Wright Street Houses Historic Area

56, 58, 60, 62, 64 Wright Street, Mt Cook, Wellington

  • Wright Street Houses.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust.
  • Wright Street Houses.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust.
  • Plan of Historic Area from registration report..
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Date: 23/09/2005.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Area Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7630 Date Entered 23rd September 2005

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Extent of List Entry

Registration includes the houses located at 56, 58, 60, 62, and 64 Wright Street, Mount Cook, Wellington, and the original fences and gates, and the land comprised in Lots 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 of Deposited Plan 4627, Wellington Registry.. The area includes 5 houses on Wright Street, Mount Cook, Wellington, namely 56 Wright Street (Lot 1, Deposited Plan 4627, Wellington Registry, WN316/53), 58 Wright Street (Lot 2, Deposited Plan 4627, Wellington Registry, WN391/105), 60 Wright Street (Lot 3, Deposited Plan 4627, Wellington Registry, WN276/36), 62 Wright Street (Lot 4, Deposited Plan 4627, Wellington Registry, WN310/105), 64 Wright Street (Lot 5, Deposited Plan 4627, Wellington Registry, WN56A/638).

City/District Council

Wellington City

Region

Wellington Region

Legal description

Lots 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 DP 4627 (CTs WN316/53, WN391/105, WN276/36, WN310/105, WN56A/638), Wellington Land District.

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Constructed by speculative builder Harry Crump in 1905, the Wright Street houses in Wellington reveal ideas about the historic development of the Mount Cook / Newtown area.

In the late nineteenth century, Wellington experienced a rapid population growth, and subsequent development pressures led to the transformation of outlying land areas from farm into suburb. The development and extension of the tramlines made these areas accessible to the working classes and the Cook Ward, which comprised part of Mount Cook, Mount Victoria and Newtown, accounted for over half of Wellington's population growth between 1878 and 1901. The growth was further fostered by the development of major industries, such as soap and candle factories and brickworks, which provided employment in the immediate area.

Around this time, an exclusively timber version of the Italianate style that had been popular in America became fashionable in New Zealand. Adopted by speculative builders to fill the demand for residential properties, the style was characterised by vertical lines, and used standardised, mass-produced timber elements. The speculative nature of their construction meant that the houses were usually constructed in groups and were built to the same plan and design. They were typically located on narrow sites, and were closely spaced and two storeyed, to make the most of limited space.

In 1903, speculative builder Harry Crump purchased two tracts of land in Wright Street, Mount Cook, from Wellington solicitor Frederick Wilson. The land had passed through a number of hands, and had, prior to Crump's purchase, been occupied by a two-storied residence with eight rooms and a verandah. The land was close to the tramline, industries of the south and city fringe, and the mercantile and government centres in the city. Two years later, in August 1905, Crump lodged a building application with the Wellington City Council to construct five two-storied houses at an estimated cost of £3000.

Designed in the popular Italianate style by Crump himself, the houses were built to a single plan. The houses featured a narrow street frontage and were closely spaced. The front elevation was comprised of a two storeyed bay, an arched entry to the north with bracketed balcony above, and Italianate detailing such as round headed windows, modillions under eaves, panelled pilasters, fluted architraves to bay windows and a decorative sill apron board. The plan indicates that the interior of the five houses was the same, with an entrance hallway on the right-hand side, a living room at the front, bedrooms on both floors and washing and kitchen areas at the back of the house. Constructed from standard timber framing and rusticated weatherboarding, with a corrugated steel roof, the five houses were completed in late 1905.

The use history of the houses is typical of developments in the surrounding area. For long periods, the houses were used, not as residences by their owners, but as investments, and they were leased out to tenants as rental properties. Crump retained ownership of all 5 houses as investment properties, and rented them out until 1913, when they were sold to Margaret Price, wife of Wellington builder Charles Price. Price rented the buildings to tenants until 1920, when she sold four of the five houses to the Crown. The remaining house, No. 60 Wright Street, was transferred into private ownership and was occupied by its various owners until 1991, when it returned to its use as rental accommodation. The Crown sold three of its four houses into private ownership, and each was occupied by its owners for a period. Two of the five houses are used as residences, and the remaining three are rented out to tenants by their owners. Though very similar in appearance, and a visually striking group as a result, each of the five houses possess certain features that are their own alone, representing the tastes and choices of their various owners over time.

The Wright Street Houses are a notable part of the Wellington townscape and have aesthetic value as a cluster of residences designed as a coherent whole. The similarity in design makes them an obvious and prominent grouping. The houses' distinctive colouring and Italianate design attract attention, while their position enhances their visual impact. The Houses are excellent examples of the timber version of the Italianate style that evolved in New Zealand during this period, and the group has retained much of its architectural integrity.

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Historical Significance or Value

Historical Value

Surviving evidence suggests that none of the houses, or their occupants, have had a notable or unusual history. Yet the houses on Wright Street can be seen to 'speak for' the other similar domestic structures, as their construction reveals, in microcosmic form, ideas about the historic development of the Newtown / Mount Cook area. Their representative, or typical nature in terms of their origins and history, are arguably of more general utility in this way than something less common.

The housing group reflects the population growth, and subsequent development pressures experienced in Wellington in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, which propelled the transition of outlying land from farm to suburb. The extension of the tramlines to these areas increased their amenity value, and the Cook Ward, which comprised part of Mount Cook, Mount Victoria and Newtown, accounted for over half of Wellington's population growth between 1878 and 1901. The growth was further fostered by the development of major industries, which provided employment. By 1905, when Crump built the five houses on Wright Street, Wright Street and the surrounding area had become well built-up. While it has not been possible to directly link the construction of these houses to the factors outlined above because, for example, Harry Crump has not left any surviving correspondence, their construction fits this wider, general context. Crump was a successful speculator, and had his eye on desirable sites for construction. Wright Street was close to the tramline, to both the industries of the south and city fringe, and the mercantile and government centres in the city.

The use history of the houses is typical of developments in the surrounding area. For long periods, the houses were used not as residences by their owners, but as investments, and they were leased out to tenants as rental properties. At some period, each of the five houses were converted into two tenant flats, although all but one has since been returned to a single dwelling. For most of their history, the tenants of the houses may be loosely described as lower middle-class, with occupations such as clerking, sales and manufacturing. When the houses were purchased as residences, which was common around the 1920s to 1950s, and from the late 1990s, the properties were often owned by women, though in some cases their husbands are also recorded as occupants and it is unclear where control lay.

Aesthetic Value

The Wright Street Houses are a notable part of the Wellington townscape. They have aesthetic value as a cluster of residences designed as a coherent whole. Speculatively built to a single design, the five, two-storeyed houses are almost identical in appearance, making them an obvious and striking grouping. The houses' distinctive colouring and Italianate design attract attention. The mass produced buildings are characterised, not by cheap materials or shoddy construction, but by elaborate adornments such as modillions under the eaves, panelled pilasters, and decorative sill apron boards. The houses also maintain an appearance of airy lightness, as their distinguishing feature is the double-storeyed bay window, which 'admirably filled those demands of light, convenience, space, and healthiness'. Constructed on the crest of Wright Street, the houses are approximately two metres above street level, and are closely spaced. This position enables them to be viewed as a whole, and enhances their visual impact.

Architectural Value

The Wright Street Houses represent a distinctive architectural style and trend in New Zealand residential design. At the turn of the twentieth century, an exclusively timber version of the Italianate style evolved in New Zealand around the same time speculative builders began producing large tracts of mass-produced housing to accommodate booming populations. The Italianate style, inspired by fifteenth and sixteenth century Italian palace architecture and influenced by the picturesque movement, is characterised by a straight, vertical look, tall narrow doors and windows, elaborate squeezed pediments, and Corinthian columns. It gained popularity as a choice for large English residential buildings from the early 1800's, and became fashionable in America and New Zealand from the 1850s. The Wright Street Houses exemplify the style through their narrow street frontage, tall windows and doors, and Italianate detailing, as seen in the panelled pilasters and fluted architraves. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the speculative builders favoured the style, as it allowed the most to be made of narrow sections. Groups of houses that were closely spaced or semi-detached, two storeyed, and designed with low to medium pitched hipped roofs, double storey bay windows, elaborately carved porches, and disproportionately high cornices were the result. The Wright Street group are a typical example of houses produced by speculative builders during this period. The building plan indicates that the interior of the group of five houses was the same, with an entrance hallway on the right-hand side, a living room at the front, bedrooms on both floors and washing and kitchen areas at the back of the house. Although the houses have been modified over time, the changes have done little to reduce the architectural integrity and visual impact of the grouping. Changes to the exterior have been minimal, while key changes to the interior have resulted from conversions of the houses from single residences into ground floor and upper floor flats. All but 64 Wright Street have since been returned to complete houses.

Social Value

The Wright Street houses are of social interest as they reflect the wider building practices of Harry Crump, a prominent builder, who left his imprint on city streets. Crump first appears in the records on an application to construct two dwellings in Tasman Street in Mount Cook in 1892. From this year up until 1908 he was consistently making applications for building permits, principally to erect new structures. His imprint ranged across the city and surrounding suburbs, and particularly concentrated on Kelburn, Thorndon, Te Aro, Mount Victoria, Mount Cook and Newtown. It appears likely that he was a builder-architect, as most of the applications do not list separate architects. A total of 156 surviving Wellington building permits are associated with Crump in various ways. Of these, 31 applications were for himself as building and owner, and 69 were made under the name 'Hawthorn and Crump', a partnership that designed and constructed buildings which were later on-sold.

Also of interest is the efforts made by the owners and occupants to personalise the buildings. While a considerable degree of uniformity with one's neighbour was accepted in the common man's house, there was the opportunity to make a house by individual choices from the wide range of mass produced wood work items available from timber merchant's yards. At first glance, the exteriors of the houses appear to be identical, however subtle original differences in roof forms, decoration and fencing create five different houses, each with certain features that are their own alone. For instance, the bay window roof form alternates between a hipped and flying gable, while the brackets supporting the first floor balcony, balcony balusters, sill apron board, and fence and gate detailing vary on each house.

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Historical Narrative

The five houses numbering 56-64 Wright Street, on the border of Newtown and Mount Cook in Wellington, are close siblings. Speculative builder Harry Crump built them as a singular project in 1905. Though very similar in appearance, and a visually striking group as a result, each possess certain features that are their own alone, representing the tastes and choices of their various owners over time. The surviving evidence suggests that none of the houses or their occupants have a notable or unusual history. The lives of 'ordinary people' are not necessarily recorded for historians to fossick around in at a later date. Ideas and propositions about their past must be constructed from the remnants of information that remain. In this way, the houses on Wright Street can be seen, in a general fashion, to 'speak for' the other similar domestic structures in the Newtown / Mount Cook area. Their construction reveals, in microcosmic form, ideas about the historic development of this area. Their representative or typical nature in terms of their origins and history are arguably of more general utility in this way than something less common.

The Development of Newtown and Mount Cook

The New Zealand Company laid much of the land comprising the modern suburbs of Newtown and Mount Cook out into Town Acre sections in 1840. Both were on the borders of the grid plan and backed onto the land designated for the town belt, which was 'reserved for the enjoyment of the Public and not to be built upon'. Of the two, Newtown has expanded the most beyond these original borders, forming as it does the southern most section of the plan. Wright Street, named after early landowner John Fortescue Evelyn Wright, is formed on this plan and includes Town Acre 703 that was to be built upon in 1905 by Harry Crump.

Mount Cook was closely associated with military activities and had housed various related activities, such as the Mount Cook barracks, an immigration depot and a jail for Maori prisoners from the early period of Wellington's development. A prison was constructed on the top of Mount Cook overlooking the Te Aro flat in 1879 and was a prominent landmark for some time until it was replaced by the Dominion Museum in 1934.

Unlike Mount Cook, Newtown was more physically removed from the city centre, and for some decades remained relatively undeveloped. A stream that flowed from Newtown Park at the south end of Newtown to Clyde Quay in the city intersected the land, and 'a morass of flax, raupo and tussock grass' surrounded this stream. For much of the nineteenth century the land was farmed and market gardens sprung up around the area. Though it was divided into Town Acres, it was more countryside than town.

The development pressures experienced in Te Aro during the late nineteenth century initially drove the evolution from farmland to suburb. Flat space had been at a premium in Wellington from its beginning. Though the Te Aro flat offered an extensive area for development, the hills hemming in Te Aro did place some pressure on the flat because they were less desirable areas for development, and because much of this land was reserved as town belt. At this time people commonly lived close to their place of work, which is also a relevant factor to consider.

A fairly low rate of population increase in Wellington harnessed this development pressure during the early period. However, Wellington experienced a rapid period of growth in the 1870s. The population then doubled between 1880 and 1900, and this lead to a building boom in the city. The Town Acre dimensions were readily subdivided and haphazard and often miniscule subdivision ensued. The pressure had to give, and the southern suburbs provided one important outlet. After 1870 over 70 percent of the Wellington district's population growth was encompassed within the city, as laid out 40 years previously. Unlike the other major cities of Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin, which had scattered populations, the majority of the population increase from this period was found in Mount Cook, Mount Victoria and Newtown. These areas, as well as parts of Aro Valley still contained open spaces that could be developed for housing, unlike the Lambton and Thorndon areas, which were well built up by this time and evolving into commercial usage. First though, migrants from the central city and beyond would need a convenient way to access these southern reaches.

Urban Transport in Wellington

The role of public transport, and in particular the trams, is well acknowledged as a significant factor that enabled the expansion of Wellington beyond the city centre. Prior to 1878, when trams made their first appearance, horse-drawn omnibuses did provide services to outlying areas such as Newtown, Island Bay, and Kilbirnie. However, these were expensive and in consequence not a realistic form of transport for the working man and woman. Trams were very cheap in contrast, and the omnibus companies also dropped their prices in response to the threat posed by trams.

The line was originally confined to the city, but was extended to Newtown through Riddiford Street down to the intersection with Constable Street within a year of opening. This had a marked impact upon the attraction of land for dwelling purposes beyond the city centre. The line ran through the middle of Mount Cook south to Newtown, and though it did not turn up to places such as Wright Street, these outer streets were not too far away on foot. As an early real estate poster for a large subdivision in Newtown remarked: it is curious to see how what seemed long distances have dwindled, and how open spaces of a few years ago have been enclosed in the inexorable grasp of a spreading population. The trams were electrified at the turn of the century, with electric trams running to Newtown from 1904.

The population of Newtown and surrounding areas grew accordingly, particularly from the 1880s. It is significant that the Cook Ward, which comprised part of Mount Cook, Mount Victoria and Newtown, accounted for over half of Wellington's population growth between 1878 and 1901.

Other Development Factors

Other relevant factors contributing to this development pattern included the appearance of secondary industries in this area, such as soap factories and leather manufactories, which provided sources of employment. A major industry that had a significant impact upon the landscape of the area was brick making. Newtown and Mount Cook were an important source of clay suitable for brick making. By the 1880s Newtown housed around six brickworks, with many more springing up into and during the twentieth century. Mount Cook also housed a number of brickworks, including the Hill brothers around Rolleston Street from the early 1870s and P. Hutson and Company in Wallace Street from the turn of the twentieth century. The Mount Cook jail also had brickworks, and prisoners comprised the labour force. The Wellington Public Hospital on Adelaide Road was built with prison bricks, and would also have been a source of employment.

By 1905, when Crump built the five houses on Wright Street, southern Wellington had already experienced a notable period of urban growth. Wright Street and the surrounding area had become well built-up. While it has not been possible to directly link the construction of these houses to the factors outlined above because, for example, Harry Crump has not left any surviving correspondence, their construction fits into this wider and general context. Crump was a successful speculator, and thus would have had his eye on desirable sites for construction. Wright Street was close to the tramline, to both the industries of the south and city fringe, and the mercantile and government centers in the city. Before looking at the houses and the inhabitants, it is necessary to look at Harry Crump.

Harry Crump, Speculator

According to Irvine-Smith, Harry Crump was a prominent builder, who left his imprint on city streets. This is a fair characterization and his construction of the Wright Street houses in 1905 can be seen as a microcosmic form of his wider building practices. He was born in Yorkshire in England, and after spending some time in America and serving an apprenticeship back in Yorkshire, he immigrated to New Zealand in 1880. Surviving building permit records held by the Wellington City Council archives give a good indication of his significant construction output. A total of 156 building permits are associated with Crump in various ways. In many cases he applied for a permit as builder and on behalf of the owner. He also made 31 applications for himself as building and owner. He appears to have entered into partnership with a J.T Hawthorn and made 69 applications under 'Hawthorn and Crump'. This partnership also constructed and designed buildings, which it may have later on-sold.

Crump first appears in the records on an application to construct two dwellings in Tasman Street in Mount Cook in 1892. From this year up until 1908 he was consistently making applications for building permits, principally to erect new structures. His imprint ranged across the city and surrounding suburbs, and particularly concentrated on Kelburn, Thorndon, Te Aro, Mount Victoria, Mount Cook and Newtown. It appears likely that he was a builder-architect, as most of the applications do not list separate architects.

As well as building numerous structures, he also owned a great deal of land over time and named streets. He acquired the Wallace Estate in Newtown in 1898, which was located around Adelaide Road, and owned a considerable amount of land around the Government House in Thorndon, which he called 'Clermont', which was also the name of a street in this area in Kelburn towards The Terrace. He named Myrtle Crescent in Mount Cook, Lauriston Street in Mount Victoria (now Patterson Street) and constructed Kensington Street in Te Aro in 1903.

It is unclear when Crump ceased his construction activities. Irvine-Smith notes that he retired to Dunedin, and he was still alive at age 92 when she published her book in 1948.

The Wright Street Houses

Harry Crump acquired the land in Wright Street on which he constructed the five houses in 1903. At this point the land was comprised of Lots 9 and 10, DP 340. Prior to Crump's acquisition, the land had a number of owners. As noted above, the houses were constructed on part of the original Town Acre 703. The first certificate of title for this, and Town Acres 701 and 702, was issued to Morgan Stanislaus Grace, a surgeon, and Edward Stafford, a solicitor, in 1886. Five days later the land was transferred to Frederick de Jersey Clere, Alexander McTavish, Charles Tatum and Christopher Richmond. It was soon after subdivided, creating 15 lots of various sizes. These lots were progressively and rapidly sold off. One of the partners, Charles Tatum, purchased lots 9 and 10 in 1887. Five months later he sold the two lots to Frederick Wilson, a solicitor of Wellington. Wilson may have built a house on the site at some stage, as Thomas Ward's 1891 survey map of Te Aro depicts a two-storied structure with eight rooms and a verandah in the middle of lots 9 and 10.

Crump acquired lots 9 and 10 from Wilson in two parts in 1903. The northern section, which is currently numbers 58-60, was transferred in September, while the southern section (numbers 62 and 64) was transferred one month later. Two separate titles were then issued for the northern and southern sections.

Crump lodged a building application with the Wellington City Council to construct five two-storied houses in August 1905, and estimated that the construction would cost £3000. The building plan indicates that the interior of the five houses was the same, with an entrance hallway on the right-hand side, a living room at the front, bedrooms on both floors and washing and kitchen areas at the back of the house. Crump appears to have designed the buildings himself.

Crump owned all 5 houses and rented them out until they were sold as two lots to Margaret Price, wife of Charles Price, a builder of Wellington, in 1913. In 1920 Lots 9 and 10, which comprised the land on which the houses stood, was resurveyed. The land then became Lots 1-5 DP 4627 Part Section 703, Town of Wellington. With the exception of Lot 3, these sections were purchased in 1920 by the Government, as part of a drive to combat urban slums and housing shortages. Lot 3 was transferred to Mary Davis in March 1921.

Like Harry Crump, Margaret Price did not live in any of the houses during her period of ownership, and they were instead rented. For most of their history, the tenants of the houses may be loosely described as lower middle-class, with occupations such as clerking, sales and manufacturing. The combination of owner-occupation and tenant-occupation varied over time, and some of the houses are still operated as rental properties.

Construction Dates

Completion Date

1st December 2004

Report Written By

Kerryn Pollock, Ian Bowman, NZHPT

Information Sources

Humphris, 2003

A. Humphris, Tramways and Suburban Growth: a Case Study of Kilbirnie, Wellington, New Zealand (MSc Thesis, Victoria University of Wellington, 2003).

Salmond, 1986

Jeremy Salmond, Old New Zealand Houses 1800-1940, Auckland, 1986, Reed Methuen

Other Information

A fully referenced version of the 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.

Historic Area Place Name

House