Pirongia Library (Former)

Franklin Street, Pirongia

  • Pirongia Library.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: L Williams. Date: 30/10/2011.
  • .
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: L Williams. Date: 30/10/2011.
  • Interior.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: G Henry. Date: 8/07/2011.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 745 Date Entered 28th June 2012


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Lot 2 DPS 86240 (CT SA68B/232) South Auckland Land District and the building known as Pirongia Library (Former), and its fittings and fixtures. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 for further information).

City/District Council

Waipa District


Waikato Region

Legal description

Lot 2 DPS 86240 (CT SA68B/232), South Auckland Land District

Location description

Pirongia Library (Former) is located beside number 762 Franklin Street and in front of number 702 Franklin Street


Built in 1878 on ‘the beach’ of the Waipa River at Alexandra, and relocated to Franklin Street in 1887, the Pirongia Library (Former) is the only known surviving example of a government funded and built ‘Native Grain Store’.

Wheat, root vegetables, and fruit were major crops for iwi in the fertile Waipa hinterland from the late 1840s through to the early 1860s. Maori played a crucial role providing much needed grain and produce to early European setters, including the militia and Armed Constabulary, and also plied the Waipa River transporting supplies to the coast. The New Zealand Wars led to widespread confiscation of Maori land in the 1860s, yet trade continued. In 1878, the Colonial Government funded and built the grain store at ‘the beach’ specifically for Maori use. Its use as a grain store tapered off in the 1880s as Maori sought work constructing the railway. Despite concern by some that local Maori would need the store in the future, in 1887 the building was relocated to the township, where it served as the local library for 105 years. However, during Native Land Court hearings in the late nineteenth century, Maori briefly reclaimed the building for use as temporary accommodation. The library was also used by the community as a social venue and meeting place. After relocation, sympathetic changes were made to the building’s interior including lining the coved ceiling with native timber and adding windows and a fireplace. A small, sympathetic extension was added to the rear in 1963. Since 1995, it has been a craft shop and gallery.

The building is a simple timber structure, rectangular in plan, with a gable roof that extends beyond the front elevation to form a recessed porch in the style of a traditional wharenui (meeting house). It features European detailing, such as the rounded terminations to the vertical boards of the overhanging gable.

The Pirongia Library (Former) is of special significance for its association with the rise and fall of Maori industrial entrepreneurship in arable farming and shipping operations, and the role played by Maori in the crucial supply of grain and other food to British settlers. It is also of significance for its role as accommodation for Maori attending Native Land Court hearings in the area. It is now the only known surviving example of a grain store funded and purpose built by the government for Maori in support of their agricultural endeavours, and reflects the Colonial Government’s continued reliance on Maori trade to supply produce for the European settlers. It is one of only three buildings that date from around the period of the town’s establishment as a military outpost, which along with the well preserved, post-war Alexandra Armed Constabulary Redoubt, provide a strong educative potential about this period of New Zealand history. The building has strong social values having been a community facility for 105 years serving Pirongia residents as a library, meeting place and temporary schoolroom.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Pirongia Library (Former) reflects a pragmatic acknowledgement by the Government of how crucial the continued supply of grain and produce by Maori was to the settlers of this and other nearby burgeoning towns.

The building is also of significance for its use as accommodation by Maori coming into town to attend sittings of the Native Land Court on at least one occasion. This use makes an unproven earlier use (prior to relocation) as a shelter for Maori travelling to markets with produce likely, as that use suggests this function was well established.

The building has importance as one of three surviving buildings in Pirongia that date from the 1870s; the others include a now relocated school building Pirongia Playcentre (Former School Building), Register No.4937, and a former Bank of New Zealand branch. These buildings, plus the well preserved Alexandra Armed Constabulary Redoubt represent the early decades of the town’s establishment as a colonial military settlement, a reminder of the area’s role in the confiscations of land from local iwi and the imposition of European institutions and governance. Collectively the buildings and redoubt evoke a strong sense of place to the village’s early beginnings as a colonial military settlement.

Archaeological Significance or Value:

The Pirongia Library has archaeological value. The 1878 structure was constructed with hand forged nails and relatively crudely dressed timbers and retains the vast majority of its original fabric. The early enhancements to the building upon its relocation just nine years later in 1887 are of high quality and significant as an example of early adaption of a building where a high level of care was taken to ensure that the building as a whole retained the original integrity of design and fabric. This building can be investigated through archaeological practices (buildings archaeology) to provide information not only relating to the physical construction process of the building, but also social and economic information about the people who used it.

Architectural Significance or Value:

The building has architectural importance as the only known example of its type, having been erected by the colonial government, specifically for use by Maori as a ‘Native Grain Store’. Just one other example (now demolished) has been identified. The building reflects both Maori and European design elements. The wharenui style appearance of the front elevation, with the roof gable extending to create a recessed porch, may have been intentional to appeal to its designated Maori users, but is somewhat eclectic, having also a European decorative feature in the form of a scalloped bottom edge, accentuated by a small hole at the top of each scallop on the front elevation. It is significant to colonial, architectural history that at the time of construction it was considered to be grander in design than the courthouse being built.

Social Significance or Value:

The Pirongia Library (Former) played, and continues to play, a strong role in the social life of a small rural community. It was in continuous use as a library founded and managed by the community for over 100 years from December 1887 until its closure in 1992, and it also served a valuable role as a recreational and educational facility. It was used as a meeting venue by local organisations and activities such as dance classes for local children were held there. The library was a focal point for the community from its establishment as an institution in 1866 until 1992.

Traditional Significance or Value:

The building has special traditional significance as the only known, surviving example of a purpose built ‘Native Grain Store’ constructed for Maori by the Colonial Government. As such, the building has a strong association with the events leading to the rise and fall of Maori entrepreneurship, not only in their leading role with coastal and riverine transportation, but also for the crucial role they played in flour milling and arable farming. The grain store was required by Maori farmers bringing grain to the river transportation site on the Waipa River at Pirongia. Remarkable, given that the Maori farming economy was in decline from the late 1850s hastened by confiscation of their most productive land during the Waikato phase of the New Zealand Wars, along with the establishment of the Native Land Court in 1865. These events wrought dramatic economic and social change to Maori who, despite these major setbacks, were still producing a range of crops and particularly grain; thereby playing a crucial role in sustaining burgeoning European towns in the 1870s to 1880s and in sufficient quantity to require the ‘Native Grain Store’.

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

The Pirongia Library (Former) represents the European colonisation and settlement of the Waikato region in the period following the Waikato phase of the New Zealand Wars, being one of only three buildings dating to the Armed Constabulary occupation of Pirongia. Its construction by the Government for Maori as a ‘Native Grain Store’ is indicative of the changing interracial relationship in the late 1870s.

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

The recognition of Maori tribal enterprise in early colonial New Zealand and its’ albeit pragmatic support by the Colonial Government, is an idea of central importance to the history of New Zealand. It is a story that is well exampled by such cultivation in the Waipa hinterland by Maori. Maori rapidly assimilated new skills and ways of cultivation and adapted to the growing of grain and other produce in demand by the Europeans, demonstrating a high level of industrial entrepreneurship. Despite the loss of their most productive land by confiscation Maori continued to play a crucial role in agriculture, flour milling and coastal shipping in this area of the Waikato, a story to which the Pirongia Library (Former) in its original role as ‘Native Grain Store’ is closely allied. Ultimately it became a story of the rise and fall of such entrepreneurship, its gradual demise a direct result of Government land confiscation and settlement.

(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history:

The building is a rare example of a European building constructed specifically for Maori use as a grain store, but for a use that was of direct benefit to the provision of supplies to European settlers. The design, possibly by government architects in the Public Works department, reflects that of a traditional Maori wharenui intended to appeal to its anticipated Maori users; it is a rare example of such European buildings incorporating a specific traditional wharenui design style with the extended gable to create a recessed front porch. In eclectic contrast the front, overhanging gable is edged with a scalloped and pierced ‘frill’ in a typical European decorative detail often edging barge boards of wooden buildings of the period. It provides physical evidence of European building and design practice and the types of materials used for construction, with much original fabric intact the structure has potential to add to knowledge about colonial government building techniques in the 1870s to 1880s.

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

Pirongia Library (Former) is remembered with affection by long term residents as being a key place in community activities as a library, meeting place and venue for social events and as a schoolroom during the Second World War. The building was established as a public amenity by the efforts of the local community.

(f) The potential of the place for public education:

There is strong educative potential for this building to provide context and interest through its place based stories. It is of value to students of New Zealand history at various levels, particularly around the rise and fall of Maori business enterprise in early colonial New Zealand, the impacts of land confiscation and the growth of rural settlements arising from military outposts established during the New Zealand Wars. The rezoning of land to become a government reserve was prompted by the high importance placed by European settlers in regard to establishing a library facility in the township, and is an early example of town planning. The story of European colonisation of the Waipa region and the appropriation of formerly Maori lands is reflected in the appropriation of Pirongia Library (Former) from its Maori ownership.

(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places:

The Pirongia Library (Former) was built for Maori as a ‘Native Grain Store’ and accommodation place when travelling to markets. It is an extremely rare type of historic place; only one other ‘Native Grain Store’ has been identified as having been built, this was at Onehunga and it no longer exists.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex:

The Pirongia Library (Former) is in a setting that adds to its cultural heritage value, being in an area that includes another historic building, the Pirongia Playcentre (Former School Building), Register No.4937, and is close to identified archaeological sites of the militia and Armed Constabulary period which identified Pirongia as a colonial settlement.

Summary of Significance or Values:

This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: (a, b, c, e, f, j, k.)


It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category 1 historic place.

This 1878 building is of special significance for its architectural, historical, social and traditional values. It is the only known, surviving example of its building type, funded and erected by the Colonial Government specifically for use by Maori as a ‘Native Grain Store’. The structure’s original fabric remains largely intact and holds significant information about such purpose built structures of the period, in this case reflecting both Maori and European design elements with its recessed porch formed from the extended roof gable in the style of a traditional wharenui. The building has a direct association with the rise and fall of Maori tribal enterprise in colonial New Zealand particularly in continuing successful arable farming despite confiscation of their most fertile land. It is also significant for its role as accommodation for Maori attending Native Land Court hearings in the area. It is now one of only three buildings that date from around the period of the town’s establishment as a military outpost, which along with the well preserved, post-war Alexandra Armed Constabulary Redoubt, provide a strong educative potential about this period of New Zealand history.


Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Maori Settlement in the Waipa Area:

The Waipa area was originally inhabited by various Tainui tribes who first entered the Waikato about 1400 bringing with them kumara plants. They occupied the Waipa plains and cultivated kumara alongside the river deltas and migrated along the river using its rich resources as a food source. There were well established trails to the Kawhia coast with the river providing canoe routes into the lower Waikato and King Country. Matakitaki, a large pa on the outskirts of Alexandra (Pirongia from circa 1900) was said to be the home of over five thousand people.

In 1822, two thousand Ngapuhi armed with muskets obtained by Hongi Hika, invaded Matakitaki pa, whose people had no firearms and despite their numbers were defeated. They continued to live in fear of Hongi’s Viking-like raids until his death in 1828. The Waikato moved further south and their war chiefs Te Wherowhero and Te Kanawa armed their own warriors by trading their much sought after flax for firearms with the early European traders.

Early European Influences:

Local Maori became heavily involved in the gathering, preparing and transporting of flax. A number of European traders and agents were welcomed to the area, many of whom married Maori women and contributed to the development of agriculture in the region. From the late 1840s, with the flax trade declining, wheat, root vegetables and fruit became the major crops and the main focus for iwi tribal enterprises in the Waipa hinterland through to the 1860s and 1870s. The significant growth that occurred in the 1850s and into the early 1860s was largely influenced by Anglican Missionary, the Reverend John Morgan, stationed at Otawhao Mission. It was rich fertile land where agriculture flourished with villages and cultivations described as being continuous for some 50 miles. Lady Mary Ann Martin reported on a visit around the area that one wheat field extended for miles and in one place in that area there were 1,000 acres in wheat. Auckland was the major market for produce grown in the region. Produce was transported by canoe to the coast at Kawhia and then to Auckland by ship. The primary produce was wheat; however, thanks to the efforts of Reverend Morgan, who imported fruit trees to the Rangiaowhia area and taught Maori the art of budding and grafting the trees, there were also orchards of peaches, pears, plums and quince. Despite some land sales to European, the various tribes still had legal title to the greater proportion of the land of the province and the situation prior to land confiscations was once described as ‘the provision trade is firmly in the hands of the maoris’

Led by Tainui, the Waikato saw the establishment of Kingitanga ‘the King movement’ during the late 1850s and early 1860s. Kingitanga was an expression of Maori unity amidst growing concern about selling land to the government. Not all tribes participated, with some taking the side of the Crown. Creating a Maori monarch was thought to be a way of putting Maori on an equal par with European, allowing Maori to establish authority over their lands. Europeans saw this as a direct challenge to the authority of the Crown and both sides prepared for war.

The Waikato Phase of the New Zealand Wars:

The produce trade was already in decline when the Waikato Phase of the New Zealand Wars began, this was in part due to a decline in the markets, but also reflected mounting Maori nationalism, their preoccupation with political matters and a possible rejection of European agriculture.

George Grey entered his second term as governor in late 1861 and whilst speaking openly about peace Grey began preparing for war in the Waikato. A reliable transport route was central to such a campaign and so the building of an all weather military road between Auckland and the Waikato River began in January 1862. Redoubts were built at critical points along the route and as further troops were mobilised to form a local militia, Grey spoke at Taupiri in January 1863 and announced his intention to ‘dig around’ the Kingitanga until it fell. The Waikato invasion began before the message had reached the Kingites, and before the written response to Grey from leading chief, Wiremu Tamihana, pointing out that Maori had the same right as the nations of Europe to choose a sovereign among their own people, was interpreted as rejection of British sovereignty.

British and Colonial forces crossed the Mangatawhiti Stream on 12 July 1863, an ukati or boundary line established by King Tawhiao between land to the south controlled by the king, and government controlled land to the south. He warned that war would ensue if British troops crossed that boundary. The troops pushed south into the region and a series of battles with the Kingite forces ensued at Koheroa, Rangiriri and Rangiaowhia. The final battle was at Okakau, a redoubt shaped pa just outside Kihikihi; it was a three day battle ending on 2 April 1864 and renowned as ‘Rewi’s last stand’. It was after that battle the Waikato people exiled to what became known as the King Country.

The Waipa delta was lost to Maori as a result of the Waikato Phase of the war that included land confiscations by the Crown. The Waipa was cleared of its Maori inhabitants and under the 1863 New Zealand Settlements Act 500,000 ha of the most fertile land was confiscated from Tainui (one fifth of the region). The Government fixed the ‘confiscation line’ known to Maori as ‘Aukati’ using the Puniu River as a boundary. The other side of the line was known as ‘King country’, and virtually all of the rich Waikato heartland north of the river, some 1.2 million acres was taken. Of this, 225,000 acres became designated native reserves and 50,000 acres were returned to tribes. Another 150,000 acres was subdivided into military settlements and allocated to soldiers who had fought for the Crown.

The Establishment of Pirongia:

The militia settlement of Pirongia, or Alexandra as it was known until around 1900, was established in 1864 on confiscated land by the Colonial Government. It was one of several frontier villages established in the Waikato area after the Waikato phase of the New Zealand Wars in areas variously defended by militia and the armed constabulary; each had defensive redoubts built. Colonel Haultain, Commander of the 2nd Waikato Regiment, brought his men to a place overlooking the Waipa River in July 1864. The location had been chosen by the British Army’s Lt General Cameron as a military base and he envisaged it becoming the main settlement of the region.

Alexandra was strategically located on the eastern bank of the Waipa River just to the north of the Aukati with a redoubt on each side of the Waipa River. It was also the point to which river steamers supplying the township could safely travel. Areas on both sides of the river were surveyed into one acre allotments, to be allocated to men of the Second Regiment of the Waikato Militia. Alexandra East redoubt was surrounded by a large government reserve, where services and commercial development were concentrated. The Waipa River was the main access route for both freight and people, with two landing places located beside the government reserve; one to the north and another to the west.

The town was garrisoned by the Armed Constabulary in 1869. The Alexandra Redoubt was erected in 1872 more than four years after the end of hostilities, in response to a settlers’ petition to government in late 1868 after the militia was disbanded. The petition expressed, ‘lingering insecurity...caused by the existence of armed Maori factions in the King Country’. The redoubt was built by a division of the Armed Constabulary that was based in Alexandra from March 1868. It was strategically positioned on high ground on the outskirts of the township, replacing the other two redoubts. A school was erected in Alexandra in the early 1870s to serve the needs of the militia and settlers.

The ‘Native Grain Store’:

Despite the loss of their most productive land Maori continued to play a strong role on in agriculture, flour milling and coastal shipping in this area of the Waikato. By 1878 relations between local Maori and the government had improved, with Maori who lived outside the confiscated lands coming in to Alexandra to sell produce and purchase goods. Maori continued to yield good quantities of produce, such that the need for the ‘Native Grain Store’ was mooted.

The Colonial Government’s decision to fund the building of the grain store reflects its continued reliance on Maori trade to supply settlers with produce. In 1878 the Public Works Office, Auckland called for tenders for the construction of a ‘Native Store’ to be built at Alexandra, with tenders to close on 16 August 1878. The ability and preparedness of Maori to continue to produce grain and other agricultural produce for Pakeha settlers saw them play a crucial role in meeting the demand of such newly created settler towns.

The actual date of construction has not been established, but the store was built by late May 1879, as its appearance was considered by one resident to be finer than the courthouse that was then under construction. It is the only surviving Government funded building of its purpose that has been identified to date. One other such grain store identified was built by the government in the 1850s or 1860s beside the Maori hostelry on the shore at Onehunga and has since been demolished.

At that time most freight was still being moved via waterways, hence the store being built ‘on the beach’ of the Waipa River. Quite large vessels used to steam to the rapids between Te Rore and Pirongia. Although Maori operators preferred the more stable European schooners and cutters for plying coastal trade, waka, as the only vessels that could navigate many of New Zealand’s rivers, continued to carry both freight and passengers until late in the 19th century. Its exact location on the banks of the Waipa River is not known. Descriptions stating that it was ‘at the beach’ in Pirongia probably refer to the landing places beside the site of the first bridge, accessed from the end of Crozier Street. It is unlikely that the store was built right beside the river as flooding in 1875 had prompted the shifting of existing buildings to higher ground. The form of the building is believed to be much as it remains today, a simple one room wooden building, with the gable extending to create a recessed porch protecting a door and with a fixed front window protected with iron bars; it probably had one fixed louvre window with wooden slats high in the rear wall. The style of the front elevation of the building is similar to that of a traditional Maori wharenui.

One account states that the store was built for and given to Maori by the Native Minister John Sheehan ‘for their accommodation’. Later oral accounts state that it was used for overnight accommodation, i.e. to stay in, by Maori groups travelling down the Waipa with produce, but these accounts have not been verified.

The growth of the town slowed when the route for the North Island Main Trunk Railway was diverted to the east; this was the Auckland to Te Awamutu section of the line and provided employment opportunities for both Maori and Pakeha of the area and appears to have had a direct effect on Maori production of crops. The subsequent decline in production, along with alternative transport options opening up with the improved all weather road to Auckland, and the rail link, were factors that contributed to making the storehouse redundant and led to the relocation of the building and its new use as a library.

The ‘Native Grain Store’ Transition to Pirongia Library:

The Pirongia Library (under different names) was founded by members of the local community. As early as January 1866 Alexandra residents expressed regret that there was no library or reading room and a literary and debating society was formed soon after. By May 1866 it was reported that ‘the library’ was ‘doing well’ and had 75 members. In 1871 the Mechanics Institute was granted funds by the Government for the establishment of a library and the Auckland Provincial Government provided a large quantity of books. The Alexandra Township Highway Board minutes recorded that the School and Library Committee had applied for the use of a wooden house on the hospital reserve prior to September 1871. This did not eventuate and for several years the book collection was in the care of various townspeople including William Sloane, William Kinnearney and Jean (John) Aubin. By 1876 the library was known as the Alexandra Literary Society and Chess Club when a subscription list was written.

Enthusiasm for a library continued, with the library committee beginning fundraising for a library building, and in 1884 the Alexandra Dramatic Society gave a donation towards the library. The committee approached government agencies for the use of particular buildings and for land to be set aside as a reserve for library use. The Library Committee felt a library building would ‘supply a long felt need...and with a good supply of magazines and papers, and a few sets of chess...should form an agreeable place of resort both for civilians and for the men of the Armed Constabulary’. At a meeting of the Library Committee held on 6 August 1886 members decided to write to the Defence Minister regarding the ‘grain store’ at the beach; they wrote again, this time to the Minister of Lands, in November 1886.

Their efforts were successful as on 26 November 1886 the committee agreed to place an advertisement for the removal ‘wholly or in part, of the Native Store, lately granted by the Government for a Public Library, to a site adjacent to or as near to the Post Office boundary as can be obtained’. The land the building is on was initially surveyed as government reserve, and then resurveyed to leave a quarter of the reserve as the site for the post office and public hall. On 2 December 1886 the Alexandra Town Board gave some timber, retrieved from the bridge when it underwent repairs, to the Library Committee presumably for use in shifting or refurbishing the building. Funding for the library came from several sources, including the funds of the Pirongia Mineral Association when that body wound up its operations late in 1886.

Some Pirongia residents were concerned that when the local Maori had ceased working on railway contracts they would again turn to food production and would need the store for their own use.

As from 20 January 1886 the other three quarters of the reserve was vested in the Alexandra Town Board and the library was shifted to the corner of this parcel, facing Franklin Street. The only tender for the removal of the library was that of Aubin Ahier, for ₤20, and accepted by the committee at its meeting on 7 January 1887. By the next meeting on 9 February the store had been shifted, and at the subsequent meeting it was resolved to fix up the library. The government and the Education Department each provided a subsidy and fundraising supplied the balance; Ahier sold the blocks on which the store had stood. In June 1887 it was reported that the library‘s income had been ₤18 19s 2d plus ₤10 10s 1d in subsidy. Prior to the July 1887 meeting it was reported that no further work in doing up the library had been undertaken ‘in consideration of the natives having been given permission to occupy the Institute during the Native Lands Court’.

One of the main supporters of the library was Jean (John) Aubin (d. 1889), a settler from Jersey who established a general store in Pirongia in 1864. He was involved in several institutions in the town, including the Alexandra Town Board in 1884 and the road board and school committee; he was popular with the Maori community at Tawhiao Te Wherowhero’s settlement of Whatiwhatihoe just to the south of Pirongia, and a prominent member of the Alexandra Lodge. Aubin was chairman and treasurer of the Library Committee in 1888. Another man prominent on the Library Committee was John H. Garmonsway; he had a bakery and confectionery business and for a time was on the Alexandra Town Board. Members of the Armed Constabulary were involved with the library, with Captains Gascoigne and Capel and Sergeant Hallett sitting on the committee at times during the 1880s.

In August 1887 ₤14 was allocated to improve the building, including the addition of three windows. By December 1887 the library was ready to be opened ‘at once’. The library was to be open on Wednesdays and Saturdays and the librarian’s salary was to be the whole of the subscriptions received for the year.

In 1888 the Town Commissioners asked to be allowed to have their meetings in the library as the hall was inconvenient; this was agreed to by the committee. When in 1891 Miss Allan, a local resident, asked to use the library as a supper room, the committee agreed that social events could be held in the library and in 1897 purchased cups and saucers for the socials. Fundraising continued, with musical entertainment evenings being held, including a ‘concert, farce and dance’ and a minstrel show.

In 1888 the first of several women was appointed as librarian and from 1896 women participated on the committee. On 31 July 1897 the Library Committee accepted local resident Mr Appleyard’s offer of 300 bricks for a chimney and two months later members discussed lining the library walls; it is assumed these improvements were carried out at this time.

At some stage an outhouse (earth closet) was built a few metres from the rear of the building, but it is unclear whether this was for the use of library patrons or the creamery staff; the creamery stood close by to the north of the library from the early 1900s.

In September 1911 the Waipa Post reported that the space beneath the library verandah was being used to store manure, greatly inconveniencing library users. Social events focussed on the library were still being held, with a concert and dancing, presumably held as a fundraising event in 1912.

During the Second World War school classes were held in the library when alterations were being done to the school. The building served as the meeting place for the Country Women’s Institute for many years until the 1990s and for the Waipa Wheelers Cycle Club from at least 1955. It was probably also around that time that Haupai Puke recalls that she and other local children, 'used to have dance lessons, tap, ballet & character there and give concerts in the Memorial Hall. Thelma Crozier was our teacher and she used to come out from Te Awamutu'.

In 1963 the building was extended to the rear. These sympathetic renovations involved no stylistic change and were financed by local organisations, the Waipa County Council and Golden Kiwi lottery funds. During the centenary celebrations in November 1964 museum displays were put up in the library.

In 1970 the building still operated as a library, open one day per week; this was replaced by a mobile bus library service from the Te Awamutu Library, and this in turn was replaced by local people fetching or returning books by car. The library closed finally in September 1992, though continued to be used by the local branch of the Country Women’s Institute for their monthly meetings, and for the cycle club who used it as a starting place for races and refreshments. From 1995 Kathy Boggis leased the building as the Pirongia Art and Craft Shop and Gallery. In May 2010 the lease was taken over by a group of mainly Kawhia based artists and craftspeople to run the business as Birdsong Gallery, exhibiting and selling their work.

Physical Description

Construction Professionals:

Original architect possibly Public Works Department; builder not known.

The tender for the relocation of the library was won by Aubin Ahier (circa 1854-1911), a carpenter and brick maker who had been employed in 1886 by Tawhiao to build the coffin and mausoleum for Te Rata Tu Tawhiao. Ahier was considered to be closely identified with the progress of the district with an active interest in municipal matters, and served on the library committee for many years. He was the nephew of Jean Aubin and also came from Jersey.

Physical Description and Analysis:

The building is situated close to the footpath on the west side of the main road through Pirongia, with a few other shops and cafes to the south and east. Behind the building is a relocated former school building, Pirongia Playcentre (Former School Building), Register No.4937, (1873), now used as a crèche, and close by to the south is the former St Saviour’s Church (1900, relocated 2003). The memorial hall (1922) is on the east side of the road to the south. A public footpath beside the church leads to the site of the Alexandra East Redoubt (1864) to the west of the library. Other late nineteenth century-early twentieth century sites and buildings including a former Bank of New Zealand branch (1875) are in the vicinity.

The Pirongia Library (Former) is a simple, rectangular plan, timber framed weatherboard building with corrugated iron gabled roof. The gable end faces east to the road and covers a recessed porch that extends across the front of the building and is 1.53 metres deep. The roof ridge is aligned east to west and is 4.4 metres high. The building measures 5.8 metres (north to south) by 12.3 metres (east to west). In the front elevation are the entrance door and a fixed sash six light window with moulded architraves and a plain sill. In the sill and the upper sash are holes, now filled in, which would have accommodated iron bars; they are 2.5 centimetres in diameter and spaced 15 centimetres apart. The door is wooden tongue and groove boards with three horizontal boards on the interior side. The hardware is modern. The ceiling of the porch consists of narrow tongue and groove boards running across the building. The exterior wall of the porch in the gable end is composed of vertical tongue and groove boards accentuated with a European styled decorative detail in the form of rounded terminations to the vertical boards, creating a scalloped bottom edge, accentuated by a small hole centred at the top of each scallop. The floor of the verandah is composed of 9 centimetre wide boards running from front to back.

In 1963 the building was extended to the rear by 1.9 metres; described as ‘repairs and renovations’ in the centennial booklet; these may have included lining the ceiling of the main room with hardboard sheeting, and repiling. The extension is a set of service rooms with associated plumbing: a kitchen bench, a toilet room and a small storage area. When the new rear (west) wall was built the single high window was replaced with two small windows. The additions were sympathetic with no external stylistic change.

The weatherboards have a plain profile and are 20 centimetres wide (16.5-18.0 centimetres exposed face). The 1963 addition is marked by flashed joins in the weatherboards and there are several other instances of flashings covering joins between two weatherboards. Some joins do not have flashings and possibly represent later replacements.

On the north side of the building are two double hung sash windows, two lights per sash and with moulded architraves but plain sill; they are positioned either side of a brick chimney which is centrally placed in the elevation, excluding the rear extension. At the rear are two small louvre windows, each with three panes. On the south elevation is a single double hung sash window with two lights in the upper sash and a single light in the lower. The chimney bricks were examined for markings, but have none.

The footings of the side and rear walls are widely spaced narrow boards to allow ventilation. The piles are concrete, although a complete under floor inspection was not undertaken. The kauri ‘sleepers’ reputed to be underneath the building were not seen.

In 1995 the building underwent minor repairs. Internal and relatively recent cupboards and shelves were removed and the building’s interior and exterior were repainted. A door was cut in the original rear wall through to the storeroom and during this work or the reroofing which also took place, some hand-made nails were retrieved which are now in the care of the Pirongia Heritage and Information Centre. A heat pump was installed on the north elevation. The building was possibly re-piled at this stage; however no information is available to confirm this.

The interior consists of one large room (the original library/grain store); 9.17 metres long by 5.44 metres wide, with an additional room at the rear (west) consisting of a kitchen space and storage area either side of a toilet room.

On the north wall is a fireplace with late nineteenth century wooden surround with moulded bases, a wooden mantle and a concrete hearth.

The walls and coved part of the ceiling are tongue and groove with V horizontal boards 14 centimetres wide. The horizontal part of the ceiling is composed of large panels, probably hardboard, with flat beading. The panels are apparently covering an original ceiling; a 1958 measured drawing shows 12x1 inch (30.48 centimetre by 2.54 centimetre) boards on top of tongue and groove lining.

The tongue and groove floor boards in the main room are probably rimu, 14 centimetres wide.

The rear space is 1.73 metres (east west) by 5.44 metres. Access is through a 84.5 centimetre wide door in the southern end of the rear wall of the main room; a second slightly narrower door (79.5 centimetre) at the northern end has been sealed off. Both are hollow core plywood doors. The rear area has hardboard sheet lining on the walls and ceiling with quarter round and flat beading, narrow plain architraves and skirting boards and narrow concave cornices. The floor boards are 79.5 centimetre wide tongue and groove.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1878 -
Constructed as ‘Native Grain Store’

Relocated to current site

1887 -
Three additional windows installed, walls lined

1897 -
External red brick chimney and hearth added

1963 -
Addition to rear with plumbing, toilet installed

1995 - 2010
Reroofed; repiled northern doorway created in west wall

Construction Details

Wood, brick chimney, concrete piles, corrugated iron roof

Completion Date

23rd March 2012

Report Written By

G. Henry; T. Ngata; L. Williams; L. Pattison; B. Jamieson

Information Sources

Auckland Star

Auckland Star

26 Aug 1878

Daily Southern Cross

Daily Southern Cross

9 Jan 1866; 22 Mar 1866; 3 May 1866



6 Mar 1897

Waikato Times

20 Aug 1878; 24 Aug 1878; 26 Aug 1878; 3 Jun 1879; 8 Nov 1883; 8 May 1884; 20 Sep 1884; 30 Dec 1884; 1 Jun 1886; 18 Nov 1886; 25 Nov 1886; 2 Dec 1886; 4 Dec 1886; Advertisement 9 Apr 1887;, 18 Nov 1886; 25 Nov 1886; 4 Jun 1887; 16 Jun 1887; ‘Alexandra’16 Jun 1888; 16 Feb 1889; 19 Feb 1889

Journal of the Polynesian Society

Journal of the Polynesian Society

Hargreaves, R. P., “The Maori Agriculture of the Auckland Province in the Mid-Nineteenth Century”, Journal of the Polynesian Society, 1959, Vol 68, p.61

Te Awamutu Courier

Te Awamutu Courier

4 Nov 1964

Cowan, 1955

The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume 1: 1845-1864. R.E Owen. Wellington.

Barber, 1978

L. H. Barber, The View From Pirongia: The History of Waipa County, Richards Publishing, 1978

Pirongia Centennial Committee

Pirongia Centennial Committee

Pirongia Centennial Committee District Centenary 14 November 1964; Alexandra 1864 – Pirongia 1964, Pirongia Centennial Committee, 1964

Other Information

A fully referenced report is available from the Northern Region office of 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.