Historical Significance or Value
The house and section at 72 Maxwell Road has historical value for its relationship with the Furness family, known for building up and running the region’s main newspaper, the Marlborough Express, for over a century. It also illustrates the outcomes of separation or divorce at the beginning of the twentieth century; and is an example of development patterns within Blenheim.
It is not known whether Emily and Smith Furness officially divorced or only separated. Regardless, the villa resulting from the event represents period discrimination in the division of marital assets based on gender. It also demonstrates the measure of financial security, despite this gender bias, that affluent women retained when compared to the situations of their less-well-off contemporaries. In this case, despite the claims of adultery and cruelty against him, Smith James Furness retained the family home and most of the related acreage. Emily Eva Furness received a smaller portion of land on which she was able to fund the construction of a villa, although the relative plainness of the design and presence of family members and boarders in the house for many years indicates straitened economic circumstances.
Emily’s sons, Geoffrey and Roy, lived at her villa after they took over the Marlborough Express from their father. Roy ‘RP’ Furness became one of the newspaper’s important figures, helming it until the mid-1950s; he resided in the house for the first 15 years of his tenure. With the demolition of the original Furness family home and the well-known Marlborough Express building on High Street, the house at 72 Maxwell Road has significance as the only remaining building connected with the regional newspaper’s early days.
The subdivision of Furness family land is also representative of the pattern of densification in the older residential neighbourhoods of Blenheim over the course of the twentieth century.
Architectural Significance or Value
The house at 72 Maxwell Road has architectural significance as a representative example of a villa, New Zealand’s dominant house form in the generation straddling the turn-of-the-twentieth century. Surviving villas of this type are relatively rare in Blenheim. The house also documents a widespread architectural trend during the second half of the twentieth century whereby villas were modernised, in this case quite dramatically.
It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category 2 historic place. It was assessed against, and found to qualify under the following criteria: a and b.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
The house is representative of social trends regarding the dissolution of marriages at the beginning of the twentieth century. At the time, divorces were being sought and granted more often, particularly among the well-to-do, but the act was far from socially acceptable with separation and desertion occurring more frequently. While comfortably sized, attractive, and offering a measure of stability, Emily Eva Furness’s villa almost certainly represented a considerable step down from the adjacent (now destroyed) family home. She very likely would have still had a view of her former house over the back fence, occupied by Smith James Furness until 1917, and been reminded of the gross inequality in the splitting of the marital assets, a process that would continue to favour men until much later in the century.
The house at 72 Maxwell Road is also an example of two distinct aspects of vernacular architectural trends in New Zealand. As a mid-sized, corner bay villa constructed ca. 1910, the dwelling is representative of the type of house more-or-less universally favoured by a generation of New Zealanders of all socioeconomic strata around the turn-of-the-twentieth-century. By the mid-twentieth century, the architectural style, layout, and domestic technologies in villas were increasingly viewed as outmoded. In addition to updates to finishes and fixtures, the rear service spaces of many villas were reconfigured or entirely replaced. The large ca. 1967 extension at the back of 72 Maxwell Road exemplifies the manner in which villas were modernised to meet contemporary lifestyle expectations.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history
The house at 72 Maxwell Road is associated with the locally prominent Furness family. It is the only remaining building closely related to the first generation of the Furness family in Blenheim and the early days of the Marlborough Express. Newly married, Smith James Furness and his wife Emily Eva Hough Furness moved to Blenheim in 1879. The couple was well-known in Blenheim as Smith James Furness owned and managed the Marlborough Express, which, under his aegis, became the respected newspaper of record for the Marlborough region. The newspaper was continued by his sons, and Roy Furness, who ran the newspaper until the 1950s, lived at the house at 72 Maxwell Road into the 1920s; Emily until her death in 1945. In all, numerous members of four generations of the Furness family owned, published, edited or wrote for the Marlborough Express, and at the paper’s 150th anniversary the family was celebrated for their commitment to the community.
Marlborough’s human history extends back to Kupe, who is thought to be the first Polynesian to reach New Zealand and is associated with both Cloudy Bay and the lagoons in the Wairau. Oral tradition and modern archaeology document the presence of Māori, specifically Waitaha, in the Wairau early in New Zealand’s human settlement history. Beginning in the sixteenth century, Ngāti Māmoe and other iwi began to challenge and reduce the dominance of Waitaha in the area. Subsequently, Rangitāne pushed out Ngāti Māmoe and began developing a complex system of channels between natural water features to aid in managing and harvesting fish and waterfowl. The Wairau area of the Marlborough region continued to be contested terrain among Māori with shifts in power that were widespread in central New Zealand during the early-nineteenth century.
By the time official European colonisation began in 1840, Ngāti Toa had been dominant in the Wairau district for over a decade. Although European whalers had successfully interacted and lived among Māori for a number of decades, European settlers associated with the New Zealand Company were initially not welcome and were strongly opposed. Conflict over land ownership between them and Ngāti Toa erupted in 1843 into an armed conflict known as the Wairau Affray in which twenty-two Europeans and no fewer than four Māori died. The colonial government ultimately found the company and its settlers at fault and in 1847 renegotiated with Ngāti Toa leader Te Rauparaha and his nephew Te Rangihaeata in order to open Marlborough to European settlement.
The Founding and Flourishing of Blenheim
The Wairau plain’s fertile soils became appealing to settlers even while they struggled with regular flooding. Ironically, despite plentiful water and proximity to the sea, maritime trade remained hampered until major earthquakes in 1848 and 1855 made the rivers more tidal, and thus more navigable. The ability to engage in seaborne shipping along the Ōpaoa (Opawa prior to 2014) River made the Wairau considerably more attractive for commerce and James Wynen and James Sinclair were soon operating warehousing/trading businesses in the vicinity of the confluence of the Ōpaoa and Omaka (Taylor) Rivers. These enterprises are the beginnings of settlement in what became Blenheim, and Taylor and Wynen are considered its founders.
The easy access to shipping and flat land of the Wairau plain soon fostered a vibrant agricultural economy. The Cyclopedia of New Zealand noted in 1906 that ‘Blenheim soon became recognised as essentially a farming centre, and, as such, it has experienced a steadily increasing prosperity,’ as well as an increasing population with 3,500 people living in the town by the early twentieth century.
One of the key benchmarks in the development of towns in the nineteenth century was the establishment of a newspaper. In 1860, Blenheim ‘confirmed its civilised status’ with the founding of its first newspaper, which quickly became embroiled with the intense rivalry between Picton and Blenheim. Six years later, Samuel Johnson created the Marlborough Express with the intent that the paper would represent all of Marlborough in as unbiased a manner as possible, a strategy that ultimately paid off as the paper expanded its readership and influence. Smith James Furness and James Henry Boundy purchased the Marlborough Express in 1879. They remained partners until 1893 at which time Furness bought out Boundy’s interest in the business, which also extended to commercial design and printing.
Smith James Furness (1852-1921) was born in Wellington and spent the entirety of his career in the news and printing business. Upon his retirement in 1910, Furness reflected:
‘I have put in long years of hard work on THE EXPRESS, and my path, as many of you know, has not always been rose-strewn…I retire encouraged by the knowledge that THE EXPRESS has always striven strenuously to further the best interests of the town of Blenheim and the grand district behind us. As an old-established journal, firmly set on a solid foundation, it has now, I am sure, a much longer, a much more prosperous, and…a much more useful career [ahead].’
A history of the founders of the Marlborough Express published by that newspaper in 1924 looked back on Smith James Furness’s vital contributions, stating: ‘The late Mr Furness did sterling and successful work in building up the character of the Express and in developing its resources and is affectionately remembered for the manner in which he brought the influence of the paper to bear in behalf of the public interest and the general welfare. He was the real founder of the present-day Express.’
A Villa Born of Marital Estrangement
Although it was generally acknowledged that Furness enjoyed considerable success with the Marlborough Express, his professional accomplishments may have come at the expense of his marriage. On 11 November 1909, Emily Eva (née Hough) Furness (1856-1945) petitioned the court for divorce on the grounds of her husband’s adultery and cruelty.
The couple had married on 28 April 1879, the same year that Smith Furness purchased the Marlborough Express. By the late-1890s, the couple and their five children lived in an ‘exquisite home’ on a spacious section located at the corner of Dillon and Percy Streets that appears to have also had more modest street frontage along Maxwell Road. That Emily Furness sought a divorce was more typical of affluent households than ones further down the socioeconomic spectrum, who largely turned to separation or desertion. Still, it is unclear whether Smith and Emily actually divorced. Despite being legally possible and an increasing occurrence, divorce at the beginning of the twentieth century remained disreputable and the couple may have ultimately opted merely to separate. Emily Furness’s certificate of title to the property from 1944 noted that she was a ‘widow’ and her death notice in 1945 stated that she was the ‘widow of Mr S. J. Furness’ despite over three decades of life independent of her husband and over two decades since his own death.
Regardless of whether the couple divorced or only separated, the dissolution of their life together seems to have precipitated the January 1910 subdivision of the section that contained their family home. The published land transfer notice indicated that Smith James Furness retained the bulk of the property—two acres and the family home then ‘occupied by applicant’. Emily Furness received a much smaller irregular parcel facing Maxwell Road, which was ‘unoccupied’ at the time of the subdivision. The unequal division of property—where husbands retained the right of ownership of all property procured during a marriage, regardless of who was at fault—remained in place until well into the twentieth century.
Emily’s portion appears to have been further subdivided by October 1910 when the northern half of her property was involved in a mortgage transaction between her and the ‘New Zealand State Guaranteed Advances Office Superintendent,’ likely related to funding for the villa’s construction. The State Advances Office had origins in the Government Advances to Settlers Act of 1894, crafted ‘to provide assistance to settlers for the development of their holdings,’ including the construction of houses. The assistance came in the form of a loan for a planned or already constructed house for up to three-quarters of the value as determined by State Advances. Within the next year or so, a new house was completed on the section then having the address of 64 Maxwell Road. In 1912, the dwelling was occupied by Emily’s sons Roy (and presumably his wife) and Geoffrey, and a third boarder. The brothers, operating as ‘Furness Brothers,’ had taken over the Marlborough Express in September 1910 upon their father’s retirement.
It is not known where the homeowner, Emily Eva Furness, was living in 1912; however, the following year she is listed as an occupant of 64 Maxwell Road along with her two sons and two unrelated male boarders, and the house was referred to as ‘her residence’ in a newspaper notice. Meanwhile, Smith James Furness continued living in the former family home. A 1912 advertisement placed by Furness for a housekeeper noted that there was ‘no family’ in the house with him and another the following year explained that the position was working ‘for one gentleman,’ again suggesting that he was the sole occupant of the house. The fact that the two brothers, one of them married, would have been living with their mother and two boarders in a new, but comparatively modest, villa on the adjacent section suggests that they may have sided with their mother in events surrounding the collapse of the marriage. Roy Furness, who bought out his brother and became sole proprietor of the newspaper in 1917, continued living in the house until the mid-1920s according to the post office directory.
Emily Furness’s villa on Maxwell Street was built near the end of the popularity of the dominant New Zealand residential building type in the decades around the turn-of-the-twentieth century. The ubiquitousness of the villa was in large part because of its astonishing versatility. It was easily adaptable to town and country settings and could be scaled up or down in size and embellishment to suit households across the socioeconomic spectrum. While this is a fine example of a corner bay villa, its average size (six rooms including the kitchen) and the numerous related and unrelated occupants likely represented a sharp contraction in life circumstances for the matriarch of one of Blenheim’s more prominent families. Emily Furness lived in the house for the rest of her long life, keeping boarders until the mid-1930s very possibly out of necessity to support herself.
After apparently residing in the house alone for most of a decade, during the final two years of her life, Emily Furness lived there with Daniel Doonan, a draper. In the year before her death, Furness sold the house to Doonan and he owned the property into the 1960s. The property passed through a number of owners in quick succession before it was purchased by Robert Holmden, a physician, and his wife Beatrice in December 1966. A half year later, in May 1967, Holmden applied for a building permit for a large addition at the rear of the house, which was the only major change to the dwelling. The Holmdens did not enjoy their enlarged house for very long as they sold it in 1973.
In 1987 there was an unsuccessful attempt to turn the house into a ‘ladies’ rest home’. The property remains in private ownership.
The Furness family continued to own and publish the Marlborough Express until 1998, when it was sold to a multinational news conglomerate. In all, 11 descendants of Smith and Emily Furness –four generations of the family– helmed the newspaper, for over one hundred years. After selling his interest to his brother Roy in 1917, Geoffrey returned as a staff member in 1923, and his son Jim worked his way up to become editor of the paper by the 1970s. Roy ‘RP’ Furness was the managing director until his son Donald Furness took over in 1951. And in the early 1980s, Roger and Carol Rose (neé Furness) took the majority shareholding, and stayed until Roger’s retirement in 2011. The 150th anniversary of the Marlborough Express paid tribute to the family’s ‘deep commitment not only to the newspaper but to the wider Marlborough community.’ Now owned by Fairfax Media, the newspaper continues to be published in print form and online.
The house at 72 Maxwell Road is located in a residential neighbourhood of Blenheim just to the southwest of the town’s commercial centre. The neighbourhood is densely developed, mainly with detached, single-family houses built since World War Two. The villa fronts onto Maxwell Road, a major roadway cutting diagonally across Blenheim’s rectilinear street grid, extending out from the town centre to the southwest. Reflecting its history as an established major roadway, Maxwell Road contains a few other heritage buildings, such as a large Victorian house at 82 Maxwell Road (List No 1521), a two-storeyed English Cottage house at 106 Maxwell Road (List No. 2958), and the Grandstand, Covered Sheep Pens and Entrance Gates and Wall of the Marlborough A&P Showgrounds (List No’s 1515, 1508, 2952). Opposite the house at 72 Maxwell Road, a former residence for Catholic religious (List No. 2945) is a reminder of the former historic Catholic complex that was previously centred around the Category 1 St Mary’s Church (List No. 242) before St Mary’s Church Convent, and Presbytery were relocated elsewhere.
Emily Eva Furness’s Maxwell Road section appears to have been divided more or less in half not long after the original subdivision, following a pattern that seems to have characterised this part of Blenheim during the twentieth century. By 1963, the back (west) part of the section with the house and a thin strip along its northern edge had been combined with land formerly part of the parcel Smith James Furness retained after the couples’ separation. This combination of land created a new section directly behind the house having driveway access to Maxwell Road (with the present house number of 72A Maxwell Road). While a dwelling now stands on the rear section, it was not immediately developed after its ca. 1963 subdivision. Documentation related to a 1987 proposal to turn 72 Maxwell Road into a ‘ladies’ rest home’ noted that ‘despite the subdivision, the property has been developed as one large site with the garage and swimming pool on the rear site and the house on the front.’
The house at 72 Maxwell Road is an intact representative example of a mid-sized villa. The villa form’s character-defining exterior feature is a porch or verandah that varies in length and location depending on the size of the house and its siting. In urban areas, it extended just across the front or could be truncated in exchange for one or two front-facing bays. On larger sections, and in small towns and the countryside, the full architectural and aesthetic potential of the form could be achieved with L-shaped verandahs and multiple bays.
Emily Furness’s corner bay villa was among the more complicated versions of the type. The form of the corner bay villa is characterised by two projecting bays—one at the front and one at the side—with an L-shaped verandah extending between them. Both of the gable-roofed bays in this house are further articulated with rectangular window bays having double-hung sash windows on three sides. The corner of the house where the L-shaped verandah continues around to the side of the house is chamfered; the window on the chamfered corner and two adjacent ones on the front and side walls give the appearance of a polygonal bay window. Typical of later villas, the primary roof was a single pyramidal type rather than the U-shaped hip or gable type with a centre gutter.
The exterior of villas were also characterised by varying degrees of decoration. Individual taste and finances dictated whether the details were exuberant or more restrained on a villa, yet the year of construction also contributed to the decision. In general, villas constructed during the late-Victorian era exhibited more decorative elements, reflecting an aesthetic where a proliferation of architectural elements could overwhelm the overall form and composition. Towards the end of their popularity, Edwardian period villas increasingly took on more sober decorative schemes. The relatively simple open fretwork in the gables of the two bays, the brackets along the main roof line and smaller ones on the window bay rooflines, and moulded panels on the doors, sidelights, and the window bays of Emily Furness’s villa are typical of the more restrained decoration.
Along the back and extending from the southwest corner of the house, the addition constructed by Robert Holmden around 1967 was ambitious and greatly contrasted with the original house. The unapologetically modern extension that seems to have been the collaborative design of the owner and the builder rather than involving an architect makes no attempt to reference or contextualise with the existing villa architecture. The visual complexity of the angled walls of the addition was accentuated by a very low pitched gable roof having deep eaves. The walls are sheathed in galvanised weatherboards exhibiting a crisp modern profile and the windows and sliding doors are framed in aluminium. This rear addition transformed the formerly utilitarian back of the house into a second, modern, façade oriented to the garden, the majority of which is presently covered by a large timber deck. It does not intrude on the perception of the house as an Edwardian villa, as viewed from the street.
If the verandah is the primary character-defining feature on the exterior of the villa, the centre hall has the same role on its interior. The introduction of such circulation spaces into houses of the Anglo diaspora—providing both environmental and social buffering—was a key architectural marker of increased refinement and movement away from the early days of a place’s settlement. The centre hall and a lack of communicating doors between adjacent rooms became the best way of separating public from private from service within the house. Rooms in a villa, then, tended to be treated as isolated entities rather than as zones of similar spaces, with the centre hall providing both access and a buffer. The centre hall of Emily Furness’s villa was generously wide and enlivened with decorative fretwork at the end opposite the front door.
Except for the kitchen, which was located within the house proper under the main roof, all service areas of a villa such as the washhouse, scullery, pantry, WC, and bathroom, were generally aligned across the back in a lean-to. By the mid-twentieth century, this arrangement of support spaces and the domestic technologies contained within them were increasingly out-of-date and old fashioned. Furthermore, there was a growing acceptance of a more casual lifestyle after World War II and a desire for houses that supported indoor-outdoor living. As a result, the service spaces along the back of villas were frequently altered, sometimes heavily.
Any remaining portions of the original lean-to of Emily Furness’s villa were removed for Robert Holmden’s large rear extension. Two rooms were located at the back of the house, a ‘sun porch’ directly behind the kitchen and a spacious bedroom to one side. On the other side of the sun porch, the addition extended out from the southwest corner of the house at an angle. This section contained a utility room, service entrance, small bathroom, two bedrooms, and a carport. Holmden’s addition expanded the size and functionality of the house in a manner that reflected both contemporary lifestyles and aesthetics in the late 1960s. While it is not known whether the modernisation of the kitchen was part of the Holmdens’ work on the house, the spacious room featuring a skylight and a pass through to the sun porch might very well date from their occupancy. The current finishes and fixtures in the toilet and bathroom within the villa also appear to date from around that time or slightly later.
The house at 72 Maxwell Road has experienced no major changes—interior or exterior—since the period of its modernisation in the 1960s and 1970s.
Contextual analysis: Residential built heritage in Blenheim
Marlborough’s built heritage largely relates to its agricultural and pastoral history, with cob cottages, station homesteads and their associated outbuildings well-recognised on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero (‘the List’) and the Marlborough Environment Plan heritage schedules. Blenheim’s development as the main agricultural service centre took off in the 1870s, and by the turn of the century public, civic and commercial facilities were well-established. The town’s commercial centre has been largely redeveloped in recent decades, with the demolition of all but a handful of the town’s older commercial and civic buildings. The remaining heritage buildings – churches, Blenheim School, public monuments, the A&P Showgrounds, and houses – have since become more important as signposts of the town and district’s past, and how the current regional identity has developed.
Villas are a reasonably rare house-type in Blenheim, with most of the town’s residential stock post-dating World War Two, when the town’s population more than doubled. The streetscapes are dominated by single-storey townhouses from recent decades. Some nineteenth century houses exist, for example the large 1884 gentleman’s residence at 82 Maxwell Road (List No. 1521), and contrasting this, an 1888 worker’s cottage (List No. 1513). The intensification of farming from the late 1890s spurred a growth period for the town, and the population had increased to 5,000 by 1926. Reflecting this, the New Zealand Heritage List recognises a representative and proportionate mix of houses from the first half of the twentieth century: two worker’s cottages (List No’s 2956, 1528); two bungalows (List No’s 1523, 1516); some larger two-storeyed houses showing the influence of the English Cottage/Revival style (List No’s 2964, 2958, 1526, 1522, 2959); and a state house from the 1930s (List No. 1519).
Villas can be seen scattered throughout the town’s older streetscapes, but are less common than bungalows and English Cottage style houses. Of the five recognised by the New Zealand Heritage List and the heritage schedule of the Marlborough Environment Plan, the villa at 72 Maxwell Road is the most plain and unadorned. The bay villas at 80 New Renwick Road (List No. 5432) and 8 Poynter Street (List No. 1515) are notable for their pointed or crested turrets (52 Murphy’s Road is another example), and the house at 56 George Street (List No. 2954) has a striking Marseille tile roof with terracotta finials and cresting. Like the bay villas at 44 Murphy’s Road (MEP Ref 89), and 18 Monro Street, all of those examples made good use of the catalogue of decorative elements that characterised the villa style – decorative fretwork, brackets, friezes and ornate verandah posts and balustrading, pressed metal panelling – and consequently displayed the owner’s wealth and taste.
In conclusion, the villa at 72 Maxwell Road is a modest example of its type architecturally, but with representative architectural value as a typical example that has developed in a fairly typical way, and historical value for its connection with the Furness family who developed the Marlborough Express. Its relatively plain design may further reflect the circumstances of its construction as a result of the dissolution of Smith and Emily Furness’s marriage.
Built heritage in Blenheim related to the early Furnesses
The house at 72 Maxwell Road is the only remaining building in Blenheim closely associated with the first generation of the Furness family, and the early days of the Marlborough Express. The family home on Dillon Street was lost and the acreage subdivided at some point after Smith James Furness departed Blenheim in 1917. In 1877 the Marlborough Express moved from Alfred Street to 64-66 High Street; first in a small wooden building then in 1905 taking over the larger Bank of New Zealand building next door - with which it is most historically associated. The newspaper occupied this building until it was demolished in 1982; the small wooden building has also gone, as has any discernible reminder of the town’s earliest days on Alfred Street.
Replacement of verandah floor boards with plywood sheeting
Removal of original chimneys
Construction of a roof across the back of the house partially sheltering
1910 - 1910
1967 - 1967
Addition to rear of the site
Replacement of moulded panels in front window bay with shingles
Timber (weatherboards; exterior decorative elements; verandah posts; window and door joinery; wall framing, floors, doors)
Glass (windows; rear sliding door)
Concrete (piles for ca. 1967 addition)
Metal (roofing; window frames; cladding of rear addition)
16th May 2018
Report Written By
James A. Jacobs and Blyss Wagstaff
Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand
Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand
Malcolm McKinnon’s entries for Marlborough in Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand
Jeremy Salmond, Old New Zealand Houses, 1880-1940. Auckland: Reed, 1986.
Arden and Bowman, 2004
Stuart Arden and Ian Bowman, The New Zealand Period House: A Conservation Guide, Random House New Zealand, Auckland, 2004
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero 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.
Archaeological sites are protected by the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014, regardless of whether they are entered on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero or not. Archaeological sites include ‘places associated with pre-1900 human activity, where there may be evidence relating to the history of New Zealand’. This List entry report should not be read as a statement on whether or not the archaeological provisions of the Act apply to the property (s) concerned. Please contact your local Heritage New Zealand office for archaeological advice.
A fully referenced upgrade report is available on request from the Central Region Office of Heritage New Zealand.