The sad story of the secret staircase


The thing about being a buildings archaeologist is that even though some houses might look the same, the story of their occupants and occupation is always different. These stories of occupation are not always revealed in the archaeology of the buildings themselves, and are usually unearthed by our team of historians. When recording a house in the central city, we were confronted with a building that was most intriguing from a buildings archaeology perspective and had a sad story to match.

What made the house different was a ‘secret staircase’ located in the kitchen wall. From a buildings archaeology point of view this staircase didn’t appear to be an original feature, as its installation meant that one of the rooms in the house was unusable. Nor did it appear to have been used for some time, as the floorboards had been replaced where the stairs had once exited on the second floor, and the wall in the second-floor room where a doorway associated with the stairs had been located had been relined in the late 19th century. So why was it there?


Historian Chelsea Dickson was tasked with uncovering the story of the construction and occupation of the house. What she discovered, and how it meshed with the buildings archaeology, is related below in the ‘Sad Story of the Secret Staircase.’

When Henry Wilkinson, a cobbler and shoe merchant, purchased the relevant land parcel from Cyrus Davie in 1872 he was looking to build a home for himself and his family. His wife Anna Maria, two daughters Laura (the eldest) and Louisa, and his son James Walter were no doubt looking forward to the prospect of living in a brand new home close (but not too close) to town, with the river nearby and Linwood East School just a short walk up Barbadoes Street.

Building started soon after the section was purchased, and the house was complete and the family had moved in by December 1872. Unfortunately, the reason we know that Henry and his family were in occupation of the house at the time is because of the funeral notice for the middle child, Louisa, who passed away in the house aged 7½ (Press 2/12/1872). This tragedy was followed 18 days later when the youngest child, James Walter, passed away aged 4 years (Press 20/12/1872).

By September 1873 Anna Maria had also passed away, aged 37, leaving only Henry and Laura at the house.

In 1874 Henry advertised the four front rooms of the dwelling to let as “the front apartments, four rooms, for a respectable family, of three to four adults, next to Mrs Cyrus Davie’s” (Lyttelton Times 9/4/1874: 4). In order for the tenants to access the kitchen, which was located in the rear of the building, Henry had a staircase built into the wall between the kitchen and the parlour, which provided access from the front upstairs bedroom to the kitchen.

This is the ‘secret staircase’.

Presumably the secret staircase went out of use when Henry ceased letting out the front four rooms of his house, probably in 1875 when he married Annie Martha Griffiths, and hopefully lived happily ever after.

Peter Mitchell


LINZ, 1850. Canterbury Land District Deeds index – A – Town sections and town reserves register.

LINZ, 1860. Canterbury Land District Deeds index – A/S 1 – Subdivisions of town reserves register. Archives New Zealand, Christchurch office.

Lyttelton Times. [online] Available at [Accessed May 2017].

Press. [online] Available at [Accessed May 2017].


2016: It's the end of the year as we know it


The end of year is upon us again, and Underground Overground Archaeology is closing the boxes on our finds for the year. The year we finished up our Christmas party with a scavenger hunt around the central city using cryptic clues to revisit spots important to the city and to Underground Overground. It seems archaeologists can’t help but constantly revisit the past, be it their own or others, and with that in mind it’s time to look back on the year that’s been.

2016 has been another busy one, and it feels like we’ve done even more archaeology than normal, thanks to that bloody leap day in February. Here’s a few highlights from the year that’s been.

Luke records remnant 19th century wharf material in Lyttelton Harbour. Image Angel Trendafilov.

Kirsa did some helicopter survey of mining sites on the West Coast. For Kirsa, it was a chance to see what people had been hiding from her on the top shelf.

Annthalina and Francesca do some buildings archaeology. After serving several back-to-back sentences in the scaffolding, they were eventually acquitted on the grounds that scaffolding jail is not a real thing. Image: Annthalina Gibson.

Megan, Shana, Angel and Kirsa excavate a number of brick floor and rubbish features in the central city. Image: Hamish Williams

The occasional fashion accessory for archaeologists. Chelsea and Peter celebrate exposing a brick floor in the central city. Image: Chelsea Dickson.

A rubbish pit of scrap metal at a foundry site exposed in section. My doctor says I don’t get enough iron in my diet, so I ate a bunch of those cogs. Image: Tristan Wadsworth.

Curb your enthusiasm. An alignment of basalt stones associated with an 1870s grain storage warehouse building on St Asaph Street. and a 4 legged archaeologist. Image: Hamish Williams.

This year we’ve stayed busy with exhibitions and presentations, including Christchurch Heritage Week, conferences for the New Zealand Archaeological Association, the Australasian Society for Historical Archaeologists, and the Society of Historical Archaeology in the United States. Members of the team were involved with filming of Heritage Rescue and The New Zealand Home television shows, and of course Under Over alumni Matt Carter has graced the cast of Coast New Zealand.

Katharine, along with Billie Lythberg and Brigid Gallagher (Heritage Rescue) filming the opening of our combined exhibition ‘Buried Treasures’ for the Heritage Rescue TV show. Image: Jessie Garland.

“Let’s Dig”. Luke, Kirsa, and Megan set up a mock excavation for the young ones as part of Christchurch Heritage Week. Megan wields a sawn-off shovel, easily concealed, from her time as an undercover archaeologist in the former Soviet Union. Probably shouldn’t have posted that on the internet. Run, Megan! Russian hackers are on their way! Image: Jessie Garland.

Peter, Shana, and Jamie excavate a series of umu near Belfast used by Māori in the 15th century. This photo also happens be a magic eye. Image: Tristan Wadsworth.

Luke and Angel excavate and record a 19th century sea wall cut into a Māori midden and cultural layer from around the 17th century. The scaffolding above them would later be set up as a lighting rig for their two man show: West Trench Profile.

During the 30 degree heat of summer, a Fulton Hogan crew built Teri a sun-shade.

This year Matt and Luke entered a house early one morning to record it, only to find the front room still occupied with sleeping squatters, and unexplained bloodstained clothing. The remainder of the graffiti can’t be shown here, but at least you can tell that they loved each other very much. Image: Matt Hennessey.

Archaeology-themed cookies made by the team for International Day of Archaeology. You are what you eat they say. Some of us are willow pattern ceramics. Image: Jessie Garland.

For the domestic gods and goddesses out there, how about a charcoal laundry iron, or a sewing machine for Christmas. Yes, the sewing machine does say Ballantynes!

Lock, stock, and MANY smoking barrels! The hand gun on the left speaks for itself, the picture on the right is a pile of gun barrels from rifles and double barrel shotguns!

We could all do with a few more of these around this time of year! Here is a shiny British Empire penny from 1863, and a token for Jones & Williams wholesale and retail grocers, Dunedin. This duo was in business together as wine, spirit and provisions merchants from c. 1858 until 1865.

Treasures from the walls AND from the ground! The top photo shows a Book of Common Prayer - found between the walls of a local church. On the left you can see a personal handwritten note, dated 1862. The picture below displays the remains of a horse yoke – mid excavation. This apparatus may have been used to hitch a horse to a carriage or plough.

More of the best and brightest!

Work is hard sometimes, but fortunately I’m lucky to work with great people who make me laugh.

Self-dubbed A-team, winners of this year’s Christmas party scavenger hunt. As they say, many Shands make light work.

One of Luke’s highlights for the year was recording at the LPC dry dock. It just so happened that dock master Hal (a real cool dude) had to flood the dock at that time, and Kirsa and Luke got the opportunity to be on the caisson (gate) when Hal opened the taps. You can tell from Kirsa’s face that it was pretty darn exciting. Image: Luke Tremlett

Angel and Hamish. Entered without comment.

It’s time for us to tap out for the year, and leave you all till January. Time to kick back, grab a cold beverage, and put our feet up.

You can tell Pete is still working, because there’s a laser measure in his hand. Image: Annthalina Gibson.

The blog will return in February next year. Thanks again for joining on our journey down the rabbit hole of the past. We really appreciate you tuning in and hope you enjoy the holidays. From all of us here at Underground Overground Archaeology, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.


The Langlois Eteveneaux cottage, Akaroa

The Langlois Etevenaux cottage, built in c. 1843, as it stands in 2016. The cottage is one of the oldest buildings in Canterbury and the only building constructed by French colonists that still stands in Akaroa. Image: L. Tremlett. The front door to the cottage. Note the ventilation grate partly hidden behind the front step and the arrow decoration in the transom above the door. Image: L. Tremlett.

Langlois Etevenaux cottage

One of the two original exterior windows, with an inward opening casement. In our humble opinion, this is a superior example of a casement window. Again, note the arrow motif above the window itself. Image: L. Tremlett.

Close up of the arrows above the window. Look at the detail in the fletching! Image: L. Tremlett.

A close up of the decorative lion’s head found above the window. Image: L. Tremlett.

Decorative corbels beneath the sill of the same exterior window. Image: L. Tremlett.

The window from the interior, set off by floral wallpaper and a shining autumn day. Image: L. Tremlett.

Looking out, with Akaroa beautifully framed in the background – the view from this cottage for at least the last century. Image: L. Tremlett.

Hinges! This is a barrel door hinge from a door in the southern part of the cottage – it’s a type of hinge rarely seen in other Canterbury cottages, especially with the shaped ends. Image: L. Tremlett.

Another rare hinge! This one is known as an ‘HL’ hinge, with plain ends – also unusual in Canterbury cottages we’ve seen to date. Image: L. Tremlett.

So, this is particularly cool. It’s the front door lock to the cottage, but if you look closely you’ll see that the door lock, key hole and escutcheon are upside down. On top of this, the hinge strike plate is shaped like a key, just to keep it all in theme. Image: L. Tremlett.

The maker’s mark on the front door lock. It reads “No. 60, Jas. Carpenter, Patentee” on the lower half with the British crest on the upper half. James Carpenter was a well-known locksmith based in Willenhall, England, from the late 18th century until his death in 1844 (his business continued after his death under the name of Carpenter and Tildesley). The No. 60 was a famous patent of Carpenter’s, patented in 1830 and popular around the world, including in the United States. Such locks are often found on buildings constructed in the 1830s and 1840s (Garvin 2001: 84), so that fits! Image: L. Tremlett.

Lastly, an image of the cottage in the 1960s, before it was repainted. The timber pilasters which frame the door and windows are an interesting stylistic feature originating from Ancient Greek and Roman architecture – a nice compliment to the Louis-Phillipe style of furniture with which the cottage was furnished. Image: L. Tremlett.

Jessie Garland and Luke Tremlett

References and acknowledgements

Christchurch City Council.

Garvin, J., 2001. A Building History of Northern New England. University Press of New England, New Hampshire.

Insight Unlimited.

A century of good old country living (or the archaeology of an old farm house)

In 1874 this modest two-storey farm house was built on the outskirts of Christchurch. It's not the sort of house we normally see in Christchurch, in part because of its age, but also because it was built as a farm house, not as a town house (as it were). Fortunately for us, there had been very little modifications to the house since it was built, giving us a great insight into (farm) houses of this period. North elevation

While the layout of the house was fairly typical of what we see from the 1880s on in Christchurch (the front door opened into a central hallway, which led to the parlour, master bedroom and kitchen), but the form of the dwelling was not - the house was a saltbox cottage, rather than a Victorian villa. This form of cottage was the norm in the earliest days of European settlement in Christchurch, but had evolved into the villa in the 1880s. The late 1860s and 1870s seem to represent a transitional period between the two styles, with both forms of house being built.

Inside, the house was as plain and simple as its exterior. The rooms were of modest dimensions and most of the downstairs rooms were lined with rough-sawn rimu boards and an exposed match-lined ceiling. The traditional moulded door architraves and skirting boards were much narrower than those found in villas, as were the skirting boards - and only the public rooms (the hall, parlour and the master bedroom) had moulded skirtings: the private rooms had skirting boards with a very rudimentary rectangular profile.




Upstairs, the rooms economically occupied the roof space.





We found a bunch of artefacts underneath the floorboards of three rooms - the kitchen and two of the original bedrooms - in the house. Underfloor deposits are always interesting and, at the same time, extremely frustrating. Because they accumulate over time, whether thrown or swept under the house from the outside or lost through the floorboards, these deposits often have longer date ranges than the rubbish pit assemblages we usually deal with. They also have better preservation than rubbish pit assemblages a lot of the time, which is cool. It means we get to see a lot of things we don't normally see, like labelled cans and bottles, well-preserved footwear, fabric and paper and, of course, the odd mummified cat.

The frustrating thing, however, is that because of that long date range, it can be difficult and sometimes impossible to associate the objects we find under a house with the occupants of that house. If, as is the case with this site, the material ranges in date from the 1860s until the 1940s, we have no idea which of the people who lived in that house over that 80 year period might have owned and used them. There is also, thanks to that whole good preservation thing, a tonne of dust, bones with skin or tissue on them (gross) and other icky things. Underfloor deposits make me sneeze a lot. I definitely find this frustrating.


Feature 4 glass 1

Feature 7 metal

for blog


Francesca Bradley and Jessie Garland

2015. Another year down!

It's that time of year again. Behold! Some of our favourite discoveries and images from 2015. It's been an eventful twelve months. Archaeology happened. Sites were surveyed, excavated, photographed, investigated, disseminated and ruminated upon. Clues were followed and mysteries unravelled. Adventures were had. Memories were made.


Excavating a pit feature on site in full protective gear. Image: K. Bone.

Lloyd St. Credit C

Fran, from FB


Throwing shade. Image: K. Webb.


building and drawing

1_North elevation

Annthalina the gangster 2ed



I already regret including this photo. Image: J. Garland.

Site work was just the tip of the iceberg. Discoveries were discovered. Exhibitions were exhibited. Analysts analysed things. Photographers photographed even more things. Researchers researched all the things. Need I go on?

A rather unusual walking stick, featuring a sheep foot masquerading as a handle, complete with small metal shoe at the hoof. Image: J. Garland.






Castanets! Image: J. Garland.

A Christchurch trade token, used as a form of substitute currency in the city in the 19th century, when actual currency was a bit scarce. Image: J. Garland.

One of the more interesting stories we came across in Papers Past this year. Image:

This, on the other hand, is easily the most sexist thing we found this year. Fair warning, may induce speechlessness and incredulous laughter. Image:


We held several exhibitions throughout the year, including the online 'Pieces of the Past' and 'Boom or Bust', shown here. Image: J. Garland.

It's been quite the busy year, really. We need a nap, or we might fall over from exhaustion.


From everyone at Underground Overground, Merry Christmas and a happy new year to you all! We'll see you in 2016 (the blog will be back in February).

Everyone 3


A crumbling mystery...

Regarded as Christchurch's oldest home, this two storey farm cottage was built in 1851-2 for Mr. Parkerson, a surgeon. It was built with 600 mm thick scoria stone blocks quarried from Lyttelton and roofed with Welsh slate.


The layout of this cottage is unusual, and some have suggested it was a common design back in Norfolk, England. Downstairs, the two rooms are orientated around central back-to-back stone fireplaces, with a chimney that runs up through the centre of the house, and there's no central hall.

Oddly enough, this small cottage has two mirroring staircases at either end of the house, each leading to two small upstairs bedrooms. But perhaps the most bizarre aspect about this building is the absence of a connecting doorway to allow the occupants to access both ends of the house.

The layout of this mid-19th century stone cottage presents us with whole new set of questions about the mysterious ways our ancestors lived, and will help us understand the development of Christchurch's domestic architecture.

Francesca Bradley

Let's paint the town, shall we?

So much of the archaeology that we deal with on a daily basis, particularly from an artefacts perspective, is associated with the everyday domestic lives of Christchurch’s 19th century residents that it becomes quite easy to forget about the other industrial and commercial aspects of life in the city in the 1800s. Every now and then, however, we are reminded that – as is the case today – there was another side to Christchurch that was just as important, if not quite as archaeologically obvious. On that note, while working through a box of artefacts recently, I came across several stoneware jar stoppers with DAVID STORER AND SONS / GLASGOW impressed on the top, circling the image of a bell. As it turns out, David Storer and Sons were oil and paint manufacturers operating during the latter decades of the 19th century. They made all kinds of paint, oil and varnishes, from olive and linseed oils to white lead paints, yellow ochre paints and several types of varnish. Presumably, some of these were intended as artist’s paints, while others were made for more utilitarian or structural purposes (still artistic in a way, though, right?).

David Storer and Sons stoneware lid. Image: J. Garland.

Their products show up in shipping manifestos and advertisements from the 1870s well into the 1890s, despite a plethora of notices in 1887 that the company ‘failed’ (i.e. went bankrupt). I have no idea what happened after this point or how their products continued to be sold in the 1890s – the aftermath clearly wasn’t as sensational or newsworthy as the failure. The lids that we found are likely to have belonged to one (or several) of the builders, carpenters and painters located on the site during the latter decades of the 19th century. The paint, oil or varnish contained within those jars could have been used to paint houses, furniture, cabinets, paintings, fences, machinery and who knows what else.

And, it got me thinking. Researching the life and times of David Storer and Sons led me to wonder about 19th century paint in general: how it was made, what it was used for, whether we have other archaeological evidence for its use in Christchurch. It’s not something we normally think about, archaeologically, but  - as it is today – it would have been everywhere back then.

A paint joke from 1890. One of the many strange results discovered during the research process. Image: Evening Star 3/11/1890: 2.

As it turns out, there were several types of paint available to New Zealand residents in the 19th century, from lead and zinc based mixes to paint made from iron oxide, asbestos (yes, you read that right), hematite, rubber, potatoes and skim milk. Some of these were available wet, while others arrived in the country in powdered form (just add water!). There was luminous paint (used on buoys), sanitary paint (not what you think, or, at least, not what I thought…), disinfecting paint, heat sensitive paint and even fire-resistant paint. Several articles and advertisements detail experiments undertaken to see how well certain paints helped to prevent fires, most of them surprisingly successful.

Advertisements also suggest that a range of colours were also available, from yellow ochre to red and white lead paints, white zinc paints and ‘Prussian blue’ (apparently made from the ashes of horses hooves). Lead based paints were very common and, as you would expect, sometimes affected the health of those around them. One account tells the story of a whole family who suffered from lead poisoning thanks to a painter who lost his lead paint covered brush at the bottom of the rainwater tank and contaminated their drinking water.

The things you can do with milk. Who knew? Image: Bruce Herald 18/09/1900, p. 2.

Interestingly, New Zealand appears to have had its own paint manufacturing industry fairly early on, with the New Zealand Hematite Paint Company established operating in the 1880s with factories in Nelson and Collingwood. A Mr Louisson was making hematite paint in Timaru in the 1860s or 1870s (later bought out by the NZ Hematite Paint Company), and another paint manufacturing company based in Thames made oxide of iron paint in the 1880s. Smith and Smith, now a name synonymous with window glass repair, were also active as paint manufacturers and distributors from the early 20th century onwards (often with slightly less than PC advertisements).

Despite the strong local industry, still more types of paint were imported from overseas, with shipments coming from America (Vulcan paint!), Australia and the United Kingdom. Scotland does appear to have had its fair share of paint exporters, with several advertisements for Scottish paints appearing in contemporary newspapers.

The uses of paint in urban life haven’t changed much over the years, although there are perhaps fewer articles now suggesting that we should paint all our ships with luminous paint to prevent collisions. Hematite paint was used on everything from railways to most metal structures (it was less corrosive than lead paint on metal). Sanitary paint, despite it’s name, was used for internal walls and “all outside work in wood, irons or stone, from a steamship to a golf ball.” Other uses noted included priming, machinery, bridges and barns, agricultural implements and branding sheep.

Some of the proposed uses for luminous paint in the 19th century. Image: Evening Star 17/03/1883, p. 3.

Unfortunately, when it comes to archaeological evidence of paint use in the past – other than the occasional container lid – material is scarce, especially on 19th century buildings. Many buildings are, of course, repainted over the years (it would be very unusual to find the original coat of paint without any later layers over the top). Interior and exterior decoration of houses adapted to match the changing fashions of the last century and a half, so it stands to reason that very little evidence of 19th century house paint remains, particularly on external walls and weatherboards.

Additionally, in our experience, a lot of 19th century houses used wallpaper rather than paint as interior decoration. We occasionally find paint on skirting boards and trim (under several layers of later wallpaper and paint), but it doesn’t appear to have been used much on the internal walls themselves. Sometimes, we’ve come across instances where the floors or stairs of a building have been painted – often on either side of a rug – but it’s difficult to tell whether this is Victorian or not. Other times, we’ve seen paint used as a decorative element in the interior design – used to colour a ceiling rose, for example, or stencilled on to the ceiling.

A painted staircase. Note the unpainted strip in the center, where the rug would have gone. Image: K. Webb.

A painted ceiling rose. Image: K. Webb.

The relatively infrequent use of paint in the interior of houses may have been partly a cost or fashion issue, but was probably largely a result of the materials used to form the walls. Lath and plaster, for example, is far more suited to wallpaper than to paint, as is scrim – both of which were often used on internal walls. Tongue and groove match lining could sometimes be painted, but is far more likely to have been varnished instead. In truth, it seems like paint would have been used most often on exterior walls – which, of course, we’re unlikely to see. It’s weird really - for something so visible, paint is strangely invisible in the archaeological record.

There’s so many aspects of life that we take for granted – both in the past and now – things that are all around us all the time, which form the fabric of our material worlds and set the scene for the stageshow of our lives (to get all melodramatic and Shakespearian on you). The relative archaeological obscurity of something like paint is especially ironic, given the purpose for which it is intended. It’s just not something I thought about, until an unknown Scottish company and a small stoneware lid reminded me to look for it. Yet another reminder that the smallest of objects can have the greatest of stories to tell.

Jessie Garland

A poetic reflection on heritage buildings

As building archaeologists we record and analyse the form, structure and ornamentation of 19th century dwellings to learn about the lives led by past occupants. The Victorian era was a time of invention and achievement. Society was dominated by middle-class morality as they relentlessly pursued comfort and material wealth. Their houses expressed the energy and exuberance of this time, as they presented their best face to the public.

These efforts can be directly observed through the choice of internal linings used in 19th century dwellings. Wealthy homes were commonly lined with timber laths and lime plaster, while poorer houses used roughly sawn butted sarking boards. When we recorded a modest workman’s cottage in the Avon Loop we uncovered some of these roughly sawn butted sarking boards in the parlour, a room purposely decorated for public display.

Roughly sawn butted sarking boards used in parlour of workman's cottage. Image: F. Bradley.

Over time, however, seven layers of wallpaper had been applied to this room to disguise the poor lining material.

Original layer 1

Layer 2

Layer 4

top layer 7

When we record these historic dwellings, we try decipher the social conventions at play during the Victorian era and how they influenced the way in which their dwellings were decorated. But when it came to recording this workman’s cottage in the Avon Loop, we were confronted with the juxtaposition of how 19th century society decorated their houses and a very unique way one 21st century occupant had decided to decorate her humble abode.


In its irreparable state the creative owner of this house took to it with a fine paint brush and turned its rough-cast plastered walls into a mural of poetry.

The street-facing south elevation bore the words of Percy Shelley's sonnet 'Ozymandias'.


Ozymandias - Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand, Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed. And on the pedestal these words appear: `My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!' Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, The lone and level sands stretch far away".

(Source: Wikipedia, 2001).

‘Ozymandias’ was one of English romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s most famous works, first published in 1818. Shelley’s works often attracted controversy as they spoke out against oppression, convention and religion (Source: Wikipedia, 2001).

His poem ‘Ozymandias’ acts as a a metaphor for the ephemeral nature of political power. Its central theme explores the indiscriminate and destructive power of history, by contrasting all leaders’ pretentions to greatness and their inevitable decline. It is a powerful statement about the insignificance of human beings to the passage of time (Wikipedia, 2001).

Along the north elevation of the cottage were the words of Denis Glover's iconic New Zealand poem 'The Magpies'.




The Magpies – Denis Glover

When Tom and Elizabeth took the farm The bracken made their bed, And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle The magpies said.

Tom’s hand was strong to the plough Elizabeth’s lips were red, And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle The magpies said.

Year in year out they worked While the pines grew overhead, And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle The magpies said.

But all the beautiful crops soon went To the mortgage-man instead, And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle The magpies said.

Elizabeth is dead now (it’s years ago) Old Tom went light in the head; And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle The magpies said.

The farm’s still there. Mortgage corporations Couldn’t give it away. And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle The magpies say.

(Source: Xyphir, 2011).

‘The Magpies’ by Denis Glover is one of New Zealand’s most famous poems, first published in 1941. This poem relates to the passage of time as it laments the fate of farmers in hard economic times (Wikipedia, 2006). The hard-working farming couple become victims of an oppressive social system that exploits the working man. In this poem, the cruel and impartial nature of time is personified by the distinctive caw of the magpies, as they watched the farmers struggle away (Shieff, 2008).

As architectural styles and their decorative features can help us understand the conditions of bygone generations, the choice of poetry used here to decorate this workman’s cottage may be a reflection on the current post-quake social condition of Canterbury. Or perhaps the owner was merely commenting on the passage of time and its indiscriminate treatment of her home. Who knows, as archaeologists we can only speculate...


Francesca Bradley.


Wikipedia, 2001. Ozymandias. [online] (22 September 2015) Available at: [Accessed 1 October 2015].

Xyphir, 2011. The Magpies - Denis Glover. A poem a day, [online] 26 April 2011. Available at: [Accessed 1 October 2015].

Wikipedia, 2006. The Magpies. [online] (2 May 2015) Available at: [Accessed 1 October 2015].

Shieff, Sarah, 2008. Denis Glover, 1912 – 1980. [online] Wellington: Victoria University. Available at: file:///Users/Shebitch/Downloads/716-622-1-PB%20(1).pdf [Accessed 1 October 2015].



The dilapidatedly grand villa


This week we are treating you to a photographic tale of the life of a Cantabrian abode. Come with us now on a journey through time and space, to the wonderful world of dilapidated Victorian villas...


Despite its grandiose design, Mr. Paterson soon grew tired of the villa and sold the house just four years later. Over the next couple of decades the dwelling was home to a collection of different occupants. However, as was common practice in Christchurch during the Depression, this ornate villa was eventually divided up into a jigsaw puzzle of single bedroom flats.


And it was this jigsaw of four derelict flats Underground Overground Archaeology had to piece together to bring you the story of Mr. Andrew McNeil Paterson and his once grandiose residence.

Francesca Bradley

An architectural interlude

We're taking a short break between perfume posts this week and veering off in another direction entirely to present you with a photographic essay on one of the historic buildings we've recorded recently (but never fear, we'll be back on course next week!). The building, a Victorian villa,  appears to have been built in 1899 by the delightfully named Matilda Sneesby (very Roald Dahl-esque), wife of Christchurch printer William Sneesby. They lived there with their family until the 1920s. The building itself has some fascinating architectural features and additions, laid our for your perusal in the photographs below.

North elevation of 34 Harvey Terrace with bull nosed veranda, cast iron laces work, chamfered timber posts, timber fretwork brackets. The east end has been walled in.
North elevation of 34 Harvey Terrace with bull nosed veranda, cast iron laces work, chamfered timber posts, timber fretwork brackets. The east end has been walled in.
2.Bay window on the east elevation. Identical bay windows have been found on other houses suggesting that they were available pre-built or as a kitset (not sure of wording for this).
2.Bay window on the east elevation. Identical bay windows have been found on other houses suggesting that they were available pre-built or as a kitset (not sure of wording for this).
Fireplace removed from the parlour.
Fireplace removed from the parlour.
Hallway arches like these were used to separate the ‘public’ and ‘private’ areas of houses. The front rooms of a dwelling were considered public because these were the rooms most likely used when entertaining guests.
Hallway arches like these were used to separate the ‘public’ and ‘private’ areas of houses. The front rooms of a dwelling were considered public because these were the rooms most likely used when entertaining guests.
Traditional moulded skirting boards and architraves. These went out of fashion in the early 20th century as they became more expensive to produce. Note the child’s scrawl. Touches like this remind us that these buildings were people’s homes
Traditional moulded skirting boards and architraves. These went out of fashion in the early 20th century as they became more expensive to produce. Note the child’s scrawl. Touches like this remind us that these buildings were people’s homes
Another ceiling rose, in another room.
Another ceiling rose, in another room.
Ceiling roses. 34 Harvey Terrace was unusual in that there were three identical ceiling roses in three different rooms.
Ceiling roses. 34 Harvey Terrace was unusual in that there were three identical ceiling roses in three different rooms.
his double window was at the south end of the Phase 1 (original) build. The window on the right was boarded up when the house was reconfigured at some time in the early 20th century
his double window was at the south end of the Phase 1 (original) build. The window on the right was boarded up when the house was reconfigured at some time in the early 20th century
The south wall of this room held a fireplace or coal range associated with the kitchen which had been removed. The kitchen is most likely to have been the room beyond the opening, which was still being used as a kitchen in 2011.
The south wall of this room held a fireplace or coal range associated with the kitchen which had been removed. The kitchen is most likely to have been the room beyond the opening, which was still being used as a kitchen in 2011.
This wall is something of a puzzle. The ceiling shows evidence of a wall having been removed, and the wall shows evidence of a door having been removed. The wall was probably removed first, and the wall relined. Then the door was filled in at a later time. The main hallway lies beyond the filled in door way. The wainscoting was not original.
This wall is something of a puzzle. The ceiling shows evidence of a wall having been removed, and the wall shows evidence of a door having been removed. The wall was probably removed first, and the wall relined. Then the door was filled in at a later time. The main hallway lies beyond the filled in door way. The wainscoting was not original.