Historical Significance or Value
Egmont Chambers reflects New Zealand’s provincial growth in the early twentieth century, and more specifically an important stage in Stratford’s development: the second-generation renewal of the town’s older building stock, as the farming economy developed and business confidence was strong, despite a fluctuating national economy. Egmont Chambers, built for local law firm Rutherfurd, Macalister and Coleman, reflects this period of growth by demonstrating how the need for legal services to support the farming industry and commercial development of the town had progressed enough for the firm to construct substantial purpose-built offices, which also contained additional office space to meet local demand. Egmont Chambers was built at the beginning of a decade (the 1920s) in which many of Stratford’s original timber commercial buildings were replaced with masonry structures, indicating the maturation of the town.
Architectural Significance or Value
The architecture of Egmont Chambers, largely unchanged since its construction in 1920, clearly represents the Stripped Classical style popular in New Zealand in the interwar years, where classical influences were reduced into restrained façade ornamentation rather than playing a significant structural role. This architectural style is particularly characteristic of Stratford’s central business district, due to its favour by prolific local architect John D. Healy, who designed many of the town’s commercial and public buildings during the first three decades of the twentieth century, including Egmont Chambers. The successful treatment of this style demonstrated in Egmont Chambers’ elegant front façade likely influenced the wave of commercial buildings built along Stratford’s main street in the ensuing years.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
Egmont Chambers reflects the growth and changing fortunes of New Zealand’s provincial service centres. From beginnings as a bush-covered landscape Stratford first came of age during the 1890s as a service centre for the surrounding dairy industry; this industry then boomed during the First World War when the value of New Zealand’s agricultural exports increased. Stratford experienced steady growth in the interwar years and the built landscape of its central business district is a physical testament to this period, containing many buildings from the 1920s-1930s when the timber structures of the Victorian-Edwardian period were replaced with masonry buildings in the architectural styles of the day. Egmont Chambers, built in 1920 with a front facade in the Stripped Classical style, is clearly representative of this aspect of New Zealand history. That the building survived for nearly a century of economic fluctuations and changes in building code, barely altered, to be revived in recent years by owners who searched extensively for a heritage building to restore, further demonstrates its historical value.
Egmont Chambers was designed by John D. Healy, one of Stratford’s most prominent architects, and remains clearly readable as one of his characteristic designs. Healy, whose success is demonstrated by the many buildings he constructed around the Taranaki region, was an architect of diverse range including residential, commercial, industrial, educational and religious buildings. He had a particularly significant influence on Stratford’s town centre, where Egmont Chambers sits amongst a collection of interwar buildings linked by their architectural style, scale and purpose. This indicates the impact that an individual can have on setting the character of a local urban environment, an aspect of New Zealand history that is echoed in towns around the country.
(g) The technical accomplishment, value, or design of the place
The front façade of Egmont Chambers demonstrates high-quality execution of the Stripped Classical style characteristic of architect John. D. Healy’s work. Healy’s design displays significant technical accomplishment in its successful arrangement of structure and ornamentation, combining aesthetic considerations such as harmony, symmetry, and the balance between adornment and restraint. The façade is at the more decorative end of Healy’s Stripped Classical work in Stratford, containing more classical elements than later designs such as the Broadway Buildings (1926) for example, yet showing a clear lineage from his 1914 Municipal Buildings in features such as the keystones and textured panels. Highly intact and authentic, the only change to the exterior has been in the joinery.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural area
Egmont Chambers is a strong contributor to the interwar character of Stratford’s town centre, sitting quite prominently amidst a collection of surviving buildings along Broadway and Fenton Street that date from before World War Two. Many of these are linked not only by their construction period but also by the architect John D. Healy, who was responsible for many of the designs. Egmont Chambers’ Stripped Classical façade displays characteristic elements of this style, such as pilaster strips to define bays, a parapet above a decorative cornice bearing the building’s name, inset panels of pebble-dash texture and sharply projecting keystones above each window and door. It shares these features with many of the other buildings (for example Municipal Building, Petries Building, Otago Chambers), communicating a clear stylistic lineage firmly rooted in the interwar years.
Summary of Significance or Values
Egmont Chambers has historical significance as a physical testament to a period of Stratford’s development when it experienced growth as a provincial service centre for the surrounding dairy farming industry. A relatively substantial office building built to accommodate a law firm as well as other tenants, it signifies the town’s maturation as the need for supporting commercial infrastructure, such as legal and financial services, grew. It also reflects the second-generation renewal of much of the town centre’s commercial and public building stock in the interwar years, a phase that has defined the character of Stratford’s central business district and left a legacy of buildings in the popular architectural styles of the 1920s-1930s. Prolific Stratford architect John D. Healy’s design for the building has architectural significance as an enduring and elegant example of the Stripped Classical style, with a clear design connection to Healy’s other work.
The town of Stratford lies at the base of the eastern slopes of Taranaki Maunga, also known to Māori as Pukehaupapa or Pukeonaki. Traditions tell of the mountain’s defeat by Tongariro in a competition to win the beautiful Pihanga’s heart, and retreat from the central North Island to its present location, carving the Whanganui River in its trail. Taranaki Maunga is of immense cultural and spiritual significance to the iwi of the region.
Stratford is located within an area that has a particular association with Ngāti Ruanui, whose ancestor Ruanui’s grandfather Turi landed with his people in the Aōtea waka. They settled at the mouth of the Pātea River, which runs through Stratford on its journey south from the slopes of Taranaki Maunga. The western half of Stratford town is also overlapped by the rohe of Ngāruahine, who share ancestry with those who came on the Aōtea and Te Rangiamutu waka. The rohe of Ngāti Maru extends from inland Taranaki across the northern part of the town; Ngāti Maru trace their origins to Maruiwi of the original tangata whenua people, and Maruwharanui, whose ancestors arrived on the Aotea and Tainui waka.
Previously thickly forested, there is little evidence of permanent Māori settlements in the vicinity of Stratford, although the area was traversed by many tribes. A few kilometres east of the future town site ran the Taranaki region’s most prominent north-south pathway, used for centuries as people travelled between Kairoa Pā near Lepperton and Ketemarae near Normanby. This was known as the Whakaahurangi track, named from Ngāti Ruanui chieftainess Ruaputahanga’s mid-sixteenth century journey back to her South Taranaki home as she fled unhappy marriages. She followed an old war-trail south, and camped for the night near modern Stratford, where her party observed that she slept on her back: ‘whaka-ahurangi’ means ‘facing the heavens’. Another tradition relates the name to her looking at the sky when snaring ducks. Today this connection is remembered through the name of Stratford’s Whakaahurangi Marae, established in the 1970s by the Ahitahi hapū of Ngāti Ruanui.
In 1842 agents of the New Zealand Company cut a bridle path along the Whakaahurangi track, to make travel between the fledgling colonial settlements of New Plymouth, Wanganui and Wellington easier. In early 1866, the incursion of imperial forces under the command of Major General Trevor Chute also travelled along this route on their infamous ‘forest march’. Tensions between Māori and Europeans had been simmering in the region since the establishment of New Plymouth in 1842 put pressure on Māori to sell their land. Outright war between the Crown and Te Ātiawa erupted in March 1860. Taranaki Māori joined Te Ātiawa in defending Māori land, and fierce fighting occurred around the region, including Chute’s devastating ‘scorched earth’ campaign of retaliation in South Taranaki.
In 1863 the Crown enacted the New Zealand Settlements Act 1863, allowing for the confiscation of Māori land without compensation. This, along with a further proclamation by the Governor in 1865, created three confiscation districts which covered most of Taranaki, formalising colonial encroachments that were already occurring, despite continued fighting. The future site of Stratford lay within Confiscation District 2, the Ngatiawa district. Although tensions lasted into the 1870s, the colonial government took control of the province, negotiated purchase of the Waipuku-Patea Block from the Ahitahi hapū, and in 1874 vested the land around Stratford in the Taranaki Waste Lands Board.
In 1873 construction of a railway line began from New Plymouth, and the Mountain Road (State Highway 3) was developed inland of the mountain from 1874. These promised transport links greatly improved the prospects of the province and attracted more settlers, aided by Julius Vogel’s public works and assisted immigration scheme. In June 1877, the Taranaki Waste Lands Board ordered the survey of 300 acres for a town at the Mountain Road’s junction with the Patea River. The settlement’s name, Stratford-upon-Patea, was suggested by Board member William Crompton - a fan of English poets - and many of the streets were named after Shakespearean characters, including Fenton Street.
On 31 August 1878 the first auction of Stratford town sections was held. Although only a fraction of the 455 sections initially sold, William Dawson Webster bought Section 331, the largest section, for the highest price: £180. This was prime real estate, on the south-west corner of the Broadway (Mountain Road)/Fenton Street intersection.
The railway reached Stratford in 1879, and, fuelled by the growth of the dairy industry on surrounding farmland, the town’s population grew steadily. Fenton Street developed through a mix of residential, business, recreational and educational use. Section 331 initially passed fairly quickly through the hands of various property speculators. It was probably William Loftus Tocker who constructed a dwelling on the property sometime around 1887. Tocker, who counted architect, valuer, land speculator, and local politician as professions, was first elected to the Town Board in 1888 and later served as its Chair and as a County Councillor. In August 1891 he subdivided five allotments from the eastern boundary of Section 331, followed by a sixth - the future site of Egmont Chambers - in March 1892. James Aitken bought three of the lots for a rumoured high price of £500, owning them for three years before the National Bank of New Zealand purchased them and built its premises on the corner part.
It was 25 years before Subdivision 6, the lot west of the National Bank building, changed hands again. By this time dairy farming was established ‘as the heart of Taranaki prosperity’ and Stratford was well-developed as a farming service centre, with the usual supporting commercial infrastructure, including legal services. Solicitors Elliot Stanley Rutherfurd, Sinclair Macalister and Alfred Coleman purchased the section in 1919. The lot was cleared of its large trees and surveyed for their new office building, to be known as ‘Egmont Chambers’.
Although Rutherfurd, Macalister and Coleman had practiced together since at least 1915, working from offices elsewhere on Fenton Street, the new building coincided with the partnership they were forming with Samuel Spence, to take effect once the offices were ready. Business confidence was high; at the same time the firm also opened a branch in Hāwera, staffed by Alfred Coleman’s brother Arthur. As well as legal services, they advertised loans and accountancy. All of the men were well-connected in Stratford’s business and social circles.
Architect John David Healy (1868-1934) received the design commission. Healy, born in New Plymouth but resident in Stratford during his career, had trained as a builder before qualifying as an architect. He advertised his services from at least 1902, soon regularly calling for tenders for the construction of new buildings, as well as repairs, alterations and additions. Over the next 32 years he published at least 173 tender notices for jobs around Taranaki, illustrating the scale of his success. He was the architect to the Stratford Hospital Board and the Stratford Racing Club, building much of that infrastructure, as well as a Stratford borough councillor and founder of the Stratford A&P Association. His architectural range was diverse, from over 45 houses, to churches, hospitals, grandstands, shops, offices, garages, and dairy factories around Taranaki. He had a particular impact on Stratford’s built landscape, designing many houses and prominent commercial and public buildings, including a swathe of business premises on Broadway, and the Stratford Municipal Buildings. His influence at the western end of Fenton Street was also clear: he designed Egmont Chambers’ near-neighbour Otago Chambers, built for lawyers Halliwell & Thomson in 1914, and alterations and additions to the Newton King vehicle and machinery centre buildings in between the two law offices.
Healy called for tenders for the erection of two-storey offices for Messrs Rutherfurd, Macalister and Coleman, in reinforced concrete, in December 1919. Mr W. Simmons won the construction contract for around £5000. By 4 September, the new premises were open for business.
The whole of the building was not required by the law firm so a portion was promoted as being available for lease for offices ‘for which there is even now a fair demand in Stratford.’ Inaugural tenants were property and stock agent F.H. Barnitt, and William Power, who was a public accountant, auditor, insurance agent and company secretary. The combined contacts of the building’s occupants, plus its spacious and well-appointed Board room, meant that it was well-used as a meeting space for many company, society and club meetings over the years. In 1928 it also became the office of the Stratford Loan and Deposit Company, possibly when William Power moved to other premises. Madame Marie of the Hollywood School of Dressmaking offered classes from the building in 1933, a rare departure from the usual law and commerce focus.
Egmont Chambers made the news for a different reason in 1942, when it was reported that:
‘An unwelcome client who arrived neither by appointment nor for consultation entered the offices of solicitors [Rutherfurd and Macalister] at Stratford yesterday and did damages to the premises before being ejected. The visitor was a cow half-blind and bellicose from being driven along Fenton Street [to the Newton King saleyards]…suddenly she dived into the legal office. After astounding the staff, the animal charged along a passage, disregarding professional etiquette as well as the obstacles in her way, and entered the washroom. Here the visitor knocked a hand-basin from its fitting on the wall, causing a large piece to drop off. Apparently disliking the legal atmosphere, she took the drastic method of obtaining fresh air by putting her head through a window frame... Whether she was satisfied with this legal advice she may have been seeking, or whether she thought the interview was too expensive, she was more tractable after departing.’
Legal services remained the primary occupants of Egmont Chambers for nearly 100 years. The partnerships of the law firm continued to evolve, tracing its lineage to the founding partnership through Elliot Rutherfurd, the longest-serving member of the original firm. The 1979 iteration, Buchanan, Butler & Hudson, made rare alterations to part of the building, creating a larger reception area on the ground floor with suspended ceilings and a new reception desk. Aluminium window joinery may have been installed at this time.
In 2016 its use as law and accountancy offices finally came to an end, when Till Henderson Lawyers shifted to the building next door. Egmont Chambers then started a new chapter when it was purchased by Stuart Greenhill and Jo Stallard, who had a vision for restoring and repurposing a heritage building as a multifunctional space combining a café, art gallery, gin distillery, residential apartment and art studio/writing dens. After an extensive search throughout the North Island, they found Egmont Chambers, by then in need of repair. Between 2017-2018 the building was structurally strengthened and remodelled including replacing the windows with double-glazing, installation of a kitchen downstairs, removal of the 1979 suspended ceilings and paring the interiors back to celebrate the bones of the building. Architect Jono Murdoch designed a loft-style apartment upstairs, made easier by couple’s well-visioned creative brief.
Since opening the Fenton Street Art Collective in October 2018, Egmont Chambers has been celebrated not only for its fine café, artwork and boutique gin, but also for the revival of the building’s fortunes and the flow-on effects this has had for the town. The renovations won the Housing-Alterations and Additions section award at the NZIA Western Architecture awards in 2019.
Egmont Chambers is located towards the western end of Fenton Street, which crosses Broadway/State Highway 3 at the southern edge of Stratford’s CBD. One building west of the intersection, Egmont Chambers forms the eastern end of a stretch of heritage buildings on the block’s southern side between Broadway and Miranda Street. The Pātea River runs along the rear of the properties in a deep channel. The former Newton King machinery and vehicle centre (built early twentieth century) is bookended by Egmont Chambers at its eastern end, and at its western end by Otago Chambers (List No. 925, Category 2 historic place, built 1914). Egmont Chambers and Otago Chambers, although interrupted by the modern façade added to the former Newton King buildings, share a special relationship through their design by the same architect (John D. Healy) and purpose, both being built as offices for law firms.
The Egmont Chambers building, painted completely black with a red door, is prominent in the commercial streetscape of this block of Fenton Street. Two-storeyed and rectangular in plan, the reinforced concrete building is distinguished by its Stripped Classical front façade and evenly-spaced fenestration.
The façade is divided by rhythmical vertical and horizontal elements, leaving an impression of symmetry although that is not quite the case. Two rectangular window frames alternate with two doors at the ground level; each is set into a section (wider for the windows, narrower for the doors) demarcated by pilaster strips which rise the full height of the façade, interrupted only by a frieze and cornice above the second storey. The main clear-glass entrance door, leading to the ground floor, is slightly offset but balanced by a tongue and groove timber door at the western edge of the façade, which offers direct access to the second floor. Both doors have fanlights above, and all windows and door frames are topped by a single sharp-edged projecting keystone. A string course signals the second storey and forms the sill level for the four windows on that level, which match the placement of the doors and windows below.
A flat-topped parapet adds extra height and presence to the front facade. Between this and the windows of the second storey, the decorative scheme continues with a cornice, supported by bracketing and a decorative fluted corbel at each end. Below this, a row of dentils tops a frieze bearing the legend ‘Egmont Chambers.’ Rectangular panels inset above each door and window, and along the top of the parapet, provide a pebble-dash textured contrast to the smooth and crisp finish of the rest of the exterior. Panels of the same textured material stretch along the span of the façade at ground level, below the string course at sill level of the ground floor windows. All of the original double-hung sash windows in the building have been replaced with double-glazed black aluminium-framed awning windows; each features colonial glazing bars to mimic multipaned steel joinery.
On the eastern elevation, the second storey is again delineated by a string course, and five windows on each level are spaced evenly along. The northernmost of those windows on the upper storey is double-width, and the southern two are smaller at each level. There are no windows along the western façade, as there is only a very small gap between Egmont Chambers and the neighbouring building. The southern elevation contains four windows on each storey; the westernmost two being larger than the eastern ones. The ridgeline of the gable roof is visible above this elevation.
The main front door enters into an open-plan café/gallery space, with a small shop area and timber service counter to the left and seating to the right. The heavy steel columns, beams and cross-braces inserted in 2017-2018 to strengthen the building have been left exposed, and lighting services run along cable trays that hang from the high ceilings. Where walls were removed during the 1979 alterations this is easily traceable through marks on the concrete floors and rough stubs left protruding from the ceiling, exposed by the removal of the suspended ceilings that had been installed in 1979. The industrial aesthetic has been softened with artwork, furnishings and an airy white paint scheme, creating a visually engaging, vibrant interior.
A central corridor leads through a doorway with fanlight above, towards the rear (south) of the building, past original offices now repurposed as a kitchen, meeting room, distillery and additional café seating. The original strong room, accessed to the right through a metal safe door, now functions as a storage room. Toilets are located at the southeast corner. The southern half of the ground floor retains its original floorplan, the only change being the removal of a partition that formerly screened the men’s urinal, to create an accessible toilet.
Stairs turn from the café area opposite the service counter and lead up through a small door to the second storey, arriving beside the external access stairway. On this level the original office layout has been the most altered, removing the walls of some of the offices along the eastern side of the building to transform the series of small rooms into a residential apartment. The main open-plan living space contains a kitchen and lounge area, utilising the former strong room as kitchen storage. Structural steel inserts crisscross the ceiling and frame openings where walls have been removed, and a steel roller-door screens the laundry utilities, contrasting aesthetically with the original ceiling roses (shifted sideways from the former hallway).
The former Board room (south west corner) retains the original moulded plaster ceiling, unpunctuated by the steel beam and columns that sit below it. Broad-reed glass office doors, some with original signwriting, have been reused in the new bathroom and the writing den. Towards the north-eastern corner, an internal patio/garden-room has been created by inserting aluminium-framed glass partition walls and widening the external window opening in the eastern wall. The room at the north-western corner has been enlarged by the removal of a wall (its trace visible on the concrete floor), creating a spacious art studio flooded with light.
Contextual analysis: Stratford’s commercial, public and civic buildings
Stratford’s first boom was during the 1890s, when ‘the population increased almost six-fold, and new buildings and businesses mushroomed’. Historic images from the turn of the twentieth century show a commercial streetscape of predominantly timber Victorian buildings. The 1910s saw the town’s commercial and public building stock begin to transform from timber to masonry as export commodity prices boomed during the First World War; returned service personnel also added money into the economy. This transformation of the urban landscape picked up pace in the mid-late 1920s despite fluctuations in the economy. This overall period of growth for the town was due to Stratford’s steadily increasing population, its rail junction making it a hub of the regional economy, technological advances that increased farm productivity, and a program of civic improvements that boosted local confidence.
Otago Chambers at 1 Fenton Street, built 1914 and designed by John D. Healy in an Edwardian Italianate style, is one of Stratford’s older surviving brick commercial buildings, but it could be said that the masonry Municipal Buildings (built 1916, architect John D. Healy) and King’s Theatre (built 1918-1919, designed by Auckland firm Grierson & Aimer) were more influential in setting the future tone and scale of the town’s commercial streetscape due to their commanding designs and prominent locations on Broadway. The three-storeyed King’s Theatre remains one of Broadway’s largest buildings, within an otherwise two-storeyed streetscape.
The mid-1920s was a particularly good time for the local construction industry, with the new Public Trust Office (1924, designed by T.H. Bates), Petries Buildings (1924, architect John D. Healy), Manoy’s Buildings (1925, V.S Griffiths), Radich Building (1925, John D. Healy), Broadway Buildings (1926, John D. Healy), and Carman’s Building (1926, architect unknown) all completed. By the end of the 1930s many other business owners had invested in brand-new commercial premises, including the Central Buildings (1931) and Union Bank Chambers (1936, Duffill & Gibson). A notably intact stretch of buildings between 222-310 Broadway, many mentioned above, dates from this interwar period.
Today, the buildings mentioned above form the bulk of Stratford’s remaining commercial and civic heritage, and their interwar classically-influenced facades set the character of the town’s main commercial street firmly in the 1920s-1930s, particularly along the eastern side of the street. Egmont Chambers’ 1920s construction date places it squarely amongst this second generation of Stratford’s commercial and civic building stock. Architect John D. Healy also forms a link, being the designer of many of these buildings. His design for the 1916 Municipal Buildings foreshadows some of the decorative features he employed for Egmont Chambers’ façade four years later, such as the inset rough-cast panels and sharp-edged keystones above each window.
The western side of Broadway has suffered a greater loss of its nineteenth and early twentieth century buildings, and the surrounding streets only contain a few older buildings dotted here and there, with most post-dating the Second World War. In 2019 the demolition of a block of five buildings in the centre of the western side of Broadway removed another large chunk of the town centre’s interwar heritage buildings, including two John D. Healy buildings (Hunter & Lyon’s Building, 1914, and Hannah’s Building, 1928), along with their neighbour the Carryer’s Building (1924, designed by T.H. Bates).
New reception area in front part of ground floor - some walls removed; structural beam, timber partition walls and suspended ceilings installed
Original double-hung sash windows replaced with aluminium triple-light awning windows
2017 - 2018
2017 - 2018
All windows replaced with double-glazed aluminium windows; new entrance doors; suspended ceilings removed; kitchen installed on ground floor; second floor remodelled into residential apartment (walls removed, kitchen installed, bathroom facilities remodelled, window opening enlarged
2017 - 2018
Exterior façade cleaned and repainted
Concrete, steel, glass, brick, timber
8th September 2020
Report Written By
Campbell McAllister. Old Taranaki and Its Mountain, Wellington, 1976
G & R Lambert. An Illustrated History of Taranaki, Dunmore Press, Palmerston North, 1983.
Lyn Barnes, ‘Inside a home-turned-gallery café: A nomadic couple return to Stratford and launch the Fenton Street Arts Collective’, thisNZlife, URL: https://thisnzlife.co.nz/inside-a-home-turned-gallery-cafe-a-nomadic-couple-return-to-stratford-and-launch-the-fenton-street-arts-collective/
Stratford Evening Post
‘Death of Mr J.D. Healy’, Stratford Evening Post, 24 November 1924
David Walter, Stratford: Shakespearean town under the mountain, a history, Dunmore Publishing, Wellington, 2005
A fully referenced New Zealand Heritage List report is available on request from the Central Region Office of Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero 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.
Archaeological sites are protected by the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014, regardless of whether they are entered on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero or not. Archaeological sites include ‘places associated with pre-1900 human activity, where there may be evidence relating to the history of New Zealand’. This List entry report should not be read as a statement on whether or not the archaeological provisions of the Act apply to the property (s) concerned. Please contact your local Heritage New Zealand office for archaeological advice