck and separate studio, Tilbrook and Stevens had noticed a “splodge” of dark-coloured soil and ash that was drastically different from the rest of the soil on the property.

Aware of the historical significance of the site, they asked archaeologist Patrick Harsveldt for advice.

Harsveldt said that the soil and ash was typical of an old rubbish pit. In it, he had found a mixture of ceramic, glass, and metal artifacts including a clay pipe and some glass bottles.

“The archaeologist could date a lot of it just by looking at it – they know their stuff,” Tilbrook said.

Harsveldt said before kerbside recycling, people had to dispose of their rubbish by paying for it to be removed, or by digging a hole at the back of their property: “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Progress on the house had ploughed on during the archaeological investigation, with Tilbrook finishing work on the house before getting around to the studio and 100m2 of decking.

Tilbrook said the Carterton community had shown great interest in the project, with four or five people checking in on its progress each week.

Many more had come through for a market preview of the house in December.

“We just thought, we’ll open the doors … We had about 250 people through in a two-hour slot. They all thought it was great.”

Tilbrook hoped the Carterton house would set the precedent for Rare Building’s future work.

“The next one, people will know the standard they’re going to get.”

That next one would be the 1876 St Matthew’s Church Vicarage in Masterton.

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