Over 800 windows hand restored at Old Government Buildings


A two-year project to restore the 804 sash windows in one of the world’s greatest wooden buildings drew to a close last week.

Mike Deavin restoring the last of the 804 sash windows at Old Government Buildings with cameraman capturing the action
Mike Deavin repairing the last of the 804 sash windows, captured on camera.expand/collapse

Last Wednesday, joiner extraordinaire and legendary tour guide, Mike Deavin, shut the latch on the 804th and final window at Wellington’s Old Government Buildings – one of the world’s greatest wooden buildings – which is cared for by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga. The moment drew significant media attention, with Mike's 'moment' captured in many places across the country, including TV 3 news, and the Sunday Star Times.

For Mike, it was a satisfying end to a project that saw him restore every sash window in the historic building, which was once the administration centre of the New Zealand government.

“Mike knows a thing or two about restoring windows – after working on 803 of them at Old Government Buildings, he should do too,” said Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Property Lead Central, Caroline Ritson, on the day. "It's the culmination of two years of painstaking attention to detail and hard work.”

His knowledge of the details of the materials and the process is extraordinary, down to the manufacturer of the pulleys and the original cast iron weights that are the core to each window's functioning. "Archibald Kendrick have been operating since 1791," says Mike. Most of the weights are still original, as are many of the pulleys, but the cords have been replaced over the years. 

Besides being a proven authority on all things relating to sash windows, Mike is a fount of knowledge and expertise on almost every detail of the iconic heritage site; from the edibles in the native gardens surrounding the building, to the ghosts purported to walk the hallways.

“As well as the window restoration project – no small task in itself – Mike winds the tower clock, retains a mental archive of the heritage graffiti in the building’s attics, has designed a hand-crafted donations box, and pioneered a ‘virtual tour’ of the building,” says Caroline.

“In his highly informative and entertaining tours, he speaks about the building like an old and familiar friend. Mike has also taken the opportunity throughout the project to pass his expertise on to others, running workshops and documenting his restoration process – which we are very grateful for.”

On finishing the project, Mike said he felt sad. "It's not been work, it's been fun," was his comment. But he says he will be onto the next project soon enough. 

The last time the windows were restored was 1996. Mike doesn't think he'll be around to see the next round of repairs, but - as is the tradition of tradespeople - his name is inscribed on  sash pocket covers around the building, for posterity and for the next person who works on the windows to discover.

- John O'Hare, Anna Knox