Early history of the site
Trentham is located in St Marys Bay above Shelly Beach (Onemaru), to the west of nearby Freemans Bay. Both localities were traditional places of Maori settlement and fishing. A former pa occupied part of land later within the southern approaches to the Auckland Harbour Bridge. The area was part of the broader Auckland isthmus taken over by Ngati Whatua in the mid eighteenth century. The iwi's offer to transfer land to the British Crown for the foundation of a colonial capital at Auckland was formally accepted in September 1840.
St Marys Bay was part of an 1844 Crown Grant within broader Freemans Bay and Ponsonby, the first suburb west of the commercial centre of the colonial capital. Part of Allotment 13 was purchased by a J.C. Brooke in 1853 some distance to the west of the Roman Catholic community established by Bishop Pompallier at Mount St Mary. In 1863 Brooke undertook the 54-lot Dedwood subdivision, marketing sites for dwellings of a superior class with views of the Waitemata Harbour.
Four lots on the north side of the Cameron Street and Shelly Beach Road junction were sold in 1866. In 1878 after further changes of ownership, the holding was bought by Harriett Banbury the wife of a Napier warehouseman. At an unknown date between 1866 and 1882, a timber house was constructed. By 1902 Harriett and John Banbury, by then a mining agent, had relocated.
In 1906 following the revival of the Auckland economy after the depression of the 1880s and early 1890s, the property was subdivided into two, capitalising on a sustained demand by wealthy businessmen and professionals for elevated Ponsonby locations with sweeping harbour views. The southern and eastern portion was sold to Josiah Webster. The existing house was evidently demolished.
Josiah Daniel Webster (1860-1953) was the son Richard and Charlotte Webster, who arrived in Auckland from England in 1858. The family moved to Thames in circa 1868 where Josiah trained as a tinsmith or plumber. Following his marriage to Jane Smith (1863?-1947), Josiah joined his father-in-law in the fruit and vegetable trade. With Jane - a Sydney-trained florist - Webster became the proprietor of a business in Lower Queen Street close to the city's two main transport hubs, the railway station and Queen's Wharf.
Webster, a competitive rifle marksman, competed in Sydney in 1892 and represented New Zealand in London in 1897. Keenly pursuing new business opportunities, he evidently equipped his shop with one of the first soda fountains in the city, said to have been imported from America by his friend George Fowlds (1860-1934), a minister of the first Liberal Government. Josiah had been a Freemason since 1886 and later held the position of First Grand Principal, the highest position in Royal Arch Masonry in New Zealand. He was also subsequently honoured with the rank of Past Grand Warden. Freemasonry, a secular fraternal organisation the principal tenets of which are Brotherly Love (good fellowship and social activity), Relief (charity and social reform), and Truth (serious philosophical study) was a particularly important movement in early colonial, male society and also provided a supportive environment for many men returning to civilian life after the First and Second World Wars (1914-18 and 1939-45). Lodge membership was also seen by some as an affirmation of status.
Construction of Trentham (circa 1906-7)
Construction of Trentham appears to have commenced in 1906 and was complete before 1908. The two-storey timber villa was of sizeable dimensions, with brick foundations and an iron roof. Incorporating a dome-shaped turret on one corner and extensive ornamentation, the building's appearance exhibited exotic qualities that perhaps complemented Webster's involvement in picture theatres and the rituals of Freemasonry.
Trentham was designed by the Auckland architect Arthur Lewitt Ferneyhough (1872-1936). Capitalising on a corner site and a popular legacy of late-Victorian architectural eclecticism, its appearance suggested Eastlake influences, a style adopted for many New Zealand villas between 1890 and 1910. Named after English architect Charles Eastlake, the style had developed in America during the 1870s and was characterised by carved brackets, perforated circular designs and rows of lathe-turned decoration. Where spindles replaced sawn fretwork and predominated over other elements, it was known as the spindle style.
The Eastlake form was one of several styles affected by eastern cultural influences in the early years of the twentieth century. This trend is illustrated by the Moorish-domed roof of Trentham's semicircular bay. Trentham also incorporated aspects of Queen Anne Revival design, which had reached New Zealand in the 1880s. This style is evident in the building's coloured fanlights, roof cresting, turret and slender brick chimneys with bulbous tops.
Ornamentation was particularly lavish on the building's two main public elevations, and included diagonal corner brackets, spindles and iron fretwork. These elevations contained double-height bays with fancy-shingled gable ends and applied pilasters with acanthus-leaf capitals, the latter common on manufactured bay windows. On the Shelly Beach Road façade, a two-storey verandah connected the semicircular corner bay to a double-height bay with a fancy-shingled gable end. A similar arrangement on the Cameron Street elevation incorporated two recessed porches. Verandahs and porches on these and the north elevation were enclosed by ornately detailed bow-fronted, cast-iron railings. Unlike the formal showpieces facing the public realm of Shelly Beach Road and Cameron Street, the simpler north-facing verandah offering extensive harbour views was a places for family leisure and relaxation. The east elevation, effectively the rear of the house, incorporated a short, single-storey hipped roof section and was relatively plain.
The flat top of the building's pyramid-shaped roof enclosed by cast-iron cresting served as a harbour lookout, causing the Observer to note that, 'the Governor General is likely to change his abode while in Auckland from the old Government House to Si Webster's mansion on Shelly Beach Road [where there is] plenty of room for [a] sentry [to] go on the roof'.
Internally, the two-storey residence comprised eleven rooms. These included a bathroom, two water closets, a wash house, a pantry and a scullery. There was hot and cold running water. On the north side of the central hall of the ground floor was a bedroom or front room; a staircase; possibly a maid's parlour; and the kitchen and service area. The easternmost room off the south side appears to have been the dining room. Main rooms on the ground floor; and the upstairs hall and master bedroom, had pressed metal ceilings - a decorative feature popular after 1900. Other ceilings in the house were timber board and batten.
Photographs of Webster in Masonic regalia account for the Masonic references in Trentham. Cast glass fanlights and doors incorporate Masonic themes and reflect a broad acceptance of Masonic symbols as embellishment in a domestic context in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The glasswork also illustrates the growing popularity of stained glass after 1900. Coloured fanlights are believed to have protected the complexion and furnishings from harsh sun, while stained glass door panels admitted light to the hall yet afforded the household a degree of privacy from those who came to the front door where the mail was delivered.
Befitting the grandeur of the residence, a cast iron boundary fence set on a low concrete wall with tall pillars was a prominent statement of a desire for privacy yet enabled public display that a wall or hedge would not. A short distance inside the front gate, the concrete path divided into two: the broader one leading north to the front entrance; and a narrower route winding eastward along the front of the house towards the kitchen entrance. A tennis court occupied a levelled site to the east.
Trentham, notable for its lavish ornamentation and domed turret, was designed by architect and Freemason Arthur Ferneyhough. Webster and Ferneyhough were members of the same lodge, St Andrews Lodge No. 8, and both held the post of Grand Master of that body at different times. Ferneyhough's best-known architectural work was the grand Baroque Revival-style villa Florence Court (Record no. 7106, Category II historic place) constructed in Epsom in circa 1907 for the widow of Richard Hellaby. In designing Trentham, Ferneyhough drew upon locally produced catalogues offering an extensive array of cast ironwork, timber, joinery and pressed metal products.
The identity of Trentham's building contractor is not known.
Subsequent use and alterations
In 1914, Webster mortgaged his previously debt-free residence to finance the five-storey Grand Theatre, commissioned with a business partner for the site of his Queen Street fruit shop. The theatre, which like Trentham incorporated a dome in its design, was the seventh built in central city Auckland during the early years of picture theatre construction.
In July 1916 Trentham was offered at auction subject to a £2,000 mortgage, pending a Supreme Court hearing of proceedings between the building contractor and the theatre owners. The notice described it as a 'gentleman's superior residence' with tennis court. Although Webster retained both the house and the theatre, in the difficult times following the First World War many of the grand private residences in the area were divided up, converted to boarding houses or used as private hospitals.
Trentham was let as a maternity home in 1919, the date an external stair and door was provided on first floor of the east elevation. Unspecified alterations were undertaken in 1921 to convert the house into four flats. A pentice-roofed addition may have been made to the northeast corner at this time. The Websters, who appear to have lived elsewhere from 1919, returned to occupy Trentham's ground floor. Three two-roomed flats on the upper floor were let. The staircase between the ground and first floors may have been removed at this time, although 1954 may be the more likely date.
A garage for a private motorcar was built in 1924. Webster was an early participant in a motor vehicle importing venture known as Campbell Motors, which distributed Rugby and Durant motor vehicles. Webster later bought the firm and was also Board Chairman of Pukemiro Collieries and a printing works.
In 1924 the Grand Theatre suffered fire damage. Since its construction, Queen Street's most expensive and smallest picture theatre - colloquially known as the Baby Grand - had been leased by theatre magnate Henry Hayward (1865-1945) and managed by his wife Domenica. Jane Webster, capitalising on Hayward links and her reputation as a pre-eminent professional florist, is said to have entertained touring celebrities including the dancer Anna Pavlova and actress Sybil Thorndyke at Trentham.
During the Great Depression, the Websters' son Trentham Charles and his family took over part of the upstairs accommodation. In 1944 a quarter share in the property was transferred to the Websters' daughter Anita who returned to live at Trentham. By this time the house was in three tenancies, the largest occupied by the Websters downstairs, with another two upstairs. A teacher dramatic art in the Auckland area, Anita wrote and performed character sketches which she toured, and was one of few women listed in Who's Who in New Zealand, in 1951.
In 1954, the family sold the house on a reduced site, without its tennis court. The ground floor was converted into two flats, enclosing parts of the verandah to provide bathrooms. Completion of the Auckland Harbour Bridge brought greatly increased traffic volumes to Shelly Beach Road in the 1960s. In 1969 Trentham's upper, west-facing verandah was enclosed enabling each tenancy to be fully self-contained. The south-facing porch on the first floor may have already been enclosed. The property was transferred to cabinet-maker Hendrik Buikhuisen in 1971, remaining in his ownership for over two decades. At an unknown date prior to 1974 the southwest chimney, the northwest chimney and associated fireplaces were removed.
In the mid-1970s, a renewed interest in inner-city living brought incremental gentrification to the area. A sketch of Trentham was one of six historic Auckland houses featured on place mats and coaster. The residence also appeared on the cover of a paint chart produced by Samson Paints. At an unknown date before 1990 Trentham reverted from five flats to four. Between 1994 and 1996, the residence was known by the name of Lanware House. A stairway has since been reinstated. The building remains in private residential use.
Trentham is located on the northern slopes of St Marys Bay, an inner suburb to the west of Auckland's Central Business District (CBD). Positioned at the west junction of Cameron Street with Shelly Beach Road, the building is a local landmark on the route from Auckland Harbour Bridge's Shelly Beach Road off-ramp. The surrounding area is predominantly residential. Many houses date from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with interspersed apartments that include high-density, high-rise developments. Properties fronting Jervois Road - a major urban traffic route between the inner western suburbs and the CBD a block to the south - are occupied by a variety of residential, commercial and church buildings.
Notable features within the broader historical landscape of St Marys Bay include a number of nineteenth-century ecclesiastical buildings namely St Stephen's Presbyterian Church (Record no. 652, Category II historic place), Ponsonby Baptist Church, St Johns Church (Methodist) (Record no. 643, Category II historic place), St Marys Old Convent Chapel (Record No. 649, Category I historic place), and Bishops House. Early twentieth-century public buildings include the former Ponsonby Post Office (Record no. 628, Category I historic place), Leys Institute Gymnasium Building (Record no. 612, Category I historic place) and Leys Institute Public Library Building (Record no. 613, Category I historic place). The place also lies within a wider area containing a range of residential buildings including Renall Street (Record no. 7010, historic area), a thoroughfare of nineteenth and early twentieth-century houses; and Stichbury Terrace (Record no. 658, Category II historic place) a First World War-era apartment building.
The site consists of a rectangular section of 698 square metres. It contains a main residence close to the north boundary and a modern single-storey garage to the east. Together, these occupy most of the lot. Adjoining the west and south boundaries to the street are two well-established garden areas. These consist of concrete paths winding through lawn, and plantings close to the house. Terracotta dish-drains survive along the path edge in places. The concrete paths are a surviving feature of Trentham's original garden layout as shown on a 1908 plan of properties within Auckland City. A yard to the east of the house is occupied by a service court and the garage.
The lower storey of the house is well screened on both street frontages by a historic cast iron gate and fence supplemented by hedge plantings. Regularly spaced, tall concrete pillars at the gate and intervals along the fence are a surviving original feature.
Main building - exterior
The main building consists of a two-storey timber villa that expresses Eastlake and Queen Anne Revival architectural influences. Incorporating important features such as its corner turret and extensive ornamental detail, its initial external design is comparatively unmodified apart from the enclosing of a former west-facing verandah and a south-facing porch on the upper storey.
The house is largely rectangular in plan with projecting bays and a short single storey wing at the rear. The roof ridge with gable end runs along two sides of a central pyramid form and is corrugated metal. A cast iron railing enclosing a flat area on the roof has been removed. A sizeable dome off the southeast corner is an unusual feature contributing to Trentham's landmark status and is clad with metal of a well-articulated diamond pattern. Two tall brick chimneys with corbelled tops and glazed chimney pots survive at the east end of the building. There are four skylights in north face of the roof.
The domed corner bay is flanked to either side by two highly ornamented elevations. That on the west side contains a double-height bay and a verandah connecting it to the corner bay. That on the south side contains a double-height bay and two recessed porches. Original curved, shallow steps of concrete construction up to the front door on the west elevation have wing walls curving out to a pair of rectangular plinths. The plinths echo the pillars of the perimeter fence. The verandah deck and ceiling on this elevation consists of tongue and groove timber. The north elevation overlooking the harbour has a two storey verandah with cast-iron railings and a single-storey addition at the east end. Parts of the verandah have been enclosed. The east elevation which includes a single-storey kitchen wing and an external timber stairway to the upper floor has few windows and is free of ornamental detailing.
The building is clad with plain timber weatherboards. Gable ends and pagoda profile bay window sunhoods feature lozenge-shaped timber shingles. Windows are predominantly of a single pane sash style and have dual-coloured fanlights that suggest a Masonic influenced design. Sinuous timber fretwork on barge boards, diagonal corner brackets and spindles provide dense decoration. Other surviving decorative elements include bow-shaped cast-iron balustrades.
Verandahs on the north elevation are supported by heavy turned timber posts and have been partially enclosed. A set of timber steps connects the ground floor verandah to a side path.
On the east elevation a short flight of concrete steps leads down a door in the single-storey, section of the building. A small pentice-roofed addition has been made at the northeast corner. External stairs lead to the first floor entrance which is sheltered by a porch with windows divided into diamonds by timber glazing bars.
Main building - interior
The interior retains early twentieth-century building fabric but the layout has been altered on both floors. Rooms on both storeys open off a central hall.
The northeast portion of the ground floor containing a flat (former kitchen and service area) was not inspected. A second flat occupies the west section of the north side of the ground floor. Off the south side of the hall are a bedroom with en-suite, and a rumpus room with bar (former dining room).
The north side of the first floor is an open-plan kitchen and lounge area, off which is a small study (former west verandah) and living room (northeast). At the east end of the hall (north side) is a laundry and toilet. Off the south side are two bedrooms, each with an en-suite.
The attic has two small rooms and an en-suite. The basement was not inspected.
The front entrance opens into a timber-panelled hall with a reproduction staircase that has been based on the design of the surviving upper floor staircase. Timber panelling is also a recent addition, although six-panel doors and architraves with roundels appear to be an original feature. The space has a coffered pressed metal ceiling. The front door case incorporates leadlight glass of clear, mushroom and blue shades and loosely references Masonic themes based on square and compasses and possibly the plumb rule. The nature of the glass and craftsmanship raises the possibility that the feature may have been added after Trentham's construction.
Off the south side of the hall, surviving original building fabric in the room with the semicircular bay includes curved skirting boards, timber floor, pressed metal scotias, and a metal ceiling incorporating a vented centre-piece of convex profile. To the north of the chimney breast is the opening to a modern en-suite.
A rumpus room (original dining room) at the end of the hall is rectangular with a canted bay. On the north wall is a modern fire within a circa 1950s hearth and surround. The west wall has a modern bar alcove. The door to an exterior porch (an original feature) has a cast glass panel with a symbol similar to other fanlights in this room and elsewhere. The art nouveau-patterned pressed metal ceiling has deep scotias and a vented centre-piece.
The west room off the north of the hall has a pressed metal ceiling, window seat, and fanlights with a star-shaped symbol. A door south of the chimney breast opens into a small internal room (possible former staircase space) and has circa 1950s ceiling and linings. A small kitchen with linings and fittings of similar date is located to the north behind the chimney breast. Within the verandah space is a bathroom accessed by French doors. Above the external door of a laundry is a fanlight with opaque, floral pattern cast glass. The verandah ceiling is of matchlining.
A room (possibly former housekeeper's or maid's day room) at the east end of the hall, has a circa 1950s ceiling and French doors onto the verandah. Its unusual shape may be due to an angled chimney breast and associated room behind (original kitchen).
The central hall has an arch with acanthus trusses. The glass panel of the door at the east end has a blazing star (said to be a symbol of Divine Providence, bringing blessings and giving life and light; prudence). The star is centred upon a red cross suggestive of the Rose Croix often associated with Scottish Rite Masonry.
A remnant pressed metal ceiling mid-way along the hall, running north at right angles through the current open-plan kitchen and living area may indicate the original location of the stairs. Board and batten ceilings either side indicated the former location of two bedrooms. The north verandah accessed by four bi-fold doors of modern type has a decoratively patterned cast iron, bow-shaped balustrade, timber posts, fretwork and spindles.
The southwest bedroom with semicircular bay has a built in wardrobe, chimney breast, board and batten ceiling, and an en-suite within what was formerly the end of the hall. The master bedroom (southeast) has a pressed metal ceiling and fittings of art nouveau pattern. A timber fire surround - with bevel-edged mirrors in the mantle piece - and columns with arabesques appears to be an original feature. The interior of the former fire recess has blue, white and green floral-patterned tiles.
The timber staircase to two rooms and en-suite in the attic is a striking feature of the house. The attic ceiling appears to be original sarking. The low walls are matchlined or a similar. The north-facing rooms are each lit by two modern skylights.
A single-storey garage located close to the street frontage has timber weatherboard cladding and a gable roof of corrugated metal. The south gable incorporates a plain inset suggestive of a simplified arch within square-ended bargeboards. The interior was not inspected.
First timber house and outbuilding, removed in 1906
1906 - 1907
Two-storey house; perimeter iron fence, gated, concrete pillars, paths
External stair and door to first floor, east elevation
House converted to four flats (one ground floor; three first floor)
West verandah enclosed (first floor)
Conversion to dwelling and two flats; stairway built between ground and first floors; hall timber panelling (ground floor)
Conversion to two flats, parts of north verandah enclosed (ground floor)
Brick foundation walls, timber frame, timber weatherboard cladding, metal roof, brick chimneys
22nd March 2010
Report Written By
Cleave's Auckland Provincial Directory
Cleave's Auckland Provincial Directory, Auckland
James Stevens Curl, The Art and Architecture of Freemasonry, London, 1991
B and S Hayward, Cinemas of Auckland 1896-1979, Auckland, 1979
Martin Hill, Restoring with Style, Wellington, 1985.
Jeremy Salmond, Old New Zealand Houses 1800-1940, Auckland, 1986, Reed Methuen
G H Scholefield.(ed.), Who's who in New Zealand, A.H. & A.W. Reed, 5th ed. 1951
John Stacpoole and Peter Beaven, 'Architecture 1820-1970', Wellington, 1972
J Phillips & C Maclean, In Light of the Past, 1983
Wayne Brittenden, Celluloid Circus: The Heyday of the NZ Picture Theatre, Auckland, 2008
Jenny Carlyon and Diana Morrow, Urban Village: The Story of Ponsonby, Freemans Bay and St Mary's Bay, Auckland, 2008
A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Northern 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.