Historical Significance or Value
The Town and Country Women’s Club (Former) has historical importance as the former residence of two of Gisborne’s prominent physicians. It was significantly extended in 1903 by Dr John William Williams, a member of the Williams family, and a prominent member of the community, who lived in the house until the 1940s. It was then purchased by Dr Cedric Isaac, who lived in it with his family until he died in 1960. The building also has historic importance as the long term headquarters of the Town and Country Women’s Club, an organisation established in 1954 as a social club for women. Many of the district’s most prominent women were members, and the club functioned as a female equivalent of the male only Poverty Bay Club.
Architectural Significance or Value:
The Town and Country Women’s Club (Former) has architectural importance as an example of substantial Edwardian domestic architecture in Gisborne. It is a two storey timber Edwardian Bay Villa with a low pitch hip roof and Italianate elements, including stilted segmented arches on bay upper windows, full semi circle on lower floor bay windows and door fanlights. It represents a particular kind of domestic building, built for well to do middle class clients.
Social Significance or Value:
The Town and Country Women’s Club (Former) was home to generations of Tairawhiti women, and although its membership was reduced from the heyday of the 1950s and 1960s, until 2011 it still had a number of members who had belonged to the club for many years. As one of the few remaining clubs of its type in the region, it outlasted its male equivalents, and actively supported the social lives of its members; this building had an important role as a social institution.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:
As an Edwardian bay villa with Italianate elements, the Town and Country Women’s Club (Former) represents the architecture of a certain class of Gisborne citizens, and in this case it specifically reflects the aspirations and resources of Dr John Williams and his family at the beginning of the twentieth century. As the home of the Town and Country Women’s Club, the building is a connection to social organisations such as private membership clubs that played an important role in the lives of residents, in this case country women who required a place they could relax and refresh themselves when travelling into town.
(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history:
As the headquarters of the Town and Country Women’s Club (Former) for over fifty years, this building is a tangible connection to social organisations that have been rendered obsolete by changes in New Zealand lifestyles. The was started by wealthy women settlers of Poverty Bay as a female version of the male only Poverty Bay Club, and because the state of local roads made travelling into the town of Gisborne a somewhat arduous and lengthy endeavour, requiring facilities where country women could rest and receive refreshments.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the plac:
As the home of the Town and Country Women’s Club, this building has played a role in the lives of many Gisborne women, as members or as an organisation that their mothers and grandmothers belonged to. It was part of a network of community organisations that sustained social contact in the region, and was the last active group of its kind.
Summary of Significance or Values
This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, c, e.
It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category II historic place.
The Town and Country Women’s Club (Former) is located at 25b Fitzherbert Street, Gisborne, in a prosperous suburb of the city. Close to the Waimata River, the land on which the building stands has been subdivided, so the property no longer has access to the riverbank. While the surrounding landscape has changed since the house was built circa 1901, it is still possible to get a sense of the grand scale of this gentleman’s home, and the handsome face it presented to the world.
According to Dr John William Williams, the house was built for Mr Henry Mason, from Hawke’s Bay. Mason lived in the house for about two years when Williams purchased the house and land in 1903. This general area of Whataupoko had been acquired by the New Zealand Native Land Settlement Company Ltd in 1883. While they quickly moved to survey and section parts of the land, including the land on which the nearby Wyllie Cottage (Record no. 814) stands, Williams says that it wasn’t until 1900 that the land between Fitzherbert Street and the junction of the Taruheru, Waimata and Turanganui Rivers was sectioned and sold, after being offered to the Borough Council for a botanical gardens at a sum of £2000. As Williams writes, ‘Ours was the best section in the block. It would have been an ideal place for ornamental gardens. It was lucky for us that the Council turned it down.’ From Williams’s unpublished autobiography, it is clear that Mason’s house was only one storey and in the same basic location as the existing building.
Dr John William Williams was a general practitioner who first settled in Gisborne in December 1892. Son of John William Williams, who was brother of Archdeacon Leonard William Williams, Williams married Jessie Mackie Williamson in 1899 at Holy Trinity Church in Gisborne. He purchased the medical practice of Dr Laing, who moved to Auckland, with the financial assistance of his uncle, Samuel Williams, the wealthy Hawke’s Bay pastoralist. As well as assisting the community in his capacity as a doctor, Williams was active in local body politics, sitting on the local council and running for mayor against W.D. Lysnar in 1908, for example. He was also a company director for Adair Bros. Williams and his wife initially lived in Peel Street, Gisborne, and in 1903 they began looking for another house, purchasing the property and house from Henry Mason for £400 (£200 for the land and £200 for the house).
As Williams writes in his autobiography, ‘We thought the house not big enough and decided to put on an upper storey. Uncle Sam again came to my aid and lent me the necessary money. A contract was let to Walter Clayton, the builder, for £600. He was also to add two rooms on the ground floor and built over them too.’ The builder was Walter Henry Clayton and the contract was let before September 1903, when Williams and his wife travelled to Dunedin for a hernia operation. The trip was also useful in terms of the new home. As Williams writes, ‘We spent a day or two in Napier with my people and chose mantelpieces for our new house. Also in Wellington we chose wallpapers.’ The house was ready by December 1903, and it included a surgery for Williams’s medical practice. The drawing room was upstairs, and the adult Williams’s had a bedroom with their children sharing another. In 1904 Williams recalls spending the Winter laying out the garden, which involved planting trees, and converting the previous owner’s vegetable garden into lawn. He mentions that part of the section was a yard for the family’s two horses, located on the bank of the Waimata River and flooded when the tide rose, but at the time of writing (in the 1940s) silted up and planted in lawn.
Williams writes that due to the generosity of his uncle Samuel Williams, who suggested that he stop paying interest on the loan for the Fitzherbert Street property, he was able to transfer the property to his wife, Jessie Williams, and take out a life insurance policy for £1500. This is confirmed by a LINZ report. Williams’s autobiography mentions a number of other events that affected life in the Fitzherbert Street house, such as the big flood of 1910 and an earthquake in 1914. But these don’t seem to have had any significant effect on the house itself. There is a document in the archives of the Gisborne District Council that purports to be notes made from Williams’s autobiography, which offers a more detailed description of the house. Some of this can be independently verified by reading Williams’s text, but other details do not seem to be as clearly spelled out by Williams as this summary would suggest.
In December 1947 the house was sold to Dr Cedric Walter Isaac and his wife Kathleen Mary Isaac. Dr Isaac was also a medical practitioner, and it seems likely that he used the house in a similar way to Dr Williams, having his surgery downstairs while his family lived in the rest of the building. This connection proved to be critical for the building, since it was Kathleen Isaac who was responsible for offering her house to the Town and Country Women’s Club as their clubrooms after her husband passed away.
The Town and Country Women’s Club officially opened on Friday 26 February 1954. According to one member, there was no social club for women in Gisborne in the early 1950s. Men could join the Poverty Bay Club, which provided them with a place to relax and refresh, in a time when the roads were not very good, and country people would often have to stay overnight in town, either at the Masonic Hotel or in cottages at Wainui Beach. A number of Station owners’ wives when meeting at social occasions in Gisborne talked of a need for women to have a social club of their own. As Dorothy Clark said to a reporter in 1954, 'There seemed to be nowhere in Gisborne where one could have a quiet cup of tea or a chat to a friend. The only place for women to go were the busy milk-bars and tearooms, nowhere that countrywomen could perhaps change a frock and freshen up when they came to Gisborne before going on to a party, or visiting. Another member stated that ‘We all felt a club of this type would be of enormous benefit - something of our own.’
According to club archives, a group of women gathered on 29 October 1953 to discuss the idea of the social club. These women included Mrs Victor Savage Mrs Percy Barker, Mrs Dick Parker, Mrs Alex White, Mrs John Clark, and Mrs Doug Hain.’ An acting committee was formed, and the women were responsible for ringing other women in their area and canvassing the level of interest. Another meeting was called on 27 November 1953. Norma Morice writes, ‘From this meeting of 50 it was decided to form the club to be called The Town & Country Womens Club, and to lease for 8 years, rooms in Craig’s building in Gladstone Road adjacent to the old Kings Theatre.’ The club had 265 members, who each paid four guineas membership fee. There was a hostess, called Jean Bird, who was paid £6 10 shillings a week, and a ‘char lady’ who cleaned the whole building. The club was open from 9.30am to 5.30pm Monday to Friday, and 9.30 am to 6.30pm on Fridays.
Kathleen Isaac was a member of the inaugural committee of the Town and Country Women’s Club, and when her husband passed away she offered the house in Fitzherbert Street to the organisation for their clubrooms. The price was £4150, and it was paid for by club members taking debentures, many of which were never redeemed, along with different fund raising activities. Isaac converted the first storey of the house into a self contained flat, which she leased from the club for £7 a week. After Isaac passed away, the flat was occupied by her niece, Dorothy Rouse, who started a hairdressing business called Dorothy Rose in the apartment. Conveniently located, club members could simply walk upstairs to have their hair done. The apartment was let to various tenants by the Town and Country Women’s Club, who used the income to fund their activities. The flat is entered through an external staircase. It has a kitchen, toilet, laundry and bathroom, two bedrooms, a large room with a bay window and French door leading to a balcony and fire escape, and another large room facing Fitzherbert Street. The large room with French doors was used for the hairdressing salon. The downstairs of the building features a large kitchen, a library and a lounge, originally one room, a smaller lounge, called the Committee Room, which faces Fitzherbert Street, two toilets and a shower, plus the staircase. The main entrance is in the middle of the north (front) façade, and the smaller entrance to the right is used as a storeroom.
The purchase of the house included land running down to the Waimata River. Very valuable because of its proximity to town and scenic potential, the land was subdivided and sold in 1961, with the new section’s right of way on the club land.
In 1976 Alan Kilpatrick, builder and joiner, was contracted to alter the building, principally by enclosing the verandah on the lower level and thus increasing the size of the library and main lounge. Kilpatrick also altered the egress to the flat upstairs, and built the ramp and porch at the front of the house. In 2003 the building received a number of general repairs and new spouting to celebrate the club’s fiftieth jubilee, and was repainted with an appropriate heritage colour scheme.
The Town and Country Women’s Club occupied the building until 2011 when the building was sold to new owners.
The Town & Country Women’s Club (Former) is a two storey timber Edwardian Bay Villa with a low pitch hip roof. It has Italianate elements, including stilted segmented arches on bay upper windows, full semi circle on lower floor bay windows, materials and door fanlights.
It is a timber frame building with an irregular floor plan. The exterior is clad in rusticated timber with a low pitched hip roof covered in decromastic tiles. Windows and doors are in a number of different styles, particularly on the front (north) elevation. The roof has boxed eaves supported by modillions.
North Elevation: Asymmetrical façade with a wing projecting forward at the east end. A ramp runs around the corner providing wheelchair access via the former verandah on the east side of the building, now enclosed. The projecting section of the building has a rectangular bay window with two double hung one light windows on the ground floor, its roof supported by pairs of modillions. On the first floor is one double hung two light window with an ornate lower sill and a sunhood with a fretwork of turned balusters running around its lower edge.
The main front door is in the wall of a shallow lean to, built into the corner of the projecting wing. The door has narrow sidelights and a fixed semi circular fanlight, the whole unit being surrounded by a moulded lintel with keystone. The small section of wall over the door is clad in diagonal tongue and groove boards running in opposing directions. Above the lean to is a window matching that on the first floor of the projections section.
At the west end of the front elevation is a six panel timber door with a semi circular fixed fanlight. The moulded lintel runs around both of these. Above it is a carved pediment supported by two elongated trusses. On the first floor above the door is another window exactly matching that above the main door.
Interior: original features include moulded timber baseboards, panel ceilings and panel doors, usually stained rather than painted.
two rooms added on ground floor by Walter Clayton; upper storey added to house
upstairs converted into self contained flat
verandah enclosed to create additional space for library and lounge
Timber framing, rusticated weatherboards, decromastic roof tiles
3rd October 2011
Report Written By
Damian Skinner, Gail Henry, Linda Pattison
Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1902
Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol.2, Christchurch, 1902
14 Dec 2012
27 Feb 1954, p.7, 1 Jul 2003
Poverty Bay Herald
Poverty Bay Herald
7 Oct 1886, 11 May 1899, 6 Dec 1907, 30 Apr 1908
A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Lower Northern Area Office
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.