Historical Significance or Value
The significance of Mountfort House primarily derives from the fact that it is one of the earliest remnants of European settlement in the Manawatu. Indeed, this place has considerable local importance because early European settlement was greatly facilitated by the surveying work that members of the Mountfort family, who successively lived in the house, undertook in planning the Manchester Block’s occupation, and in establishing towns such as Feilding. Mountfort House is the legacy of this seminal family, who continued to influence settlement around the North Island into the early twentieth century with their surveys, and for whom Mountfort House was a home-base for over a century.
This large town property with its selection of buildings, including the main house, an early washhouse and outbuilding, as well as long established trees, also have some historical significance as a collection which is indicative of domestic activities and lifestyles in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
Architectural Significance or Value:
This house has architectural value because its genesis was as a typical New Zealand building, which is now a rarity in the area; the Victorian double box cottage. Like many others of its type Mountfort House was extended and added to as fortune allowed and social status required. The late Victorian additions to the house added complexity to its form and have created a modest sized residence characterised by comfortable gentility. In accordance with this, decorative elements were gradually incorporated, including the ornamental gable end features, verandah fretwork, corbels, and finials, and on the interior, aspects such as, the ceiling roses, and main entrance arch detailing. Aside from demonstrating a high level of craftsmanship, these aspects show an awareness of contemporary architectural trends and a desire to elevate the house above the purely utilitarian.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
Although not an overly ostentatious residence, Mountfort House still reflects the reasonably high social status that was achieved by the Mountforts as a result of being successes in a profession influential in the European settlement of New Zealand - surveying. It was through surveying that a European stamp was imposed on the land and settlement facilitated.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history
Because it is a building dating from the early period of intensive European settlement in the Manawatu, Mountfort House is associated with Julius Vogel’s immigration and public works policies which saw an influx of European immigration to New Zealand in the 1870s.
Indeed, this place is particularly important because it is also intimately associated with a family which was influential in putting into motion the practical settlement of the Manawatu, and other areas in the North Island, through their surveying. The head of this prominent family, Charles Wheeler Mountfort, brother of notable architect, Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort, had already established his reputations as surveyor when the Manchester Block settlement was initiated.
Charles was involved in this project, but it was his son Charles Adnam Mountfort, along with his younger brother Alfred John Mountfort, who had an on-going relationship with the region through their successive occupation of Mountfort House. The Manchester Block was the first noteworthy project of Charles’ career, during which he trained Alfred in surveying. The two men went on to have successful careers, with Alfred becoming District Surveyor in Auckland, and while the family base was still in Feilding Charles undertook many standard control surveys around the North Island. The Mountfort family is recognised as having made an important contribution to New Zealand’s surveying record.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place
Mountfort House is a well-known property locally and public interest in, and esteem for, the property have been demonstrated through heritage tours to the house, and personal contact with the owners regarding the buildings.
Summary of Significance or Values
This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, b, and e.
It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category II historic place.
This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is the original citation considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration. Information in square brackets indicate modifications made after the paper was considered by the NZHPT Board.
Various iwi inhabited the Manawatu, primarily along the rivers, for approximately 300 years before European incursion into the area began. The Upper Manawatu area encompassed parts of the Ahuaturanga and Rangitikei-Manawatu Blocks and featured riverside pa such as Raukawa and Ti Wi, near what would become Ashhurst and Palmerston North respectively. Despite the presence of these settlements the wider 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, 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 such by the late 1840s the sale of the Rangitikei-Manawatu Block to the Crown was contested between several iwi and ‘…there raged for years a storm of litigation around the Rangitikei-Manawatu Block which not only strained the relations between [iwi and] European settlers, but at one time threatened to break out in inter-tribal war.’ Therefore, it was not until the conclusion of several Native Land Court cases in the late 1860s that the European settlement of the block was able to progress to any extent.
In 1936 it was 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 process began with the arrival of 23 immigrants from Britain who settled in Feilding in 1874. This settlement scheme 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’s 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. This was not a completely selfless venture by Henry George Ashhurst (?-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 scope out possible land for the Emigrant and Colonists’ Aid Corporation Limited to 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 New Zealand government, led by Julius Vogel (1835-1899), to undertake large scale public works programmes. The corresponding legislature, the Immigration and Public Works Act (1870), meant that thousands of assisted immigrants were brought to New Zealand to work on projects such as railway construction, and to settle in the vicinity of the works, therein furthering the growth of the European population and contributing to the development of the economy.
Feilding was sufficiently impressed with what he saw on his quick tour through the Manawatu and entered into negotiations to purchase approximately 100,000 acres of land straddling the boundaries of Ahuaturanga and Rangitikei-Manawatu Blocks. In the presence of Vogel, the deed for what was called the Manchester Block was signed in 1871 between the corporation and Queen Victoria, represented by Feilding and Sir George Ferguson Bowen (1821-1899) respectively. One of the clauses in the agreement was that the corporation would settle at least 2,000 immigrants in the area by 1877 and that the government, once they had provided free passage from Britain for the immigrants, would then endeavour to employ them on public works projects in the proximity, including the railway which cut through the block.
As an acknowledgment of Feilding’s role in the establishment of the Manchester Block, the main town was named after him and was the first settlement founded. However, in preparation for this the Manchester Block first had to be surveyed. This was led by Frederick Gillet and then by [J. Howard Jackson] when he succeeded the former as the corporation’s Chief Surveyor. Among the team of surveyors was Charles Adnam Mountfort (1854-1941) who surveyed the townships and surrounding rural areas of Bunnythorpe, Halcombe, and Ashhurst, as well as mapping parts of the Oroua and Manawatu Rivers, over a six year period. Charles’ younger brother, Alfred John Mountfort (1860-1927), was also engaged in this enterprise, the two having followed the lead of their father, Charles Wheeler Mountfort (1826-1918) in becoming surveyors. Over a period of 67 years these three men are said to have made ‘a significant contribution to the survey record in New Zealand.’
Both of the Mountforts had been born in New Zealand after their parents and uncle immigrated to in 1850. Charles (senior) had been involved with the surveying of Otago and Southland in the 1850s, and later also joined his sons in the Manchester Block survey work. His brother, Benjamin Woolfield Wheeler Mountfort (1825-1898), also made a name for himself in New Zealand as the Christchurch-based architect who designed iconic buildings like the Provincial Government Buildings, Canterbury Museum, and was also heavily involved with the construction of the Cathedral Church of Christ in Cathedral Square.
The surveying work in the Manchester Block seems to have been Alfred’s training in surveying, with his brother as instructor. At this point Charles was a licensed surveyor, but he did not qualify as an authorised surveyor until 1880. Later the two went onto survey parts of Taranaki together and Alfred was then well on his way to becoming a well-respected surveyor, said to have had a ‘reputation of having few equals as a bushman and explorer.’
The two brothers then seem to have ended their partnership when Alfred was appointed Assistant Surveyor in the Manawatu district. This appointment appears to have coincided with individual Mountfort family members finalising the transfer of adjoining properties on the corner of East and Derby Streets in 1885. It is unclear whether the section that Alfred owned had an existing house, thought to have been built in 1878, or whether he, perhaps in conjunction with his brothers, constructed the residence circa 1885. Alfred does seem to have been building around this time. For example, in 1886 there was a reference in the Fielding Star to a new cottage on Denbigh Street being constructed for Mr A. Mountfort by Mr Berry. Being parallel to Derby Street, this newspaper entry may mistakenly be referring to the first stage of Mountfort House.
However, Alfred’s residence in Feilding was not extensive because within a few years he was promoted to District Surveyor in Auckland. When first built the house on the corner of East and Derby Streets was a standard gabled double box cottage. It was perhaps in anticipation of the sale of the property that the building was apparently expanded around 1888, with an extra two large rooms being added at the rear. It was Alfred’s brother Charles who purchased the house property in 1889, it becoming his family home. However, it is recorded that in 1894 extensions were undertaken at the house by architect Charles Bray. It is unclear what this building work consisted of, but it may refer to this central section of Mountfort House. Just prior to purchasing the house Charles became a founding member of the New Zealand Institute of Surveyors, and then continued to cement his important position within this profession through his standard control surveys in Wanganui, Nelson, Napier, Feilding, Marton and Palmerston North.
By the turn of the twentieth century the population of Feilding had reached 2,000 people. Between 1901 and 1906 there was a substantial rise in the population, with the census showing an extra thousand people residing in the town which was described as ‘the market town of a thriving farming district.’ By this time Feilding had all of the municipal buildings and facilities one would expect of a well established and flourishing town, such as a large Post Office complete with clock tower, gas lighting, churches representing all of the major Christian denominations, a railway station, a public library, schools, and leisure facilities and clubs.
The family of Charles Mountfort, consisting of his wife Ann (d.1938) and seven children, likewise had significantly expanded by the turn of the twentieth century. Charles had gained prominence in his profession and also a certain amount of affluence. Therefore, he was able to further expand the Mountfort home in 1902. The additions are thought to have included a further expansion to the rear of the building, which substantially extended the existing residence and its facilities as it included a reasonably grand dining room and new kitchen. It is said that because Charles was frequently away during periods when alterations were being undertaken Ann became very adept at identifying the best timbers available, and she must also have had a lot to do with the contractors. On returning from surveying expeditions Charles reportedly found the elongated central hall of the house useful in laying out his measuring tapes to dry.
Because of their early family connection with the establishment of the Manchester Block and settlement of Feilding, the Mountforts seem to have been well-known and respected locally. Ann seems to have also made a name for herself as an accomplished painter and is reported to have sometimes accompanied Charles on his expeditions in order to paint landscapes. Before marriage Ann had been a school teacher and once settled in Feilding she combined these two aspects by giving painting and drawing lessons. The daughters of Charles and Ann were also well-known locally through their roles as school teachers. Because he was a public servant Charles was prevented from taking a role in the public affairs of the town and region, however, when at home he is said to have encouraged entertainments and gatherings at the house. As one would expect, the Mountforts also played host to their relations, for example, it was reported in the local newspaper when Charles’ mother came to stay.
After the death of Ann and Charles in 1938 and 1941 respectively, the house was retained by the Mountfort’s adult children. Eventually the home came under the sole ownership of Jane Maria Mountfort (1890-1982) who was an unmarried daughter of the couple, and she lived there until her death. This ended her family’s century long habitation of the building and it was sold in 1983. However, the subsequent owner sold the property within a few years to the current owners who have now lived in the house for 20 years. During the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, local interest in the heritage value of Mountfort House has been demonstrated through numerous heritage tours to the property, and personal contact with the owners regarding the buildings.
Despite several subdivisions, Mountfort House remains set within a large corner residential section. The original circa 1878-86 house was subsequently extended circa 1888-94, and then again in 1902 to form a building which stretches backwards from the earliest part. However, the original building remains the main façade of the house. The washhouse and outhouse are other early features of the property that have been retained. The property also features several mature trees of note, including a sizeable oak tree to the north of the driveway and towards the southern corner of the section, and a fig tree near the west corner of the main building. In particular, the oak dominates the view from the street, and it and other plantings partially screen the main building from the road. The oak and fig tree were planted during the Mountfort family’s occupation of the property.
Original circa 1878-86 building
The initial section of Mountfort House is comparable in size and form to other examples of modest contemporary early Manchester Block houses such as, House, Ashhurst, Broxt Cottage in Feilding, and from the wider region House, Eketahuna. It is also similar to Totaranui, a cottage built in Palmerston North in 1875 (now at Te Manawa Museum in Palmerston North).
These places represent the a small remaining group of what was the predominant type of New Zealand house from the period, and in the new Manchester Block settlements; the characteristic timber double box cottages comprising of two corrugated iron clad gables. This material was also used to clad the roof of the later sections of the building. As is typical of double box cottages, this original section of Mountfort House comprises four compact rooms leading off of a central passage. It is likely that prior to the circa 1888-94 addition there would also have been a lean-to at the rear which housed the kitchen.
The inclusion of the concave verandah that sweeps around the three sides of this simple building is characteristic of the period and is said to indicate ‘pretension to style.’ However, the verandah was not only an aesthetically pleasing aspect, but inherently practical as it provided shelter at the front entrance, and would have afforded a private covered space for a washing line. The deck of the verandah is timber and the roof is formed by shaped corrugated iron. The spacing of the verandah posts is symmetrical and cross bracing is present either side of the top of each post, which helps support the ornamental timber frieze of hollowed circles that forms a band beneath the verandah eaves.
Bargeboards on the front face of the two gables, and the finials at their apexes, also elevate the earliest part of the house above the purely functional and are among a few other decorative flourishes on the exterior of the building. Other aspects include the skirt-like panels of the gable end eaves, whose individual timber panels combine to form a scalloped edge. There are also rows of couplets of heavy brackets under the eaves on the southeast and northwest sides of the gables. The finials, gable end decoration, and bracketing, is also present in the circa 1888-94 portion of the building and may therefore have been added when this extension was created. All of these features reference the detailing common in popular international architectural styles in the late nineteenth century, such as Carpenter Gothic and Queen Anne Style.
At the centre of the front façade of the original part of the house is the former main entrance to the building which leads into the central passage. This is the artery of the house and features a dado with simply moulded top and the ceiling is match-lined. The passage is lit by the fanlight over the front door and the door’s two arch-top glass panels. The passageway provides access to the four rooms of the building which previously would have been used as a combination of bedrooms, and living and work spaces. These are now some of the smallest rooms in the house, and are used as bedrooms and a study. The dividing walls between the adjoining rooms are punctuated by brick-lined fireplaces. All of these rooms also have battened ceilings and the front rooms each have ornamental metal ventilation grates high in outer edges of the front façade.
It was common for double box cottages to be expanded as the inhabitants gained resources and their families grew in size and stature. This was certainly the case with Mountfort House, and among other aspects, one of the features which distinguishes the original portion of the house from the later additions is its casement windows. The next phases of construction both incorporated sash windows, some of which are quite large, such as that at the end of the circa 1888-94 entrance hall. The later phases of construction also differ in that they are clad in plain rusticated weatherboards, whereas the entire front section has been coated in a finish which creates a slightly textured effect.
circa 1888-94 addition
The second phase of construction consisted of a single, relatively large span, cross-wards gable. This repositioned the main entrance to the east side at the rear of the original cottage, on a perpendicular axis to the central passage. The effect of the entrance’s high battened ceiling, ornamental ceiling rose, diagonal panelled dado, and timber arch with decorative scroll bracketing at its west end, is impressive within this scale of building, and originally led visitors straight through to the generously sized former drawing room, now master bedroom. Metal ceiling roses are also present in other main rooms in this section of the building.
The other rooms which flank the extension of the central hall in this transverse gable include the former formal dining room on the east side, and smaller rooms to the rear which were likely to have initially been utility spaces. The central hall finishes at a doorway with fan light above and coloured glass inset. The rear hall is located through this and features a large skylight which disperses light into the rear hall, and the radiating rooms.
The last significant addition to the building was formed by a longitudinal hipped roof section, the width of the two original gables combined. This has centrally placed sub-gables on its northwest and southeast sides, which are capped with finials and bargeboards in keeping with the earlier portions of the building and the style of the time. Another external decorative feature specific to this section is the sizeable external scotia which runs around its entirety beneath the eaves.
The main room in this addition is a grandly scaled dining room on the west corner. The set of French doors seem to have been installed at a later date as they are not centred within their sub-gable. The interior features a large fireplace which backs onto its equivalent in the kitchen, and also a retractable Art Nouveau inspired original light fitting. Like other areas on the building, this room has a dado.
The ceiling in the dining room, and in the other 1902 rooms, is matchlined and the flooring consists of exposed floorboards. Another interesting detail in this section is the carved timber door fittings which appear to be original.
Along with a bathroom, the other room in the addition on the east side of the house is the kitchen. This is entirely matchlined, and several early features remain along the west wall, including in-built cupboards and shelving, as well as a H. E. Shacklock of Dunedin coal range.
Connected to the rear of the house is a small hipped roof section which now houses the laundry. It is unclear whether this was part of the 1902 addition, but may well have been completed at a later date because in the early twentieth century the remaining external washhouse was probably still in use. At the southwest junction of the main building and this small addition is a deck which wraps around to the north to create an outdoor area connected to the dining room, and also leading around to the modern rectangular swimming pool. The frieze of the original verandah has been replicated here in the pergola above a spa pool and the deck railing.
The washhouse is located a few metres south of the main house. Unmistakably utilitarian in nature, this is a small scale timber framed, rough sawn, board and batten, hut-like building, with central brick chimney which used to service the copper. The remnants of the copper are still within, and the building has a dividing wall which separated the washhouse and garden shed sections of the building.
A small late nineteenth, or early twentieth century, simple outhouse building also remains at the property and now sits northwest of the washhouse. Like the washhouse this has board and batten cladding and a corrugated iron roof.
1878 - 1886
Third phase construction
1888 - 1894
Second phase of construction
Brick, concrete, corrugated iron, glass, timber
24th November 2011
Report Written By
Buick, 1903 (1975)
TL Buick, 'Old Manawatu', Christchurch, 1903 (1975)
Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1908
Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol. 6, Taranaki, Hawke's Bay, Wellington, 1908
D. A. Davies & R.E. Clevely, Pioneering to Prosperity 1874-1974: A Centennial History of the Manchester Block (Feilding & Oroua Borough Councils, Feilding 1981)
T A Gibson, An Account of the Settlement of the Feilding District (First published Feilding 1936, this copy: Capper Press, Christchurch, 1983)
G. Petersen, Palmerston North; A Centennial History, Wellington, 1973
Jeremy Salmond, Old New Zealand Houses 1800-1940, Auckland, 1986, Reed Methuen
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.