Singer House

116 Stout Street And Balance Street, Whataupoko, Gisborne

  • Singer House.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Fiona Low. Date: 6/06/2012.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 3520 Date Entered 5th April 1984


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Pt Lot 91 DP Blk C 210 (CT GS103/6), Gisborne Land District, and the buildings known as Singer House thereon.

City/District Council

Gisborne District


Gisborne Region

Legal description

Pt Lot 91 DP Blk C 210 (CT GS103/6), Gisborne Land District


Singer House, constructed in 1913 on the banks of the Taruheru River in Gisborne, is a large and visually impressive example of residential Arts and Crafts design. Directly reflecting close cultural ties with Great Britain immediately before the First World War (1914-18), the two-storey timber house was built for doctor Arthur Leonard Singer, a recent immigrant from England and the son of a former Mayor of Coventry. The grand nature of the residence demonstrates Singer’s elevated social background as well as his broader aspirations as a prominent medical practitioner: he initially served as Honorary Secretary then President of the Poverty Bay division of the British Medical Association, before seeing active overseas service as a captain with the New Zealand Medical Corps, and later performing a number of civic leadership roles including as a Gisborne Borough Councillor. Probably designed by local architect Freddy H. Forge, the residence both accommodated surgery rooms for medical practice and extensive family quarters for Singer and his wife Phyllis. The residence is one of several notable, large houses in suburban Gisborne built or occupied by individuals linked with medical practice or the financial professions in the early twentieth century.

Tūranganui-a-kiwa has a long history of Māori occupation. The colonial town was laid out by the Crown and named Gisborne in 1870, and expanded north to include the recently subdivided Whataupoko block in 1884. Lot 91 DP 210 was held by a succession of owners before being purchased by A. L. Singer in 1913. Singer had trained at Cambridge and London Universities before moving to Gisborne in 1911. Appointed House Surgeon at Gisborne Hospital, he married Phyllis Lusk the following year. Singer House was built in 1913 both as a marital home and as Arthur Singer’s private surgery.

Erected towards the centre of the property and surrounded by a large garden, the substantial Arts and Crafts style building was probably designed by local architect Freddy Forge. Arts and Crafts style originated in England with a focus on craftsmanship, and was commonly used in residential designs. In a New Zealand context, it can also be seen as reflecting close connections with Britain at a time of tightening economic and other imperial ties. Prominent features of this style in the design of Singer House included a steep-pitched roof with decorative half-timbering in the gables, roughcast plaster cladding, Marseilles roof tiles, and leadlight windows - including an example in one of the exterior doors bearing the word ‘surgery’ in patterned glass. As well as incorporating a surgery with a separate entrance, the residence held a number of large family rooms and servants quarters on the ground floor, with bedrooms and a bathroom on the upper level. The asymmetrically-arranged interior was laid out around a central passage and featured wooden panelling in a number of rooms.

The Singers temporarily left Gisborne in 1915, after which Arthur served overseas in the First World War as part of the Royal Army Medical Corps and later the New Zealand Medical Corps. He returned to practice both at the Gisborne Hospital and as a general practitioner from his home in 1920. Arthur Singer was heavily involved in the local community, becoming Director of the Gisborne Art Gallery and Museum, and President of both the Gisborne Art Society and the Gisborne branch of the Red Cross. He was also a Gisborne Borough Council member in 1944-7. Singer was similarly involved in national organisations with elected roles as an officer in both the New Zealand Library Association and the New Zealand Legion National Council.

As well as evidently fencing the property, the Singers built a garage fronting Stout Street, possibly at an early stage after construction of the house and certainly before 1942. In 1950 they subdivided the northwest part of the property and sold Singer House to Hugh Buchanan, a sheepfarmer, the following year. The place has subsequently had a number of owners, and at an unknown date a lean-to addition was added on the east side of the garage. In 2018 Singer House remained a private residence.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

F.H. Forge

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1913 -

Additional building added to site
Garage built

Completion Date

27th June 2018

Report Written By

Alexandra Foster

Information Sources

Tairawhiti Museum

Tairawhiti Museum

Tairawhiti Museum, Photo Archive, 105/89, URL:

Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Soutar, Monty, “East Coast places – Gisborne”, Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand,, [accessed 5 January 2018].

Auckland War Memorial Museum, Online Cenotaph

Auckland War Memorial Museum, Online Cenotaph, ‘Arthur Leonard Singer’, URL:

Hoare, Richard 2014

Hoare, Richard, Singer’s Legacy: His Family and his Home¸ Birmingham, 2014.

Other Information

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.

A fully referenced upgrade report is available on request from the Northern Region Office of Heritage New Zealand.