Various iwi inhabited the Manawatu, primarily along the rivers, for approximately 300 years before European incursion into the area began. The riverside pa included places such as Raukawa and Ti Wi, near what would become Ashhurst and Palmerston North respectively. Despite the presence of these settlements the area was not heavily populated, but it was known as a wonderful hunting and gathering ground for eels, waterfowl, and other native birds and fruits. There were instances of dispute between the various Manawatu iwi and hapu, but perhaps the most significant sustained period of conflict occurred in the early nineteenth century as a result of the southward movement of some Waikato tribes and Te Rauparaha.
As a result of this movement, and the subsequent disposition of some existing iwi and hapu, when the Government was negotiating the purchase of the Ahuaturanga and Rangitikei-Manawatu Blocks, they did so with several iwi, including: Ngati Apa, Ngati Kauwhata, Ngati Raukawa, Ngati Tuwharetoa, and Rangitane. The purchase of the Ahuaturanga Block from Rangitane progressed from 1858 with intense periods of negotiation involving parties whose relationship was tumultuous. This meant that it took until 1864 to finalise the purchase of the block. Despite this, it was not until the early 1870s and the advent of Julius Vogel's (1835-1899) public works and immigration scheme that European settlement began to any extent.
It has been said that 'in the field of state-aided colonization no other had proved such an unqualified success as the settlement of the Manchester Block in the Manawatu District.' This settlement initiative had its origins in England during the 1860s when a group of influential men, imbued with a philanthropic spirit, formed the Emigrant and Colonists' Aid Corporation Limited. The corporation was founded in 1867 and its chairman, the Duke of Manchester, and other members were motivated by their shared concern for the plight and living conditions of Britain's working and lower classes. It was felt that by providing people with the opportunity to go to New Zealand and make their way in the world through farming and hard work that they would ultimately have a better life. This was not a completely selfless venture by Henry George Ashhurst (d.1882), the Hon. William Henry Adelbert Feilding (1836-1895), and the other directors of the corporation, as they also endeavoured to make a profit if at all possible.
In late 1871 Feilding travelled to Australia and New Zealand to search for possible land that the Emigrant and Colonists' Aid Corporation Limited could purchase. He found that the atmosphere in New Zealand at the time was more receptive to the aims of the company, especially because their plans coincided with a push by the government, led by Vogel, to undertake large scale public works programmes. Feilding was sufficiently impressed with what he saw on his quick tour through the Manawatu that he entered into negotiations, and then formalised, the purchase the approximately 100,000 acres which was named the Manchester Block. One clause of the agreement between the company and the Crown was that at least 2,000 immigrants would be settled in the area by 1877, for which the government would provide free passage from Britain.
With the land deal made and the recruitment of prospective immigrants beginning in Britain, it was time for the corporation to put its settlement plans in to action. This involved employing several surveyors to layout the towns and roads within the block. When the Manchester Block was surveyed, three places were identified as natural places to establish towns based on prospective routes of the railways to Wanganui and Napier. The order that these towns were founded traced the construction progress of the respective routes, and therefore Ashhurst's settlement in 1877 followed that of Feilding in 1874, and Halcombe on the Wanganui railway route.
Ashhurst was established on the eastern boundary of the Manchester Block at the base of the Ruahine Ranges. After first being referred to as Raukawa, Ashhurst was then originally misspelt as Ashurst until the late nineteenth century. Ashhurst's early settlers benefited from Feilding having been founded first because a good proportion of that land had already been cleared and was being cultivated, and they also had an established supply route over a relatively good local road. Because of these advantages the new settlers were able to focus on clearing the surrounding farmland and pushing further into the fertile Pohangina Valley. As planned the railway was also a main focus of many of the settlers, and the Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company soon established its local base of operations in Ashhurst.
Despite a start being made in this early period it was several years before wider infrastructure networks were completed. Because of the hindrances caused by a lack of suitable roads or rail links, the fledgling settlements in the Manchester Block had restricted and intermittent postal and communications access for a number of years after settlement commenced. Prior to postal facilities being established in Feilding in mid 1874, the post was able to be forwarded from the nearby Post Office at Awahuri. From 1879 to 1897 post office services in Ashhurst were part of one of the general stores. The post was received and despatched daily, and the other post office services offered at the general store included money-orders, telecommunications, and savings bank facilities, and as such it was a vital part of the town. The connection to Palmerston North and Wellington by the railway in the early 1890s greatly helped with efficient and effective mail services.
However, despite this early post office providing local people with 'the conveniences of a much more pretentious establishment,' in 1897 work on a purpose-built Post Office for Ashhurst was begun on a plot, which had been purchased for the purpose from Catherine Warne in 1895, on the corner of the main street, Cambridge Avenue, and Bamfield Street. The building of the Post Office also coincided with the construction of a new and substantially larger Anglican church, which is indicative that the town was 'rising.' The Public Works Department (PWD) produced plans and specifications by March 1897 for a Style 1QW building for Ashhurst, which was a very common standard type for smaller towns. As the head architect for government buildings the plans for this standard type would probably have been approved by John Campbell (1857-1942).The construction of the building seems to have been undertaken by PWD co-operative workers over the last few months of that year, and the Ashhurst Post Office became one of four nationally that were completed within the 1897 financial year. Like many other Post Offices, as well as businesses such as banks and shops, the design for the Post Office in Ashhurst included a residence for the postmaster or, in the first instance in Ashhurst, the postmistress, and their family to live in.
By the turn of the twentieth century the population of New Zealand was approximately 800,000 and to facilitate communications there were 1,700 Post Offices around the country who handled 70 million posted items per year. Many local people also had savings accounts and other business that was handled by the Post Office in Ashhurst. Therefore, the building was not only a communications hub, but because so many people had business there during the day it also became a place were people met, networked, and swapped news. When important events took place, such as the proclamation in 1910 that King George V would be the British Empire's next monarch, people could be found gathering at the Post Office to get news and updates as soon as they came off the telegraph wire.
As the local population grew, and the services at the Post Office were expanded, the building grew in accordance. The first change to the building came in 1909 with a substantial addition to the residence on the west side of building, which resulted in the creation of another bedroom and the enlargement of the kitchen and utility spaces. A lean-to was also added to the east side of the building which housed an increased number of private boxes, as well as a telephone bureau. By the mid twentieth century increased public use and staffing levels again meant that an extension to the building was necessary. At the time it was constructed in 1947 this was described as a 'small addition on the east side of the post-office building.' However, it encompassed the space previously occupied by the 1909 telephone bureau and extended all the way back to create a rear wing that balanced that of the residence on the west side of the building. By increasing the public space by several metres and greatly expanding the staff facilities creating a staffroom, kitchenette and staff toilet behind the mailroom, this extension meant that the front façade of the Post Office was no longer symmetrical.
Despite regular maintenance and upgrades at the Post Office, by the 1960s the building was in need of series of renovations. After some small projects were completed, the reports of the Post Office department building inspectors, who were charged with examining the quality of the completed works, also highlighted other prospective enhancements that would be beneficial. As such, further changes were made to the building and its facilities in the early 1960s, including re-piling the entire building and enriching the atmosphere in the public areas which were high use spaces due to the expanding population. As well as beautifying and ensuring the continued integrity of the building, these projects also insured that the residence continued to be habitable for the postmaster through the modernisation of its facilities.
However, by the closing decades of the twentieth century centralisation and changes in Post Office operations meant that a purpose-built structure as large as that in Ashhurst was considered unnecessary for a town of its size. As such, the Post Office building was sold to the Palmerston North City Council in 1992 and, in a similar circumstance to that in Ashhurst prior to 1897 a Post Shop was incorporated into an established store to replace it. At this time some interior changes were made to the former Post Office building in order to alter its function to that of a public library, and further minor changes have been made since. The building has continued to house the local branch of Council's public library, as well as provide community meeting spaces.
Post Office (Former), Ashhurst is a typical timber modestly sized standard type PWD post office from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The building is located in a prominent position within the town on the corner of its arterial road and within what has traditionally been the commercial and retail area of Ashhurst. Historically the visibility of the building has been high because of the open reserve area immediately to its south. However, mature trees now largely screen the view of the Post Office from this direction. The density of residential buildings around the Post Office has increased dramatically since the mid twentieth century, but the pairing of it with the nearby roughly contemporary shop building on the opposite side of Cambridge Avenue, is a reminder of the former commercial focus of this section of the town.
The building is positioned near the front of its flat section, which also includes a garage on its southwest corner. Spanning the gap between these two buildings is a picket fence that has capped section posts. This fence was built soon after the Post Office was constructed and previously extended around all of the street frontages.
Each section of the Post Office building from its two main periods of extension has been integrated into that of the original 1897 building by being clad in rusticated weatherboards and the common use of double-hung sash windows. These three main parts of the building all have hipped roofs and since the earliest incarnation of the building its roof has been clad in corrugated iron. All of the interior fireplaces have been removed, which has also eliminated the corresponding chimneys from its roofline.
The main focal point of this reasonably simple looking building is the south façade and in particular its main entrance. This façade was originally symmetrical, but the 1947 addition to the east has meant that the main entrance is now off-centre. The building is accessed by way of concrete steps or a late twentieth century ramp. Beneath a gabled porch are two glass panel doors that are parallel to each other and flank a window that faces out towards the reserve. The four panel glazed door on the east side of the porch seems to date from the early 1960s and was part of a general initiative to provide more light into the public spaces of the Post Office. The front gable section is reminiscent of Queen Ann style and the vertical stickwork on the front entrance gable-end references Stick style architecture. Both of these styles were fashionable in domestic architecture at the time and were commonly combined in New Zealand as architects borrowed aesthetically pleasing elements from various types of architecture freely.
A prominent feature of the entrance gable is the flag pole which appears to be original, but the lower end of the finial that extended below the level of the gable-end brace has been removed at a level that corresponds with that of the base of the flag pole. The lower eaves of the gable feature moulded brackets, which are repeated on the corners and above the original windows of the front façade. The porch entranceway also has original decoratively shaped brackets on its upper corners. The other ornamental element on the south façade is the scale-like design, and brackets, between the arch-top of each of the sash-windows at the outer edges of the building and the eaves. Like the brackets these were original features and it seems likely that when the eastward extension of the building was built that these elements, which were closer to the centre of the building, were relocated to their current positions. It was at this time in the mid-twentieth century that a larger window was installed to the east of the main entrance. However, the current bay window appears to be a late twentieth century addition.
The main area of the current library is immediately accessible when entering the building through the main entrance. A large reception and administration area is located on the south east side of the building, and the bulk of the 1897 section was made into an open plan space in the late twentieth century through the removal of the internal walls which defined the residence's living room and two of its bedrooms on the west side of the building. However, these walls were not removed to ceiling level, and therefore the former spaces can still be read. Instead of the removal of its south wall, the north-most bedroom now has a square opening which has a moulded architrave that references those used in the original and 1909 areas, such as the doorways in the adjacent central passage, and the windows. These earlier sections of the building are also defined through the presence of battened ceiling linings.
However, two of the early spaces remain at the centre of the building. One was another of the former residence's bedrooms, which is now used as a parents room. The strong room, immediately adjacent on the east of the bedroom, was created at some point between 1909 and the mid twentieth century and was previously the location of the telephone room and a wardrobe of the bedroom. Because of its former function this room is concrete lined and has a heavy steel safe door.
The original building was added to in 1909 and again in the mid twentieth century. The 1909 extension included the west wing on north side of the building. Aspects such as the deep and simply moulded skirting of the 1897 building were matched in this later section and there are remnants of the skirting and match-lining from 1909 in the back hallway, bathrooms and pantry. The kitchen, as well as what is now a community meeting room, were upgraded in the 1960s and 1970s, including re-lining the walls, installing new kitchen joinery and slight alterations to the kitchen layout. The diagonal wall and lowered ceiling at the end of the central passage at the junction with the back hall appears to be a late twentieth century addition. Otherwise the layout is the same as that constructed in 1909.
In the mid twentieth century an eastward extension was added that added to the public space of the Post Office and disrupted the symmetry of the front façade. At this time an east wing on the north end of the building was also constructed and is narrower than its western counterpart. This wing included a staff area consisting of an external access point, toilets, a kitchenette and staffroom. However, as with the 1897 section of the building, this area is now predominantly open plan and is an extension of the library facilities at the front of the building. One of the exits has been boarded over but the northern most access has been retained, as has the toilet on the east side of the library.
West wing created
Eastward extension of main body of building and east wing created
Interior changes to facilitate public library function
Creation of administration area
Concrete, corrugated iron, glass, steel, timber
17th December 2009
Report Written By
Buick, 1903 (1975)
TL Buick, 'Old Manawatu', Christchurch, 1903 (1975)
D. A. Davies & R.E. Clevely, Pioneering to Prosperity 1874-1974: A Centennial History of the Manchester Block (Feilding & Oroua Borough Councils, Feilding 1981)
Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
Dalziel, R., 'Vogel, Julius 1835 - 1899,' updated 22 June 2007
Richardson, P., 'Campbell, John 1857-1942,' updated 22 June 2007
T A Gibson, An Account of the Settlement of the Feilding District (First published Feilding 1936, this copy: Capper Press, Christchurch, 1983)
An Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Government Printer, Wellington, 1966
G. Petersen, Palmerston North; A Centennial History, Wellington, 1973
Jeremy Salmond, Old New Zealand Houses 1800-1940, Auckland, 1986, Reed Methuen
Waitangi Tribunal Report, www.waitangi-tribunal.govt.nz
Anderson, R. and K. Pickens, 'Rangahaua Whanau District 12 - Wellington District: Port Nicholson, Hutt Valley, Porirua, Rangitikei, and Manawatu,' Waitangi Tribunal Rangahaua Whanau Series, August 1996. Updated 14 August 2009
Papers Past, www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz
Feilding Star, 4 May 1897, 3 August 1897
A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Central Region 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.