Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

17 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 25. Woodside Manor, West Taieri

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


‘Tis distance lends enchantment…’ My first illustration of ‘The Poplars’ was for New Zealand Odyssey published in 1989. On that occasion I could get no closer than the locked gates, from which distance it had a romantic, Caledonian promise, as if it had been transported, fully built, from some remote Scottish glen. It came to mind again when I was planning New Zealand House and Cottage.

I daresay that Ray and Eve Beardsmore’s first impression was the same as mine. But they would have been under no delusions about the restoration task ahead of them when they bought the house at auction in 1974. It had been empty since 1958, vandals had broken windows, birds nested in the rafters and cattle roamed through the ground floor. The first thing the Beardsmores did was to restore its original name, ‘Woodside Manor’, then they set out to put it all back together again - a long term project upon which they are still working.

It was built by a Scot, Francis McDiarmid, in 1866. He had bought the land unseen and had come to Maungatua on the Taieri Plain in 1848 to win his farmland from forest and swamp. He and his wife Janet prospered during the Otago gold rushes and improved their accommodation from a wattle and daub cottage to this brick, limestone and slate mini-mansion. The bricks were fired from local clay, the stone came from Oamaru and the rafters and joists were of pit sawn native rimu, but from Wales came the roof slates, and the nobler timbers were of Baltic pine; a happy combination that has fought well against time’s depredations.
Woodside Manor is a treasure house: the Beardsmores have a jackdaw hunger for collectables everything from cups and saucers to Rolls Royces and Model T Fords. They intend to leave it to the people of Dunedin - not too soon, I hope.
There’s an unsolved mystery here: in the central gable there is a stone tablet which records Francis McDiarmid’s completion of the house in 1866. Above his initials are the letters: ‘PR. OF. WS.’ I’ve found nobody who knows their meaning.

(Later note: PR. OF. WS. could mean Prince of Wales - but in what context?)



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By Don Donovan