Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

09 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 18. Cotons Cottage, Hororata

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.


It makes a nice little watercolour but it’s important that I tell you that what you see is a very substantial restoration - virtually a complete re-building - of the original.

Having said that, it is an excellent restoration, is very faithful to its predecessor and incorporates quite enough of its ancestral genes to be ‘authentic’.

Bentley Coton (who, they say, despite his imposing name, was an illiterate Yorkshiremen) bought fifty acres (20 ha) of land at Hororata in 1864 and built the cottage in which he lived with his wife, Sarah Jane, until he died in 1913. His illiteracy was no impediment to his craftsmanship for he showed great expertise in the technique of rammed cob walling. The clay came from his own land and was mixed, as usual, with chopped tussock then compacted into boxing to make the walls.

In his blind dotage, holding out his hands, he was reputed to have said on more than one occasion: ‘They be my tools!’ With them he not only built the walls of his five-roomed cottage, he also thatched the roof with wheat straw then, later, with shingles and finally with iron.

Cotons’ cottage was used for local Church of England services until a small kauri church was built in Hororata in 1875. Thereafter the locals dubbed the cottage ‘the old cathedral’. There’s a nice photograph etched into a metal plate outside the cottage which shows Bentley and Sarah in 1910 sitting either side of the front door like bookends in a setting astonishingly like today’s, even with a backdrop of poplars.

Eroded cob can look like licked ice cream and the cottage was getting that way when it was restored by the Hororata Historical Society in 1977. Although it had a new, Canadian cedar shingled roof and concrete foundations, and although they imported some clay from Glenroy for the floor, they endeavoured to keep as much of the old place as possible and so re-cycled the cob from the 45cm thick walls and incorporated the original window frames, architraves, mantelpiece and fireplace.

So there it stands in an open paddock close by the Society’s museum which, with the cottage, makes a worthy tribute to Bentley Coton, the first smallholder in Horotata.



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By Don Donovan