Lancaster House

57 Customhouse Street, Gisborne

  • Lancaster House.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 3550 Date Entered 5th April 1984


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Lot 1 DP 5536 (CT GS3C/874), Gisborne Land District and the building known as Lancaster House thereon, and its fittings and fixtures.

City/District Council

Gisborne District


Gisborne Region

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 5536 (CT GS3C/874), Gisborne Land District


Lancaster House in Customhouse Street was built in 1909 as a warehouse for LD Nathan and Co; built during a substantial growth period in Gisborne, it has survived both earthquakes and economic recessions. The area of land on which this building stands is one likely to have once been utilised or occupied by Maori, as significant archaeological evidence of pre 1900 European settlement has been recovered from a number of sites in the general vicinity of Customhouse Street. Archaeological sites are recorded in adjacent Pitt Street, and Heipipi Pa was in the locality. The land was granted to James Siddons in 1874 and has only one recorded change of ownership, until William Adair obtained the site in 1878. The Adairs had a successful drapery business in Gisborne and a house on this site; also possibly used for their drapery business. The title transferred in 1902 from William to his wife Margaret. In 1906 LD Nathan and Co, one of New Zealand’s earliest and most enduring and successful mercantile companies, purchased the Customhouse Street site in order to erect a permanent business premises in Gisborne. The company was originally a wholesale and shipping business which expanded into a variety of other fields including hostelry and brewing. LD Nathan and Co had had a small store at nearby Makaraka which burned down in 1884. The new build in Gisborne in the decades either side of 1900 was a reflection of substantial hinterland growth, which was linked to a farming boom; related businesses such as freezing works and shipping in particular, encouraged the development of Gisborne. The boom led to a redevelopment, with small timber premises being replaced by large commercial buildings to service the growing export trade. The optimism that abounded around the rapid growth of the town and its hinterland attracted nationally significant companies such as LD Nathans and the Union Steamship Company (USSCo) to establish a presence in the town. From 1925 until 1951 the building was owned by De Pelichet McLeod & Company, stock and station agents who then transferred ownership to the National Mortgage and Agency Company in 1951. The property was named Lancaster House when it was sold in 1971 and has been the premises of local accountancy firm Bain and Sheppard since 2006.

The building was designed by John Currie, an Auckland architect who intended it to be made ‘absolutely rat proof’ by placing it on solid concrete foundations. The builder was Mr George Smith, local sawmill owner and prominent Gisborne citizen. Upon completion the Poverty Bay Times declared the building to be a ‘most pleasing design’ and ‘a fine addition to the town’. Lancaster House is a two storeyed building of plastered brick with concrete foundations, corrugated gabled roofs and generous glazing. In 1933, after the Napier Earthquake in 1931 and further seismic activity, several alterations were made. The neoclassical façade was simplified by the removal of the brick pediments and parapet, which were replaced with a low structure of reinforced concrete. The ground floor and upper floor cornices were altered or removed, and consoles on ground floor pilasters also removed. The building now has little ornate detail; however the pilasters, rusticated on the ground floor, are prominent. The exterior was painted in 1966 and refurbishment in the mid 1970s included redecoration and the erection of some internal walls. The building had major cracking to the exterior walls, as a result of the December 2007 Gisborne earthquake, which necessitated extensive repair work and structural strengthening. This included new foundations (11000mm wide x 600mm deep) constructed against the edge of the existing building's foundations. Some original interior features remain, particularly in the entrance hallway, which has a tiled floor and rimu lined walls. The flight of four steps at the entrance is built of Melbourne blue stone. An impressive, elaborately constructed main stairway with wooden balustrade, leads off from the space immediately in front of the entrance. The original vault remains, featuring early graffiti, a social history of dated signatures of former staff since 1926, scratched into the surface and retained during restoration. The pressed metal ceilings replicate the original decorative patterned metal ceiling recorded but destroyed during strengthening work. In September 2010, a lantern roofed brick storage building to the rear of Lancaster House and associated with LD Nathan’s operation, was demolished as part of site redevelopment unrelated to Lancaster House.

A now simplified neoclassical design, Lancaster House has aesthetic significance as part of Gisborne’s heritage streetscape; it is one of a cluster of 11 substantial, commercial scale heritage buildings on Customhouse Street and Childers Road, including the USSCo building. Lancaster House has architectural significance as a building designed by John Currie; the firm of LD Nathan were his major client and Lancaster House is a now rare surviving example of a commercial building commissioned by LD Nathan and designed by him. The high quality of the finishing materials in the entrance vestibule is a surviving important feature of the building’s architecture. The building has historical and social significance through being erected by the prominent national firm of LD Nathan and Coand represents their substantial investment and diversified business interests in provincial towns in the early 1900s.The building has social significance as it was constructed by a prominent local builder, in the midst of what has been a continuously popular commercial business district since the 1890s. It was considered to be fine addition to the town. Further historical significance is exemplified by the fact that the building has survived several large earthquakes, and the physical character of the building’s façade detail tells that story of survival through it having been pared back in response to each episode.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Currie, John

John Currie (c.1859-1921) was born in Ireland. He immigrated to New Zealand in 1874 and practised architecture in Auckland on his own account. In 1879 the firm of L.D. Nathan became a major client. Accordingly much of Currie's work was in the designing of commercial and warehouse buildings. Few of these survive with the exception of L.D. Nathan & Co. Bond Store (now Archilles House, 1902) and P. Hayman's Warehouse (now Sofrana House, 1899-1900).

Currie also designed buildings for Moss Davis, the Auckland brewer. The two best known works from this association were the Rob Roy Tavern, Freeman's Bay (1884), and the restoration of the interior of the Grand Hotel in Princes Street after fire in 1901. The latter building was designed by H.D. Skinner in 1879, although is sometimes erroneously attributed to Currie. In addition to hotels and commercial work, Currie also undertook residential commissions. The best known of these is "Wickford" in Princes Street. Originally the home of Mr N.A. Nathan, it now accommodates the Registry Office of the University of Auckland. Currie was one of the original members of the New Zealand Institute of Architects formed in 1905.

Currie died in Ponsonby in 1921 aged 70.

Smith, George (1864-1943)

George Smith (1864-1943) worked on the Manawatu railway works as a foreman carpenter. In 1903 he started in business in Gisborne as a builder, and, later, he also entered the sawmilling industry. He built several commercial and high profile buildings in Gisborne. His work included the 1909 alterations to Gisborne Hotel; Maternity Home (1909); Hall’s Building in Lowe St; Gisborne High School (1910); Masonic Hotel alterations (1911), (Record No 3545); Grain Store, Derby St, (1914); Bennett and Sherratt Building (1917), (scheduled) and Ormond’s Garage (1913). The erection of Gisborne Intermediate School (1939) was his last big contract. He served on Gisborne Harbour Board for 20 years, and also on Gisborne Borough Council for several terms. In 1925 he unsuccessfully contested the Gisborne seat. He died on 21 September, 1943

Additional informationopen/close

Historical and associated iwi/hapu/whanau

Ngati Porou


Te Aitanga a Mahaki

Construction Dates

1933 -
Brick parapet removed and replaced with a low structure of reinforced plain concrete. Ground floor and upper floor cornices altered or removed Consoles on ground floor pilasters removed.

1966 -
Exterior painted

1970 -
Internal refurbishment, erection of some internal walls

Structural strengthening including steel frame installed to inside of brick exterior. Pressed metal ceilings removed, plywood ceiling diaphragm installed. Replica pressed metal ceiling in situ.

Completion Date

22nd February 2012

Report Written By

Linda Pattison

Information Sources

New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT)

New Zealand Historic Places Trust

Application for an Archaeological Authority for Lancaster House, 21 Nov 2008, NZHPT 2009-159

Poverty Bay Herald

Poverty Bay Herald

1 Aug 1884; 27 Oct 1906; 30 Apr 1908; 11 Feb 1909

Other Information

A fully referenced report is available from the Lower Northern Area Office of the NZHPT.

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.