Blythcliffe

37 Rue Balguerie, Akaroa

  • Blythcliffe. Image courtesy of Steen Nielsen.
    Copyright: Ray White Real Estate. Taken By: Steen Nielsen.
  • Blythcliffe. Image courtesy of Steen Nielsen.
    Copyright: Ray White Real Estate. Taken By: Steen Nielsen.
  • Blythcliffe. Image courtesy of Steen Nielsen.
    Copyright: Ray White Real Estate. Taken By: Steen Nielsen.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Registered List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1
List Number 1713 Date Entered 23rd June 1983

Locationopen/close

City/District Council

Christchurch City

Region

Canterbury Region

Legal description

Lot 3 DP 48913 (CT CB28F/465), Canterbury Land District

Assessment criteriaopen/close

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Historic Place Assessment Under Section 23 Criteria report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Architectural:

Blythcliffe is built in the Colonial Regency style of the period 1830-70. Style indicators are:

- Symmetrical facade of rectangular massings.

- Classical proportions.

- Verandah colonnade with tapered square posts.

- Medium pitched hipped roof.

- Boxed eaves.

- Casement or French windows and doors with small panes.

- Flush (shiplap) weatherboards to front facade.

- Balcony with simple classical parapet.

- Simple moulded cornice.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Historic Place Assessment Under Section 23 Criteria report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place:

DATE: c.l857

ARCHITECT: Possibly Samuel Farr

Samuel Farr was born in England, arriving in New Zealand in 1849/50. He spent twelve years living and working in Akaroa where he designed and built a number of the early houses. In 1862 he moved to Christchurch where he continued to practice as an architect. Amongst his most important works were the Normal School, Cranmer Square, and 'Glenmark'. He designed a variety of buildings in a number of different styles. According to one interpretation, the first owner of Blythcliffe, Augustus White, had been in New South Wales, and therefore he may well have shown drawings of Paladian style houses by Australian Architect John Verge to Samuel Farr. We cannot establish for certain that the design of Blythcliffe was by Samuel Farr although it is possible he may have drawn up the plans. The plans do not exist now.

STYLE CODE: 2: Colonial Regency, 1830-1870

DESIGN:

The Colonial Regency style of this gracious home was rare in Canterbury where Gothic principles tended to dominate the chiefly Anglican settlement. P. Wilson in The Architecture of Samuel Charles Farr 1827-1918 states that Blythcliffe resembled some of the houses built by John Verge in Sydney in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. (He was responsible for the design of the Treaty House at Waitangi).

Originally Blythcliffe had a flat roof. It seems likely that a parapet was intended to be added as this would have been in keeping stylistically with the house, however in the 1870s a shingle pitched roof was added. The low pitched roof was also in keeping with the Regency style.

The use of flush weatherboards on the front facade is a reference to the fact that stucco was the preferred treatment of surfaces within this style. The flush weatherboards give a smooth surface which was the desired appearance in Regency buildings, a colonial solution to following principles laid down for stone or brick buildings. The importance of the facade is recognised by its construction in Baltic Pine, brought out as ballast, whilst the remainder of the house is clad with lapped weatherboards of pit sawn totara, fastened with forged nails.

The front half of the building remains in a very original state, however some major extensions and alterations have been made to the rear of the house, especially in the kitchen area, and a rear billiard room has been added.

The early date of Blythcliffe, 1857, combined with its Regency style make it an outstanding home in Canterbury. Its early date led to some creative insulation methods, namely a cob mixture was used as a filling behind the front wall and a heavy canvas sail from a ship being laid between the joists and the floorboards throughout the upstairs area. For a house of this date Blythcliffe is stylistically precocious and was the grandest house of its day in Akaroa.

INTERIOR:

The interior of Blythcliffe is notable for its gracious proportions. The classical symmetry of the exterior is continued in the interior with six rooms being dispersed symmetrically on both floors.

The original rooms of the house have remained in very original condition. The house is entered through an imposing hallway, but the stair is not emphasised. It ascends in a single flight at right angles to the hallway. The main entertaining rooms lead off the entrance hall with both rooms on either side having French doors opening onto the verandah. The dining room and study are notable for having what appears to be the original and very fine patterned timber ceilings with (in the case of the dining room) a very fine moulded wooden light rose. The timber theme is carried on in the plain wooden bedroom doors without mouldings which also appear to be original, along with the architraves and skirtings, and timber ceilings to the inglenooks on either side of the classically proportioned timber fireplace and mantel-piece in the sitting room.

The upper floor is bisected its full length by a passage from which the six bedrooms lead. The central front bedroom has French doors opening onto the balcony. The other two front rooms have restored casement windows as the originals had been replaced by sash windows at some time.

(m) Such additional criteria not inconsistent with those in paragraphs (a) to (k):

Case against upgrading the registration.

For a place to be registered Category I on stylistic grounds only - which is the only case that can be made for this building - it would have to come up to the same architectural standard of the four registered examples listed in the national register, i.e., The Treaty House, Cat.I; The Waimate Mission House, Cat.I; Kemp House, Cat.I; and the Stone Store, Cat.I. None of these buildings has been subjected to the kind of additions or significant alterations which would compromise the integrity of their Georgian Regency style, whereas Blythcliffe has, namely at the rear of the house where a substantial kitchen, bathroom, and billiard room addition - built virtually to the same dimensions as the original house - has been made.

In an assessment of architectural quality at this level, it has to be emphasized that we are talking about very high standards of criteria which differentiate (to use the words of the Act) between places of special or outstanding historical or cultural heritage significance, and places of historical or cultural heritage significance. In practice this

means that style must be seen as being the final expression of the architectural entity, and that it is the integrity of the architectural entity as a whole that decides the difference between a place being outstanding or, simply, significant. The alterations carried out at Blythcliffe affect that integrity in the following way:

1. The place has been significantly added to at the rear. Just exactly when, or in what form, has not been established from the information given in the nomination or architectural assessment. The floor plans supplied with the nomination, however, show that the total area of the extensions is quite considerable and nearly as big as the original house. Although it is conceded that this extension is tucked away out of sight at the rear of the building the fact remains that for a Category I proposal for such a stylistically important building, that alteration is too large and, comparatively speaking, does not allow for a favourable comparison with the registered Category I examples listed above.

2. It is not established beyond all reasonable doubt that Samuel Farr was the architect. The architectural assessment of October 1996 states that this (outstanding) Canterbury architect "would have been" responsible for both the design and the construction of the house. The Trust Buildings Record Form, on the other hand, states that Farr "may well have designed" Blythcliffe. This question would not necessarily be so important in a building where the design and style was of a lesser quality than that found at Blythcliffe. However it is important in the case of this building because the rendition of the Regency Style found there is in fact of very high quality and, as indicated above, on par with the work of John Verge. The case for Farr being the architect designer is, as the legal professions says, not proved on the basis of the evidence produced.

Case for upgrading the registration.

The Colonial Regency style is relatively rare in New Zealand, and it is unique in Canterbury which was essentially a Anglican Gothic Revival establishment.

Blythcliffe, however, goes one step beyond regional architectural considerations. It is the only registered example we have in New Zealand of a pure Palladian rendition of the Regency style in terms of the large house genre, i.e., where the style has not been influenced by Colonial Georgian cottage elements. Blythcliffe compares very well

with the examples of Government Architect John Verge's work in New South Wales, and it is the only house in our register which looks similar in most respects to the earlier Australian examples which followed very closely the English Palladian model which we know as the true Regency style, i.e., Camden Park, 1835, by J. Verge; Elizabeth Bay House, 1835-38, by J. Verge; Bedervale, c.1840, by J. Verge. In this

sense Blythcliffe can be regarded as being outstanding in New Zealand in terms of its large house genre and Palladian large house Regency style.

Another consideration which applies here is that it is perhaps a little unfair to compare Blythcliffe with the four outstanding Category I examples of the style in the North Island listed above. Two of these buildings (the Treaty House, which was actually designed by John Verge, and the Waimate Mission House) are essentially influenced

by the smaller rustic English Country Lodge or cottage genre of the Regency period while the other two are in a class of their own, i.e., Kemp House, which is stylistically more in the plain vernacular English farmhouse genre of the eighteenth century, and the Stone Store, which is more explicitly English Domestic Georgian architecture rather than English Palladian architecture after the style of Robert Adam, Colen

Campbell, and especially Sir John Soane and John Nash.

Blythcliffe on the other hand explicitly follows the Palladian Regency style found in New South Wales twenty years before in the 1830s. This style was developed by Soane and Nash and in turn these men had a direct influence on the architects Francis Greenway and John Verge in New South Wales. Greenway had worked with Nash in England for a short time. Whether or not Samuel Farr was the man who created the

only New Zealand example that we know of, of this particular style, and whether or not one can therefore accord to him the honour of transporting the Palladian Regency theme to these shores, remains to be seen, but the fact remains that it is the only registered example that we know of in New Zealand - not just in Canterbury - and it is also stylistically a direct link with the Australian and English examples of the style.

It cannot be emphasised enough that in spite of its alterations, Blythcliffe is therefore in a class of its own in New Zealand. It's nearest comparative example, Alymer House, c.1853, Cat II, is a rare Regency style cottage on Banks Peninsular similar to the Treaty House and the Waimate Mission House, and was designed by Samuel Farr, which suggests that Farr was quite adept at the Regency style. Alymer House also suffered unsympathetic alterations in the form of a substantial two-storied Colonial Gothic Revival house which was added to the single-storey Regency building around 1900. Apart from the fact that Alymer House illustrates that additions, both historical and modem, are usually an inevitable part of the history of a place and therefore must be tolerated in a greater or lesser degree, it also illustrates that in the early period of New Zealand settlement, people invariably chose to build small unpretentious places, again making Blythcliffe something of a social and economic, as much as an architectural exception.

It should be noted that the extensions to the rear of Blythcliffe are in fact very carefully concealed behind the bulk of the building. On balance I feel that given the architectural uniqueness of Blythcliffe, these alterations can be tolerated, and that the place be upgraded to a Category I registration on the grounds that it is a special and outstanding example of a particular architectural style and genre that is only found elsewhere in New South Wales and in England.

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Additional informationopen/close

Completion Date

1st June 1997

Report Written By

Wayne Nelson

A copy of the original report is available from the NZHPT Southern Region office