Pahiatua County Council Chambers (Former)

136 Main Street And Huia Street, Pahiatua

  • Pahiatua County Council Chambers (Former).
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Karen Astwood. Date: 10/08/2010.
  • Rear/northwest façade.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Karen Astwood. Date: 10/08/2010.
  • Council chamber from north corner, and some of the chamber’s portraiture.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Karen Astwood. Date: 10/08/2010.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 4021 Date Entered 15th April 2011


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Lot 9 DP 281 (CT WN391/32), Wellington Land District and the building known as Pahiatua County Council Chambers (Former) thereon, and its fittings and fixtures and the following chattels: the S.S. Williams Co, Ltd. bench seat and 10 council chamber desks, and the collection of portraits in the council chamber. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).

City/District Council

Tararua District


Horizons (Manawatu-Wanganui) Region

Legal description

Lot 9 DP 281 (CT WN391/32), Wellington Land District

Location description

State Highway 2 leads onto Main Street at the northeast and southwest ends of Pahiatua. Huia Street intersects with Main Street toward the south end of the central business area of Pahiatua. Pahiatua County Council Chambers (Former) is on the northeast corner of the Main and Huia Streets intersection.


Pahiatua County Council Chambers (Former) is located in the central business area of the northern Wairarapa rural service town of Pahiatua. Completed in 1929 to a design by prominent architectural firm C. Tilleard Natusch and Sons, this masonry building is a contemporary interpretation of traditional civic architecture.

European settlement in the Wairarapa was gradual and began from the south after lengthy negotiations between the Crown and iwi in the early 1850s. However, it was not until the 1870s with the government public works and immigration schemes that Europeans began to earnestly occupy the north Wairarapa. Despite this government push, and unlike its counterparts, Pahiatua was not a government settlement. This is perhaps why local government was introduced relatively rapidly with the County Council being created in 1888, which was within a decade of Pahiatua’s foundation. For 40 years the administration of the county was organised from the council’s small timber premises, however by the 1920s the Pahiatua area had matured to the point that these premises were no longer of suitable capacity. Therefore, a larger building was constructed and opened by the Pahiatua Member of Parliament and Minister of Public Works, Hon. E.A. Ransom (b.1868). The building continued as a base of local government for the next 60 years until 1989 when the Pahiatua County Council amalgamated with other local councils to become the Tararua District Council. Pahiatua County Council Chambers (Former) is now this council’s local service centre.

This brick building has traditional civic building elements which are combined using the popular Stripped Classical style of the period. The portico, parapet, and external ornamentation are all reminiscent of Classical architecture, however they have been applied in a simplified manner in accordance with the architectural language of the late 1920s and 1930s. Few alterations have occurred in the building with the exception of some internal changes in the 1960s and the enclosing of the outer sections of the portico in the late 1980s.

This place has considerable local significance as the base for the local governing body for 60 years, a council that was in existence for a century before amalgamation created the current district council. As such, many generations of local people have had some connection to the building. Pahiatua County Council Chambers (Former) also has importance because of its association with the prominent architectural firm of C. Tilleard Natusch and Sons, and is typical of their work in this period of transition when Charles Tilleard Natusch was entering retirement.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

For over a century the Pahiatua County Council was responsible for the local government administration of the area and by the 1920s the development of Pahiatua and the Council’s duties had progressed to a point where their original council building was inadequate for their purposes. Therefore, Pahiatua County Council Chambers (Former) has historical significance as a physical manifestation of the maturity and growth in status of the county. It is also of value as the place where the day-to-day management of the district was organised, such as road and bridge building and maintenance, monitoring health and other standards, crisis management, and the general administration of the county. As such, the council’s building was the base of one of the area’s most important and long-standing organisations for the last 60 years of its existence. This place is also of historical value as a remnant of the system which characterised local government within New Zealand for about a century, before the amalgamations into the district councils of the late twentieth century.

Architectural Significance or Value:

In its Stripped Classicism Pahiatua County Council Chambers (Former) is a characteristic civic building dating from the late 1920s. Classical references such as simplified pilasters, series of arches, panels of exterior decoration, and elements such as a portico and parapet, are all combined symmetrically to create a distinguished building whose scale was tailored to and reflective of the size of the council and community it was to serve. The fittings and council chamber furniture are also characteristic of building’s construction period and civic function. This place also has significance as an example of the work of the longstanding and respected Natusch family of architects.

Social Significance or Value:

Pahiatua County Council (Former) has social significance as a base of local government since the early twentieth century. As such, from the early to late twentieth century important decisions which affected the lives of the area’s citizens were made within its walls, as was the day-to-day administration of the district. This function also meant that most local residents would have had a direct association with the building in some capacity, whether it was paying their rates or meeting with council officials regarding local concerns. Pahiatua County Council Chambers (Former) has ongoing social value as a local service centre for the Tararua District Council.

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

Pahiatua County Council Chambers (Former) is reflective of the firmly established nature of local governance within New Zealand by the early period of the twentieth century. This county and borough council system gradually formed from the late nineteenth century as the population of New Zealand grew and spread, and individual districts developed their own distinct characters and needs.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history

The design for this building was undertaken by C. Tilleard Natusch and Sons. Charles Tilleard Natusch was one of New Zealand’s premier late nineteenth and early twentieth century architects. Through the family’s architecture practice three of his sons continued this legacy and, among other work in the transition period when Charles Natusch was retiring from the practice, were instrumental in the rebuilding of Napier after the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake.

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

As one of the main civic buildings in district Pahiatua County Council Chambers (Former) has held an important place within the community since its construction in 1929. Its public function and the close community association with the building continues to the present.

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

Pahiatua County Council Chambers (Former) demonstrates the C. Tilleard Natusch and Sons’ understanding of Classical precepts. The design value of Pahiatua County Council Chambers (Former) is enhanced by its Classical form and feature combining to create a fit for purpose building which also projects the sense of authority and stability desired by Council’s of the time in their buildings.

Summary of Significance or Values

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


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


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Natusch, C.T. & Sons

Charles Tilleard Natusch (1859-1951) completed his architectural studies in England in 1882, after which he travelled in the United States and Canada. He returned to England in 1883 to become involved in the town planning and development of Southend-on-Sea. He immigrated to New Zealand in 1886 and after a short collaboration with Atkins & Clere, established a practice in Wellington as an architect and quantity surveyor. He then moved to Masterton, Pahiatua and finally to Napier, where he bought the architectural practice of Robert Lamb. From 1908 Natusch worked with his three sons, Aleck, Rene and Stanley. The firm received many domestic commissions from the farming community. Its well known houses include Bushy Park (Kai Iwi), Gwavas (Tikokino), Matapiro (Napier), Maungaraupi (Marton) and Wharerata (Massey University). Following several changes of name and three generations of Natusch architects, the family practice continues today as Natusch Partnership in Napier.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

The discovery and settlement of the Wairarapa region is connected with several prominent figures of New Zealand’s history. Ancestral figures such as Hau-nui-a-nanaia, Kupe, Whatonga, Tara Ika and Toi have all been said to have connections with the region and are responsible for the naming of many of the Wairarapa’s features and places. It has been estimated that Rangitane settled in the region by about the sixteenth century. Marriage links with Rangitane saw a group of Ngati Kahungunu retreat to the Wairarapa in the subsequent century as the result of internal hapu conflicts. The groups cohabitated mostly in the south Wairarapa for a period, but then the Ngati Kahungunu newcomers negotiated several sections of land for themselves. This process was not seamless and instances of conflict continued between the two iwi over the centuries. The next significant period of change in the area was in the early nineteenth century with the progression of Te Rauparaha and others. This ushered in an era when many different iwi, including Ngati Whatua, Ngati Awa, Ngati Toa, Ngati Raukawa, Ngati Tama, and Ngati Mutunga, made advances into the region and some Ngati Kahungunu hapu withdrew.

Several decades later, European incursion into the Wairarapa began after the New Zealand Company’s Port Nicholson settlement was established. Based on the reports of the exploring and surveying parties that the company sent out, the southern Wairarapa became one of the first extensive tracts of land to be occupied by Europeans, although the Crown titles, negotiated by Donald McLean, were not obtained until 1853. However, it took substantially longer for settlement to progress beyond Masterton, which was linked to Wellington by road in 1859. Further incursion was slow because the northern Wairarapa was heavily forested. In particular, the forest north of Mount Bruce was dense with rimu, tawa, matai, maire, kahikatea, and rata, and was known as Forty Mile Bush, which was within the larger Seventy Mile Bush that also encompassed the area as far north as Dannevirke and Norsewood. Maori referred to this forest as Te Tapere Nui o Whatonga (The great forest of Whatonga) and an abundance of birdlife resided there amongst giant ancient trees, some of which were large enough for groups of local Maori to shelter within their trunks.

The forest acted as a significant barrier and therefore, while there was some European settlement in the northern Wairarapa before the late nineteenth century, it was not until roads were extended further and the railway link to Wellington established that the area was opened up for substantive settlement. In preparation for the construction of the railway the government had an active role in the foundation of several places in the Wairarapa and Tararua regions. Towns such as Mauriceville, Eketahuna, Norsewood, and Dannevirke were all initially formed as bases for railway labourers. Part of the preparation for the railway construction included building a road through the district which had progressed by the mid to late 1870s.

This increased, albeit rudimentary, access meant that land sales in the Pahiatua area earnestly began in the early 1880s. An initially slow sales market was boosted greatly by purchases made on behalf of Arthur James Balfour (1848-1930), who later went onto become British Prime Minister and Earl Balfour. In this way, when Pahiatua township was eventually established in 1881 it differed from most of the other settlements in the area because it was not created by the Crown, instead it resulted from private subdivisions of land. The site of Pahiatua had previously been a Maori village called Te Pohatu. It is thought that Pahiatua’s founder, Masterton nurseryman William Wilson McCardle (1844-1921), named the township after his friend and local Maori Chief, Koneke Pahiatua. Pahiatua, which means resting place, or camp, of the atua refers to a seventeenth century event when an atua rescued a Rangitane chief from invading forces to the south.

Once the private subdivisions were made, Pahiatua quickly emerged as a frontrunner to become the main service centre of the area, which attracted further settlement and businesses to the town. By the mid 1880s local tenacity meant that the burgeoning town of about 500 people had shops, a hotel, and a Road Board, but had been by-passed by the railway despite Main Street having been specifically made unusually wide to compensate for the potential railway line down its centre. The fact that Main Street was prone to flooding was a valid reason for the government engineer to recommend the railway tracks be laid west of the town, but Pahiatua people saw this as a deliberate snub. Because it was a privately created town Pahiatua was slow to accrue many of the public facilities that were established comparatively early in other towns. However, the rapid growth of the town and wider area led to the creation of the Pahiatua County Council in 1888 and the Pahiatua Borough in 1892.

After basing themselves for a time at the Road Board Office, the Council built small timber offices of its own in 1889. This building was located towards the southern end of Main Street near the corner of Churchill Street. Most of the early activity of the County Council seems to have been focused on petitioning the government to create public institutions in Pahiatua. Although a state school had already been opened by the time the council came into effect, it took years of pressure for other institutions to be granted to Pahiatua. For example, the first post office was only built in 1894, the same year as the town received its first permanent police officer.

Like its counterparts throughout New Zealand, the County Council’s day-to-day priority became the maintenance and creation of the area’s roads, which by 1896 measured some 400 miles. This meant that it continued the work of its predecessor, the Road Board. Indeed, the first meeting of the Council was in the Road Board Office on 28 November 1888. From the time of its inception the Council seems to have been constantly occupied with balancing the demands of its constituents for road widening, extending, bridge building and replacement, as well as maintenance, with the money it could raise through rates, taxes, tolls, or which it borrowed.

By 1928 the Council’s activities and the status of Pahiatua had developed sufficiently for the County Council to explore finding another site in the town on which to construct ‘up-to-date and commodious offices.’ The decision to proceed with finding a site was made in December 1927 and an appropriate property, more centrally located, in the business area of Main Street was found soon after. In 1928 the site on the corner of Main and Huia Streets was occupied by a small dwelling and a plumber’s shop, which were demolished to make way for the Council’s new offices and chamber. C. Tilleard Natusch & Sons were engaged to design the building for a sum as proximal to £3000 as possible, and in July 1928 the construction contract was awarded to Messrs Wise and Hume, who completed the building for £3307.

While the Natusch family’s architectural firm was based in Wellington and Napier, they were by no means unfamiliar with Pahiatua having lived there in the late nineteenth century before relocating to Napier. Charles was semi-retired by the late 1920s and as such the work on Pahiatua County Council Chambers would have been undertaken by three of his sons, Stanley, Aleck, and René. Bearing the cost limitation in mind the architects decided to construct the council building in brick, citing that although the majority of their buildings were constructed from reinforced concrete brick was ‘cheaper, generally, than reinforced concrete for single storey buildings.’

The new County Council building was sufficiently completed by early February 1929 for the first council meeting to be held there and the official opening was fixed for 12 March 1929. However, in the week leading up to the opening there were still finishing touches that required completion, such as some internal painting and tiling, and the installation of hat racks and wall sockets. A special gold key was also ordered for the occasion and was used during the opening ceremony by the wife of the Minister of Public Works and Member of Parliament for Pahiatua (1922-1940), Hon. Ethelbert Alfred Ransom (b.1868). Others in attendance included all nine county councillors, as well as the county clerk and overseer, who were all listed on the opening’s commemoration plaque.

One would assume that the County Council were pleased that their impressive new building was ready for use, however this soon soured. Within months it became apparent that some of the workmanship in the building was not of a satisfactory standard. Because of serious leaks in the roof, which formed around the edges of the parapet, René Natusch was called in to inspect the problem and final payment to Wise and Hume was withheld by the Council. The building seems to have passed this inspection, however quantities of water still managed to leak into the council chamber in particular. To compound matters in November 1929 the Council also experienced significant flooding in the bathrooms due to faulty plumbing. The process of making the building water-tight seems to have been a drawn out affair, but eventually, almost four years after the building opened, J.A. Redpath and Sons of Wellington completed the necessary work.

Now that the practicality of life in their new building was satisfactory the council could focus solely on its core tasks, which included administering, maintaining, and creating roads, bridges, the water supply, as well as monitoring health and building standards, and creating and enforcing by-laws. Of course in times of crisis, such as the Great Depression and World War Two, these activities were made harder through lack of resources, however, it was the Council’s responsibility to push on with essential activities. In the case of World War Two, like their counterparts elsewhere, the Pahiatua County Council was charged with added duties such as enforcing government regulations, leading patriotic fundraising, and helping to organise rehabilitation for returned servicemen.

The work of the Pahiatua County Council continued in this vein for the subsequent decades, but in the late 1960s, together with adjoining county councils, amalgamation began to be discussed. With the development of modern technologies, as well as greater and more efficient access around the area, it was now possible to form a larger district council and initial thoughts were that the Pahiatua, Eketahuna and Akitio County Councils could combine. Such a step was viewed as more practical and efficient. Various amalgamation plans were considered over the next decade but ultimately were rejected by the Pahiatua County Council who felt that a connection with the Manawatu needed to be maintained. Therefore, it took a directive to strengthen local government from the 1984 Labour Government to spur a concerted attempt to again form a larger council. Finally, after years of negotiating, the Tararua District Council was formed in 1989 through the amalgamation of the Eketahuna, Pahiatua, Woodville and Dannevirke County Councils. Since then, the former County Council building in Pahiatua has been the local service centre for the Tararua District Council, and is used for other community meetings and events as well.

Physical Description

Pahiatua County Council Chambers (Former) is located in the central business area of Pahiatua’s Main Street, on its northwest side. The surrounding buildings to the north are generally commercial in nature, mostly single storey, and date from a variety of periods. Within the same block as the council building is the impressive stripped classical Post Office of a similar period, and also a 1912 bank building. Pahiatua County Council Chambers (Former) is on a corner property which seems to mark the conclusion of the central business area because most of the buildings to its rear and the southwest are residential.

The former county council building is situated towards the front boundary of its section, occupying approximately one third of the space, and its entrance abuts Main Street with only a small frontage area of garden. To the rear the remaining part of the section is grassed and fenced off from the adjoining footpath. This back space is not landscaped as it is currently used as a make-shift holding facility for animals. The section was initially longer but was subdivided to its current form in 1965.

This mostly brick building was constructed using stretcher bond between 1928 and 1929 to a design by C. Tilleard Natusch and Sons which included a hipped roof. This architectural practice was in a transition phase due to the semi-retirement of Charles Tilleard Natusch, however the design seems representative of the approach of the firm during this period. A few years after Pahiatua County Council Chambers (Former) was completed this practice was heavily involved in the reconstruction of Napier after the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake. Although a commercial building, a comparison can be made with their Market Reserve Building (1932) particularly in the treatment of the fenestrations and the pared back detailing on the exterior of the building.

As a public building it is not surprising that traditional Classical references are present in the Natusch design. This type of austere Classicism was favoured at the time in civic structures and, although on a much smaller scale, Pahiatua County Council Chambers (Former) has commonalities with monumental contemporaries like the Auckland Railway Station (1926) and the Auckland War Memorial Museum (1922-29). Classical allusions were common in public buildings because they represent ideas about the power of the state over the individual, as well as nationalism and democracy. At the council building they are primarily expressed through the suggestion of columns and an arcade in the portico, which is surmounted with entablature bearing the name of the building, as well as the balustraded parapet that encircles the main section of the building, and the decorative horn of plenty motifs above the secondary windows.

The general layout of the building is also loosely based on typical Greek and Roman temple design as it features an entrance portico which leads through the entrance foyer straight into the main central space, the council chamber, with small supplementary rooms located around its perimeter. A key feature of the building, which is another characteristic of Classical architecture, is that the overarching shape and layout is almost entirely symmetrical. The slight protrusion of the portico is matched on the rear façade by the bay created by the council chamber, with the windows on this façade mirroring the spacing and shape of the portico alcoves. The secondary windows on these and the remaining façades likewise find partners on their opposing elevations, with the exception of the northeast façade because of the location of the strong room within. However, an echo of this central window has nonetheless been suggested through a recess in the brickwork.

There seem to have been few alterations to the form of the building over time. It has been noted that the building underwent changes designed by Messrs J.W. Cantlon and Associates and undertaken by Superior Construction Company in 1967, but the full extent of these is unclear. It would appear at the very least that most of the interior linings were replaced, such as the ceiling tiles in the council chamber and the linings in the office spaces. The original skirting remains in the hallway. The most notable change to the building occurred in the late 1980s with the enclosing of the outer alcoves of the portico in order to create further office space. At this time the building’s commemorative plaque was relocated from the northeast side of the portico to the newly constructed wall on the southwest side of the entrance door. The walls are positioned over the original pilasters flanking the main entrance, which can still be partially seen. Later, in accordance with health and safety requirements the concrete ramp was built in 1990-91.

The interior layout of the building is as follows: the large council chamber is centrally placed and a hallway leads around it providing access from the southeast of the entrance to the northwest side of the building. Branching off from the entrance foyer and hallway in the southwest part of the building is the small office, created when that portion of the portico was partially enclosed, and its neighbouring office, the building’s toilet facilities and the staffroom (formerly the chairman’s office). On the northeast side of the main entrance is the building’s customer service area and main open plan office space which also provides access to the strong room that adjoins another office which used to be the domain of the county clerk.

The council chamber is the main space in the building and it was the focus of the interior decorative features. The walls are three-quarters lined with timber panelling which terminates in line with the beginnings of the rear window arches. The short walls of this rectangular room have access points on their southeast ends and secondary windows on the opposite end. Simple timber pilasters are present immediately parallel to the inwards architrave of each door and window. The chamber, as well as the hallway, also has a series of original, or early to mid-twentieth century, light fittings as well as individual desks for the councillors to use during meetings. This simple desk furniture with gently tapering legs was manufactured by S.S. Williams Co. Ltd., appears to be made of oak, and each has a drawer on their right-hand side. The chamber’s bench seat was made by the same company. The room also features a large collection of photographs and a print of a Gottfried Lindauer painting of Samuel Bolton, which document key council members and associates dating from 1888 to 2002/2004.

Other notable features of the interior include the map rack in the customer service area, as well as the original signage on the former Chairman and County Clerk’s office doors, as well as that painted onto the frosted glass of the ladies’ and gentlemen’s bathroom doors (which are currently covered by ‘staff only’ paper signs).

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1928 - 1929

1933 -
Repairs to roof

1967 -
Interior alterations

1988 -
Outer bays of portico enclosed

Construction Details

Brick, concrete, corrugated iron, glass, plaster, timber

Completion Date

28th October 2010

Report Written By

Karen Astwood

Information Sources

Bagnall, 1976

A. G. Bagnall, Wairarapa; An Historical Excursion, Trentham, 1976

Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1908

Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol. 6, Taranaki, Hawke's Bay, Wellington, 1908

Wises Post Office Directories

Wises Post Office Directories

McLintock, 1966

An Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Government Printer, Wellington, 1966

Shaw, 1997 (2003)

Peter Shaw, A History of New Zealand Architecture, Auckland, 1997

Grant, 1995

Grant, I.F., North of the Waingawa: The Masterton Borough and County Councils, 1877-1989, Masterton, 1995

Other Information

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