Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

05 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 13. Isel House, Nelson

I wrote and illustrated ‘New Zealand House and Cottage’. It was published in 1997. It’s a snapshot of some historic New Zealand homes - both grand and modest - as they were preserved at the end of the 20th century.
I have decided to share some of the entries from the book from time to time on this blog.


The day I visited Isel Park was one out of the box: a light breeze rustled the spring leaves of the grand old trees and a bevy of young mothers - all very beautiful, of course, with equally beautiful children - was picnicking on the lawn. In the background was Isel House, once the private preserve of a very private man who disliked visitors, now owned by the Nelson City Council and open, with its adjacent museum, for everybody.

I wouldn’t describe Isel House as handsome but it does have the merit of being architecturally unusual. It is invariably shown from the front as I have drawn it, but that’s a misleading aspect especially when it’s described as being ‘Thomas Marsden’s house of 1848′.

In actual fact, if Thomas Marsden were to be resurrected it is unlikely he would even recognize the place since it was not he, but his son James who designed the brick and stone front and had it built four years after his father’s death.

Behind the masonry lies the original farm house, built by Thomas who arrived in Nelson from Cumberland with his wife, Mary, on 31 December 1842. After a few false starts they settled at Stoke, in Poorman’s Valley (named after emigrants who first settled the area but couldn’t make a go of it: it’s now called Marsden Valley) eventually acquiring 960 acres (390 ha) which surrounded his ‘Isel Cottage’. Marsden lived near Isel Castle in England and adopted its name as a reminder of home. It was said that he inherited most of his wealth, and over almost three decades he was able to devote himself to his gardens, much of them planted with trees raised from seeds brought to him by travellers from all over the world.

Thomas died in 1876 after his carriage overturned when its horse was frightened by a train. Isel House then passed to his son, James, who, by all accounts, became more eccentric over the years, living as a feudal lord in the big house, attended by numerous servants, and given to taking pot-shots at blackbirds to stop them disturbing his seedlings.

To add the façade, built of brick and dressed stone from Poorman’s Valley, he employed two Nelson builders, Robert Tibble and Peter Henry, who used to walk to Stoke every day to do their work. James died in 1926 and his wife, Mary Rose, in 1930: they were childless. The property, after having been owned by Archibald Nicholls, passed to the City Council in 1959.

I’ve no idea how old the bell-push is, but it has a very attractive art nouveau brass plate which I covet. That’s a good enough reason to include it here.


No comments:

Post a Comment


Blog Archive

Hits Counter


Loaded Web

Blog Directory for Albany, New Zealand


Blog This Here

Blog Flux

Commentary blogs
Blog Directory


  • <$BlogCommentAuthor$> // <$BlogCommentDateTime$>


By Don Donovan