Historical Significance or Value
Chevening was built towards the end of a prosperous period that helped transform Wellington into a modern city. It was built for a wealthier type of tenant, and the occupations of its tenants over the years reflect this. In this respect it is representative of the suburb of Kelburn; but photographs of the suburb at the time it was built show that a block of flats was unusual amongst the mostly residential wooden housing. As each flat has only one or two bedrooms, it would not have been intended as family accommodation. Built for a professional, unmarried woman as accommodation for herself and also to provide a retirement income, this makes it unusual for its time.
Aesthetic Significance or Value:
Chevening’s location near the corner of Kelburn Parade and Salamanca Terrace makes it a prominent presence in the suburb of Kelburn. With its scale, stripped classical style and the contrast of brick work (on the ground floor and central panel of the front façade) and painted concrete, it is an elegant building that stands out from its neighbours. It has visual appeal for its distinctive main façade. Today, a combination of original features and period fittings and furnishings in the interior make it look and feel like a 1929 luxury apartment building.
Architectural Significance or Value:
As an early example in Wellington of self-contained luxury flats, built by a well-known architect, Chevening Flats has architectural significance. The exterior is still largely as it would have appeared in 1929, except that the facades have recently been painted. The front façade is the most distinctively decorated. On the interior many original fixtures and fittings remain, including the tiles in the staircase landings on the upper floors; wood panelling and joinery, door bells and catches; all internal doors; leadlight windows on the north façade, and the fourth floor tiled fireplace.
Social Significance or Value:
Chevening Flats was designed for a single woman, Miss Emma M Rainforth, who was a senior teacher at Wellington Girls’ College for 15 years, and involved with women’s, educational and church activities in Wellington. She represented the Federation of University Women at a Women’s Pan-Pacific Conference in Honolulu in 1930. She lived in the top flat until her death in 1936. The flats have had a number of long-term residents, including businessmen, and women as occupiers in their own right (presumably mostly widows or single women). Its close proximity to Victoria University has also seen it used more recently as accommodation for visiting academics.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
Chevening Flats is representative of the building boom of the 1920s that saw New Zealand’s capital city transformed into a modern city of tall office and apartment buildings.
(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place
The reinforced concrete construction of Chevening Flats represents the increasing popularity of concrete construction in central Wellington in the inter-war period. It is also a key factor in the architectural styling of the building. It is one of Llewellyn Williams’s more decorative apartment buildings and many original internal features remain. Overall, the combination of original features and period fittings and furnishings mean the building retains the appearance and feel of a 1929 luxury apartment building, with the potential to tell of the lifestyles of people of that time; but one that has been strengthened to 100 per cent of the current building code.
Summary of Significance or Values
This place was assessed against, and found to qualify under the following criteria: a and g.
It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category II historic place.
Before the arrival of Maori from Taranaki in the 1820s, the Wellington area was populated primarily by people of Kurahaupo waka descent, including Ngai Tara, Rangitane, Muaupoko, Ngati Apa and Ngati Ira (who are generally accepted as the most recent). The Waitangi Tribunal referred to these as ‘Whatonga-descent peoples’ since all claimed descent from Whatonga, an early Maori explorer, who named the harbour, Te Whanganui a Tara, for his son Tara. The people from the Taranaki region were often given the common name of ‘Ngati Awa’ (and later Te Atiawa) by outsiders, but they comprised a number of tribes. These ‘incoming tribes’ included Ngati Toa (also known as Ngati Toa Rangatira), Ngati Rangatahi, Te Atiawa, Ngati Tama, Ngati Mutunga, Taranaki, and Ngati Ruanui.
By the 1820s, Europeans were arriving at Port Nicholson (as it came to be known, after John Nicholson, the Sydney harbourmaster). In May 1839 the New Zealand Company advertised in London 990 lots of Port Nicholson land for sale. Each lot was to consist of 101 acres - comprising 100 rural acres and one urban acre - at a cost of £1 per acre. All 990 lots were sold by July 1839 and in August 1839 Colonel William Wakefield arrived and began negotiating with Maori to purchase land. The first immigrants began arriving in January 1840.
In 1865 when Wellington became the capital city, the population was just 4,900. But Wellington’s economic base was significantly improved by the relocation of the capital and by 1881 the resident population had reached 20,000. A building boom accompanied the population increase, with the total number of dwellings in the city doubling in the last 20 years of the nineteenth century. More than 70 percent of this growth took place in central Wellington, leaving some areas overcrowded. The hills and town belt around the central city created barriers to expansion to the outlying areas, but the electrification of the tramway system in 1904 (and the declining need for agricultural land close to the city) meant the suburbs were about to experience significant growth.
Suburb of Kelburn
Kelburn is a relatively hilly suburb to the west of the main government and commercial district of Wellington. It was originally part of the 100 acre rural blocks of the New Zealand Company. Kelburn is mostly built on the former ‘Upland Farm’, which comprised 113 acres and was bounded to the north by the Botanical Gardens (established in 1869). William Moxham farmed there until 1895 when he sold the land. The Upland Estate Company was formed to subdivide and sell the land. At this time the area was in Melrose Borough.
The first use of the name Kelburne was its application to Kelburne Park on 5 December 1895 at a ball to raise money for the Unemployed Relief Fund. The name was given to compliment the Governor, David Boyle, Lord Glasgow (governor from 1892 to 1897), whose family seat was Kelburne in Scotland. The first application of the name to the suburb as a whole appears to have been in the title of the Kelburne and Karori Tramway Company formed in 1898 to construct the cable car. Salamanca Road is one of the Spanish names given to streets in the area by William Travers, a former city solicitor, who had fought in Spain in the nineteenth-century Carlist wars. It was not until the Kelburne and Karori Tramway Company built the cable car in 1902 that access to Kelburn improved, triggering the suburb’s growth. In 1906 Victoria College (later University) was built in Kelburn, attracting students and academics to the area.
Advertising in the early 1900s stressed the attractions of living in the suburbs instead of the overcrowded inner city. The stated attractions of Kelburn were its closeness to the city, its harbour views, and the recreation offered by the Botanic Gardens and Kelburn Park. The sections for sale were pitched at an upper-middle class market, unlike the workers’ cottages in some of the southern and eastern suburbs. An absence of industry and high level of homogeneity of its sections and properties were other attractions to the target market. The peak construction year in Kelburn and in a number of other Wellington suburbs was in 1907.
When Chevening Flats was built in 1929 on the intersection of Salamanca Road and Kelburn Parade, it appears to have been the first building on that site. The site next to it (on the Kelburn Parade side) and many of the sections along Salamanca Road up to the Cable Car over-bridge remained unoccupied in 1930, probably because the land has a steep hill behind it. Architect and author David Kernohan says of Chevening, ‘Like its contemporaries on The Terrace and at Oriental Bay, [it] is an early example of a luxury apartment in Wellington.’ The name possibly derives from Chevening House in Kent, England, but it is not known why it was chosen.
Chevening Flats was designed by the architect Llewellyn E Williams for Miss Emma Margaret Rainforth, who was born near Oamaru in 1871 and educated in Dunedin, graduating from Otago University with an MA (in Mathematics) in 1893. She taught in the girls’ department of Prince Albert College, Auckland and in 1902 was the First Assistant Mistress. Due to ill-health she travelled overseas and then about 1912 began teaching Mathematics and English at Wellington Girls’ College; retiring in 1927. She had lived in Kelburn for some years before she moved into the newly built Chevening. At Chevening she lived in the top floor flat. In 1930 she was part of a New Zealand delegation to the Women’s Pan-Pacific Conference in Honolulu, where she represented the Federation of University Women. Between 1931 and 1933 she was treasurer of the Women’s Social Progress Movement. She died in November 1936 at her Chevening flat. Her obituary said that her ‘sphere of interests was very wide, and even after her retirement she maintained active connection with many branches of educational, social and church work’. She was a member of the Vivian Street Baptist Church congregation.
The architect Llewellyn E. Williams was Sydney born and trained. He came to New Zealand in 1917 and joined the notable Wellington architect Frederick de Jersey Clere in practice. With Clere he designed St Mary of the Angels (1919-21, Record no. 36, Category I), St Barnabas Church, Khandallah (1921), St Andrews on the Terrace (Record no. 3571, Category I) and Inverleith Flats, Oriental Bay (1922, Record no. 1396).
From 1923 he formed his own practice and designed a number of prominent Wellington buildings, such as the De Luxe Theatre (1924, now Embassy Theatre, Record no. 7500, Category I), Druids Chambers, Lambton Quay (1923, Record no. 3615, Category II), Todd Motors Building, Courtenay Place (1926), Kelvin Chambers, The Terrace (1927), and Civic Chambers, Cuba Street (1927, Record no. 7209) and part of the façade of Kirkcaldie and Stains, Lambton Quay (1928, Record no. 1401, Category II). He also designed or remodelled other theatres; both in Wellington (such as the now demolished Regent Theatre and Kings Theatre - both 1926) and in other cities, such as the Embassy Theatre, Auckland, the Avon Theatre, Christchurch (1934, Record no. 3092, Category II) and Regent Theatre, Greymouth (1935, Record no. 7552, Category II). Many of Williams’ 1930s buildings are in the Art Deco style.
Occupants of the flats over the years have included managers, company directors, and a fairly high proportion of women (listed as occupiers in their own right). Some of the occupants were there for many years; for example, Mrs Helen Stubbs lived there from the 1940s to the 1960s. In the 1920s professional people of the sort who lived at Chevening sent their laundry out to be done by others, so the building was built with no laundry facilities. However, by the time Hugh and Beverley Price, the parents of the current owner, purchased it in 1979 it was run-down. They added reinforced concrete walls to the garages for earthquake strengthening, fixed the leaks, renewed the roof, stripped the paint off the woodwork, cleared blocked drains, replaced cracked windows, eradicated the rats and did other repairs before renting it out for visiting academics to Victoria University. In 2010-2011 it underwent a major refurbishment back to a 1920s style and was strengthened to 100 percent of the current Building Code.
Between the two world wars, 32 apartment buildings were constructed in central Wellington. This construction boom was aided by advances in technology such as the use of reinforced concrete and steel, allowing taller buildings to be built. Earlier blocks of luxury flats in Wellington include Inverleith at 306 Oriental Parade (Record no. 1396, 1922) and Braemar Flats (Former) at 32 The Terrace (Record No. 1341; Category II, 1924/5). Both share some similarities in appearance with Chevening on their front facades, although Chevening is the more decorative. As with Chevening, Llewellyn Williams was also the architect of Inverleith (although with Frederick de Jersey Clere) and Fletchers Construction was the builder. Inverleith was built for Mrs Susan MacKenzie, wife of medical practitioner Francis MacKenzie; but now the six flats are separately owned and balconies have been added to the front on the four upper floors. Braemar Flats (Former) were designed by the architectural firm of Crighton McKay and Haughton for builders Henry Jones and John Cameron. There were four-storeys of residential space; each floor had three flats, and the ground floor contained a doctor’s consulting rooms. A feature Braemar has that was not included in Chevening is an elevator.
While Chevening was built at the end of a prosperous period, it was nevertheless built for a wealthier type of tenant - and the occupations of its tenants over the years reflect this. In this respect it is representative of the suburb; but photographs of the suburb at the time it was built show that a block of flats was unusual amongst the mostly residential wooden housing, albeit substantial sized houses. As each flat had only one or two bedrooms, it would not have been intended as family accommodation. Built for a professional, unmarried woman as accommodation for herself and also to provide a retirement income, this makes it unusual for its time.
Chevening Flats is near the corner of Salamanca Road and Kelburn Parade in the suburb of Kelburn, Wellington. This is a busy street intersection near Victoria University of Wellington. Opposite the flats is Kelburn Park. With its flat roof and concrete and brick construction it stands out in comparison with other buildings nearby.
Chevening Flats is a four-storey building. The ground floor is plain-face brickwork with rendered quoins, with brick also used in a decorative way in the middle of the front façade. Chris Orsman described the building as having elements of the Inter-War Free Classical style, which is a style based on Classical architecture, but does not follow it strictly. This style can be seen in other Wellington buildings designed by Llewellyn Williams. The three floors above the ground floor level are surfaced with a rendered cement facing, which originally had a distinctive beige colour from the Scorching Bay sand mixed with the cement.
The front façade is the most distinctively decorated. It is a near-symmetrical massing of two distinct bays, one of which projects out further than the other. The middle part of the façade, between the bays, follows the lines of a vestigial classical portico, with two slender pilasters stretching over the three floors. There is decorative brickwork between and to each side of the pilasters. The canted bays to each side have slightly larger pilasters and with the arrangement of the windows achieve a regular vertical rhythm across the façade. The colour scheme is cream with terracotta/apricot panels under the windows and on the cornices. The building is capped by a stripped entablature, a classical cornice, and a semi-scrolled perforated parapet. The roof is flat.
The building was constructed with reinforced concrete forming the columns, floors and exterior concrete walls on the upper floors. The internal walls were composed of unreinforced hollow blocks, and ground floor infill walls were unreinforced double cavity brick. The 2011 seismic strengthening work included removing the inner layer of bricks from areas of the ground floor external wall and replacing it with reinforced concrete, and adding two new 11m deep piles in the hall. A number of steel posts, brackets, dowels, and brick ties were used to both restrain original internal and external brick walls, and to increase the gravity load capacity of the structure. Some of the internal brick walls have been replaced with lighter and safer timber framing. The strengthening has upgraded the building to 100% of the current structural code (as at 2011).
The entrance to the building is on the south façade. The plans show a symmetrical façade, with a double window on each floor located above the entrance door, and a single window on the top three floors near the front - however, on the top floor the window was located further along the wall when the building was built. This south side contains the staircase to access the upper floors. The north façade has a large chimney extending from the ground floor to above the roof, with a single window on each floor near the front, another behind the chimney, and a small window towards the rear (this window retains the original leadlight glass). The window frames were originally steel, but were rusting badly and leaking, so in 1991 they were replaced with aluminium frames. The fanlights were divided into six small panes and this has been repeated in the aluminium frames.
Each of the four floors contains one flat. As there are two garages on the ground floor, the flat on this level is smaller than the three above. In the ground floor flat the door opens to a passageway, with a recess for coats, and shelves to the right, for linen. A bathroom comes off to the left; next on the left is the kitchen, with the bedroom on the left at the north end, and living room on the right at the end of the hallway. The living room faces the street.
Flats Two, Three and Four have wide entrance halls panelled in rimu, and share the same basic floor plan. Over the years small changes have occurred, mainly to do with the dining room. The level two and four flats contain two bedrooms; but on level three the connecting hatch between the kitchen and dining room was removed before the parents of the current owner purchased the building, and the dining room was converted to a bedroom. So the level three flat has three bedrooms and no separate dining room. On level two, in addition to the connecting hatch, there is a door between the kitchen and the dining room. This is not shown on the plans, but the detailing is consistent with the original, indicating this may have been an original feature. All the flats have been furnished with period furnishings, but with modern fittings in the bathrooms and kitchens. In the kitchens an original brick air vent was removed, which made space for a fridge.
Many original features remain, including the woodwork in the entries, timber wardrobes in all bedrooms, and the timber skirtings and picture rails throughout. All internal doors, both glazed and solid, are original, and have original hardware. Bevelled glass French doors connect each living room and dining room. The entry doors are new replicas, but use the original brass letter slots, and two original turn bells, with two new to match. The plaster architraves to windows are original, as are the exposed beams in the ceilings. In the kitchens, the meat safe has been lined and is used as a cupboard, but retains the appearance of a meat safe. The full wall of kitchen joinery is predominantly 1929 design, and contains original material. The cupboard doors and hardware are original in Level 1, but replicas in the upper levels. The sink bench is based on the original design, and contains some original material in all levels. An original drying rack was too long for the refurbished kitchens, so was halved, with one half installed in the kitchen of level three and one half in level four. The original tiled fireplace surrounds in the lower three flats were removed in the 1960s and only the one on the fourth floor remains (however the others have since been replaced with period ones). The building entry door, stair, and timber newels and steel balustrade are original. The floor tiles at the upper landings are original, with the ground floor lobby tiles replicas.
Some earthquake strengthening undertaken in the garages
Steel-framed windows (rusting) replaced by aluminium
Concrete, brick, wood, steel, aluminium
20th December 2011
Report Written By
Irvine Smith, 1948
Frances Irvine Smith, Streets of My City, Reed, Wellington, 1948
D. Kernohan and T. Kellaway, Wellington's Old Buildings, Wellington, 1995
Humphris, A. and G. Mew, Ring Around the City: Wellington’s new suburbs, 1900-1930, Steele Roberts, Wellington, 2009
A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Central Region Office.
Recipient of a Wellington NZ Institute of Architecture Award for Studio Pacific Architecture in 2012.
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.