Mudbrick Cottage

Longbeach Road, Rd3, Ashburton

  • Mudbrick Cottage, Ashburton.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7517 Date Entered 13th June 2003

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City/District Council

Ashburton District

Region

Canterbury Region

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 71710 (CT CB41C/706), Canterbury Land District

Location description

Longbeach Road runs off State Highway One towards the coast south of Tinwald and 3.4 kilometres from the Ashburton boundary. The

cottage is on the first property on the right, half a kilometre from the main road turn off. Set slightly back from Longbeach Road is the present timber dwelling (c.1920s) with the earth building nearby. Some stables dating from c.1915 are adjacent. The original small cottage is partially screened from the road by trees.

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This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Historic Place Registration Proposal report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

This small dwelling on Longbeach Road is sited on land that was originally part of Run 38, 'Lagmhor' for which John, Allan, and Robertson McLean took up a pastoral license in 1854. It seems most probably that the cottage was built to house one of Lagmhor's boundary riders or shepherds.

The section of Lagmhor on the coastal side of the main road and railway was subdivided in 1874 and the cottage's site then became a 41-acre block. Subsequent owners built more substantial dwellings to live in and used the small building as a washhouse and dairy. Most recently, it has been used for storage.

The Mudbrick Cottage is of unusual construction in that it is built from sunbrick blocks laid on a solid cement-based concrete foundation. It has a timber framed corrugated iron roof and three small four-paned windows. There are a few instances of concrete floors being used for early earth buildings nearby in the Ashburton District and this is the best surviving example. Nowhere else in New Zealand are nineteenth century earth buildings with concrete floors known.

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Historical Significance or Value

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Historic Place Registration Proposal report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Historical Significance:

Buildings constructed for this purpose - to accommodate a boundary rider/shepherd in a remote location to mind stock on unfenced land - are relatively rare and this is an especially well preserved example.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Historic Place Registration Proposal report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Architectural/Technological Significance:

The use of concrete to provide the floor of an earth building is unique. It is an usual choice of material for a building of this scale, construction and use and it is an early date for the use of cement. The cottage's construction from sundried blocks was also unusual and there are no other complete surviving examples known for a building of similar scale and function. The quality of the materials and construction used have contributed to the building's good condition.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Historic Place Registration Proposal report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

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

The cottage illustrates the early settlement of Canterbury and the first phase of building as pastoral licenses were taken up in the Ashburton District. The purpose of the cottage, to house a worker employed to keep the stock under control before they were fenced in, was a key aspect of the methods used by pioneering land holders.

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

Nineteenth century earth buildings were relatively common in the Ashburton District. However, the Mudbrick Cottage is the best preserved example in the area. Moreover, the method of construction used here is believed to be unique within New Zealand. There are two aspects to its uniqueness. The first is the use of the large sundried blocks. This was not common and was more often used for larger, more substantial and important early buildings than for a small dwelling of this scale. The best surviving examples are the Mt Thomas homestead (Cat.I) near Rangiora and Cracroft House (Cat II) in Christchurch, both built as "gentlemen's" residences.

The second unusual feature is the concrete floor. Geoffrey Thornton's history of the use of concrete in New Zealand suggests that it is more probably built in the 1860s than the 1850s though the earlier date is not impossible. The more typical cob cottage had a simple earth floor, but in the Ashburton district there are several instances where concrete floors have been laid. At Westerfield, the run which adjoined Lagmhor on its inland boundary, there is an old cob bakehouse near the homestead and a short distance away a workers' cottage. Neither is of sun-dried block construction nor as well preserved as the Longbeach Road building. Some concrete pads which were once the foundations for small buildings have also been located.

It is thought that the ready availability of good shingle for concrete making may have been an encouragement to its usage. At Longbeach Road where the water table was probably high, (given the amount of drainage undertaken by John Grigg at neighbouring Longbeach), a solid foundation of this type was probably thought desirable by its builder.

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

Although other boundary huts have been registered, such as Stony Creek and Mt Peel, there are none constructed from mudbrick or so easily accessible. The Mudbrick Cottage is of unusual construction in that it is constructed from sunbrick blocks on a solid cement-based concrete foundation. It has a timber framed corrugated iron roof and three small four-paned windows. There are a few instances of concrete floors being used for early earth buildings nearby in the Ashburton District and this is the best surviving example. Nowhere else in New Zealand are nineteenth century earth buildings with concrete floors known. One of the Trust properties, Hayes Engineering Works, does have earth buildings with concrete floors but these date from the 1930s. In Canterbury, the use of sundried earth blocks is not common and was more usually seen in larger homes. One other small mudbrick dwelling is known in North Canterbury but it is in poor condition.

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Historical Narrative

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Historic Place Registration Proposal report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

History of the Place:

Prior to Pakeha settlel11ent the plains just in from the coast that lie between the Ashburton and the Rangitata Rivers were predominantly swamp. This area was important to local Maori, Waitaha, Ngati Mamoe and finally Ngai Tahu as a mahinga kai or food gathering place, which people visited on a seasonable basis. A number of archaeological sites relating to Maori settlel11ent are found within a 12 kilometre radius of the Mudbrick Cottage (NZAA K37112, 1(37113, K.37114, K37115 and K37/18). While these sites are predominantly former ovens, some also contained stone artefacts, including basalt adzes and worked greywacke.

The land between the Ashburton and Rangitata Rivers was included in 'Kemp's Purchase', the 1848 sale of the Canterbury Block for £2,000 and subsequently divided into large pastoral runs. After formal colonisation of the Canterbury province began in 1851, Pakeha settlers established themselves on pastoral leases throughout the Canterbury Plains. These leases typically consisted of huge blocks of land, which were stocked with sheep and cattle, who were cared for by a few resident stockmen or shepherds. In 1854 brothers Allan, John and Robertson McLean took up Run 38, of 46,000 acres, which they later increased to 60,000 and named Lagmhor. (Lagmhor is Gaelic for large fields.) The McLean brothers emigrated from Scotland and purchased a number of large South Island runs, including Lagmhor, Waikakahi and Waitaki. When their partnership dissolved, Allan took over Waikakahi and John, Lagmhor and Waitaki.

The Lagmhor run extended from the Ashburton River to the Hinds River and was bounded by the Westerfield Run on the inland side and by Longbeach towards the coast. John lived on the property as manager, one of the first resident land owners in this part of Canterbury. The homestead was relatively central to the block with shepherds located about the run in small dwellings.

Lagmhor was renowned for the emphasis McLean placed on fencing his property effectively. High quality timber posts were used with seven strands of heavy wire placed four inches apart to create large enclosures. The fencing protected his flocks from loss and contamination by scab as well as giving him pre-emptive rights over his leased land prior to freeholding. However, boundary riders and shepherds were needed extensively from 1854 until the end of the l860s and accommodation was provided for them.

The towns of Ashburton and Tinwald were becoming established by the l870s, reflecting the overall development of the Canterbury province. In 1874 the main trunk railway reached Ashburton and work commenced on the line south towards the Rangitata River. The main route south and the railway line alongside it bisected the Lagmhor Run, and land on the coastal side of this division had not been freeholded by the McLean Brothers. In 1875 this area was surveyed and Rural Section 23333 consisting of 41 acres was sold as a Crown Grant on 20 December 1875 to "Thomas Atkinson, farmer of Ashburton".

The small earth block dwelling on RS 23333 currently has a timber dwelling dating from c.1920s alongside it. On the far side from the road is a block of timber stables (c.1915) and in front of the cottage are some concrete foundations indicating where an earlier house once stood. An old orchard has recently been removed from the land in front of the cottage.

The Certificate of Title (CT) which provides details of the first transaction regarding RS 23333 does not indicate whether or not the dwelling was here at this time. Atkinson sold the 41 acres to Robert Smithies, also described as "farmer of Ashburton" in October 1877 for £82 or £2 pounds an acre. Smithies retained the land until it was sold to Annie McLeod, wife of James McLeod, farmer of Ashburton, for £200 in October 1895. It is extremely unlikely that a dwelling of this size and construction would have been built in this location at the end of the nineteenth century, so research has been concentrated on the first three owners - the McLean's, Thomas Atkinson and Robert Smithies.

From the electoral rolls and Wise's Directories it was discovered that Atkinson farmed at Kowhai Bush near Springfield and is not recorded as ever being resident in the Ashburton District. As Kowhai Bush was his place of residence and a long way from RS 23333, it is assumed that he leased the land to a local farmer for the brief time he owned it and did not build the small dwelling.

The next owner retained the property for 18 years and there is clear evidence that he lived here. Robert Smithies (1847-1939) with his young wife Mary came from Yorkshire, arriving in Lyttelton on the "Nona" in 1871. Trained as a stonemason he could not initially find work, so he quickly learned general building skills, becoming a proficient house builder in brick and wood. After several years in Rangiora he moved to Ashburton and purchased RS 23333. Curiously he does not appear in Wise's Directories nor the electoral rolls in either Rangiora (Kaiapoi electorate) or Ashburton (Coleridge, the Ashburton electorate). In 1885 his 12 year old daughter, Ada, died and was buried in the Ashburton cemetery and his wife was buried there in 1914.

Robert died in 1939. His obituary tells us that he "took up land on the Willoughby Road (Longbeach Road.) ... In addition to fencing and planting his property he built his own house and farm buildings and this proved a good advertisement, for from that time on his services were in constant demand by settlers." This information, probably provided by one of Smithies' surviving daughters, indicates that the house he built which "proved a good advertisement" was NOT the small earth block cottage, but the one for which foundations remain immediately to the front of it. It would also suggest that the building served as the wash-house after the copper had been installed by Smithies using his bricklaying skills. Mrs. Smithies may have used the inner room as a dairy from that time, though recent owner Mr. White believed that such usage began in the early twentieth century. The small block of land would have allowed Smithies to be relatively self sufficient with his orchard, vegetable garden, pastures for a cow, some sheep, hens and a pig or two but without too many demands on his time so that he could carry out his building contracts. To assist him with home chores were his wife and a family of four, three daughters and a son, Fred, who was killed in action in 1917.

Because this earth block building is located near the southern boundary of the Lagmhor run fronting on to the route to Longbeach, where the land was chiefly swamp, it seems most probable that the cottage was built in the early years of pasturage. Remnants of other shepherds' or boundary keepers' dwellings remain on what was the Lagmhor estate, though none are of this same construction. The size and nature of the building indicate an early construction date and a similar use. The inclusion of a camp oven is an interesting feature as most early settlers' homes had open fires and later buildings had more sophisticated ovens.

After Annie McLeod's ownership of the property it was sold in 1907 to Thomas Clark, "farmer of Tinwald," for £1,000. The next owner/occupant was John Grice who paid £900 for the 41 acres in 1915 to carry out his horse training activities, for which the property was well suited. When he died in 1967 ownership transferred to his daughter Helen White who lived here with her husband Jim. It was transmitted to him in 1995 and a few years later the Ashburton Branch Committee of the HPT approached him about the cottage. He agreed to it being nominated for registration and that the committee could undertake maintenance work to ensure its survival. Members of the committee prepared a nomination proposal and Jim Espie was asked to inspect the building and prepare an outline of appropriate work. Mr White had subdivided RS 23333 into two lots in 1996, Lot 1 having the buildings on it. These lots were separately bequeathed on his death in 2001 and Lot 1 has recently been purchased by Stephen and Karen Clements. They now live in the 1920s house and are agreeable to the upkeep of the cottage by HPT volunteers under the guidance of Chairman Peter Ireland who will be promoting the concept of a Heritage Covenant.

Physical Description

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Historic Place Registration Proposal report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Builder:

Unknown.

It is assumed that the building technique used in this dwelling was known by a local farm worker from experience in the United Kingdom as there are other examples in the district of earth buildings on concrete floors.

Alterations have been very minor and made at unknown dates:

- The bricked section of the chimney which rises above the roof level has replaced what was originally an earth block structure.

- Bricks form the lintel over the window on the south-west side, and it is believed that these have been inserted to replace the original timber rotted by the weather.

- Two windows have had fly screens added and the third has been boarded over.

- A copper has been installed beside the camp oven.

Current physical condition:

The building is in surprisingly good condition, despite the loss of the external plaster and lime wash. On the north-western corner, which receives the full force of the extreme wind characteristic of the Canterbury Plains, the norwester, some of the blocks have been seriously eroded to the extent where they urgently need replacement. Framing for the roof at the north western end is decayed and must be replaced and other minor repairs to the window framing is required. A plan for repairs has been prepared by Jim Espie for the local Branch Committee to undertake this work.

Physical Description:

The cottage is aligned to face Longbeach Road. The single-storeyed, two roomed structure is covered by a pitched corrugated iron roof on a timber frame. The floor forming the foundation is of cement based concrete. The walls are of pre-formed, sundried, earth blocks, 460 by 230 by 180mm high (18 x 9 x 7 inches). The clay mix of the uniformly formed blocks includes some grass or straw and pebbles, some as large as 50mm. It is apparent that the earth used to make the blocks came from nearby on the property as the stony nature of the neighbouring land is clearly visible. Jim Espie (author of a repair report for the building) thinks that the cohesion of the blocks suggests they may contain some lime, but no tests have been done to confirm this. A similar mud mixture formed the mortar which is about 25mm (one inch) thick. Occasionally there are quite large flattish stones firmly fixed in the gaps between the blocks. Overall the dimensions of the dwelling are 5.5 metres by 2.93 metres (18 feet 9 inches by 9 feet 7 inches).

Some evidence of a lime wash from the recent past remains on the exterior walls and it is likely that a more substantial mud plaster was applied originally. Indications of the plaster are the fact that nails have driven randomly to the exterior walls to create a key for such a finish, and the blocks were laid to leave around 1.27cnl (1/2 inch) gap on the outside of the concrete floor pad.

There is a camp oven built in with mud blocks at the right hand end of the building (when viewed from the road) and beside the exterior door on the front is a single small four-paned window to light this room. The inner room has similar sized four-paned windows on both the front and rear walls and the coved ceiling is lined with tongue and grooved timber. Timber window frames and doors are of basic construction. At a later date (c.1877-1880) when the building was used as a wash-house, a copper was installed beside the camp oven.

Notable Features

Camp oven which is installed in the fireplace. Copper installed next to fireplace.

Construction Dates

Construction Details

Mud blocks, corrugated iron, timber, concrete

Completion Date

25th June 2003

Report Written By

Helen McCracken

Information Sources

Acland, 1975

L.G.D. Acland, The Early Canterbury Runs, 4th ed., Christchurch, 1975

Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives (AJHR)

Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives

History of Canterbury, Vol II (for history of land purchase for railway)

Allen, 1997

Miles Allen, Out of the Ground: Earthbuilding in New Zealand, The Dunmore Press, 1997.

Cant, 2001

Garth Cant & Russell Kirkpatrick, eds., Rural Canterbury: Celebrating its History, Wellington, 2001

Electoral Roll

New Zealand Electoral Roll

1875 to 1889

New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT)

New Zealand Historic Places Trust

Nomination Form

New Zealand Archaeological Association (NZAA)

New Zealand Archaeological Association

Scotter, 1977

Scotter, W.H, Ashburton, A History with Records of Town and Country, Ashburton Borough and County Councils, 1977

Thornton, 1996

Geoffrey Thornton, Cast in Concrete: Concrete Construction in New Zealand 1850-1939, Auckland, 1996

Ashburton Guardian

Ashburton Guardian

June 1885 and February 1939

Brown, 1940

J Brown, Ashburton. New Zealand - Its Pioneers and its History, 1853-1939. A H & A W Reed, Dunedin, 1940

Canterbury Public Library

Canterbury Public Library

Index of Baptism Registers and Monumental Inscriptions.

Bayliss, 1970

E R Bayliss. Tinwald, A Canterbury Plains Settlement, 1970.

Other Information

A copy of the original report is available from the NZHPT Southern 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.