Wairau Public Hospital Nurses' Home (Former)

2 Hospital Road, Witherlea, Blenheim

  • Wairau Public Hospital Nurses’ Home, Blenheim.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Robyn Burgess. Date: 14/10/2009.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 1534 Date Entered 25th June 2010


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Lot 1 DP 11477 (CT MB6B/506), Marlborough Land District and the part of the building known as the Wairau Public Hospital Nurses' Home (Former) thereon, and its fittings and fixtures. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).

City/District Council

Marlborough District


Marlborough Region

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 11477 (CT MB6B/506), Marlborough Land District

Location description

The building is located south-west of the main hospital complex, which is accessed via a driveway opposite 5 Hospital Road. Taylors Pass Road runs along the west boundary of the property.


The Wairau Public Hospital Nurses Home at Hospital Road in Blenheim, built in 1925-6, is a good representative example of a building type that is now becoming increasingly less common as hospitals tend to no longer require on-site residential wings for its nurses.

Built to improve the quality of accommodation and study facilities for student nurses at the Wairau Public Hospital, the core two storeyed brick Nurses' Home has a combination of architectural and social significance. It is an example of an institutional building with a domestic character, being the hub of study and social activities for hundreds of trainee nurses and their friends and colleagues for six decades.

A series of subsequent additions and extensions to the core brick building, while continuing the social values associated with the core building, have limited or no architectural significance and are not considered to be key elements of the registration.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Architectural Significance or Value:

The Wairau Public Hospital Nurses' Home reflects characteristics associated with a residential hospital facility. The H-shaped plan is typical for such buildings, and is found in other nurses' homes of this period (for example, the Nurses' Home at Queen Mary Hospital in Hanmer Springs and Christchurch Hospital Nurses' Home). Design features such as the curved arches and balcony on the main façade, wide eaves with exposed rafters and the flared buttresses on each wing have architectural value. The form and scale of the building, complete with domestic detailing, is illustrative of residential/institutional buildings of this period.

Social Significance or Value:

The Wairau Public Hospital Nurses' Home represents an essential function which has given rise to a special community attachment, particularly for nurses who have trained there over time. It is a place where strong bonds of union were formed and past residents talk of having made life-long friends during their time at the Nurses' Home.

Like other nurses' homes, the place represents training and occupational developments and goes hand in hand with achievements in education for women throughout the twentieth century.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:

The Wairau Public Hospital Nurses' Home exhibits clear physical evidence of the twentieth century trend of hospitals providing residential training facilities for nurses. It reflects historic trends in New Zealand's health care system, being part of an international trend, whereby traditionally nurses were trained and lived on-site at hospitals. Nurses' homes or hostels were commonplace as part of hospitals throughout the country.

The building has a strong association with nurses as a group of medical workers recognised as being pivotal players in the smooth running of New Zealand's health system.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place:

The Wairau Public Hospital Nurses Home has community association not only for those who lived and studied at the home but for those who viewed it as part of the hospital complex or visited it. Esteem held for the place is highlighted especially at times of nurses' reunions, when it is described as bringing back highly favourable memories.

Summary of Significance or Values

This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, e.


It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category II historic place.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Messrs Ward, Tyler and Co.

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Clarkson, H.S

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

The Wairau Valley is a wide river valley with rolling hills in the upper valley, opening onto the Wairau Plain, where Blenheim and Renwick are situated. The general area was a favoured place for Maori cultivating food plants and there were scattered hamlets or families dotted about the surrounding area. Tensions rose in 1843 when early British settlers from Nelson began surveying land in the Wairau and in June 1843 fighting erupted between colonial 'vigilante' settlers and chief Te Rauparaha and a group of Ngati Toa who were occupying land by the banks of the Tua Marina River in the Wairau Valley. Nowadays known as the 'Wairau Affray', it was the first serious clash of arms between Maori and the British settlers after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, with deaths resulting on both Pakeha and Maori sides. It was some time before official landholding by the new settlers began to be resolved, but by the early 1850s the small settlement of Beaver Station (later renamed Beaver Town and then Blenheim) had begun.

The site on which the town was established had been taken up as two rural sections in 1848 by Alfred Fell, who had soon cut up 300 acres of land into quarter-acre sections for sale. James Sinclair, a Scotsman, arrived at Beaver Station with his wife in 1852. Sinclair soon established a store there and came to be a leading businessman, credited with being the founder of the town that is now known as Blenheim.

An early Certificate of Title shows that in 1873 James Sinclair's son, James John Sinclair, owned land in the area where the Wairau Public Hospital Nurses' Home was later to be built. James John Sinclair, a prominent citizen of Blenheim, was a councillor for six years. In 1888 James John Sinclair transferred ownership to William Sutherland, a gardener of Omaka. Sutherland sold to Emma Bell, the wife of Henry George Bell, an accommodation house keeper of Waihopai, in 1891. Emma Bell leased the land to James Dobson and Henry William Hull in the 1890s and in 1906 she transferred the land to David Nimmo Scott, a farmer. Scott transferred the land soon after, in 1908, to a group comprising Thomas Samuel Grace, Archdeacon William Benoni Parker, George Houldsworth, James Hay and John Brown. This group sold to the Wairau Hospital and Charitable Aid Board in December 1910. The land was vested with the Nelson-Marlborough Area Health Board in 1991 and formally transferred to them in 1993. It is not known if there were any structures erected on the land prior to ownership by the hospital.

It was on this parcel of land (now known as Lot 1 DP 11477) that the Wairau Public Hospital Nurses' Home was eventually built in 1925-6. The land adjoins another large parcel to the east which has been owned by the Marlborough Hospital Board since 1887 and was where the first wards of the present hospital were developed (refer to contextual analysis below for summary of Blenheim hospital history).

As with many hospitals of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, a nurses' home was built as part of Blenheim's hospital complex. Some sort of nurses' home at the hospital was in existence by the early twentieth century. After a time, however, it was deemed that a new nurses' home was required.

The new Wairau Hospital Nurses' Home was built by Messrs Ward, Tyler and Co in 1925-6, to the designs of architect H S Clarkson. It was described at the time of its opening on 29 April 1926, as being 'an imposing two-storied brick building, with every modern convenience...lighted throughout with electricity, and contain[ing] ample accommodation for thirty-five nurses'.

Like other hospitals in New Zealand at this time, Wairau Hospital had its own nursing training programme. A booklet prepared by the Marlborough Hospital Board Wairau Hospital School of Nursing in the 1950s sets out facts and expectations of student nurses. By this time the hospital was considered an 'A' grade training school and the nurses' home itself is described as having centrally heated single bedrooms, a large recreation room (addition), a television viewing room, and a room to entertain friends. Supervision 'at all times' was a key component of residing at the nurses' home, with strict curfews, though both nurses' and their friends have happy memories of occasionally breaking some of the rules of the home. For most student nurses, coming to the Nurses' Home would have been their first time living away from home, and the social support network for the young women was pivotal. The Nurses' Home was a place for socialisation and recreation as well as sleeping, eating and study. Balls were held regularly in the Nurses' Home itself.

Study for nurses involved a three or three and a half year course, with theoretical and practical experience taking place in demonstration rooms, at lectures, and on the wards themselves. Student nurses made up the majority of the workforce at the hospital.

Various reunions for former student nurses from the Nurses' Home have been held over the years. The common conversation at these reunions is that lessons they learned during their nursing training shaped their lives, and that strong bonds were developed among the students during their three and a half years of training. The old nurses' home where they lived is said to bring a host of memories flooding back.


The original brick two-storeyed nurses' home that opened in 1926 appears to have remained unaltered as a free-standing building, separate from the main hospital and in landscaped grounds, throughout the 1930s.

From the 1940s and through to the late 1960s or early 1970s, a number of additions and extensions were made to the original building. The most noticeable alterations to the core 1925-26 brick building itself were the addition, probably in the 1940s, of flared buttresses, evidently for structural strengthening, and circular motifs replaced cross bracing at the upper part of the first floor balcony.

By 1943 an extensive new addition in the form of a two-storeyed asbestos-clad wing with a T-shaped plan was added to the west of the original brick building. Further two-storeyed additions, in brick, were built to the south of the original building by the 1960s. By the early 1970s, a single storey brick addition with a flat roof was built against the north-east end of the east elevation (this is currently used as a staff cafeteria). The addition of new buildings, mostly extending from the rear and then to the west of the brick building, meant the Nurses' Home effectively doubled in size.

Nurse training at Wairau hospital was phased out in the 1980s. Nurses are now trained at tertiary institutes, those from Blenheim mostly moving to Christchurch or Nelson for this. Hospital care has also changed. For example, at a time when previously there might have been 200 beds at Wairau Public Hospital, now this would be 100 since many people are now discharged much earlier than previously.

As the Nurses' Home was no longer required, the hospital board has grappled with what to do with the building, including its extensive additions. The main 1925-26 Nurses' Home was converted for use as an administration block in 1985 and much of the inbuilt furniture was removed around this time. At the time of writing this report, the building will be ceasing this function as a new hospital administration wing is constructed. The Nelson Marlborough District Health Board is yet to determine its future.

The large addition to the west became vacant in 1995 and has been closed off as it is considered unsafe for the public. Demolition consent for this later portion has already been granted and expected to be carried out in early 2010.

Contextual Analysis

Blenheim Hospitals

There have been at least four hospitals built in Blenheim since the late 1870s. Blenheim's first hospital was a five-roomed cottage in Maxwell Road, and later an area known as the Depot on Customhouse Quay (now Park Terrace) took in patients. The town's third hospital was built on the present hospital grounds and handed over to the Marlborough Hospital Board in March 1887. One of the wards of this third hospital later became Amersfoote home for the elderly (demolished) while the remainder was destroyed by fire in 1953. In 1898 a fever ward was built for the hospital, used to isolate not only those with fevers but a period of incarceration for nurses on duty in those wards. A more substantial brick and timber set of buildings was constructed in 1914. Some of those buildings are still in use today for storage, while others have been demolished and some have been relocated elsewhere (the Fever Ward building was removed to Brayshaw Park in 2007). Wairau Public Hospital is currently undergoing major redevelopment which will result in partial demolition, refurbishment and new construction.

The development of nursing in New Zealand

Although hospitals were established early on in the period of Pakeha settlement in New Zealand, there was no provision for skilled nursing. Advances in surgery in the 1880s, and the introduction of the Florence Nightingale tradition of nursing, meant that trained nurses were needed. Some training began in Wellington Hospital as early as 1884. Organised teaching for 'probationer nurses' was introduced at Wellington Hospital by Dr Truby King in 1888. This soon led to the recruitment of educated probationers and the provision of organised training in hospitals throughout New Zealand. Following Wellington's example, training schools were established at Auckland and Christchurch in 1891 and Dunedin in 1893.

A standard for training nurses was brought about through the Nurses Registration Act 1901, which provided for a three year training course and a State examination, followed by registration. This revolutionary achievement laid the foundations for the high reputation held by New Zealand nurses internationally. A history of nursing in New Zealand published in 1932, only six years after the Wairau Public Hospital Nurses' Home was built, gives a clear impression of what nursing was like in New Zealand by that time. The history of nursing training can be linked to improved educational expectations for girls in the twentieth century, as it was recognised that an educated woman was in a far better position to make the most of nursing training than one who had left school early.

The most common professions for women for the nineteenth and much of the twentieth century were nursing and teaching. Although there have always been male attendants and nurses in New Zealand, the majority of nurses are female. After training in nurses' homes, many nurses remained in the employ of hospital boards, while others worked in the community as district nurses.

Following the passing of the Nurses Registration Act in 1901 until the 1970s, nurses were systematically trained in hospitals throughout New Zealand. From the 1970s the transfer of nursing education into mainstream education began and now all programmes for nursing registration are part of formal tertiary education.

Nurses' Homes

In England detached nurses' homes had become relatively common from the 1880s onwards, when they were either added to existing hospitals or formed as part of new schemes. Developments in hospital planning and design had gone hand in hand with the reform of the nursing profession in England. Florence Nightingale, amongst others, recognised the need to provide nurses with better accommodation within hospitals rather than being treated like servants sleeping in wards or rooms overlooking them. As hospitals increased in size, many separate nurses' homes were created. New Zealand followed this same trend.

The layout of these nurses' homes reflected the contemporary desire to provide good accommodation for working and training nurses so that they had both a 'homely atmosphere' with privacy to sleep or study, communal living spaces to associate with their fellow nurses and appropriate facilities while being close to the hospital wards.

Since off-site professional training programmes have developed at polytechnics since the 1970s and 1980s, nurses' homes are generally no longer required. Many have been converted for use as administration offices while others remain vacant or have been demolished.

Physical Description

Wairau Public Hospital is located 2 km south of the Blenheim central business district. The main entrance is off Hospital Road. Facilities such as car parks, hospital wards and the main cafeteria are situated to the east and north-east of the Nurses Home building. A new hospital block is currently being erected some 40 metres to the north of the brick Nurses' Home building.

The original brick building remains the core of the Nurses' Home complex and is the focus of this registration. This H-shaped wing is a two-storeyed red brick building with low pitched gable roofs extending to wide overhanging eaves. Buttresses, added secondarily, are set in pairs at the corners of the original brick wings. The main entrance is at the centre of the north elevation, beyond a set of five curved arches and beneath a covered balcony on the first floor. The circular motifs on the balcony are a later replacement or infill of diagonal cross bracing in the upper part of the balcony balustrade. Windows have metal framing on the north front and are set in pairs or threes. The north front of the western wing contains, on the ground floor a narrow arched doorway flanked by metal framed fixed and side hung casements. Above is a cantilevered balcony with straight metal balusters accessed by a square-headed central door which is flanked by metal fixed and top hung casement windows. The north front of the eastern wing contains a single storeyed bay window, with a flat roof surmounted by a small balcony with plain metal balusters accessed by timber and glazed door. The red-brown rusticated brickwork in the lower part of this bay window differs in appearance from the plain red brick of the majority of the building. However, it appears to be contemporaneous with the original building, as it is distinguished in this fashion at the opening of the Nurses' Home in April 1926. The roof is of corrugated iron.

The nurses' home has an almost domestic character rather than being unduly institutional in its appearance. The circular motifs on the balcony, like the flared buttresses that are a later addition, are bold design features that do not detract from its original design and are considered to be part of the core original brick building.

The original building has a frontage of approximately 35 metres and the wings were approximately 25 metres deep. A two storeyed addition at the south side of the eastern wing has a flat roof and is about five metres deep. A larger two storeyed addition in brick at the south side of the western wing has a hipped roof and extends about twenty five metres to the south. These two additions to the wings are joined to the original building by small two-storeyed links containing rear entrance doors and a stairwell. A more recent covered walkway extends from the east to the north-eastern front of the building.

A two storeyed asbestos clad set of additions extend to the west. Reminiscent of 'temporary' prefabricated buildings, and most utilitarian in design, these extensions to the west were inspected on the exterior only during the preparation of this report. This part of the building is closed, windows are boarded over and, at the time of writing this report, demolition is pending. All these later extensions to the building are not considered to be key components of this registration.

There are currently few nurses' homes on the NZHPT Register of historic places, historic areas, wahi tapu and wahi tapu areas. Those registered include Truby King House, Melrose, Wellington (Record No. 4427, not purpose built but used from the 1960s as a nurses' home), Parkview Clinic, Coromandel Street, Wellington (Record No. 5375) and the Nurses' Home at Queen Mary Hospital (Former), Hanmer Springs (part of Record Nos. 7583 and 7612).

The much larger Christchurch Hospital Nurses' Home (Hagley Hostel), 1931-1941, (not registered) had similar facilities as the Wairau Public Hospital Nurses' Home, with single bedrooms with in-built furniture, a large dining hall, self-contained flats for Matrons and Night Superintendent and with a training school added in the 1950s. The Spanish Mission style of the Christchurch Hospital Nurses' Home is different from the architectural style of the Wairau Public Hospital Nurses' Home, but they share similarities in their H-shape plan.

The Queen Mary Hospital Nurses' Home at Hanmer Springs is also H-shaped in plan, and is of a similar scale to that at the Wairau Hospital. The Nurses' Home at Hanmer Springs was designed by the Government Architects at a similar time (1928-9) as the Wairau Public Hospital Nurses' Home (1925-6) though its external appearance is more utilitarian with fewer decorative features than the building at Wairau Public Hospital.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1925 - 1926
Construction of original (core) brick Nurses' Home

1940 -
Flared buttresses added and circular motifs inserted on balcony

Series of additions to south and east of original brick Nurses' Home.

Addition of single storeyed flat roof addition on east side of core building.

Construction Details

Brick, corrugated iron, glass, timber.

Completion Date

5th March 2010

Report Written By

Robyn Burgess

Information Sources

Broad, 1892 (1976)

L. Broad, 'Jubilee History of Nelson', Nelson, 1892 (reprinted by Capper Press, Christchurch1976)

Eldred-Grigg, 1980

Stevan Eldred-Grigg, A Southern Gentry: New Zealanders Who Inherited the Earth. A H and A W Reed, New Zealand, 1980.

McIntosh, 1940

A D McIntosh et al (eds), Marlborough: A Provincial History, Marlborough Historical Society, Blenheim, 1940

McLean 1932

H McLean, Nursing in New Zealand: History and Reminiscences, 1932.

Other Information

A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Central/Southern 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.